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ByMark Lambert Contributing Writer

Mark Lambert is a freelance writer and journalist. He has road-tested and reviewed a wide range of technology products — from smart home security cameras to WiFi routers.

TransferWise Review

Established in 2011, TransferWise is a digital bank that specializes in providing inexpensive and transparently managed funds transfers abroad. One of a small number of emergent "neobanks," TransferWise's streamlined web portal and app allow customers to effortlessly and securely perform complex fund transfers across 40-plus currencies.

Beyond ease-of-use, the primary draw of TransferWise is its remarkably competitive fee structure. The company charges a fraction of standard banking wire transfer fees, in most cases exchanging currencies at the "real exchange rate," or the base rate at which countries measure the relative value of their currencies. In this way, TransferWise can eliminate international transfer fees charged by intermediary banks, delivering significant savings to customers — in some cases, up to 80%.

Because it doesn't offer any transactional discounts for large sums of money, TransferWise may not be a good choice for people who regularly make large transfers, and its digital-only model may be a turn-off for people who prefer the convenience of a brick-and-mortar store for in-depth support. However, if you are looking for a quick and easy way to send small sums of money abroad, TransferWise is absolutely worth looking into.

Pros
Cons
Inexpensive funds transfer across 40-plus currencies
Easy-to-use web portal and app
Not all currencies supported
No brick-and-mortar banking facilities

The Claim

TransferWise claims to be less expensive and more accessible than conventional banking if your lifestyle or working life involves transactions across multiple currencies.

Is it true?

Yes, provided you aren't shifting unusually large volumes of money. The truth is, banks have little incentive to compete for small- to medium-sized international transactions. As a consequence, if you own a small business or frequently send small amounts of money abroad for personal transactions, the chances are you'll likely pay top dollar. TransferWise is a valuable banking alternative for people in this position — it offers the midmarket exchange rate without tacking on a rate markup, so the savings potential is great for smaller transactions. On the other hand, if you regularly send large sums abroad (say, in the several hundreds of thousands), you may be able to save more with traditional banks, which begin to offer transactional discounts for large sums.

In terms of convenience, we can unreservedly report that TransferWise's claims of easier, hassle-free banking are true. It requires mere minutes to establish a borderless banking account, and this will give you instant access to international banking options it might take hours to research and set up on your own.

What TransferWise Offers

Inexpensive funds transfer across 40 currencies

Pros
Cons
Good exchange rates
Not all currencies currently supported

TransferWise has repositories of funds in banks all over the world. When a TransferWise customer shifts funds from one currency to another, TransferWise performs that transaction using its stored funds. Crucially, your money doesn't trace a path through the international banking system (attracting fees along the way). Instead, TransferWise handles the transaction for you. The benefit for customers is twofold: You can perform the transfer at a highly favorable exchange rate, and you eliminate the costly banking intermediaries who'd otherwise take a cut from the transaction.

Borderless bank account

Pros
Cons
Transfers via TransferWise's web portal and app
Bank details for five international accounts
Competitive exchange rates
No brick-and-mortar banking facilities

The TransferWise borderless bank account gives its customers a unified portal for efficiently managing currencies. Through one bank account, customers gain access to banking facilities in the U.S., U.K., eurozone, Australia, and New Zealand. In one step (requiring minutes rather than hours), you gain access to sufficient banking infrastructure to handle a host of international transactions. Moreover, for any funds transfer you process through the borderless account, the real exchange rate (meaning a rate free of additional charges) will apply. Additonally, borderless bank account holders receive a debit Mastercard. As a result, accessing these banking services is as simple as swiping a conventional credit card.

Product Overview

  • In business since: 2011
  • J.D. Power 2019 U.S. Online Banking Satisfaction Study score: N/A
  • FDIC-insured: Yes
  • Countries served: 59
  • Number of locations: N/A (online-only bank)
  • Pros: 40-plus currencies, transparent fees, highly rated mobile app
  • Cons: No physical stores, may not be the cheapest for large transfers

Features

Standard account
One-off payments in 40-plus currencies
Inexpensive currency exchange abroad
Fee calculator
Borderless bank account
Easy currency exchange systems
Five international bank account numbers
TransferWise Mastercard
TransferWise for Business
Full transparency for transaction reporting
Receive money with zero fees
TransferWise Business Mastercard

Information accurate as of December 2019.

Currency exchange made easy

For conventional banking, minimizing your fees while sending and receiving across multiple currencies requires research, an awareness of hidden charges, and, in many cases, fortunate timing. TransferWise's claim is that its app and web user interface sidesteps much of the research requirement and uncertainty of international transfers. Moreover, it can get you transferring money in minutes.

