how to use wise (transferwise) while travelling

How to use Wise for CHEAPER Travel Money & Spending

One of the key considerations for taking a trip is money.  Especially if you’re travelling to a location where the currency is different from your home country.  Getting hold of cash can be a costly exercise – from fluctuations in exchange rates to poor exchange rates and the dreaded currency commission rates.  One of the best ways to pay the least to obtain currency while traveling is to use the Wise debit card for travel.  Wise, previously Transferwise, is a great way to move money between currencies – and using the Transferwise debit card is one of the cheapest ways to use money while traveling.


***Great News! Wise debit cards are now available in Canada! – Canadian residents and citizens can get and use Wise debit cards!**** > Get Your Card Now!

Transferwise is now Wise

Transferwise changed its name to Wise in February 2021. However, name changes take a long time, especially in the web world, so the name change from Transferwise to Wise is a long-term process and the names are used interchangeably – and not just by me!

Using Wise for Lowest Travel Money Costs

There are a couple of elements to Wise and Transferwise that make it one of the best ways to obtain and spend money abroad.

 The Wise Multi-Currency Account.

First, you can create what’s called a Wise“borderless or multi-currency account”.  All that really means is that you can open bank accounts in multiple countries via Transferwise and hold different currencies in those accounts.   So if I’m traveling to the USA for vacation it would make sense to have some money that I can use in US dollars.  The Wise Multi-Currency Account lets me open an account, not just in my native British Pounds, but also in US dollars.  (And Euros, and Australian dollars – and a whole lot of other currencies).   BUT, you don’t HAVE to hold money in those currencies until you actually want it there.  (Keep it where you’re earning interest if you’re lucky enough to be doing that!).

And the borderless accounts from Wise are Free. There are no account charges with Wise.

Do it now.  See how easy it is.  Open your Wise multi-currency account now!

These different currency accounts mean that you can move money from your home currency account to the currency in which you’re going to be spending.   And the reason you want to use Transferise to do this is that it offers some of the best currency exchange rates – WAY better than your bank, or the bureau exchange.

Transferwise cost comparison

The Transferwise Currency Exchange Charging Rates

Transferwise uses the mid-market rate (like all the banks do when they move money between each other) when it is moving your money between currencies.  It is completely transparent about this.  The way that it makes money is that it charges a small percentage on the commission- and this is ALWAYS displayed and VERY CLEARLY, so you can see exactly how much your currency exchange is costing.  Check out Transferwise currency rates here.

When you move money, say between Euros and US Dollars Transferwise clearly shows how much it costs, and what their commission is (it’s never hidden like some other providers) and it explains how much you have saved based on average rates for high street banks. You can also run through the process and see what it’s going to cost without committing. Check out the Transferwise exchange rate here now

The Transferwise Travel Card

There is a small charge for the Wise debit card – the cost of a Wise debit card depends on where you sign up (for instance in Portugal it’s 8 euros) – check the cost of a Transferwise debit card here.  There’s no minimum balance you have to pay and there are no ongoing charges to pay for the card.  The huge benefit of the Transferwise debit card is that you get TWO FREE ATM withdrawals up to the equivalent of GBP200 a month.   After that, there’s 50p per transaction and a 1.75 percent fee for withdrawals made in a 30-day period.

As of December 2021, Wise debit cards are also available to Canadian residents > Get yours here

There are zero foreign transaction fees with the Transferwise debit card.  Convinced?  Get your Transferwise Debit card here.

You can use the Transferwise debit card just like any other debit card, in more than 200 countries.  Use it to pay for food, in bars, restaurants, shops – there’s no charge – just use it exactly the same as you would any other card, except you’ll be paying in the currency of where you’re traveling, with the money that you’re holding in your multi-currency account, and so getting some of the best exchanges rates around.

So what happens if you don’t have any money left in your Transferwise currency account?  Don’t worry, your card will still work.  When you set up your Transferwise multi-currency account you link it to a bank account in your home country.  So if you aren’t holding any money in a particular currency but are spending that currency Transferwise will automatically do the conversion at the standard exchange rate and charge their regular fees.

You can spend in ANY currency on your Transferwise debit card and it will be converted using the lowest possible fee.

What are the Transferwise Fees?

I’m not going to type out what all those fees are, as they make it very clear on their website – you can check them here

Our Guides to Lower ATM Fees When Traveling

If you’re traveling, then our guides to ATMs and ATM fees are here

Why Use Wise? Reasons for Using Transferwise

We use Transferwise for the following reasons

  1. Because they provide cheap currency exchange rates
  2. Because it Transferwise provides us with the ability to hold local accounts in US dollars, GB Pounds, Euros, Australian dollars, Japanese.
  3. We can receive money for free in GB pounds, US dollars, Australian dollars and Euros – and other currencies – check which currencies you can use Transferwise with here .
  4. Because it is all online and you don’t need to go into a branch or find someone to deal with if there is a problem (we haven’t had a problem, but doing it online is seriously important to us). – We ALWAYS login to our VPN before connecting to ANY financial services provider – as we tend to use publicly available wifi networks.  Our guide to using VPNs for travel is here.
  5. They’re transparent about their pricing.

