The Cheapest Option For International Money Transfers From Germany
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Expats in Germany will at some point almost certainly need to execute international money transfers from Germany, either to their home country, or from their home country to Germany.
Whether it’s an apartment you’ve sold to move here and the equity is going to finance a home in Germany, or maybe it’s money you borrowed from your parents to help with your relocation, or keeping your bank account at home well stocked to pay off your student loans and any other debts you’re leaving behind, there are a myriad of scenarios why international money transfers from Germany (or to Germany) are necessary.
One thing though is common. Using your bank to execute this transaction, either here in Germany or in your home country, is possibly the worst thing you could do.
Why you should NOT use your bank!
Banks usually offer the least competitive deal out there. Alongside banks, traditional foreign exchange brokerage companies, such as Moneycorp and Travelex, who traditionally relied on the business model of offering money exchange services in airports, have also branched into international money transfers. They also typically offer a poor deal, often charging similar or even higher fees than the banks.
So, why is that? Foreign exchange transfers are usually made up of 3 components.
- The exchange rate you are offered
- The commission
- Any admin fees (which can apply to both sending and receiving money)
Banks are bad news because they offer less-than-attractive rates on all 3 of these. In fact, the only good piece of news about using a bank is that the transfer itself is usually pretty fast (obviously depending on the receiving country and how developed their banking infrastructure is).
For international money transfers from Germany, there are many options available to you and the final one we look at is especially attractive when compared to using your bank.
What Options Are There Other Than Your Bank?
Wire Transfer / Remittance
Well, first of all, there are wire transfer companies and foreign exchange brokers.
Western Union is the best known wire transfer company, with such a large chunk of the market and extensive reach that they can almost be considered a monopoly. MoneyGram, as their main competitor in this space, are a mere fraction of their size.
If you’re remitting money, especially from developed to developing countries, their network is everywhere and their brand is reliable and trusted. It is especially popular for people wanting to remit cash, rather than electronically transfer money from a bank account in one country to another country.
Using them to move money between bank accounts, especially if you are transferring EUR into USD, GBP, CAD or most other stable, freely convertible currencies, it is usually not the best deal. Western Union’s core business is indeed transferring remittances from migrant workers to their home countries, usually in cash and in relatively low denominations.
Foreign Exchange Brokers
Then there are foreign exchange brokers. We named a couple of particularly bad ones already but there are plenty out there which offer a much better deal. Among those which usually come out smelling good on comparison sites are World First and HiFX. There is nothing wrong with these companies and sometimes they can even offer the best deal. The problem is that they are more geared towards businesses and forex traders rather than the occasional user who needs to transfer money privately.
If you are someone who occasionally needs to transfer a 3 or 4-figure sum a few times a year, and does not have to arrive on the same day, there is a much easier way to do this cheaply and relatively quickly.
It doesn’t involve filling out lots of forms and battling with a website which is aimed at high-end customers, and can be done on an App through your smartphone….
Best Option: Peer-To-Peer Transfer Services
If you’re transferring, say, EUR 250, as an international money transfer from Germany (or the equivalent amount TO Germany), the difference between getting a poor deal and a great deal is perhaps not so significant. You might be thinking it’s easier to just do it through your bank and accept that it’s EUR 20 more expensive compared to one of the better options below.
But you would prefer to have that EUR 20 in your pocket than the bank’s profits, right? Especially if I told you that there is an alternative way which is very easy and not very time consuming to set up. In fact, transfers can be done through a smartphone App once your account has been created.
Peer-to-Peer transfer services offer a much cheaper way to transfer money. You have most likely heard of some of the more popular names in this industry but perhaps never really understood how it worked or got round to registering for their services.
Why are they cheaper?
Well, first of all, they offer you the mid-market rate on the currency you are transferring into. That’s the rate you would see if you look up an exchange rate on Google. Unlike the banks and some foreign exchange brokers, who offer you a worse rate and then claim it’s a commission-free transaction. Well yes, but you’re being ripped off on the exchange rate so in total you’re paying more!
Secondly, they don’t charge you any commission like some banks do (although this is becoming less and less common these days).
Finally, their admin fees are amongst the lowest in the industry.
There are 2 of these companies we recommend at Live Work Germany:
Our favourite is CurrencyFair. In many cases, their fees are the lowest if you’re prepared to wait for someone with a reciprocal currency order which matches yours e.g. you want to exchange EUR for GBP, and somebody else wants to do the opposite transaction.
This allows a classic peer-to-peer exchange to take place, which means the fee is almost guaranteed to be lower than anywhere else you will search.
CurrencyFair charges a flat EUR 3 fee on all transfers, plus a small admin fee on the exchange rate. In addition to this, the exchange rate they offer you can also really save you money, especially if your transfer is not urgent. That’s because CurrencyFair offers a matching marketplace, where you can wait and see whether your offer in, say, EUR, is matched by somebody wanting to exchange the target currency you want to convert into.
Below is an actual quote from CurrencyFair’s website:
CurrencyFair charges 0.25% or 0.3% (depending on the currency pair being exchanged) of the total amount exchanged on each side when customers match each other. In the event that there are no other customers providing a competitive rate for your exchange, CurrencyFair will step in and match with you instead. This results in a charge of 0.4% to 0.6% of the amount exchanged.
So depending on which way you’re exchanging, and the activity on the marketplace at that time, you’ll pay anywhere from as little as 0.1%, to 0.6%, plus a fixed €3 transfer fee.
What this means in reality is that for popular currency pairings (such as EUR / GBP for example), it will usually be cheaper to go with CurrencyFair because they will find a match. However, on less popular pairings, where CurrencyFair needs to step in and execute the transaction, their fees are a little higher.
By using this link, you can make your first 3 transfers with CurrencyFair with NO FLAT FEE i.e. you just pay the currency fee and save yourself EUR 3 per transfer.
CurrencyFair offers transfers in these 18 currencies.
Below is a short video showing you how to set up your account
As an alternative, we also recommend Transferwise as another great provider and alternative option to CurrencyFair.
Transferwise by comparison charges a flat 0.5% fee, regardless of the amount. So you would pay a EUR 10 fee for example if you wanted to transfer EUR 2,000 into whichever currency.
Where Transferwise comes into its own is that it is present in more markets and offers more currencies than CurrencyFair. Transferwise is able to send and receive 20 different currencies, plus an additional 25 which they are able to send only.
Here is a quick video showing how Transferwise works.
So, just to summarise:
- Both CurrencyFair and TransferWise have online capabilities, but CurrencyFair has phone assistance too.
- Both are primarily based online
- Transferwise has a simpler fees structure
- CurrencyFair can offer better rates through their matching if you’re not in a hurry to make the transfer within a couple of days.
- Both have Apps
- Both are able to transfer money within 1-2 days
- Both have very low minimum transfer limits
- Both have a high rating based on independent review sites such as TrustPilot
Both companies show on their website why and where their fees are lower than the banks’ fees and how they can save you money. At the end of the day, either one is an infinitely better option than your bank. However, we prefer CurrencyFair if you have time to wait for your transfer as a neat way to save on fees.