We found that its online tools live up to that promise. The TransferWise app consistently outperforms equivalent products for transparent currency exchanges with minimal fee outlay, and it's highly rated — earning a 4.5 out of five from Google Play and 4.8 out of five from the Apple App Store. Furthermore, it's unequivocally one of the easiest ways to move money between banks across multiple currencies. In most circumstances, you can progress from initial signup to the first transaction in mere minutes.

Inexpensive currency transfer abroad

TransferWise offers what it calls a "borderless account." This feature is at the heart of how TransferWise can make your international banking life more straightforward.

Upon activating your TransferWise account, you'll receive local bank account numbers in five countries. In essence, you're gaining access to a unified system for handling over 40 currencies and a means of transferring funds at bank exchange rates — that is to say, a true midmarket rate with zero markup. The upshot? You pay a fraction of what you'd pay to perform the same exchange through conventional international banking, which often tacks on rate markups.

Don't take our word for it; independent research compared TransferWise to five other U.S. banks and found that TransferWise was up to four times cheaper. Savings from ATM transactions are particularly noteworthy, benchmarking at up to six times less expensive than that of the competition. Researchers also found that TransferWise's transaction costs were up to seven times cheaper when sending $1,000 abroad.

Full transparency and no hidden fees

For conventional domestic banking, a complete transaction breakdown might not make a typical consumer's top-three list of selling points. But international banking is a little different. You're often looking at larger currency exchanges, your money is passing through more digital hands, and of course, there's the general uncertainty of dealing with financial institutions abroad. In these conditions, transparency can become a critical differentiating factor.

Through TransferWise, every transaction comes with a complete report on fees, as well as the currency exchange rate for that transaction. The simplicity of its reporting is enhanced by the comparative simplicity of its transfer method. Unlike conventional banks, TransferWise maintains large stores of currencies across the world. Your money, therefore, doesn't exchange in the traditional sense of banking — TransferWise handles your deposit, and a parallel payment occurs in your destination currency. The convoluted financial steps you avoid don't just save you money in exchange fees; they also yield a substantially simpler and more transparent paper trail.

Possible drawbacks

Not the best for larger sums

TransferWise excels at making small- to medium-sized international transfers more cost-effective. However, once you start transferring large sums of money, traditional banks may begin to cut their fees and offer competitive transfer rates to attract your business. If you regularly transfer large sums abroad, it may pay to do your research to see if a regular bank can deliver a similar — or even better — rate.

Slower transfer times

While your transaction times will vary, on average, you're looking at up to three days to transfer your money abroad with TransferWise. While this is by no means slow (depending on your destination country, you may well be looking at similar transaction times via conventional wire transfer), it's certainly not the fastest international funds transfer method — other banks offer same-day international transfers, albeit with additional fees.

Not a universal funds transfer solution

As you'll see on its list of supported countries, TransferWise is active in many countries — 59, to be precise. However, more exotic destinations may not yet be supported. Keep an eye out for countries as they're added, but know that you may have to seek out a different service if TransferWise doesn't yet serve the country you're looking for.

The Competition

  TransferWise Chase Bank of America
Monthly maintenance fees
N/A $12-$25 or $0 with minimum balance requirements $4.95-$25 or $0 with minimum balance requirements
Number of countries supported for international transfers
50+ 90+ 200+
24/7 customer service
Physical branches?
View plans View plans View plans

All information accurate as of December 2019.

TransferWise FAQ

Can I use TransferWise to send money to any country in the world?

Not yet. Currently, you can use TransferWise to send money to Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Europe, Georgia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Ivory Coast, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Thailand, Togo, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, and Vietnam.

Will a TransferWise funds transfer be instant?

International transfers require an average of two to three days if you're transferring funds with a bank account, but that time can vary depending on where the funds are going. Banking systems around the world have different holidays, banking hours, and domestic funds transfer systems. For the most part, transfers using a debit or credit card are significantly faster, sometimes requiring as little as a few minutes.

How do I sign up to TransferWise?

You can set up an account with TransferWise through its website. Whether you're setting up a personal or a business account, all you'll need is an email address and payment details. When you make your first transaction, TransferWise may also need to verify your ID and address, a process designed to ensure that you and your money are kept safe.

The Bottom Line

TransferWise is an inexpensive, accessible, and transparent way to send money abroad. It's particularly great if you typically send low- to medium-sized sums; if you regularly transfer large amounts, you may find that you're better off with a traditional bank. Additionally, TransferWise doesn't serve as many countries as traditional banks, and it may not be the best fit if you prefer in-person customer support. However, if TransferWise serves your area and supports your transfer goals, it may well save you time and money.

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