Cheap International Money Transfer (Cheaper than Wise*)

The cost of transferring money internationally to a bank account abroad – or just exchanging one currency for another – is likely to be higher than you think.

The true cost of an international transfer from Canada can be shockingly high for those who don’t understand how those type of fees are structured (as the markup is a hidden fee, banks don’t clearly show it to unknowing customers).

For that, many people are mistaking the flat fees of an international wire, which vary between $15-$50, as the final cost. Unfortunately, there is a bigger pricing component to that. The rates. What you’ll be getting for your Canadian Dollars is not the actual, official exchange rate.

It’s a worse rate, and oftentimes, much worse, and it’ll be end up costing you a lot of money.

If you are using your bank for international transfers, then I have some bad news for you folks…

On a $100,000 transfer, you could end up paying a total $4,000 in fees. Using a cheaper option, you could save as much as 90% of that cost.

HOW EXPENSIVE?!

When I first wrote about this topic, I needed to make an international money transfer, and quite a hefty one, and I wanted to make sure I’m not paying some exorbitant amount on the transfer (which I would have, if I were to use TD like I originally planned to).

I’ve looked into the foreign exchange rates on my personal TD bank account. TD bank account quoted me at 1.36 CAD for USD at that time (September 9, 2022)  while the actual rate was 1.32665, so for every American Dollar that I want to buy, I’m paying 3.5 Canadian Cents in hidden charges – which is a 2.5% markup against the Bank of Canada’s rates.

If a person makes a real estate investment in the USA, and/or takes a trip or two each year down south, they could easily be transferring $40,000 internationally per year into USD. At a 2.5% currency exchange mark up, that’s a thousand bucks per year! Essentially a voluntary tax.

Heck – even someone who takes an annual vacation down to the States and/or is a “Florida/Arizona snowbird” is looking at paying hundreds of dollars towards this “voluntary tax” each year.

To round it up, I’ve done some follow-up research in regards to the rates offered by Canada’s biggest bank. Each percentage represents how much worse was the bank’s rate than the official rate at the time of testing (around Dec 2023).

RBC
CADGBP
3%
RBC
CADUSD
2%
RBC
CADSAR
3.5%
Scotiabank
CADGBP
2.5%
Scotiabank
CADUSD
3%
Scotiabank
CADMXN
3.3%
TD Bank
CADGBP
3.2%
TD Bank
CADUSD
1.8%
TD Bank
CADMXN
3.3%

Looking at those numbers and my personal experience at TD when I was looking to transfer…

I would definitely say that transferring a large sum of money with a Canadian bank would be the least savvy thing to do in the situation. While I can understand it can be a hassle to register with financial service providers, the savings are significant. $1,000 you’ll save on fees today could mean tens of thousands to enjoy on your retirement.

(There are also other disadvantages to using your bank, which I will touch on below,)

What are My Best Options?

The best way to transfer money internationally, which also happens to be the cheapest, is to use a non-bank money transfer service.

These money transfer companies (often referred to as foreign exchange companies – or “forex”) offer cheaper way to send money from Canada than what it would cost you with a bank. This makes sense as foreign exchange companies only really exist for the sole purpose of exchanging currencies as cheaply as possible – as opposed to banks who are more of “jack-all-trades, master-of-none” type of companies.

The Best International Money Transfer Companies in Canada for 2024

Star Rating 5 / 5
Online Transfers

Yes

Personal Service

Yes

Best level of service.
Star Rating 4.8 / 5
Online Transfers

Yes

Personal Service

Yes, above $50,000

Best combination of broker / digital money transfer.
Star Rating 4.2 / 5
Online Transfers

Yes

Personal Service

Yes, above $5,000

Veteran with business orientation.
Star Rating 4.5 / 5
Online Transfers

Yes

Personal Service

Yes, above $5,000

Best for eCommerce businesses.
Star Rating 4.0 / 5
Online Transfers

Yes

Personal Service

No

Best for small transfers online.

Is it Safe?

