Wise vs international bank transfer: Time, fees and rates compared [2022]

If you need to send a payment overseas you might be wondering what's best, TransferWise vs international bank transfer? Or perhaps you want to check if using TransferWise (now called Wise) is worth it compared to sticking with your regular bank for your international payment.

In this full side by side comparison, we'll be looking at price, speed, safety, ease of use, and more. Plus, we'll look at some examples of different transfer amounts and currencies, to help you settle the TransferWise vs international bank transfer question once and for all.

TransferWise vs international bank transfer: overview

Price:  your recipient could get more with Wise thanks to Wise’s better exchange rates and more transparent fees

To compare Wise vs international bank transfers we modeled payments of S$1,000, S$5,000 and S$10,000 to look at how much a recipient in the UK would get with a major bank compared to a specialist provider. In our comparisons, the specialist services won every time. The biggest difference was when sending S$10,000 to the UK - in this case, your recipient could get £67.50 more if you choose Wise instead of UOB.

Speed: Wise is faster. On average, banks take 3-5 working days to send money internationally. With Wise 45% of payments are instant, and around 80% arrive within 24 hours

Safety: Wise is as safe as a bank for international transfers. Wise is regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and other official bodies around the world.

Transparency: Wise uses low, transparent fees which aren’t bundled or hidden in any way. You’ll be shown the full costs involved in your payment before you confirm the transaction, and because Wise doesn’t use intermediary banks you don’t need to worry about surprise charges creeping in, either. 

Ease of use: Set up a Wise account easily online, and complete the full verification process without even needing to leave the house. 

Overall: In our comparisons we found that Wise was consistently cheaper - and often faster - than sending an international payment with your regular bank. That’s because Wise has invested in new approaches and technology to make it easier to move money around the world. Instead of using the outdated SWIFT network, Wise built its own payment network which is cheaper, faster, and more transparent, and passes those benefits on to its customers. Over 12 million people and businesses already trust Wise to help them make international payments to over 80 countries all around the world.

How much can you save with Wise?

One simple way to see how international transfer services measure up is to see how much your recipient would get on the same send amount with different providers. 

To show how this works with a few different example payments we’ve compared Wise to UOB - one of our biggest banks here in Singapore - and also against currency specialist OFX. 

Let’s take a look at what a recipient would get in the UK if you were to send your international payment with Wise vs UOB and OFX.

Amount & Currency

With Wise recipient gets

With UOB recipient gets

With OFX recipient gets

1,000 SGD - GBP 

558.44 GBP

532 GBP


(26.44 GBP less than with Wise)

553.63 GBP


(4.81 GBP less than with Wise)

5,000 SGD - GBP 

2,795.05 GBP

2,750.35 GBP


(44.70 GBP less than with Wise)

2,769.86 GBP


(25.19 GBP less than with Wise)

10,000 SGD - GBP 

5,590.79 GBP

5,523.29 GBP 


(67.50 GBP less than with Wise)

5,561.14 GBP


(29.65 GBP less than with Wise)

*Data correct at time of research - 4th April 2022

As you can see, the specialist providers beat the bank every time - Wise came out on top in our comparisons on all the transfer values we modeled. That’s usually because Wise uses the real mid-market exchange rate with no markups and low, transparent fees.

How can Wise be cheaper than international bank transfers?

We’ll get into the details of the different costs involved with sending international bank transfers in just a moment. However, to clear up the question of how Wise can be cheaper than your bank when it comes to sending payments, it helps to know a bit about how banks move money around the world.

When you send a payment overseas with a traditional bank it’ll usually be sent using the SWIFT network. This involves your bank working in partnership with 1 to 3 other banks to move your funds until they reach the right destination account - a bit like taking connecting flights. The SWIFT network is reliable and has been around for some 50 years, but it can lead to extra costs and delays. Each bank involved in the transaction - often called intermediaries or correspondent banks - can deduct a fee when they process the payment. These costs can mount up - and aren’t always clear when you’re setting up your transfer.

Wise takes a different approach to processing international payments. Instead of using SWIFT, Wise built its own payment network which avoids intermediaries, speeds up transfer times, and means no high or hidden costs to worry about. We’ll break down the different common costs of international payments one by one next, and cover how Wise manages to do things differently.

Wise vs international bank transfers: the costs explained

The cost of sending a payment overseas with a traditional bank will depend a little on the account you hold, the value of the payment, and the countries and currencies involved. However, the fees can include several different charges which mount up quickly. More on that in a moment - first let’s look at the Wise fee for sending and receiving international payments.

