Wise vs international bank transfer: Which One is Cheaper? 2022

When you send a payment internationally you’ll usually have a couple of clear choices - use your normal bank, or pick a specialist provider like Wise. If you’re not sure whether switching to a specialist is worth it, this guide is for you. 

We’ll cover a full side by side comparison looking at how much it costs to send money abroad, how easy it can be, and how fast your payment might arrive with different services.

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Wise vs international bank transfer: overview

Price:  your recipient could get more with Wise thanks to Wise’s better exchange rates and more transparent fees. In our comparison of sending 1,000 CAD to the US, your recipient would get over 20 dollars more simply because you chose Wise rather than Royal Bank of Canada for your payment.

Speed: Wise is faster. On average, banks take up to 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 FINTRAC in Canada, and other official bodies around the world.

Transparency: Wise uses low, transparent fees which aren’t bundled or hidden in any way. In many cases, banks might add extra fees to the exchange rates they use, and bank payments sent via the SWIFT system may also mean surprise intermediary fees creep in.

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

Overall: Wise was built to make it easier to move money around the world - and so can often offer a faster, cheaper and more convenient service compared to banks. Instead of using the outdated SWIFT network, Wise built its own payment network which is used by over 12 million people to make international payments to over 80 countries all around the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 when you send the same amount with different providers. 

Let’s look at an example, of sending 1,000 CAD to a friend in the US. At the time of research, your recipient would have received:

  • 745.95 USD if you sent your payment with Royal Bank of Canada

  • 767 USD if you sent your payment with Wise

That means that on this payment alone, your recipient would have received over 20 US dollars more if you used Wise. 

Generally, specialist services like Wise have lower overall costs because they use a better exchange rate compared to banks. They may also have lower transfer fees - sending a payment with Royal Bank of Canada for example, can cost 6 CAD - 10 CAD using an international money transfer, or 45 CAD if you’re sending a higher value and need to use a wire. More on the costs of Wise vs international  bank transfers coming up later.

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How can Wise be cheaper than international bank transfers?

Wise international transfers are usually cheaper than bank transfers - which might leave you wondering if they’re too good to be true. We’ll look more closely at the costs involved with moving money internationally in a moment, but to explain how Wise manages to send cross border payments for a lower fee than a bank, let’s start with the basics.

Firstly, it helps to know a bit about how banks move money around the world. Bank cross border payments are usually sent using the SWIFT network. Under this system your bank works with 1 - 3 other banks, known as intermediaries, to move your money. However, needing to pass the payment via several banks can be slow - and each bank involved can deduct a fee when they process the payment, which can mean extra costs you didn’t expect to pay.

To avoid the extra and unforeseen costs involved with SWIFT, Wise built its own payment network. That cuts out intermediaries - and their fees - and speeds up transfer times. We’ll break down the different common costs of international payments one by one next, and cover how Wise works differently.

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Wise vs international bank transfers: the costs explained

Let’s start with a look at the Wise fee for sending and receiving international payments. We’ll dig into the typical costs of using a regular bank next.

ServiceWise fee
Open your accountFree
Monthly feesFree
Send international paymentsFrom 0.41% 
Receive international payments

Free to receive payments in 10 currencies to your Wise account - including USD ACH transfers
4.14 USD charge to receive a USD wire payment

Different banks can have quite different fee structures when it comes to international payments. There may also be different services available depending on where you’re sending money to, and what the value of the payment is overall. To get a full picture of the costs of moving money internationally with your bank you’ll have to read the terms and conditions of your account - remember to look out for:

ServiceTraditional bank fee
Open your accountMinimum opening deposit may apply
Monthly feesFees vary between banks and accounts, and may be waived by meeting certain conditions.
Send international payments

Fees vary between banks and accounts. Costs may differ based on where you’re sending money to, and how you arrange your payment
Royal Bank of Canada international money transfers cost 6 CAD - 10 CAD, while wires cost up to 45 CAD
TD Bank charges up to 25 CAD for international payments arranged online, and up to 50 CAD for in-branch payments

Receive international paymentsFees may vary based on the value of the payment and where it’s coming from. 
Receiving a wire of more than 50 CAD in value will cost up to 17 CAD with Royal Bank of Canada, while incoming wires cost up to 17.50 with TD Bank for example

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 search for an exchange rate on Google, or use a currency converter tool, the rate you get is usually the mid-market exchange rate. This is used as a benchmark as it’s the rate banks and money transfer services get when they buy and sell currencies on wholesale markets. 

However, it’s a rate that’s not always available to retail customers, which means you might get a less favourable rate when you send money with your bank. To calculate the rate they offer customers, banks will usually add a markup or margin - often of about 3% - to the mid-market exchange rate. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it can mount up fast. A 3% additional charge on a payment of 10,000 CAD for example would run to 300 CAD on this one fee alone.