Money transfer companies are classified as financial services providers and consequently, are appropriately regulated (FINTRAC in Canada, but most of them operate globally, so they are authorized by multiple regulators around the globe). 

The way they operate is as a third-party broker; transfer your funds to their safeguarded joint bank accounts in Canadian Dollars and they’ll exchange it for you, and make the payment on your behalf. Or, you could receive a foreign currency payment into that account and then get it in Canadian Dollars bank to your account.

They all have a comprehensive online money transfer system that you can DIY, but if you don’t want to you can transfer over the phone or via email (other than with Wise).

Depending on your requirements, the company’s representative may even meet you face to face to discuss your needs. Far cry from what you would expect when transferring money abroad with a bank.

In Canada, international money transfer services are still relatively unknown compared to the UK where many of these companies originated from, but they are definitely growing in popularity.

How Much Cheaper Are Money Transfer Companies?

The best money transfer companies are definitely cheaper than banks across the board.

If we look at typical rate markups, then it’ll be something like…

Currencies Direct
Above $50,000: 0.2%-0.9%
Below $50,000: 0.9%-1.6%
Xe
Above $50,000: 0.2%-0.9%
Below $50,000: 0.9%-1.6%
Moneycorp
Above $50,000: 0.2%-0.9%
Below $50,000: 0.9%-1.6%
OFX
Above $50,000: 0.2%-0.9%
Below $50,000: 0.9%-1.6%
Wise
Above $50,000: 0.3%-0.8%
Below $50,000: 0.4%-1%

For companies in the brokerage model (all except Wise), there are no fixed markups per se. They woudl quote you individually based on your needs, on your annual volume, currencies involved, complexity involved, current volatility in the market and so forth. With Wise, you can always know upfront and without having to register how much you’re going to pay.

* Hence, for small transfers it will always going to be cheaper to use Wise, but for larger transfers you may get a better rate than Wise (as well as a more tailored service, which I will explain below).

It also means that you could potentially negotiate with a broker for a better rate even after you have been quoted. The best way to compare the rates and then negotiate them is to register with multiple providers.

If you aren’t into doing all the legwork, then you could use sites like TopMoneyCompare which actually make real time comparison of exchange rates offered by various banks and money transfer companies.

Why Did I Choose These 5 Companies?

The top 5 money transfer companies in Canada, in my view, are Currencies Direct, Xe, OFX, moneycorp, and Wise. Each of those has slightly different designations and advantages, and I’ll review them briefly below.

For an even deeper analysis of these companies you can look at MoneyTransferComparison best money transfers in Canada article and delve into their much more comprehensive reviews.

Best Overall: Currencies Direct

Currencies Direct is one of the largest currency brokers in the world. A global favourite that has made itself name in the UK and Spain has since expanded to North America and they have a spectacular sign up process that makes it a very comfortable and non-intrusive experience (while they are readily available and super fast to pick up the phone at any time).

image 24

Established in 1996, this company has received more than 10,000 reviews online in total with an overwhelming majority rating them “Excellent”. They are trading in the tens of billions of dollars a year and are fully registered and authorised by all the major regulators in the world, including in Canada, of course.

Functionality is very diverse and includes an online system and an app, business hedging like Forwards and Options, and even a multi-currency account and card that you can connect to this whole thing. Very similar to Wise, just with a bit more of a personal touch, as they are known for their very friendly and professional approach. Once you are assigned with your account manager you can reach him by any type of media in Canadian workhours as well.

The fact it’s such a global company that has accounts all over the world, together with almost 30 years of experience, makes them a truly great choice for larger transfers.

Killer UI, Superb Service: Xe

If you think you have heard the name Xe before, it’s because you probably did.

Xe.com is one of the world’s most famous currency exchange converters, and has been like this since the early days of the internet. As the two-letter domain indicates, the site was started in 1993, and has quickly established itself as a leading provider of real time currency rates used by many leading organizations and software providers.

xelogo

And… it’s Canadian! and to be be fair, this might be the most popular Canadian site of all times!

