Personal Finance

Moving Money

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Spending US dollars abroadEdit

See Foreign Exchange fees on bank cards and credit cards for a comprehensive list of bank cards and credit card fees.

To wire money from the US, see the comprehensive list of US banks that offer free outbound wires. Note that it this list is getting outdated.

Buying US dollars with eurosEdit

Buying USD with euros is a tricky situation, teeming with pitfalls and hidden costs. The table below is a tool for consumers to attack this problem. The column entitled "cost of actual transactions" is meant for consumers to enter real world figures after completing a transfer. This will help expose undocumented hidden costs. Please use the credit card charges calculator to compute the final exchange rate that was applied, so all brokers are compared to the same source for a wholesale exchange rate. Although these are not really credit card transactions, the calculator will serve our purpose.

Using ForEx Markets to buy USD Edit

Using a forex (FX) broker to exchange money has the advantage of getting a realtime exchange rate that is very close to the actual value of your assets (aka "spot FX" rate). The pitfall is that most forex brokers are running either a scam, or they impose hidden fees (see legal scam: wire siphoning). Transparency generally does not exist with forex trading.

Many brokers are unable to deliver purchased assets. In other words, you can buy US dollars, but you cannot withdraw the USD that you bought. These brokers that deal in non-deliverables usually do not disclose the limitation; setting clients up to discover this after they exchange a currency. Brokers of non-deliverables are color coded in the chart below as red, signifying that they are unusable for our purpose. Forex dealers known to have hidden fees are color coded as orange. Before opening a forex account, check the list of blacklisted brokers.

You'll find that no FX broker comes close to offering what Interactive Brokers offers. IB does not siphon money from wires at either end, and their assets are deliverable. Their commission is only $2.50. There's no competition.

Comparison of Forex Brokers for purposes of transferring euros to USD
site fees to fund from a SEPA bank fees and methods of USD withdrawal (Eg: ACH, swift wire, paper check, paypal) approximate spread in pips deposit via SEPA wire available? cost of actual transactions (amount of EUR transfered; flat fees; effective exchange rate computed by the calculator) notes
Alpari wire (15 GBP for USD withdrawal to US banks) 1.8 pips Yes; BARCGB22 / GB72 BARC 207767 86249544 UK based.
CMC Markets Broker: none. Broker's bank: ~14 GBP per transfer (undisclosed). wire 2-3 pips for spot trades Yes; GB98 NWBK 6072 1442 0235 56 (but read the warning on fees) UK based. $10k min. on FX trades. Misleading sales practices. Error prone company. Beware: They falsely claim that fees are only charged if the deposit comes from a credit card. A European wire was sent within Eurozone, and they skimmed a percentage from it. The scam works this way: CMC Markets established a relationship with their bank (Natwest) whereby Natwest siphons money as it passes either direction. CMC Markets does not apply the charge directly themselves, so they tell customers that they charge no fee.
Exto Capital Broker: none. Broker's bank: 0-10 EUR (undisclosed) wire; paypal; moneybookers; another exto acct 2 pips Yes; German bank Unusable service (undeliverable). Withdrawal currency must be the same as the deposit currency. $1k min deposit.
FineXO Allegedly free to fund in SEPA. This claim should be verified. wire ($10 min. wire withdrawal fee); paypal; moneybookers; liberty reserve Yes
finotec Broker: none. Broker's bank (HSBC): "a few pounds" according to CSR. (undisclosed) They state that they accept "wire transfers", but do not disclose whether they can issue an IBAN number, so the cost of the transfer is unknown. Unusable service (undeliverable). Withdrawal currency must be the same as the deposit currency. They claim to profit strictly from spread.
IB (Interactive Brokers) Broker: $1 commission per trade. Bank: no fee wire; check; ACH (first xfer in a month free, $1 each additional xfer) Germany, w/ BIC: CITI DE FF IB's bank is Citibank. Euros can be wired to IB's bank in Germany, and there are no charges from IB or Citibank for the wire. It is possible to wire euros to fund, do a spot trade for USD, and ACH the USD to a US account. Min commissions per month is $10.
IG Markets wire (15 GBP for intl withdrawal)
MadaFX Broker: none Broker's bank: $10-15 (undisclosed) wire ($40); check (free) Unusable service (undeliverable). When you fund with euros, the money is instantly converted into USD. So clients have no way of controlling the trade from euros to usd.
MB Trading Broker: none Broker's bank: unknown wire ($20); check (free) 0 pips Commission= $0.50 per 10,000 currency. Appears to be US based. We need to know if euros arrive as euros, and if the trades are deliverable. They use Wells Fargo bank. They claim to not charge any fees, but when asked specifically about Wells Fargo, they refuse to make a statement.
Norvik Banka wire (10 USD for intl USD withdrawal) It's not clear whether there is a charge to fund the account with a SEPA wire. Account fee page shows "free", but transfer page suggests a fee, and doesn't distinguish the direction of transfer. Called after hours. CSR had very rough English. He seemed to be saying that there is no charge to fund an account, but could not say what the brokers bank charges. He said to call during normal business hours.
OANDA 1st withdrawal free each month, €20 fee thereafter Strange requirement: money can only be withdrawn the same way it's deposited. They have a separate service for money transfers, so presumably they've crippled their forex service to promote their lucrative transfer service.
2 Pip Fixed Broker: none Broker's bank: unknown UBS bank in Zurich, CH. When asked what hidden fees UBS charges, 2pipfixed responded "we don't have hidden fees," which obviously doesn't answer the question.
Varengold Broker: 24.95 EUR for xfers < 12,500; free for xfers > 12,500. Broker's bank: unknown. impossible Yes Unusable service (undeliverable). It's for margin trading only. The currency used to fund the account must be the same for withdrawal. They use Dresdner bank, and the bank charges an undisclosed fee.
X-Trade Brokers Bank fees: 0,5% of the nominal (min 50 but max 300 PLN which is around 15-90 USD)80 PLN (around 20-25 USD). (undisclosed) 2 pips They falsely claim there is no commission or fees for anything. Bank is Pekao S.A Bank (polish)
etoro All costs are hidden. All costs are hidden. No fees are disclosed on the website.
Axia Fx All costs are hidden. All costs are hidden. No fees are disclosed on the website.
easy-forex All costs are hidden. All costs are hidden. No fees are disclosed on the website.

