Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. If you click through and purchase an item, I may earn a commission. See my terms of service for details.
There is a fierce battle taking place in the lucrative foreign exchange (forex) market. At the retail level, many forex companies are vying for our business. Traditionally, banks got our patronage while competing among themselves and money transfer services such as Western Union and MoneyGram. In the past ten years, the landscape has changed significantly with the rise of financial technology companies (FinTechs), which seek to disrupt traditional lines of business, namely, how money is sent between people.
FinTechs leverage the Internet and technology to create innovative, cost-saving processes. Also, they focus on keeping overhead costs low to pass savings onto customers. While banks continue to offer terrible rates wrapped in high/hidden fees, some FinTechs quote real-time rates and charge less than 1 percent or nothing at all.
There are at least a dozen online money transfer companies that offer currency conversion services with some focused more on remittance. For example, Remitly enables transfers from the United States to the Philippines, India, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Perú, & El Salvador. However, Mexicans, Colombians, and so on can’t send money to someone in the United States. WorldRemit works similarly in that users can send money to 140 countries, but only send from fifty.
Here is a short-list of companies that facilitate online money transfers:
- Payza (not recommended)
- Skrill (not recommended)
- Western Union
- Xoom (Owned by PayPal)
Beyond Sending Money
Azimo doesn’t appeal to me. Although they charge low fees, their exchange rates aren’t the best. Furthermore, the pool of countries in which I can send money from is shallow and excludes the United States. Azimo appears to be a small, regional player in Europe and nothing more. For instance, I can only select from a handful of European countries when I attempt to set up my profile. As a global citizen, Azimo doesn’t offer me enough tools to manage my money. By contrast, PayPal, Revolut, and TransferWise provide multiple services for world travelers and remote workers. All three offer money transfer services, money accounts, and prepaid debit cards. As Azimo, CurrencyFair, and others limit themselves to currency conversion services, a few big players are extending their leads.
Let’s review PayPal, Revolut, and TransferWise regarding money transfers, money accounts, and prepaid debit cards for personal use.
PayPal provides online payment and money transfer solutions. It enables its users to transact money through their account balances, bank accounts, and credit cards. Their money transfer and payment platforms include Braintree, Xoom, and Venmo. They “believe that now is the time to democratize financial services so that moving and managing money is a right for all citizens, not just the affluent.”
- Donation transfer
- Money transfer
- Online money account
- Online payment
- Prepaid debit card
- Purchase insurance
Revolut is a digital banking alternative that includes a prepaid debit card, currency exchange, and peer-to-peer payments. It has developed a platform allowing users to transfer, exchange, and spend money with a multi-currency card that is accepted everywhere. They are on “a mission to build a fair and frictionless platform to use and manage money around the world.”
- Cryptocurrency trading
- Mobile phone insurance
- Money transfer
- Online money account
- Prepaid debit card
- Travel/medical insurance
TransferWise has financial services for everyone including people who travel, live, and work abroad. Sending money overseas with TransferWise is up to eight times cheaper than banks, and their borderless account allows users to hold, manage, and spend money in 28 different currencies. They provide “the fairest, easiest way to manage your money internationally.”
- Money transfer
- Online money account
- Prepaid debit card
Local & Single-Currency
- PayPal offers single-currency transfers. When users send and receive money in the same currency, no fee is applied. Sending money in the same currency can be accomplished through PayPal or Venmo (within the U.S. only).
- Revolut offers single-currency transfers. When users send and receive money in the same currency, no fee is applied.
- TransferWise doesn’t offer single-currency transfers. They are a currency conversion service, so they do not receive and send out the same currency in a single transfer.
International & Multiple Currencies
Regarding foreign exchange transactions, there are a few items to consider:
- The quoted exchange or conversion rate: The best exchange rate you can get is known as the real-time or mid-market rate. I call it the “Google rate” because Google showcases real-time rates between two currencies in their search results. Most money transfer providers quote non-real-time rates to profit from bid-ask spreads. The bid-ask spread is the difference between the price at which a dealer will buy a currency and the price at which the dealer will sell a currency. In other words, the bid price is the price that the dealer is willing to pay or “bid” for currency, while the “ask” price is the price that the dealer wants for currency.
- The flat or percentage fee: Companies will quote a flat or percentage fee to convert currencies. For example, $3.99 or 1 percent of the total amount exchanged.
- Funding methods: Funding methods may include bank transfer, debit card, credit card, in-house credit, or cash for in-person transfers.
- Ways to send money: Ways to send money might include in-person, phone, online, and app.
- Ways to receive/collect money: Ways to send/accept money might include bank account, online money account, and cash pickup.
- Processing times: Processing times vary depending on how a transfer is funded, sent, and received. For online transfers, the process can take minutes to a few business days.
- Transparency: Transparency refers to how transparent a company is regarding their exchange rates, fees, and processing times. For example, the company provides a transfer calculator/transaction estimator and does not force a user to create an account or submit a payment before getting details.
- Tracking: Tracking methods might include SMS/mobile notification, email notification, account activity/status, and customer support.
- Currencies: currencies matter to the point that the currency or currencies you need are supported.
PayPal doesn’t use mid-market exchange rates. Instead, “We receive a wholesale rate quote from our bank twice a day.” PayPal charges a currency conversion fee of 2.5 to 3.5 percent. Funding methods include PayPal balance, bank transfer, debit card, credit card, and PayPal Credit. Users can send money through PayPal’s website and app. Recipients must have PayPal accounts to receive money. Regarding transparency, fee and exchange rate details are all over the place. For example, on their “PayPal fees” page and in their user agreement. Also, customers learn of transaction details right before clicking submit.
