Wise vs international bank transfer: Which one is cheaper?

Wondering what's best, Wise (formerly TransferWise) vs international bank transfer? Or perhaps you're wondering if using Wise is worth it compared to sending money with your bank?

In this in-depth, side by side comparison of Wise vs international transfers with regular banks, we'll be looking at price, speed, safety, ease of use, and more. Plus, we'll be comparing different transfer amounts and currencies.

Let's get started.

TransferWise vs international bank transfer: overview

Price: your recipient can get up to 4% more with Wise - that’s 400 USD more if you’re sending 10,000 GBP. That’s thanks to Wise’s better exchange rates and more transparent fees

We compared Wise to leading UK banks to see the costs of sending £1,000, £5,000 and £10,000 to an account held in USD. We found that Wise's costs are around 3% - 4% cheaper than banks. The largest difference was when sending £10,000 with Lloyds. In this example, your recipient could get over 400 dollars more if you choose Wise instead.

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Speed: Wise is faster. On average, banks take 3-5 working days to send money internationally. With Wise 40% of payments are instant, and 80% arrive within 24 hours

Safety: Wise is as safe as a bank for international transfers. In the UK, Wise is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) - Wise is also overseen by a range of regulators around the world.

Transparency: With Wise you always know how much you pay; Wise always display their fees before you complete the transfer, and there are no intermediary costs to pay. Bank international transfers usually include an exchange rate markup, and may incur intermediary fees if they’re sent using SWIFT. We’ll cover this more later.

Ease of use: Setting up a Wise account is done online or via the Wise app. You’ll need to get your account verified - which can be instant or may take up to 2 days. Banks may also need to ask for verification when you send a payment, to comply with financial legislation.

Overall: Wise is able to offer better services because, fundamentally, they are moving money in a more efficient way. Whereas other providers use SWIFT, a messaging service set up in the 1970's to move money internationally, Wise has built its own payment network. The network is cheaper, faster, and more transparent, and Wise passes those benefits on to its customers. This is why Wise has been able to grow so quickly, and supports over 10 million customers.

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How much can you save with Wise?

The easiest way to see the difference between sending an international transfer with a regular bank vs with Wise is to see how much more your recipient will get in the end when you send the same GBP amount. Here’s a rundown of what your recipient will get when sending a range of different payments from the UK to the US, to be received in US dollars.

Amount & Currency

With Wise recipient gets

With Barclays recipient gets

With Lloyds recipient gets

1,000 GBP - USD

1,306.02 USD

1,271.75 USD


(34.27 USD less than with Wise)

1,254.66 USD


(51.36 USD less than with Wise)

5,000 GBP - USD

6,532.67 USD

6,359.72 USD


(172.95 USD less than with Wise)

6,322.41 USD


(210.26 USD less than with Wise)

10,000 GBP - USD

13,064.81 USD

12,718.47 USD 


(346.34 USD less than with Wise)

12,655.89 USD


(408.92 USD less than with Wise)

*Data correct at time of research - 9th March 2022

As you can see, in each case, your recipient would get more in the end with Wise. This is usually down to the fact that Wise uses the mid-market exchange rate with no markup, whereas banks add an extra fee to the rates they use. We’ll look at this in more detail in just a moment.

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How can Wise be cheaper than international bank transfers?

Wise international payments don’t work in the same way as international transfers arranged by traditional banks.

When you send money with a regular bank it’s likely to be sent using the SWIFT network. In a SWIFT transfer, your money is passed along to the destination account through one or more intermediary or correspondent banks - like a passenger taking connecting flights to get to where they’re headed. This can take some time to arrange - and the banks involved can also charge a fee, pushing up costs.

Wise built its own payment network to get rid of intermediary services and make the process of moving money faster, cheaper and more transparent. That means that you fund your international transfer by sending money to the Wise local GBP bank account, and an equivalent amount is then passed on from the Wise account in the destination country. No money ever crosses any borders, which cuts a lot of the costs, inefficiency and waste from the system. These savings are passed to customers through lower fees and better exchange rates.

