If you’re sending money abroad, options can get overwhelming. Fast.
Of course you could stick with your regular bank. But what about alternative providers like Wise?
Wise launched in 2011 as TransferWise and is on a mission to help customers move money around the world, as easily as possible, for as little as possible. Wise offers international transfers to 80+ countries, and the multi-currency Wise Account for individuals and businesses who need to hold, send, spend and exchange 50+ currencies easily, as well as receiving like a local in 10 currencies.
This guide walks through how Wise and bank international wires compare, on key measures like speed, cost and service options.
Whether you’ve been sending money abroad with your bank for ages or you just started and want to explore your options, what you may not realize is there are more ways than ever that you can send money overseas:
- In person at a bank branch
- Through a phone call with your bank
- Using your online banking website or app
- Online or in person through an international payment provider
|Transfer type||Local transfer||SWIFT payment|
|Costs and fees||Transparent fees which are disclosed upfront||Transfer costs can include several fee types, including third party charges|
|Processing time||50%+ of payments are instant, almost all arrive in 24 hours*||SWIFT payments could take 3 - 5 days|
|Exchange rate||Mid-market exchange rate||Exchange rates include a variable markup|
One obvious question first up — is Wise, previously called TransferWise, a bank?
Let’s start by saying, Wise is not a bank, but a financial technology company. Wise launched in 2011 in the UK and has since grown to serve over 13 million customers around the world, with international payment services and multi-currency accounts.
Wise international payments work differently to wires sent through your normal bank. Banks use the SWIFT network, which involves several intermediary banks passing a payment through a chain until it reaches its final destination. This takes time, and because intermediaries charge fees it’s also often expensive.
Wise built its own payment network to avoid SWIFT, with local bank accounts around the world. It’s refreshingly simple really — when you arrange a Wise payment from the US, you make a local transfer (like an ACH for example) to the Wise USD account.
Once that’s arrived, Wise pays out the agreed amount from their account in the destination country. It’s fast and because the money doesn’t really need to cross any borders, it’s cheaper too.
Aside from payments, Wise also offers the Wise Account, a multi-currency account for individuals and businesses, which can be opened and operated online and via the Wise app.
You can hold 50+ currencies, get paid like a local in 30+ countries, and spend with a linked card in 170+ countries, making the Wise Account far more flexible than the multi-currency and foreign currency accounts you’ll find from regular banks.
With Wise, you’re sending money locally from your bank to the Wise bank in your country, so it costs the same as a domestic transfer normally does. In many cases, you can even pay by debit or credit card, or use Apple Pay.
Wise offers services through its desktop site and apps, so you don’t need to visit a physical location or even need to be in front of a computer when you make a transfer.
|Transfer provider||Offer in person/phone transfers?||Offer online transfers?||Offer mobile app transfers?|
|Banks (via SWIFT)||Yes, the majority of banks even prefer this for international transfers.||Yes, a lot of banks will let you make transfers online. These might come with small limits and more security checks.||Yes, most banks now have an app|
|Wise||No, Wise is a digital business.||Yes||Yes|
Perhaps one of the best parts of a SWIFT transfer is that the transfer will be paid directly to your recipient’s bank account.
So there’s no need for them to go to a collection point to get cash, or sign up for any special accounts just to receive the money.
The same goes with Wise. Your recipient will need a bank account in the destination currency. The payment is then deposited straight to their account. Ready to use.
If you’re making an international transfer with your bank, you’ll normally need your recipient’s IBAN and SWIFT code.
But with Wise, you simply need their local account details, or even just their email address in many cases if they’d prefer not to give out their bank details. Much more convenient.
|Recipient information||International bank (SWIFT) transfer recipient||Wise recipients|
|Recipient needs an account?||N/A||No, the recipient doesn’t need a Wise account.|
|Sender needs a bank account?||Yes.||Yes.|
|Recipient needs a bank account?||Yes.||Yes, the recipient needs to have a local bank account in the currency being sent.|
|Recipient details needed?||Recipient’s bank details, including their account number and SWIFT/BIC code.||Local bank details for that country or, in many cases, just the recipient’s email address.|
|Recipients can receive in currencies other than what is local to that country?||Yes, if the recipient bank account supports that currency.||Yes but if you’re sending a currency different to that of the recipient’s country, fees may apply|
Still not sure about which one is cheaper? Maybe a table will help.
