The best UK banks for sending money abroad

09.04.18
4 minute read
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It should be so easy, shouldn’t it? In these days of cheap flights, multinational companies and instant messaging, you’d have thought that sending money to someone abroad would be as simple as a couple of clicks. Well, the good news is that it can be… but the bad news is that if you use a bank to make your transfer, you might find yourself stuck in the dark ages.

When you transfer abroad, your money will generally have to be converted into a new currency — from pounds to euros or US dollars, for example. But the exact value of your money in other currencies is constantly changing, as the exchange rates fluctuate. And to make matters worse, compared to the rate you’d see on Google or XE, banks set their own exchange rates — which of course means they can charge a worse rate than they need, and simply pocket the difference.

That’s not the only cost you’re likely to face with a bank. It’s also common for banks to charge fixed fees for international transfers — and for many such transfers, extra ‘correspondent’ (or ‘intermediary’) banks, as well as the destination bank, could also end up taking a cut. You probably won’t hear about those correspondent fees in advance, though, because even your bank might not know exactly what they’ll be.

A simple and transparent alternative

Does it have to be like that? The simple answer is, “no.” There are alternative ways to send money abroad. One is TransferWise, which only ever converts money at the mid-market exchange rate — that’s the real rate, the one that banks use when trading between themselves. So instead of a marked-up exchange rate and unpredictable bank fees, you get your money sent at the real rate. And you’ll have just one simple fee to deal with, always stated upfront, so there are no nasty surprises.

But anyhow, here are some of the best UK banks when it comes to getting money overseas. Take a look at each, and good luck keeping your costs down.

The figures in this table are examples only - showing how much you’re likely to have to pay for a transfer of £1,000 from a UK account to a dollar bank account in the US.

Provider Fee for £1000 Exchange rate Correspondent bank fees Total cost
TransferWise £4.78 (0.5% of the transfer amount) the real exchange rate none £4.78
Barclays £25 or £40 in branch, £15 online or via mobile exchange rate + markup varies + £4 recipient fee £19-44 + exchange rate markup + correspondent bank fees
co-operative Bank £13 (0.25% or minimum £13) or £8 for a slower payment exchange rate + markup varies £8-13 + exchange rate markup + correspondent bank fees
First Direct £0 exchange rate + markup varies £0 + exchange rate markup + correspondent bank fees
Halifax £9.50 exchange rate + markup £12 £21.50 + exchange rate markup
HSBC UK £9 in branch, £30 in branch (priority), £4 online (or free to other HSBC accounts) exchange rate + markup varies £0-£30 + exchange rate markup + correspondent bank fees
Lloyds £9.50 exchange rate + markup £12 £21.50 + exchange rate markup
Metro Bank £25 exchange rate + markup varies £25 + exchange rate markup + correspondent bank fees
Nationwide £20 exchange rate + markup varies £20 + exchange rate markup + correspondent bank fees
NatWest £22 exchange rate + markup varies £22 + exchange rate markup + correspondent bank fees
RBS £22 (Royworld economy payment) or £30 (Royworld express payment) exchange rate + markup varies £22-£30 + exchange rate markup + correspondent bank fees
Santander UK £25 exchange rate + markup varies £25 + exchange rate markup + correspondent bank fees
TSB £10 exchange rate + markup varies £10 + exchange rate markup + correspondent bank fees

A couple of things to note about the figures in this table. Firstly, they were looked up on 8 April 2018, but could change. Secondly, the total costs include both upfront fees and correspondent bank fees.

As the sender of the money, you might not have to pay all of these — some are sometimes paid by the recipient rather than the sender, especially in the case of the correspondent fees. When you make the transfer, your bank might give you a choice about who pays what, although they might not — it varies from case to case. Anyhow, someone still pays for it. And it’s not the bank.

You can also see from the table that there’s a lot of variation in how much UK banks charge for international transfers — and that it’s often difficult to predict the real cost because of uncertainty over correspondent fees and changeable exchange rates. And of course, to use one of these banks to transfer your cash, you’ll need to have an account with them first.

So while you might have thought that using your bank was the easiest way to get money abroad, in fact it might well not be. It’s certainly worth a look at TransferWise, to see if its better exchange rate and clear fee structure could save you both money and uncertainty.

Take a look at live, up-to-date comparisons between TransferWise and other banks and service providers in the UK today. Join the millions who save on their international transfers with TransferWise.

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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