Last week, an MH4C reader and close friend was asking about how to cut costs when it comes to overseas transfers. They are missionaries in Australia and have realized that transferring money overseas can get expensive. I’ve also had several similar emails over the last year. If you’re not a missionary, you might want to forward this article to a missionary friend because it could literally save them hundreds of dollars a year if they’re using an expensive method for transferring funds overseas.
This post is a partial answer and an invitation to others to share what they’ve done to get funds overseas.
Cheapest and Fastest Ways for Missionaries to Transfer Funds Overseas
What you need to know
A lot of folks don’t understand that it is impossible to get the Interbank Exchange rate. Consider that the wholesale rate. Any bank who is going to exchange your funds will need to make a profit as they exchange their funds. The goal is twofold. Find a bank that (1) has the smallest percentage difference from the Interbank rate, and (2) has the least amount of associated fees.
Missionary Options for Getting Funds in their Local Currency
Bank to Bank Transfer
In my experience in Papua New Guinea (PNG), this was the most expensive way to transfer funds from the US to PNG. However, it is also the most common way to transfer money. Typically, we’d pay a fee (about $60) for the transfer, and then we’d only get a slightly competitive rate. At the time, I was banking with a Credit Union so when we did international transfers, they always wanted a fax to confirm my identity. There was always an extra layer of hassle to make transfers this way. Now this is probably easier if you have a larger bank with online banking.
Depending on your bank, you may be charged a foreign currency exchange fee if you use your bank card overseas. My Credit Union didn’t charge a fee until a few years ago, and then they started charging 1%. Remember, this is an extra charge on top of the fee they charge on top of the Interbank Rate. Since we had a Visa card, our rate was 3% above the Interbank rate. You’ll want to be sure that you find an ATM that doesn’t charge fees per withdrawal.
If I remember correctly, Bank of America and Charles Schwab have no foreign currency fee options with their ATM cards. If you have a bank with a reasonable exhange rate and no additional fees, this may be a good way to bring your money over in small increments.
Use a Currency Exchange Website like Xe.com
I’m not going to presume to know all the websites a person can use to transfer funds overseas, but the one I’ve personally used and liked is Xe.com. I found this to be the cheapest way to transfer funds overseas.
Here’s what originally attracted me to xe.com:
- There is no transaction fee to have a check sent or an ACH transfer.
- The exchange rates are competitive.
- It’s simple to use.
In our case, we took advantage of xe.com, not just to transfer funds overseas, but also to reduce the cost of making payments in foreign currencies.
As an example, as a Canadian living in Papua New Guinea, I had to renew my passports through the office in Canberra, Australia. For me to get an Australian dollar bank draft from the bank in PNG, it cost about $25 USD in fees. However, with xe.com, I’d just request a free check to be sent to the Australian High Commission, and I wouldn’t pay any fess. We did a similar thing when we needed to send a check to someone in Canada. We’d use xe.com to send a fee free check to any address in Canada.
As you can see below, once you sign in you just need to fill out a little bit of basic information. Once you’ve set up your accounts and address book, you can just have them withdraw funds from your US account and deposit the funds (via ACH) into your overseas bank account. Of course, you can also request a check without a fee. In the example below, $5,000 US would give you $4,701.02 AUD. The mid market exchange rate for $5,000 is $4,783.42 AUD, so this is a fairly competitive transfer rate.
Doing the math moving forward:
The best way to find the cheapest way to transfer funds overseas is to do a test as close together as possible. Take money out of an ATM and see how much money you received in the local currency. When you get home, log into your xe.com account and see how much you could have received for transferring that money. Then, contact your bank and ask them what you’d get if you transferred funds to your overseas account. When I did this little experiment from USD to PGK, I found that xe.com was the cheapest way to transfer our funds overseas.
A bonus option:
If you have visitors come from the US, then it’s a good idea to ask them to exchange their currency directly with you. You’ll get a better rate and they’ll get a better rate.
If you have experience transferring funds overseas, what methods have you found to be the cheapest and fastest?