How to use Wise (formerly TransferWise) Borderless foreign currency accounts to save money

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If you’ve followed me on Twitter or Facebook for a while, or have read a few of my blog posts, you might be aware that I am a big fan of Wise (formerly TransferWise) for international transfers and payments. Wise keeps foreign exchange fees extremely low and gives customers a better exchange rate than most banks by passing on the actual daily exchange rate rather than incorporating an exchange margin. With most banks in Australia, this margin is around 3%. On a $100 purchase, that’s a $3 saving just on the exchange rate. Many banks also charge a fee on foreign exchanges and foreign purchases. Wise fees are typically much lower.

If you receive money in foreign currencies, Wise can save you even more money by facilitating storage of the foreign currency and spending it without transferring it back to your base currency first.

Disclaimer: This is not financial advice and you should do your own research.

Our scenario

So, for example, my base currency is AUD. However, I receive commission payments from some of my affiliate partners in USD. They get deposited directly into my bank account. I also pay Kinsta in USD for my website hosting.

Before Wise, those commission payments would go into my bank account and my bank would deduct a fee to convert that into AUD. I’d then pay Kinsta by credit card and my bank would charge me a fee to convert my AUD into USD.

If only I didn’t have to convert that USD back to AUD first! With Wise, this is completely possible.

So, if you don’t have a multi-currency account with TransferWise yet, go and open your free account.

Set up your multi-currency accounts in Wise (formerly TransferWise)

Ok, so you have opened up a Wise account. You’ll have a base balance automatically setup in your chosen base currency. For me, that’s AUD.

When you log into your account, you’ll see the activity screen by default. From here, you can see all the transaction activity, much like in your regular online banking. Your balances will be shown at the top. On mine, you can see I currently have a GBP balance setup in addition to my AUD balance.

TransferWise Activity Screen

Straight away, I can start loading my base currency by transferring money from my bank to the Wise bank account details provided, or by clicking the “Add AUD” button (or whatever currency your base currency is).

Now, if you aren’t receiving money in foreign currencies, you are good to skip down to the “Get a TransferWise debit card” section. For me though, I want to receive money in USD and hold it in a USD account until I am ready to use it.

To do that, I need to setup a USD balance. This is the same process I previously went through to add the GBP balance to my account that you can see in the screenshot above.

Open a foreign currency balance

Click the “Balances” link in the menu to go to the balances screen. This screen will show you a list of the balances you currently have, how much is in each one, and how to add funds to it.

TransferWise Balances Screen

This process and concept are pretty similar to travel money cards like Qantas Travel Money and the Australia Post Travel Mastercard, however, unlike those cards, TransferWise is cheaper to use and can provide you with bank details for most major currencies. Have bank details enables you to use each balance more like an actual bank account for receiving funds in foreign currencies.

To open a new balance in Wise, click the “Open a balance” button at the top of the balances screen.

TransferWise Open A Balance Button

You will be taken to the open a balance screen and given the option to select what currency you would like a new balance in.

TransferWise Open a Balance Currency Selection

You can choose from more than 40 currencies, far surpassing travel money cards that are typically around 10-15 currencies. However, if you want bank details, you must choose from one of the currencies that support local bank details. Right now, these are AUD, USD, GBP, Euro, and PLN (Polish zloty).

TransferWise Balance Selection Drop Down

I’ve selected USD for my new balance. Click the “Open your USB balance” button to proceed with the setup.

TransferWise Open your USD balance button

Wise will now set up your new balance and let you know when it is ready.

TransferWise USD Balance is ready to go

Even though USD supports local bank details, they aren’t created automatically. You have to request them if you need them. So to proceed, click the big blue “Got it” button and head onwards.

Getting local bank details in your foreign currency

You will be taken back to the balances screen where your new balance is now visible. Click on the balance to expand it.

TransferWise USD Balance Now Visible

You will be shown options for adding funds to the balance as well as a button to “get bank details”.

TransferWise Get bank details button

If you don’t need bank details, you can add funds by clicking the “Add USD” button and following the instructions. TransferWise will provide you with instructions to load money. We’re going to click the “Get bank details” button though.

The balance will reload with your new foreign currency bank details as well as any information about limitations that may apply to how you can use bank details for this currency.

TransferWise USD bank details

Right now, USD accounts have limits on how much money can be deposited from other USD accounts (limits don’t apply if you are converting funds from another currency) and USD bank details can’t currently be setup with direct debits yet (so you can’t hook it up to PayPal and have PayPal debit your USD balance for USD transactions).

Note: some foreign currencies do support direct debits, Euro and AUD for example.