In the mid 2000’s, Xe started engaging in international money transfers. It started off as a white-lable agreement that have used companies like Western Union to facilitate their transfers and had no real role of an actual money transfer service – at that point in time they were just a traffic source for other companies.

It all changed drastically when Euronet worldwide, a leading international payment company (the owners of famous American remittances company Xoom), purchased Xe in 2015, that things turned into the service it offers nowadays.

Euronet has developed Xe into a diverse, intuitive and well-thought online money transfer platform. They have bought a very successful British currency company with a very long trading history which was already moving $50bn a year for its customers, and merged it into Xe.

The end result is a multi-faceted company that knows how to handle smaller transfers online, as well as large transfers that may require a dedicated account manager. It’s owned by one of the biggest corporations in this space so it is completely safe and there are good internal procedures to verify customer funds are safe (in addition to the fact they operate almost globally and authorised by 10+ regulators).

It’s pretty nice to be able to do your currency exchanges from the same platform that so many corporations trust for their own currency rates or currency exchanges, and it’s nice that you get integrated currency rate news in their platform to help you decide on the right time to transfer (my thinking is that trying to time foreign exchange is even hard than timing the stock market so I wouldn’t do that).

On top of all that, it doesn’t only have a “branch” or “subsidiary” in Canada, it is headquartered here! They offer Canadian customer service standards and all contract with them adhere to Canadian law. That’s a big thing if you are going to be using a non-bank service to transfer large sums internationally.

Best for eCommerce Businesses

OFX is another great choice for customers in Canada, because of its high diversity, excellent online functionality, and excellent rates on both small and large international money transfers. 

It is also one of the NHL’s sponsors which is about as Canadian as it gets.

ofxnhl

OFX is a highly credible-appearing company which has been operating in Canada since 2007 (previously under the brand CanadianForex which consolidated into OFX). It handles $20bn in customers’ funds every year, is traded on the Australian Stock Exchange, and has always received superb feedback from its customers.

The company has been, from day a very service-oriented company, which is what got me to put them at #1. This is not your run-of-the-mill digital provider whose support is somewhere thousands miles away, nor a bank where you’d find yourself hard-press to get assistance… it’s a brokerage type of setup where you have a personal account manager who is available for you.

That’s a big thing, especially if you are transferring larger amounts of money and want to know you have a direct contact with a company that has boots on the ground here in Canada.

OFX Rates

From what I’ve been seeing, their default exchange rate spread is around a 0.8% markup and you can negotiate the rates, particularly if you are sending a large amount abroad. If you have a competing quote then from what I know they will do their best to beat it.

Ultimately, if you are willing to do the legwork this means you’ll get the cheapest transfer.

You can do so online through a very complex online payment system, through their app (rated 4.5/5 on Google Play and 4.8/5 on Apple App Store), or simply via email or phone. OFX is the perfect combination, in my view, between the new school and old school, who really do both things very well – technology and service. 

Best for business owners, HNWI: moneycorp

moneycorp is truly a pioneer in the money transfers business, offering small businesses payment services since the 1970s. They were truly the first ones to identify that there was a gap in the market between the rates and service offered to large corporations and the (lack of) service SMEs are getting.

Later on, they expanded their model to private customers and they specialize in high sum transfers.

They’re a bigger company than the aforementioned OFX, routinely transferring billions of dollars in a single transaction, and employing several hundreds of employees across five continents.

Much like OFX, they have local presence in Canada, and are a service-oriented company “brokerage” style. It means that you have your dedicated currency expert at hand – someone you can speak with about your transfer, get updates from, get quoted, negotiate the rate etc.

If you aren’t all that much of a phone guy like me, I found it easier to do through email, but more comfortable and “safe” than with an online system. Sometimes you don’t even want to type those complex SWIFT codes and would much rather hit the Forward button and send it for someone else to mess around with.

There’s also an advanced strategy for international money transfer that moneycorp enables and others don’t… which is the ability to buy Forward Contracts. I am not going to get into the nitty gritty of this financial instruments I’m just going to say that if you aren’t wanting to take risks on a future payment in foreign exchange, then you it’s something you could use to fix the rate today for a future date.

