The true cost of sending money overseas with PayPal

07.03.18
8 minute read
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Since launching close on 20 years ago, PayPal has played a big role in transforming ecommerce. Today, PayPal shapes how regular people all over the world manage their finances. You can use your PayPal account to shop online, receive payments if you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur, and send cash to family and friends. Thanks to PayPal, there’s never any excuse to avoid paying your friend back for that restaurant bill, and you’ll always be able to order a last minute birthday gift using PayPal online.

Today, PayPal covers a huge 202 markets, and consists of 218 million active, registered accounts, sending, receiving and holding funds in 25 different currencies. They’re busy people.

As the world is ever more connected, more and more of us want to make international money transfers, for example to send cash to family and friends overseas. If you’re considering sending money abroad using your PayPal account, there are a few things you need to know about how to set up your international money transfer.

Here’s a step-by-step guide.

Sending money abroad? TransferWise could save you. A lot.

transferwise a better way

Before you get started, a word.

Banks and money transfer providers often give you a bad exchange rate to make extra profits.

TransferWise is different. Its smart new technology skips hefty international transfer fees by connecting local bank accounts all around the world. Which means you can save up to 8x by using TransferWise rather than your bank when you send your money abroad. Not only that, but independent research has shown that sending a business payment through TransferWise rather than through UK or US PayPal can be up to 8x cheaper.

Check out how to make your first transfer with TransferWise. And give it a try.

Oh, and while you’re at it, check out TransferWise’s free borderless multi-currency account. Where you can manage and send dozens of currencies all from the same account.

Now, back to what you came here to read.


Understand the costs of sending money overseas with PayPal

understanding paypal costs

If you’re going to send money abroad with PayPal, then it pays to know a little about the fees and charges you’ll encounter along the way. All the fees and charges discussed here relate to a PayPal USA account - if you’re based elsewhere in the world the costs might be slightly different. Check out the fees section of PayPal’s local website wherever you are, for more details.

PayPal international transfer fees

When you arrange an international transfer with PayPal, from a PayPal account based in the USA, you need to understand both the fee structure, and the currency conversion rate applied.

The international transfer fees you’ll be charged depend on where you’re sending money to - and how you fund the transfer. It’s free to send money within the US and Canada to friends and family, but if you want to send cash to another country using either your PayPal balance, or a linked bank account, it’ll cost you between 0.3%-2%¹ of the transaction amount.

If you choose to fund your transfer using a credit card, debit card, or PayPal credit, then you’ll pay even more. The fees in this case range from 3.4%-3.9%¹ of the total transaction amount, plus a small fixed fee which depends on the currency involved.

Find out all you need to know about PayPal’s international transfer fees for the US - and how best to avoid them.

PayPal conversion rate vs bank exchange rates

PayPal charges international transfer fees, but that’s not all you need to know about. If you’re sending money internationally, you’ll also find that you pay a currency conversion spread of 2.5%-3%², which is added onto the wholesale exchange rate.

What that means, is that PayPal takes the exchange rate they get from a third party, and adds their conversion spread. You can see this if you compare the PayPal exchange rate with the mid-market rate, sometimes called wholesale, spot, or interbank rate. It’s the same rate you can find if you google USD (US dollars) along with the other currency involved in your international transfer. Exchange rates change all the time, but you can see the exchange rate that PayPal is offering you for your transfer, by logging into your PayPal account.

Why the exchange rate is so important to pay attention to is that, oftentimes, this is where many banks and transfer providers make a bulk of their profit. But it’s not something normally spelled out upfront. And it’s often not called a fee.

The mid-market rate is the only real exchange rate - it’s what you’ll find on Google, and the one that banks use to trade money on global financial markets. You can find it for your currency pairing by using a currency converter online - then compare it with the rate you got from PayPal. The difference between the mid-market rate and the one that PayPal offers, is another part of the profit they’re making on that transaction.

Between this and the international transaction charges described above, you can find that the costs of making an international money transfer with PayPal mount up pretty quickly.

Sending money abroad - alternatives to PayPal

paypal alternatives

If you decide against sending money abroad with PayPal, you have a couple of other options.