This is great, just what I want! Now I can have my USD commissions paid straight into my USD balance using these bank details. No need for converting to AUD unless I want to.

But, how do I now use this to pay for my website hosting and other USD transactions when direct debits are not supported?

Well, that’s where the TransferWise debit card comes in.

Get a TransferWise debit card

Wise does prompt you to order a debit card when you first set up your account. So chances are, you might already have one. However, if you didn’t order one during account setup, you can do so by clicking the “Debit Card” link in the menu of your account.

Please note that since May 6, 2020 in the EU and UK and May 20, 2020 for other countries, a one-time fee applies to get a debit card.

TransferWise Debit Card Menu

You will be taken to the debit card screen. If you already have a debit card (or have one on order), it will show you the details. It should look something like this if you have a debit card. If it hasn’t arrived yet the status will not be active, instead, it will show you the current status.

TransferWise Debit Card Screen

If you don’t have a card already or on the way, there will be a button on this screen to order a card. Click it and follow the instructions.

TransferWise Debit Card

Once your card arrives in the mail, it will have instructions with it on how to activate it. Do this, and then you are good to move on to the next step, spending your foreign currency!

Spending foreign currency without conversion fees

The type of debit card you receive may vary depending on what your base currency is, and depending on the current relationship that Wise has with card issuers. Right now, in Australia, the debit card is a Mastercard debit.

It’s also neon green, so it really stands out.

You can use your Wise debit card to make purchases anywhere that accepts Mastercard payments. In Australia, this means you can use it at any EFTPOS terminal, online, through PayPal, with pay later services like ZipPay and AfterPay, and also to withdraw cash from ATM’s. It also means you can use it overseas anywhere that accepts Mastercard, including most online stores.

To use the card for online purchases, you have a choice, either pay by card directly or pay through PayPal. Here’s how both those scenario’s work

Paying in a foreign currency with my TransferWise card

Simply use your Wise card at the checkout like you would any other credit or debit card. Enter the card details and away you go.

Here’s what happens when you place an order. Let’s say I’m paying $100 in USD.

Wise will check my USD balance first. If I have $100 in that balance, then it will be used to pay for the purchase.

If I don’t have any USD, Wise checks my other balances and calculates what combination of other currencies will provide the best value conversion rate with the lowest fees. It might be that I have enough GBP to cover the purchase and that gets a better value conversion than AUD. In this case, Wise will convert enough GBP into USD to cover the purchase.

If I have $80 in my USD balance, Wise will use that, and then it will check my other balances to work out the best value conversion for the remaining $20. That $20 will then be converted from one of my other balances that gets the best rate and lowest fee.

So in my example where I have to pay for my website hosting in USD, I log into my Kinsta account and add my Wise card as my preferred billing method. Now, Kinsta will bill my TransferWise card and automatically use my USD commissions first before moving to my other currencies. Now I don’t have to pay conversion fees and lose money in foreign exchange rates going backwards and forwards between USD -> AUD -> USD. AWESOME!!!

Paying in a foreign currency with my Wise card connected to my PayPal account

PayPal is another common way of managing international payments, and yes, you can receive USD directly into your PayPal account as well. PayPal fees for conversion between your balances are excessively higher than Wise though, so it isn’t a good solution for managing your international currencies.

It is possible, however, to setup your Wise debit card with PayPal so that you can use your Wise balances through PayPal.

Link your TransferWise debit card to your PayPal account

To set this up, log into your PayPal account and click the “Money” tab.

PayPal Summary Screen

From the money screen, scroll down to the “Cards” section and click on the “Link a new card” button. If you already have some cards linked to your account then they will show up here as well.

PayPal Money Screen - Link a new card

On the screen that appears, enter your Wise debit card details, as you would with any other debit or credit card.

PayPal Link Card Screen

Click the “Link Card” button and assuming you entered your card details correctly, you should see a success screen.

PayPal Card Linked

Now, click “Done” and you will be taken back to the Money screen. Your Wise debit card should now be listed in the cards section.

PayPal Money with Card Linked

You can click “Confirm your card” to go through the process of verifying the card with PayPal, but it is not essential to get things up and running.

Now that your card is linked, you can begin using it.

Paying with your Wise card without PayPal currency conversion

When you make a purchase in a foreign currency, PayPal always defaults to doing the currency conversion for you. Why? Well, they would tell you it’s for your convenience so you know exactly what you are going to pay. The caveat is that this often isn’t exactly what you are going to pay because banks often add a foreign transaction fee if the merchant is overseas, even if you pay in your local currency. This is especially true here in Australia.

