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Many freelancers find their work through platforms such as Upwork. This is a fantastic resource for freelance professionals who could be based anywhere on the planet, to connect with potential clients.
If you use Upwork outside of the US, you need to know how to get your hands on your hard earned cash. Here’s the lowdown.
All payments for freelance jobs on Upwork, go through Upwork. That means that your client will pay Upwork, and the amount will be held for safekeeping in an escrow account. The payment is released once both you and your client confirm the project is done.
Once you have input your bank account details, you’ll have to select a payment method. Your options are:
M-Pesa (Kenya only)
If you want to be paid using a direct deposit or wire transfer, you can enter your US or local bank details. You can be paid in one currency into a bank account held in another currency - but there’s a fee to pay for this service. It may cost more than you think, so we’ll look at that a little later.
If you don’t want to use a bank transfer, you can use PayPal or Payoneer. If you’re based in Kenya you can also use M-Pesa.
The fees vary across different payment methods, so it’s worth doing your research to make sure that you’re getting the best deal - especially if currency conversion is involved. The amount of time it’ll take to receive your cash can also depend on how it’s being transferred.
The next sections will go into each payment method in detail.
Direct deposits in the US are often called ACH (Automated Clearing House) payments. They’re paid directly into your local US bank account, but can take anywhere from 2-5 days to actually arrive to your bank.
If you’re outside the US, you can also get paid directly into your local bank account with Direct to Local Bank. The time it’ll take to reach your bank account may vary depending on the speed of the system in your country.
Upwork also takes an additional fee of $0.99 for Direct to Local Bank.¹ You’ll also need to keep in mind currency conversion. As Upwork operates in USD, it’s best to get paid in USD. If you choose to receive in a different currency, then you may end up losing a lot more on the exchange rate than you realize.
|💡 If you want to avoid poor exchange rates, it’s a good idea to check out the Wise Business account. You can get US account details to withdraw your USD payment, and then convert to your preferred currency at the real exchange rate. You can then send, spend and hold money on the Wise Business account with no hidden fees.|
Wire transfers are the most expensive method of getting your hands on your cash, with a $30 flat fee added by Upwork.²
Wire transfer fees vary, depending on where the account is held, and what currency your bank account is in. If you’re outside of the US, these fees can increase almost exponentially as your money will be transferred via the SWIFT network.
SWIFT transfers not only usually mean poor exchange rates with exchange rate markups (Upwork calls them currency spreads) of around 4-5%, but often mean extra flat fees levied by anywhere from 1 to 3 intermediary banks. Not to mention the fee your own bank will charge to receive the international transfer.
PayPal allows you to transfer your earnings into your existing PayPal account, which must be linked to the same email address given in your Upwork account profile. You can then use your cash to make payments through PayPal, or move it to your home bank account.
It’s worth noting that PayPal charges a cross border fee every time an international transaction is made.
With Payoneer you can transfer your earnings directly onto a Payoneer Debit MasterCard.
|🔍 Compare PayPal vs Payoneer to see how they weigh up against each other.|
Finally, M-Pesa is a payment system which requires you to have a Kenyan mobile phone - and is therefore only currently available to freelance workers in Kenya.
However you choose to be paid, there will be a delay of up to 5 days before the funds are released by Upwork. This can mean you’re waiting a while before you see your cash.
If you want to withdraw your earnings to a US-based bank account, you’ll have to go through a verification process. Upwork will deposit 2 small amounts into the account you list in your profile page, and you’ll be required to log in to Upwork to confirm the amounts received.
This proves that the account is actually yours, and will activate it on the Upwork system.
There are fees levied if you want to be paid into an account based outside of the US, either by wire transfer or by directly depositing money in your local bank account. Being paid into a US-based account is usually the best route, as you avoid any additional fees.
💡 The good news is that if you open a Wise Business account, you can be paid using local US bank details.
With a Wise Business account, you’re paid fairly, and your money is as flexible as you are. You can live in one country, but get paid locally in another - with ten major currency account details. That means you avoid the fees associated with payments made across borders.
If you hold a bank account in a currency other than USD, but have taken on a job which will be paid in dollars, you can still get paid directly into your bank account through Upwork.
However, the exchange rate used to convert your payment from USD to the currency of your bank account isn’t transparent. That means that you won’t know before you check your balance how much you’ll actually receive.
It may be a better option to get local bank account details for the US with a speciality service like Wise Business. This way, you can receive your payment in dollars to the local US account, and then transfer USD into your local currency in your bank account outside of America.
That way, you can have more control over the exchange rate you get. And how much you receive in the end.
Aside from the fees Upwork charges all freelancers, there could also be a fee for withdrawing your payment, depending on the method you choose.
Direct deposits to US-based banks are free
Direct to Local Bank (outside the US) costs $0.99 per transfer, but incoming bank fees could be added
USD wire transfers – $30 per transfer flat fee, plus other charges may be added by intermediary banks³
There are limits in place on the amount of money that can be transferred by direct deposit in some countries. Upwork detail the restrictions using this system on their website.
PayPal and Payoneer add their own fees, depending on the currency you’re being paid in.
If you’re a freelancer working with clients all over the world, it’s important that you minimise the fees and charges that are applied whenever you're paid by a client in a different country.
Some transfer methods, such as international wire transfers, can leave you exposed to hidden fees from other banks. You could also lose out if the transfer service you choose uses a poor exchange rate.
The best way to check if the exchange rate used is fair, is to look at an online currency converter. Even if a service says it's free or cheap, you can get ripped off if they use a bad exchange rate.
Many banks and money transfer services are notorious for taking an additional 4-5% in bad exchange rates alone. So, the fees you see upfront are unlikely to be all you’ll be charged.
A good bet is to use Wise Business for your international transfer. Wise uses the live mid-market rate for currency conversion - the same rate you find on Google, so freelancers get to see more of their pay.
With Wise Business you can hold and convert money in over 50 currencies. Generate local bank details for USD, GBP, EUR and more to get paid like a local.
Upwork is a great way to connect, and make the world your client base. But when you’re working across borders, it’s important to make sure your earnings aren’t eaten away by fees and poor exchange rates.
Do a bit of research to make sure you get the best deal available - and the sky’s the limit for your new business venture.
- Direct to Local Bank – Upwork Customer Service & Support
- Manage How You Get Paid – Upwork Customer Service & Support
- Manage How You Get Paid – Upwork Customer Service & Support
All sources checked December 7, 2022.
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 Wise Payments 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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