Not all services add a markup to the mid-market exchange rate. Wise passes on the mid-market exchange rate to customers, and splits out all the costs of your transfer so there’s nothing hidden. That’s more transparent and cheaper, too.

SWIFT: the unexpected cost 

The SWIFT network was set up in the 1970s to make international bank transfers easier and more reliable. It’s a safe system, and because it’s been established for such a long time, it tends to be the process preferred by banks. However, as we touched on earlier, SWIFT can also mean you run into fees you weren’t expecting, as intermediaries involved with processing your payment may deduct their costs as the money passes through on the way to its destination account.

One of the most frustrating things about these SWIFT costs is that it’s not always possible to know in advance exactly which intermediaries will be involved in your transfer - and so you can’t necessarily calculate the costs before you hit send. That can mean your recipient ends up with less than you expect.

Specialist services like Wise bypass the SWIFT system with their own payment networks. This makes them faster and cheaper, with no surprise costs lurking along the way.

How does Wise work?

Wise built its own payment network to avoid SWIFT, cutting out unnecessary costs and making the entire process of moving money faster and more efficient.

When you make a Wise transfer you’ll send your money in Canadian dollars, to the local Canadian Wise account. Wise has a network of accounts all over the world, so once your money clears in CAD, they’ll simply send on the equivalent amount in the currency you need from the Wise account in the destination country. This way no money actually needs to cross any borders,  cutting costs and delivery times.

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Wise vs traditional banks: comparing the features

Today’s big local, regional and global banking brands offer a whole suite of services from credit and loans, to everyday banking, investments, savings and more. Often international payments aren’t a huge part of their business - which is reflected in the costs of cross border payment services. Specialist providers, on the other hand, have been created to meet this unserved need, investing in new approaches and technologies to provide a better customer experience.

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. 

Bank international payments are usually expected to arrive within 1 to 5 working days. However, you’ll need to make sure you make your payment before the day’s cutoff time, or it won’t even start to be processed until the next business day. Out of hours and weekend payments may also be delayed for the same reason.

Here’s how Wise delivery times measure up with traditional banks on some common currency routes:.

Transfer routesWiseTraditional bank

CAD - USD

Next dayUp to 5 working days

CAD - GBP

Estimated to arrive in 5 hoursUp to 5 working days

CAD - INR

Estimated to arrive in 5 hoursUp to 5 working days

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?

Wise is FINTRAC authorised and regulated, just like your normal bank. It’s also overseen by regulatory bodies around the world, and follows local and international rules to protect customer accounts and funds.

Transparency: watch out for the hidden costs

Banks tend to have several different fees for sending money overseas, which can be confusing and mean you’re paying more than you think. Not only will there usually be a transfer fee - which can vary depending on where you’re sending money to and how you set up your payments - you’ll also usually find an exchange rate markup and third party fees, too. All in all, that can mean costs which are hard to spot, and hard to predict.

Wise is on a mission to make it easier, cheaper and faster to send money internationally, with transparent fees and the aim of also bringing down costs over time. You’ll always see the full costs of your Wise payment before you confirm, split out so there are no surprises.

Wise vs international bank transfers: ease of use

Sending money overseas doesn’t have to be complicated. 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. There’s no maximum limit to the value of payment you can make from CAD, and you can send to 80+ countries around the world. 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. Bank transfers can take up to 5 working days for some currencies. Transfer limits vary by account type and provider. Get customer support online, by phone and in branch.

Wise account set up and verification can be completed online or in the Wise app, often 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 transfers can often be sent to a broad range of countries and currencies - but the time taken to move more exotic currencies, and the fees involved, may be high.

TransferWise vs international bank transfers: pros and cons


WiseBanks
Pros
  • Mid-market exchange rate with no markup
  • Low, transparent fees
  • Fast transfers - 45% are instant


  • 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

Wise tends to win our comparison when you look at costs. Wise also has a transparent fee structure so there are no surprises or hidden charges. 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

Wise is typically cheaper and faster than your normal bank if you need to send a payment overseas. You’ll get the real exchange rate every time, with no hidden charges or surprise third party fees. And because Wise payments are arranged online or in the Wise app, they’re convenient too.

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FAQ

Is Wise better than a bank?

Wise doesn’t offer all the same services a bank does. However, Wise international money transfers and multi-currency accounts can be cheaper and more flexible than the equivalent products from traditional banks.

Is Wise a bank?

Wise is not a bank, it’s a financial technology company. 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 FINTRAC here in Canada 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?

Wise is usually cheaper, with more transparent fees and a better exchange rate than traditional banks when it comes to making international money transfers.

By Ileana Ionescu
Updated May 17, 2022