So if you know you are about to receive $100,000 US from that property you sold in Florida and that will take place in 3 months, you simply commit to the current USDCAD rate and know the exact CAD amount you’ll be eventually receiving.

They offer a bunch more hedging tools for those who need it, alongside full-on currency treasury services for businesses and corporations.

Best for lower amounts: Wise

If you’ve been following global tech stocks then you must have came across Wise. Wise is one of the most successful IPOs in London over the past years with a market cap of >10bn Canadian dollars.

image 23

They offer two related services. A multi-currency “virtual bank account” offering, alongside a debit card, as well as the option to send and receive money from abroad.

It’s all done through a truly magnificent online system or app which is one of the most user friendly interfaces I’ve ever used. It also enables customers to store foreign currency in their dedicated “bank accounts” in different countries (but does not allow them to invest the funds, so I don’t recommend having cash just sitting around there).

To top it off, they have some great pricing with extreme level of transparency. You log on to their website insert what you need and bang – you have a real time quote. Much better system compared to OFX and moneycorp where you need to sign up to view the rates.

But

There has to be a but, right?

They have a great system, great functionality, excellent rates, transparency, and credibility… so what don’t they have?

Wise Vs OFX (Or Other Brokers)

The only part where Wise is lacking, in my opinion, compared to a rival like OFX is the personal account management aspect. OFX gives customers that personal touch, while still offering an online system, and an app, and all the bells and whittles (other than the multi-currency account, which OFX offers for business clients only).

The core difference here is that Wise, while being a good Fintech, is still a Fintech, while OFX is a hybrid. It doesn’t mean that Wise doesn’t have good support, it just means it’s not the same type of support where there’s a person who knows you and your needs by name. Someone you could present a complicated situation to, and he will be happy to accommodate and try to guide you on that. Or suggest whether and how to hedge.

Because this post is mostly geared towards Canadians who are investing abroad, buying property abroad, or have bank accounts abroad, i.e. transferring large sums – then my choice goes to OFX.

Worth a Mention – Cheapest for Remittances: Remitly

Remitly is the cheapest way to transfer money internationally from Canada to countries like India, Kenya, or China. This immigrant-friendly startup has been receiving accolades all over the world for its fair rates and easy online money transfer system.

With more than 35,000 reviews on TrustPilot and an average rating of 4.8 stars, it is clear that Remitly is doing something right. The company offers a “fees back” guarantee if money doesn’t come on time, and offers receiving methods which are specific to countries where some people don’t even have a bank account such as cash pickup or mobile top-up.

Using Money Transfer Companies to Receive or Store Funds

You can use the above companies to send money internationally to many different countries but it’s worth mentioning you can also use them to receive money from abroad. Or use them to move money back and forth between your own named accounts. 

With some of those companies, you are limited to strictly sending and receiving, and with others you could also store money in foreign currency. Particularly useful if you know you will have future expenses in the same currency.  

With Xe, you can only send and receive. With OFX and moneycorp you can store money, and if you are a business or a trust, have got a multi-currency which is essentially a bank account that you can use freely to send and receive payments from, with multiple currencies available. One popular use case of that service is for overseas payroll transfers, and another would be for online stores operating internationally.

With Wise, you can get the full functionality of a named bank account even as an individual. And you can issue a debit card connected to this account. But you still don’t accumulate interest on funds on account or have the ability to put that money in a savings account (or invest it in any other way). Hence, there are other, better, USD bank accounts available to Canadians.

How Banks Get Away With Such High Fees on International Money Transfers

International money transfer fees is one of the least discussed topics in Canadian personal finance and always catches people by surprise.

Canadians are slowly moving away from Big Five banks towards online banks so that they can enjoy commission-free chequing (among other advantages), and similarly move their stock trading to online brokerages to save up on fees, but often have no idea what they’re actually paying when using their banks to send money internationally. 

Bank practices when it comes to money transfer fees and exchange rates are particularly shady.