Using Online Money Transfer Operators (MTOs) to buy USD Edit

MTOs offer specialized services for transferring money country to country. The advantage is avoidance of hidden intermediary bank fees. You generally know the cost of the transfer. And unlike forex brokerages, purchases are always deliverable.

The pitfall here is cost is hidden in the exchange rate. Clients do not get the benefit of exchanging at the realtime rate the assets are being traded at. At best, a merchant may offer a wholesale interbank daily rate. This gives the false impression that the rate is very close to the actual rate being traded, when in fact there is no oversight or transparency in how banks compute the interbank rate. Worse, most banks will give the customer a retail exchange rate, which is the already marked up interbank rate with another profit margin on top of it.

There is no practical way to comparison shop with these services. In some cases you can get a rate quote once you have established an account, but the effort of doing that for every vendor makes it impractical.

There is a comparison site that seems to be neutral: However, it's not a complete representation of all the fees. Eg. Ivobank charges a 30 gbp wire fee that does not account for in the total amount received column.

Comparison of Specialized Transfer Services
site fees exchange rate markup or spread EU IBAN number available? Methods of USD distribution (Eg: ACH, swift wire, paper check cost of actual transactions (amount of EUR transfered; flat fees; effective exchange rate computed by the calculator) notes
exchange4free 10 GBP if xfer < 700 GBP; free if xfer > 700 GBP Seems to be UK centric. It's unclear whether an EU bank can wire money for free. Also unclear on how money can be withdrawn (check, EFT, ACH?).
OzForex aka
hifx none (potentially... see notes) Rate is unpublished. Client calls to negotiate a rate over the phone on a case by case basis. Yes. This is provided along with the transaction confirmation once you have done the deal. They claim to profit strictly from spread. However, there's some fine print that says "HiFX provides one free transfer per trade." Thus, there is an undisclosed transfer fee when you consider that two wire transfers are needed. OTOH, suppose two trades are made. Eg. wire euros in, buy sterling, then with the sterling buy USD. Technically that would allow for the needed 2 free transfers - but at the cost of paying an extra spread.