The real reason PayPal defaults to doing the currency conversion is because they charge excessively high conversion fees, so they make a lot from you when you choose to use their conversion service. To avoid these fees and make sure you are using your foreign balance on your Wise card, always choose to pay in the billing currency without PayPal currency conversion. Here’s how.

Proceed to pay as you normally would. After logging into your PayPal account to process payment, select your Wise card.

PayPal Payment Method Selection

Click “Continue” and PayPal will show you what is going to be charged to your card in what currency. This is where it typically defaults to your local currency. As you can see below, PayPal would like to convert this USD purchase to AUD for me. I don’t want that though.

To change this, click “View currency conversion options”.

PayPal Currency Conversion Options

Select the original currency (in this case, USD) from the currency conversion options screen.

PayPal Change Currency

PayPal will update to show you the new amount in the original currency and confirm that your card provider (Wise) will determine the conversion rate and any fees.

Click “Pay in USD” (or whatever currency it is that you have selected).

PayPal New Currency Amount

You will be taken back to the PayPal payments screen where you can finalise payment. Just double check to make sure that it does show that you are paying in the currency you are expecting. I’ve had occasional issues with this.

PayPal Payment in USD without Conversion

That’s it. Click “Continue” and proceed to complete the transaction as normal. Your Wise card will be used to make the payment and funds will be taken from the appropriate balance, or converted from one of your other balances if you don’t have enough in that currency.

Sit back and enjoy the savings!

One caveat to note regarding PayPal and your Wise card. PayPal does not let you select the currency for billing agreements. Instead, PayPal kindly does the conversion to your base currency for you. You don’t get a choice so be careful with this.

I would recommend using your Wise debit card directly with merchants whom you have ongoing payments arrangements with to ensure you are getting the savings and not potentially doubling up on your exchange fees.

It’s so frustrating to have a USD balance, expect a payment to come out in USD, but instead, PayPal converts it to AUD for you, which means you are billed in AUD and thus Wise has to convert your USD to AUD. Subsequently, you are paying double exchange fees and it costs you way too much.

On a side note, it is possible to add your Wise USD account to your PayPal account to withdraw USD funds from PayPal, however, as of November 2020, PayPal charges a 3% fee to withdraw USD from Australian PayPal accounts to USD bank accounts. Ouch. The current list of PayPal fees for Australian accounts is here.

That’s it!

That’s all there is! That’s how you can save money using foreign currency accounts in Wise (formerly TransferWise) and paying using your Wise debit card.

If you want better value currency exchange for business use, as I do, Wise also has a brilliant business account, TransferWise for Business.

TransferWise and TransferWise for Business

Got more tips on saving money with Wise? Let me know in the comments below!

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Save money on your holiday

Travel Money & Currency Conversion: We use both Up Bank and Wise for the best currency conversion rates with support for Apple Pay and Android Pay plus excellent in-app customer support while you are travelling.

Flights: We check a few sites for different prices. Travelling from Australia, I always check Qantas directly for reward flights, but otherwise, I check and compare the cost of flights with SkyScanner. It’s always worth checking alternative routes and days, especially where there are multiple stopover options or nearby alternative airports.

Accommodation: We usually book through Agoda as we find their prices are the lowest and cancellation policies + loyalty benefits work out the best. We also use Airbnb from time to time.

Car Rental: We use AutoEurope to compare rental car prices with all the big international brands like Europcar, Budget, Hertz and Avis. We usually end up using Avis or Europcar as they offer the best deals (make sure to check their current offers for bonus discounts) and both maintain their vehicles well with relatively new fleets.

Tours & Activities: We generally try to book activities through one of these third-party sites ViatorGet Your Guide & Klook due to their flexible cancellation policies (saved us a lot of money trying to travel post-COVID) and price guarantees (often better prices than booking direct). We also book through Red Balloon on occasion for more unique Aussie and NZ activities.

4 thoughts on “How to use Wise (formerly TransferWise) Borderless foreign currency accounts to save money”

    • Thanks Kev, it definitely is. I use it all the time for overseas purchases and travel. It works really well and is much cheaper than the rates my bank charges.


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Who Am I?

Matt in Noumea

Matt works sort-of full time running his digital marketing business, TerraMedia. In his spare time though, he loves to travel with his wife, so they usually end up doing a lot of it.
Home is Australia, and while they don’t spend all their time travelling the world, Matt and his wife like to take the time to really explore and get to know a place, even if that means spending a lot longer there than normal tourists might.

You can read more about Matt and his story HERE.

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