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Wise vs international bank transfers: the costs explained

There are a few costs you’ll want to know about when deciding whether to use Wise or your regular bank to send money overseas. Here’s how the key costs break down with Wise:

Service

Wise fee[1]

Open your account

Free

Monthly fees

Free

Send international payments

From 0.35% 

Receive international payments

Free to receive payments in 10 currencies to your Wise account - including USD ACH transfers


7.50 USD charge to receive a USD wire payment

The costs of opening and using a regular bank account do vary widely between banks and account products. You may pay a monthly service fee, and you’ll almost always have to pay a range of transaction fees when you send or receive money from abroad. Here’s an overview of some typical costs:

Service

Traditional bank fee

Open your account

Minimum opening deposit may apply

Monthly fees

Many major banks offer current accounts without monthly fees; specialist accounts may come with monthly maintenance costs of £10 - £20 or more[2]

Send international payments

Up to 40 GBP

Receive international payments

Some banks allow free payments - others charge up to 7.50 GBP

Even if you have a regular bank current account for day to day use, sending your international payment through online or in branch banking will probably cost you more than choosing a specialist provider like Wise.

Wise does not have any account opening or maintenance fee, no minimum balance and no inactivity charge - so you’ll only ever pay for the services you use with no risk of getting caught out by sneaky hidden costs.

Exchange rates: not what they seem

Exchange rates can be confusing. They move around all the time, and it often feels like each bank or provider offers a different rate for the same transaction.

The most important exchange rate to know is the mid-market exchange rate for your currency pair. This is the one the banks get when they buy and sell currency themselves. However, it’s not often the rate they give their customers. Instead banks and many currency exchange providers add a markup - an extra fee - to the rate they use for international transfers. That’s not transparent and can mount up quickly - especially when you send higher value payments.

Wise is on a mission to make financial services more transparent - so Wise international payments are made using the mid-market exchange rate with no markup. Instead, there’s a small variable fee which is split out from the exchange rate to make it easier to see exactly what your transfer is costing you.

SWIFT: the unexpected cost

As we mentioned earlier, bank international transfers are usually processed through the SWIFT network. This involves passing the money through one or more intermediary banks until it reaches the right destination account. Intermediaries can charge fees for this service - but the biggest problem is often that the full costs can’t be known in advance. This can mean you pay unexpected fees, and your recipient gets less than you expected in the end.

Wise doesn’t use the SWIFT network to process payments, so you’ll be able to see exactly what your recipient will get in the end before you confirm your transfer.

How does Wise work?

Wise is not a bank. It’s a financial technology company which was created to provide new ways of moving money which are faster, cheaper and more efficient than old-school banks.

You can open your Wise account online or in the Wise app for free, and send payments to 80+ countries with just a few clicks.

You can also open a Wise multi-currency account if you want to hold 50+ currencies, get paid for free from overseas, and avoid foreign transaction fees when you shop with an international debit card.

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Wise vs traditional banks: comparing the features

International money transfers are not core business for traditional banks. This is reflected in the fees you’ll pay, and the fact that many regular banks haven’t invested in better infrastructure to make international payments faster and easier for customers.

Here are a few key features of managing your money internationally with Wise compared to using a bank:

Wise

Traditional UK banks

International payment services are core businessInternational payments are an additional service, not offered for all account holders
Mid-market exchange rateExchange rates typically use a markup
Transparent feesFees may be hard to understand, including third party costs and an exchange rate markup
Estimated delivery time provided instantlyYou may not know how long your payment will take
Free to open multi-currency account optionsMulti-currency accounts less common and may come with restrictive eligibility criteria
Spend internationally with linked debit card and no foreign transaction feeInternational card payments often have a foreign transaction fee to pay
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Delivery time: is Wise faster than banks?

Banks may be able to show you an estimated delivery time when you make a payment - but it’s common not to know exactly when your recipient may get their funds.

Processing times can vary - and your payment must be arranged before a set cut off time, or it won’t get moving until the next business day. To give an example, Barclays has a 3:00pm cut off for processing if you’d like a next day delivery service. Lloyds payments can take 3 business days to arrive.