They charge $21 for paying you by wire in the US. Payment by draft or EFT deposit is free.

You can send them funds free by EFT / ACH from some countries.

They profit from the spread. They have a lowest rates guarantee, but this claim is not easily verifiable.Once you're registered, they'll give you a live quote for your transaction amount before you have to submit it. They also publish live mid market rates on their site. To calculate the spread (~1.5% generally), you have to figure the difference between that and the effective rate they quote for your individual transaction.

Fair FX Spot FX rates It's indeed quite an advantage to pay spot fx rates. Transfer fees are unknown (clients email for personal response).
tranzfers 10 EUR transaction fee, or 5 USD if transferring from USD probably (since they can send to IBAN numbers) They have their own network of intermediary banks, and move money between their own accounts 50 GPB min xfer
transfermate 15 EUR (but free the first time) varies; there is a markup from interbank rates and clients must call to discover it. Yes; IE71 AIBK 9334 2271 1780 83 1k USD min xfer. Same currency transfers prohibited.
MoneyGram varies varies
moneybookers 1.80 EUR withdrawal fee + 0.50 EUR internal xfer fee 1.99% yes Same currency transfers converted twice!

Distribution of foreign funds in the US Edit

Most US banks accept incoming foreign paper checks for free, and incoming domestic ACH electronic fund transfers ("EFT") are also free, but they generally charge a fee for incoming international wire transfers ($10-50 depending on the bank). Unfortunately, most bank accounts outside of the US do not come with checkbooks, and to have non-US bank staff write a check from your account is generally cost prohibitive (Eg. 45 euros). Non-US banks are incapable of ACH EFTs.

Consequently, most consumers get burned when it comes to distributing foreign money to a US account. However, there are some exceptional US-based consumer banks and brokerages that will actually accept an incoming international wire at no cost. These banks and brokerages are listed below. Note that although these banks do not directly charge a fee for inbound wires, some of them use an intermediate bank that does impose a fee.

Credit unions generally do not impose incoming wire transfer fees. Credit unions usually have county residency requirements of some sort, so if your the US, just go check your local credit union.

Financial organizations offering free inbound international wire transfers
Bank or Brokerage Type Intermediate bank fees Link to page showing that inbound wires are free; notes (if any)
Charles Schwab brokerage They claim they do not charge a fee, and that their intermediate bank (Citibank) will not charge a fee to move money from Citibank to Schwab. Ultimately, they will not guarantee that money is not siphoned off somewhere along the line before the money reaches Citibank, and they will not guarantee that Citibank won't charge the outside bank a fee. Schwab has the BIC CSCHUS6SWTS for a US branch, and they are on the swift network -- but that's misleading. The brokerage account actually uses the BIC CITIUS33. fees in PDF (See page 3)
Sharebuilder brokerage No BIC number found for any US branch in the database search. fees
Fidelity brokerage Bank: JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank fees
E-trade brokerage No BIC number found for any US branch in the database search. SWIFT # irvtus3n fees (caveat- accounts are not free)
Herring Bank bank They have the BIC number HENBUS41XXX, but they are not on the swift network. fees
First National Bank of Huntsville bank No BIC number found for any US branch in the database search. fees
UFB Direct bank No BIC number found for any US branch in the database search. fees
East West Bank bank No BIC number found for any US branch in the database search. Also note the disclaimer on intermediate bank fees. If they need the disclaimer, then they probably use an intermediate bank that charges a fee. fees
Digital Federal Credit Union bank No BIC number found for any US branch in the database search. fees
Navy Federal Credit Union bank No BIC number found for any US branch in the database search. fees
First Internet Bank bank No BIC number found for any US branch in the database search. fees
Everbank bank They have the BIC EVBKUS3MXXX for a US branch, and they are in the swift network. But ironically, there are reports that undisclosed intermediate bank fees are imposed anyway. fees in PDF (caveat- Everbank charges an exchange commission even when currency is the same.)
TD Bank (previously Commerce Bank) bank The BIC CBNAUS33XXX exists for a US branch, and they are on the swift network. They are rumored to not charge an inbound wire fee, but their fee structure is not published.
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