|Type of fee||International bank (SWIFT) charges||Wise charges|
|Sending transfer fee||Varies: often ranges from 10 USD - 35 USD||0.5%- 2.5%|
|Intermediary bank fees||Yes — they vary depending on the intermediary bank, and how many banks your money passes through||None|
|Exchange rate markup||Yes||None|
|Recipient transfer fee||Varies — often ranges from 0 USD - 9 USD||There’s no Wise fee and most banks don’t charge for local transfers (which is what Wise uses to deposit your money). But check with your bank to make sure|
Wise believes in transparency over the fees you pay — which means you’ll always get the mid-market exchange rate for your Wise international transfer, with all the costs split out and shown before you confirm your payment.
This isn’t usually how international bank wires work. When your normal bank processes an international payment you’ll get their exchange rate which will often include a percentage added onto the mid-market rate. That’s an extra fee, but it’s hard to spot.
You’ll need to compare the bank’s rate against the rate you find for your currency pair on Google, and do the math yourself to see exactly what’s being charged. That’s an extra headache and it can mean you’re paying more than you expect for your international bank wire.
Wise regularly releases updates which show the average speed of its transfers (they’re all about transparency after all). In Q3 of 2022, 50% of Wise transfers arrived instantly*.
Over 70% arrived in an hour and 90% had landed within 24 hours. That’s pretty staggeringly fast, really, and you’ll see a delivery estimate when you set up your payment too.
Bank international wires tend to be a bit slower to arrive. Firstly you’ll need to get your payment in motion before the cut off time for the day — any transfers out of hours, during holidays or at weekends will only start to be processed on the next working day.
Once your transfer is being processed, the delivery time will depend on where your money is going. On major payment routes lots of banks offer a same day delivery. But depending on where your money is going, a SWIFT transfer can often take 3 - 5 days to arrive.
Obviously, you can trust your bank with your money, as they’ve been at this for years. As has the SWIFT network.
Wise is a regulated financial institution, authorized by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to operate as a Money Services Business (MSB).
You can check out all the information about the Wise licenses in different countries in the Wise Help Center.
Low cost international payments with Wise can be set up online or on the move using the Wise app, and can often arrive in double quick time, too.
You can send money in 50+ currencies to 80+ countries, with the mid-market exchange range and no need to worry about intermediary fees creeping in. In fact, you can generate an instant quote online or in the Wise app to see how much your recipient will get, and exactly what fees you’ll need to pay.
There’s also a neat comparison function — and if Wise isn’t the cheapest option for your particular payment they’ll tell you.
Wise is a financial technology company which offers international payments and multi-currency account services for individuals and businesses.
You can set up a Wise payment online or in the Wise app, and pay with a local wire, ACH, Apple/Google/Samsung Pay or by card in USD. Wise then uses its own payment network to pass your money on to the recipient in the currency they need — often instantly.
|✅ Pros||❌ Cons|
SWIFT is the payment network favored by banks. It works a bit like taking a connecting flight, with your money being passed from your bank to the recipient’s via 1 - 3 intermediary banks.
SWIFT is reliable and has been operating for 50+ years — but the process can be expensive and time consuming.
|✅ Pros||❌ Cons|
If you’re used to sending international wires through your normal bank, the prospect of switching to a new provider can be a bit daunting. However, while your bank is familiar and reliable, it’s also likely to be costing you more than you think when you send a payment overseas.
Between the transfer fee the bank shows upfront, extra intermediary costs and an exchange rate markup, the overall costs can ramp up pretty quickly.
Wise transfers work differently, which can mean you get lower overall fees and a faster delivery time. However, whether Wise or an international bank transfer is right for you will depend a lot on the transfer you’re making and your personal preference.
If you prefer a face to face service — or if you’re sending in a very unusual currency — a bank SWIFT transfer may be your best bet. But if you’re planning to send money online to a country supported by Wise, they’re well worth a look to see if you can save.
* The speed of transaction claim depends on funds availability, approval by Wise’s proprietary verification system and systems availability of our partners’ banking system, and may not be available for all transactions.
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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