Let’s compare that with the delivery speeds estimated by Wise at the time of research - we looked at a few currency routes to give a flavour:

Transfer routes

Wise

GBP - USD

Estimated to arrive by the next day

GBP  - EUR

Estimated to arrive within 6 hours

GBP  - INR

Estimated to arrive within in seconds

*Correct at time of research 9th March 2022

Ultimately the delivery time for an international payment - from a regular bank or Wise - can vary based on where you’re sending to and the recipient bank’s own processes. However, Wise can usually get your money moving quickly, and its delivery times will often beat the bank significantly.

Wise vs international money transfer: is it safe?

Wise isn’t a bank, but for the services it offers it’s regulated just like a bank - making it every bit as safe as a traditional bank payment.

Wise also employs industry level processes - both manual and automated - to make sure customer funds are kept safe at every stage. These include thorough account verification, anti-fraud measures, and holding ample regulatory capital to keep customers’ money safe.

Learn more about Wise safety and regulation here.

Transparency: watch out for the hidden costs

When sending an international payment you’ll want to know exactly what the costs involved will be. Wise does this by using the mid-market exchange rate and showing processing costs as a separate line. No intermediaries are used, so there are no surprises lurking there either.

Banks aren’t usually as transparent. Bank exchange rates often include a markup - which makes it harder to see what you’re paying - and intermediary charges aren’t always known in advance. That means your recipient may get less than you expect in the end.

Wise vs international bank transfers: ease of use

To send an international money transfer you’ll need to create an account, get verified and then fund your payment. Here’s how Wise vs banks stack up when it comes to ease of use:

Wise: set up an account online or in the Wise app and upload your documents for verification. Wise transfer times can be instant, with most payments arriving within 24 hours. Transfer limits do apply but it’s possible to make several payments if your preferred transfer value exceeds the currency limit. Get instant customer support in the Wise app - or get in touch by phone or email if you’d prefer.

Banks: some providers allow you to set up an account online and upload your documents for verification - others require you to visit a branch. Bank transfer times tend to be around 3+ working days. Transfer limits vary by account type and provider. You can often get customer support online, by phone and in branch.

With Wise the process of transferring money abroad can be easier and faster than with banks. The process from registration to transferring money can be done in the same day.

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Coverage

Wise payments can be sent to 80+ countries, and you can hold 50+ currencies in your Wise account.

Banks tend not to offer multi-currency account products to personal customers - and if they do they’re likely to only cover a handful of major currencies like EUR and USD. Payments can normally be sent on common currency routes, but less popular routes may not be available or may take longer to arrive.

TransferWise vs international bank transfers: pros and cons


Wise

Banks

Pros

  • Mid-market exchange rate with no markup

  • Low, transparent fees

  • Fast transfers - usually arrive in 24 hours at most

  • Arrange a payment in branch or by phone if you prefer

  • Familiar and reliable service


Cons

  • No branch service

  • Fees vary by destination country and currency 

  • Exchange rates usually have a markup

  • Fees can be on the high side

Wise international payments can usually be arranged for a lower fee compared to regular banks, and may arrive much faster too. If you’d rather make your payment in person in a branch then your bank might be right for you - otherwise, you may be able to save with Wise.

Conclusion

Turning to your bank might seem like the obvious thing to do when you need to send money overseas - but it’s not usually the cheapest or fastest.

International payments just aren’t core business for regular banks which means they can come with relatively high fees and slow processing times. Specialist providers like Wise, on the other hand, were built with international transfers in mind, and offer revolutionary new approaches to getting your money moving for less.

Go To Wise

FAQ:

Is Wise better than a bank?

Wise doesn’t offer all the same services a regular bank might - but for international transfers and multi-currency account products, Wise often has a much lower costs than many banks.

Is Wise a bank?

Wise is not a bank, but it’s regulated in much the same way as a bank is for the services it provides.

How does Wise work?

Set up a Wise account for free online or in the Wise app, and arrange transfers online and on the go whenever you need to.

Is Wise safe to transfer money?

Wise is FCA registered and authorised to operate in the UK and around the world. It’s a safe way to send and hold foreign currency payments.

Is Wise cheaper than banks?

In our cost comparisons, Wise had lower overall fees and a better exchange rate than traditional banks.

By Ileana Ionescu
Updated 14 May 2022