  • Try a different money transfer service - which might be cheaper that PayPal
  • Turn to your regular bank - which could be slower, but at least it’s familiar

Try an alternative: You could save up to 8x by using TransferWise for your international transfers

PayPal is undeniably a convenient way to send money to friends and family. But there are other money transfer services which could offer you a better deal. Independent studies have shown that, if you’re making a business payment internationally through PayPal, that it may be up to 8x cheaper⁴ to use TransferWise. Many have found similar savings by using TransferWise rather than their bank or when sending money abroad.

With TransferWise, your money is sent locally from a bank account in one country, and ends up being sent out from a local bank account in the destination country. Because everything is done locally, money doesn’t cross borders, which is how TransferWise’s smart new technology avoids hefty international transfer fees. Not only that, but banks and money transfer providers add in an additional 4-6% cost by giving poor exchange rates. However, with TransferWise, every international money transfer is made using the real, mid-market rate. You’re only charged a small, fair fee for your transaction. The cost is set out upfront so there are no nasty surprises.

If you frequently make cross-border payments, you may consider signing up for the free TransferWise borderless multi-currency account. You can manage dozens of currencies, receive payments locally in the US, the UK, the EU and Australia, and send out money, too.

Turn to your regular bank and make an international wire transfer

If you’d rather process your international money transfer - also known as a wire transfer - in person, then you can always call into your local bank. However, the costs of making an international transfer with your bank are a shock for many people.

The fees related to making a wire transfer online, or on the phone via your normal bank, are usually a little lower. That’s if your bank even offers the service online. Check out the terms and conditions for your particular account before you commit.

Watch out for extra fees thanks to the SWIFT network

Unfortunately, if you choose to send your money via a traditional bank, they often won’t be able to tell you exactly what your transfer will cost you if your transfer is processed using the SWIFT network.

The SWIFT network is how international transfers are passed from one bank to another, using a system of international protocols to make sure the money stays safe, and finds its way to the correct account in the end. Banks all over the globe work together to complete the transaction - so there could be several intermediaries working on a single international transfer. Each of these banks take a fee of their own. These fees add up, and can mean that the recipient gets less money than you might expect, as it has been eroded by charges.

For many people, traditional banks just don’t offer the best service when it comes to international money transfers. The truth is that although banks are familiar, they aren’t necessarily convenient - and they’re seldom cheap.

Alternatives like PayPal are convenient and simple to use - but while PayPal is great for local transfers and shopping online, the fees for international transactions are fairly high.

If you want the online convenience of PayPal, but without the scary fees for sending cash overseas, TransferWise could be the answer. Do your research, and see what you could save - for many customers, TransferWise offers a better deal on international money transfers.

After seeing the full costs of sending money abroad with PayPal, you still want to go ahead, read on.

How to make an international money transfer with PayPal

how to make an international money transfer

If you do decide to make an international money transfer with PayPal, you’ll have a few options³.

Choose the payment route you want to use

Depending on where you’re sending money to, you’ll be able to choose from some of the following payment routes:

  • Send money to another individual’s PayPal wallet
  • Set up a home delivery of cash
  • Make a direct bank deposit
  • Have your recipient pick up the money you send from a participating location

Some of these services are delivered through Xoom³, which is a PayPal subsidiary specialising in certain types of payments and transfers. If you send cash to your recipient’s PayPal wallet then they’ll need to have a PayPal account themselves to be able to access it. However, for the other options you can transfer cash via PayPal, even if the recipient doesn’t have a PayPal account themselves.

Not all transfer options are available in all countries and currencies.

Arrange your PayPal international payment

To find out what delivery options are available for the country you’re sending money to, you’ll have to visit the PayPal webpage. Here you can input the country you want to transfer cash to, and pull up a list of the options available - and the fees.

Once you have chosen the delivery option that suits you, simply click ‘send money now’³, to log into your account and process the transfer. The details you will need to input depend on the route you choose, but you’ll be guided through the process by on-screen prompts.

Need more info? Check out these PayPal articles:

#####Sources
1 https://www.paypalobjects.com/digitalassets/c/website/marketing/na/us/ebooks/pdf/fees-page.pdf (March 7, 2018)
2 https://www.paypalobjects.com/webstatic/ua/pdf/US/en_US/ua.pdf (March 7, 2018)
3 https://www.paypal.com/us/webapps/mpp/send-money-abroad (March 7, 2018)
4 https://transferwise.com/gb/blog/transferwise-vs-paypal-savings (March 7, 2018)

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