Service

Wise fee

Open your account

Free

Monthly fees

Free

Send international payments

From 0.35% 

Receive international payments

Free to receive payments in 10 currencies to your Wise account - including USD ACH transfers


7.50 USD charge to receive a USD wire payment

Bank charges for sending money overseas can include several different costs. Different banks and different accounts will have varying fee structures so you’ll need to check your own account terms and conditions to get the full details. Here’s what to look out for:

Service

Traditional bank fee

Open your account

Minimum opening deposit may apply

Monthly fees

Many major banks offer current accounts without monthly fees but you may need to maintain a minimum balance amount to avoid fall below fees

Send international payments

Fees vary between banks and accounts, and can include:


Around 1/8% commission + Agent Fee + Cable Charge (likely to be around 20 SGD) + exchange rate markup

Receive international payments

Where fees apply they’re often around 10 SGD per payment

Overall, Wise has a more transparent pricing system for account services, and international payments which can cost significantly less overall than regular banks.

Exchange rates: not what they seem

When you send money overseas the exchange rate applied will make a big difference to the overall cost of your payment. Get a bad rate and your transfer could cost far more than it needs to.

Banks usually calculate their retail exchange rates by taking the mid-market exchange rate - the one you’ll find on Google - and adding a percentage markup or margin. That can be in the region of 3%, and it’s an extra fee that’s tricky to spot. Even worse, it adds up fast, especially on higher value transfers. A 3% additional charge on a payment of 10,000 SGD for example would run to 300 SGD on this one fee alone.

Using a markup or margin on the exchange rate is common - but not all services do this. Wise uses the mid-market exchange rate and splits out all the costs of your transfer so there’s nothing hidden. That’s more transparent and cheaper for customers, too.

SWIFT: the unexpected cost 

We touched on SWIFT earlier - the network used by most traditional banks to process international payments. As payments are passed between intermediaries in the SWIFT network, extra fees can creep in. These are service fees paid to the intermediaries, and they’re usually deducted as the money moves through the system.

Different banks have different names for these third party fees as a result of SWIFT - you might see them listed as agent charges for example. In some cases you’ll know upfront how much the SWIFT charges will be, but it’s not always possible to know in advance, which can mean your recipient gets less in the end than you’re expecting. 

If you’d prefer to avoid the uncertainties and extra costs involved in SWIFT payments you could be better off with a specialist service instead of your normal bank. Wise doesn’t use SWIFT which means no intermediaries and no surprise fees.

How does Wise work?

Wise created its own payment network to avoid SWIFT and make moving money around the world easier and cheaper. 

When you make a Wise transfer from Singapore you’ll send your money in SGD, to the local Wise account here. Then, Wise will transfer the equivalent amount in the currency you need to your recipient, from the Wise account in the destination country. It’s an elegant solution which means no money actually needs to cross any borders,  cutting costs and delivery times.

Wise vs traditional banks: comparing the features

Regular banks offer a broad range of products and services to customers - in most cases, currency conversion and international money transfers just aren’t a major part of their business. That’s one reason why traditional banks have been slow to invest in better ways to move money internationally, and also leads to fees which are on the high side overall. 

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest differences in features between regular banks and Wise.

Wise

Traditional banks

Wise is a specialist which was built to make international payments cheaper, faster and more transparentInternational payments are an additional service, not offered for all account holders
Mid-market exchange rateExchange rates typically use a markup
Transparent feesFees may be hard to understand, including third party costs and an exchange rate markup
Estimated delivery time provided instantlyYou may not know how long your payment will take
Free to open multi-currency account optionsWhile many major banks do offer multi-currency accounts they may feature high fees and a minimum balance requirement
Spend internationally with linked debit card and no foreign transaction feeInternational card payments often have a foreign transaction fee to pay

Delivery time: is Wise faster than banks?

When you set up a payment with Wise you’ll be shown an estimated delivery time before you confirm the transfer. 45% of wise payments are instant, and almost all arrive on the same day. Banks do offer same day transfers on some currency routes, but you’ll need to make sure you hit the cut off time for the currency involved. If you miss the cut off - or want to arrange a transfer out of banking hours - your transfer won’t start to be processed until the following working day. 

Here’s how Wise delivery times measure up with some of the biggest banks in Singapore as an example.

Transfer routes

Wise

DBS

POSB

OCBC

SGD - GBP

Could arrive in seconds

Same day if submitted before 17:00 on a banking day

Same day if submitted before 17:00 on a banking day

Same day if submitted before 16:30 on a banking day

SGD  - EUR

Estimated to arrive in 6 hours

Same day if submitted before 17:00 on a banking day

Same day if submitted before 17:00 on a banking day

Same day if submitted before 16:30  on a banking day

SGD  - INR

Should arrive in 40 minutes

2 - 4 days

2 - 4 days

Next day delivery if submitted by 15:30 on a banking day

As you can see, Wise tends to be faster than traditional banks - it’s also good to know that Wise is working on making even more of its transfers instant until eventually all Wise international payments will land in the destination account right away.