Xoom doesn’t use mid-market exchange rates. Instead, “Exchange rates are based on world currency markets, which change all the time. Foreign exchange rates listed in newspapers or elsewhere are generally wholesale or inter-bank rates that are not available for individuals.” Xoom charges a flat fee, which may be waived depending on the payment method, transfer amount, currency selection, and receiving option. Funding methods include bank transfer, debit card, and credit card. Users can send money through Xoom’s website and app. Recipients can receive money in one of three ways including cash pickup, bank deposit, or home delivery. Regarding transparency, Xoom provides fee and exchange rate calculators on their “Fees and Exchange Rates” page.
Revolut uses mid-market exchange rates and states,
If you exchange currencies on weekdays (Mon-Fri UTC) you will receive the interbank exchange rate without any markup on all currencies except for Thai Baht, Russian Rubbles, Ukrainian Hryvnia, and Turkish Lira where we add a 1% markup, with a small 0.5% fee for anything above £5,000 each month. On the weekend (Sat-Sun UTC) we fix the rate we provide to protect ourselves against fluctuations, this means we apply markups of:
- +0.5% to all major currencies (ie. USD, GBP, EUR, AUD, CAD, NZD, CHF, JPY, SEK, HKD, NOK, SGD, DKK, PLN, and CZK); and
- +1% to all other currencies including THB, RUB, UAH and TRY. (this means over the weekend THB, RUB, UAH, and TRY have a 2% markup.)
Since the interbank exchange rate is constantly fluctuating, the rate that we lock in for the weekend may not be the same as the rate that is available when the markets open on Monday morning. (Source: Revolut-What foreign exchange rate will I get?)
Revolut does not charge a currency conversion fee for transfers up to £5,000 or equivalent per rolling month, after which a 0.5 percent fair usage fee applies. Funding methods include bank transfer, debit card, and credit card. Users can send money through Revolut’s app. Recipients can receive money into their bank accounts and Revolut money accounts.
TransferWise uses mid-market exchange rates. They charge a combination of percentage and flat fees. Percentage fees range from 0.5 to 1 percent, in most cases, depending on the payment method, transfer amount, and currency selection. Funding methods include bank transfer, debit card, and credit card. Users can send money through TransferWise’s website and app. Recipients can receive money into their bank accounts and TransferWise money accounts. Regarding transparency, TransferWise has an exchange rate and fee calculator on their homepage.
PayPal and Xoom don’t provide mid-market rates, and their fees are high compared to other providers. Revolut and TransferWise exchange at mid-market rates and charge small fees. While Revolut promotes mid-market rates and free transfers, these details are somewhat misleading because they have weekend markups and monthly limits. TransferWise gets a slight edge because they’re straightforward and transparent about their exchange rates and fees.
Online Money Account
PayPal offers an online money account, which allows users to deposit and withdraw funds, send and receive funds, request funds, pay for goods and services online, and hold and convert multiple currencies. Xoom doesn’t offer an online money account.
Revolut offers an online money account, which allows users to deposit and withdraw funds, send and receive funds, request funds, and hold and convert multiple currencies. Users can get international bank account numbers (IBANs) for the U.K. and Europe.
TransferWise offers an online money account, which allows users to deposit and withdraw funds, send and receive funds, request funds, and hold and convert multiple currencies. Users can get bank account numbers for the U.K., U.S., Australia, and Europe.
All three companies offer online money accounts with different benefits and drawbacks. For example, PayPal facilitates paying online for goods and services but doesn’t offer IBANs. Revolut and TransferWise offer IBANs but don’t support shopping online.
The big three all have prepaid debit cards as a regional product. For example, PayPal’s card is available to U.S. citizens whereas Revolut and TransferWise offer to UK, EEA, and Swiss residents. Revolut and TransferWise cards are still too new to assess.
When comparing prepaid debit cards, consider the following:
- Features and benefits
- Delivery method/cost, card purchase, secondary cardholder, and replacement fees and options
- General and monthly fees
- Transaction, purchase, withdrawal, and ATM fees
- Daily and monthly transaction limits
- Funding fees and options to reload, deposit, transfer, and top up
- Card issuer and operator (isn’t likely to be PayPal, Revolut, or TransferWise)
- Rewards and perks
- Exchange rate and currency conversion fees and policies
Suppose you want to know about monthly fees. PayPal charges a monthly fee of $4.95 whereas Revolut and TransferWise don’t levy monthly/annual account fees.
- Learn more about PayPal’s cash card and prepaid Mastercard.
- Learn more about Revolut’s prepaid debit card.
- Learn more about TransferWise’s prepaid debit card.
PayPal, Revolut, and TransferWise offer more than many of their money transfer competitors but none of these companies offer a perfect solution. Furthermore, Revolut and TransferWise, which are startups, don’t have the same global penetration as PayPal and Western Union. For example, Revolut has only begun signing up U.S. and Canadian citizens for early access, which means I’m yet to try their app. However, I would like to use Revolut to convert currencies for free.
Read – TransferWise vs. PayPal: How to Avoid Losing Money When Freelancing for International Clients
Each company has strengths and weaknesses, so it’s a matter of understanding your needs and aligning them with the correct products and services. PayPal has a robust, global presence concerning online business and e-commerce. Also, they are ramping up their efforts to serve the unbanked. Revolut is expanding and introducing products like low-cost travel and mobile phone insurances. TransferWise is evolving and offers “borderless accounts” and transparent currency conversion services. Given the strengths of each, global citizens, international business people, and remote workers should sign up to all three companies or the two that make the most sense for them.