An unsuspecting customer would never realize that they are being taken advantage of when transferring money internationally through his bank. If I were to continue my TD Bank example you’ll see that in the send money internationally section of their website there is not a single mention that the exchange rates will be a lot worse than the official exchange rate. 

By the way – TD Bank is just an example I picked due to the fact they have substantial US operations. The other big banks in Canada have at least the same exchange rate profit margins. 

Most banks only mention that fees will be up to $25 per transfer, depending on destination – which can sound pretty cheap if you are sending large sums abroad. If you are sending $100,000, for example, $25 sounds like a pretty marginal fee for a massive transaction like that.  

But, of course, those international wire fees become highly irrelevant* compared to markups if you’re sending a large amount. That $100,000 example would cost you $2,500 in currency exchange fees.

*For smaller transfers, flat international wire fees are a lot more significant. If you need to pay $150 for an item bought in the U.S, then $25 makes up an extra 16% in costs, and that’s before factoring the currency exchange markups. International money transfer services don’t charge a flat fee at all.

If you navigate through TD’s website and end up on their FX calculator then they are pretty transparent about their buy and sell rates, but you would have to absolutely know what you are looking for in order to find that.

It’s important to mention that bank practices when it comes to hiding the true cost of sending money internationally aren’t unique to Canada. Other than specific countries in which regulation protects the private consumer and forces banks to disclose those hidden fees (like Denmark for example), banks all over the world – USA, Europe, UK, and Australia for example – do the exact same trick disclosing only the flat wire fees, and hoping consumers will fail to understand the real cost of currency exchange markups.

How Much is YOUR Bank Charging You For International Money Transfers? Share Your Experiences

To round up this piece about international money transfers from Canada and finding cheaper ways than banks to do them, I’d like to hear your feedback. To reiterate what I wrote previously, bank practices when it comes to sending money abroad are murky, and finding reliable information on what banks actually charge is difficult to do. (This is part of the reason why Canadian bank stocks are such excellent investments by the way.)

If you are transferring money internationally through your bank or have done so over the past years, I’d love to hear what you paid after factoring the exchange rate markup* and whether you were aware of these hidden charges at all. Similarly, on the journey to find the best international money transfers from Canada we are happy to hear about experiences with money transfer providers and how much did you manage to save by using them. 

* To calculate your international money transfer fees in retrospect, use Bank of Canada’s exchange rates for the value date of your transfer and deduct the amount you received from your bank. 

For example, if you transferred 10,000 CAD to Euro on Sept 21, 2020, when the official rate on EUROCAD was 1.5628, and you received 6150 Euros in return, it means the total fee was (10,000/1.5628-6150) = 248 Euros, or 380 CAD.

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Kyle Prevost

Kyle Prevost is Canada's Top Personal Finance Teacher and an author/speaker/advisor when he is not in his classroom. His writing has been featured across Canada’s most-read publications. When he isn’t nerding out about P/E ratios or MERs, you can find Kyle on a basketball court or in a boxing ring trying to recapture something he isn’t sure that he had in the first place.
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Nelson
6 months ago

Thankfully the status quo of banks is coming to an end. I’ve been using MTFX for a while and it’s been a major revelation in terms of sending money abroad.

sam
10 months ago

Check transferwise rate which came out much better than Remitly and OFX not sure why you didn’t cover them.

Greg
10 months ago

Interesting article. I compared the exchange rates from the 3 companies recommended here and they are all more expensive than Wise.com. I’ve been using Wise for a couple of years now and so far I haven’t been able to find anyone cheaper.

Francois
1 year ago

Informative article. If you are going to transfer a very large amount (7 figures), is it best to stagger the payment and doing it in tranches!

Brent Handy
1 year ago

I’ve been using Wise.com (formerly TransferWise) for both large and small amounts for about 5 years. To be honest, it has been clunky sometimes, but in the end I’ve always made the transfers happen. Many payment and funding options. Decent app. It looks like the rate to exchange $10K CAD to USD is actually slightly cheaper than OFX also.