Wise vs international money transfer: Is it safe?

In Singapore, Wise is authorised and regulated by MAS. That means you can trust that it’s a safe provider.

As well as holding permissions to trade in Singapore, Wise is also overseen by regulators around the world in all the other countries it trades in, and follows a range of rules and best practices to keep customer funds safe. These include safeguarding customer money away from Wise’s own operating capital, using thorough account security and verification steps, and a 24/7 anti-fraud operation running in the background.

Transparency: watch out for the hidden costs

When it comes to sending money overseas, bank fees are not only often high, they’re also often amazingly complex. That means you could end up paying several different fees on the same payment, including some costs - like an exchange rate markup  - which are hard to spot, and some that are hard to predict - like SWIFT fees.

Wise was built to be transparent about charging, and splits out the costs you’ll pay for your transfer before you confirm. Instead of adding an extra fee into the exchange rate used, Wise splits out all the fees and uses the real mid-market rate for your transfer. That means you can instantly see the full fees, with no need to hunt around, or get your calculator out.

Wise vs international bank transfers: ease of use

To send an international money transfer you’ll need to create an account with a specialist provider like Wise, or a traditional bank. There are a few steps in this process to verify customer account details and keep everyone safe. Let’s look at how easy it is to use Wise vs traditional banks.

Wise: set up an account online or in the Wise app with a fully digital verification process. 

Transfer limits apply based on currency - from SGD you’ll usually be able to send up to 1 million dollars at a time. It’s also good to know that for smaller payments of under 1,000 SGD you can just scan the Wise QR to get started without needing to enter any information manually at all. 45% of Wise transfers are instant, and around 80% arrive within 24 hours and you can always get customer support in the Wise app, by phone or email.

Banks: account application processes can vary based on the specific bank and account. If you’re Singaporean or a permanent resident you might be able to complete the account application process with Singpass and Myinfo - but if you’re a foreigner living in Singapore you’re likely to have to upload some paperwork manually or visit a branch. Bank transfers on major currency routes may arrive on the same or next day if you hit the currency cut off - but can take 3+ working days for some currencies. Transfer limits vary by account type and provider. Get customer support online, by phone and in branch.

Because Wise has been created to operate online and via the Wise app you’ll be able to complete the account application and verification process seamlessly, to get started transferring as quickly as possible. Often account verification can be done within 24 hours - no standing in a queue at a bank branch, and no unnecessary delays to worry about.

Coverage

With Wise you can hold 54 currencies in your multi-currency account, and send payments to 80+ countries around the world. Bank international money transfer services can vary - you’ll often be able to send major currencies without too much trouble, but if you need to make a payment in a less common currency you may find your transfer takes longer and costs more.

TransferWise vs international bank transfers: pros and cons


Wise

Banks

Pros

  • Mid-market exchange rate with no markup

  • Low, transparent fees

  • Fast transfers - 45% are instant

  • Pay with PayNow for convenience

  • Send same day or next day payments for some major currencies

  • Arrange a payment in branch or by phone if you prefer

  • Familiar and reliable service


Cons

  • No branch service

  • Fees vary by destination country and currency 

  • Exchange rates usually have a markup

  • High and complicated fees

Whether Wise or your regular bank is the best option for your international payment will depend on where you’re sending money to, and your personal preferences. Wise tends to win on costs and has a transparent fee structure so you can easily see what you’re paying. However, if you’d prefer to arrange your payment in person you might decide to go with your bank instead to allow you to visit a branch to get your transfer set up. 

Conclusion

If you need to send a payment overseas you’ve got a few good options, depending on what matters most to you. In our comparisons we found that Wise was consistently cheaper and usually faster than making an international payment through a regular bank. And because you can pay for your Wise transfer in a few different ways, including PayNow, bank cards or a local transfer from your normal bank, it’s convenient too.

FAQ

Is Wise better than a bank?

Wise is not a bank. It’s a specialist in international money transfers and multi-currency accounts, which can be cheaper and more flexible than the equivalent products from traditional banks.

Is Wise a bank?

Wise is a financial technology company, not a bank. However, for the services it offers, Wise is regulated in a similar way to a regular bank - which means it’s safe to use.

How does Wise work?

You can open a Wise account online or in the Wise app, to hold, send and receive international payments from around the world.

Is Wise safe to transfer money?

Wise is regulated by MAS in Singapore and other similar bodies around the world. It’s a safe provider which is already trusted by over 12 million customers.

Is Wise cheaper than banks?

In our comparisons, Wise was consistently cheaper than traditional banks for international money transfers.

By Ileana Ionescu
Updated 14 April 2022