Get the best VPN that we’ve found that works in ANY country we’ve been to including Turkmenistan, China, Myanmar &Cuba.  This link gives you a coupon for THREE MONTHS for free as a reader of ASocialNomad

You can’t pop into a branch of Transferwise, they have a different model to other banks, so their overheads are lower.  And those savings are passed onto you and me.  Transferwise is fully regulated – and yes your money is safe – there’s more on regulation and your money at the end of the article.

What is Transferwise?

Transferwise is a financial services company with more than 6 million active customers who move more than US$4billion dollars EVERY MONTH, saving on average US$4 million a DAY in bank fees. Wise is an Authorised Electronic Money Institution independently regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in the UK. They are required by law to keep money safe by storing it in low-risk financial institutions. In Europe, they do this with Barclays. In the USA they do this with Wells Fargo.

These accounts are reserved for customer money, this means your money is kept in a separate account from the money they use to run the business.

Transferwise has more than 1,300 employees in 11 offices and 4 continents.  This is a serious operation. Wise is also now a public company, listed on the London Stock Exchange.

How Much Can You Save with Transferwise?

Transferwise operates a really simple pricing structure.  You get charged what it costs them to send your money plus a small fee.  You will always know what that fee is before you send any money.  You’ll also always know how long your money is likely to take to transfer between currencies.    You can save up to 15 x what your local bank would charge for currency exchanges.

Transferwise collects data from other financial services providers that are publicly available – to show you how much you can save.    They’ll show you this on each transaction you want to make, but you can also take a look for example here where they show how much transfers cost and also how long they take to go through.  Some providers take as many as FOUR business days to transfer money, while Transferwise takes hours, which means you get the benefit of your own money for longer with Transferwise.

How to Use Transferwise for Travel

It’s really easy to use Transferwise for traveling.   If you want to use the benefit of a Trnasferwise debit card then you’ll need to set a Transferwise account up and get hold of the wise debit card before you leave home.  If you don’t want the card, then you can set up a Transferwise multi-currency account from anywhere.  Here’s how to set up Transferwise for travel.

Set up a Transferwise Account

The Transferwise multi-currency account is free to set up and free to maintain.  There are no ongoing account costs for Transferwise accounts.    All you need to do to set up a Transferwise account is to complete your profile, upload ID documents to verify your account for security and then you’re good to start!

Get local bank details with your Transferwise Account

British Pounds, Euros, Polish Zloty, Australian Dollars, US Dollars and New Zealand Dollars all come with local bank details.  That’s right, you get your own bank account details – IBANs, account numbers – the whole nine yards, just like your regular account.

Download the Transferwise App

Move money from an app, from your laptop, just as and when you need it.  Confirm the rates.

Apply for a Transferwise card

Simply apply for your Transferwise debit card here, which gives you

  • No foreign transactions fees
  • No annual fees
  • Low currency conversion rates
  • Free ATM withdrawals worldwide – up to the equivalent of GBP200 every 30 days
  • Lowest possible fees with auto-convert for any currency
  • Manage with the Transferwise App – get instant notifications, freeze your card, unfreeze it any anytime
Transferwise App

How to Use a Transferwise Card when travelling

Using Transferwise when travelling is a fabulous to save money.

You can hold balances in your Transferwise account in different currencies.   (like US dollars, British Pounds, Euros, Australian dollars, Japanese Yen.. and so on).  But equally, you don’t have to have money in those currencies to spend in those currencies.  If you spend in say Japanese Yen but don’t have Yen in your currency account, then Transferwise will auto-convert to give you the lowest possible rates.

Once you’ve got a Transferwise account you can apply for a debit card.  I don’t know of anyone who’s been turned down.  This is a debit card, not a credit card.  It is a Mastercard.

Your Transferwise card lets you take money out of an ATM for FREE – if you hold that currency in your Transferwise account.   It lets you take out up to 200 GBP/250 USD/350 AUD/350 NZD/350 SGD (or your currency’s equivalent) in total per 30 days. After that, a 1.75% withdrawal fee will be charged. After two ATM transactions per 30 days, there’s also a 50p fee. These fees are charged in the currency of your account.

When using your Transferwise debit card always select to get charged by the ATM in the local currency – NOT your home rate – this means that Transferwise and not the bank whose ATM you are using will set the exchange rate. ALL ATMs will try and convince you to take their conversion rate – it’s called Dynamic Currency Conversion. You should NOT take their offer. Transferwise will ALWAYS offer you a better rate. Always.

Using Transferwise for Currency Transfer Payments

If you need to pay bills in another currency to your home account, then using your Transferwise account for this is really simple.  You can do it ALL online.   There’s no waiting period.  No hassles and you’ll know exactly how much it is going to cost.  And for me, it’s ALWAYS been cheaper than alternatives.  Always.  Read independent comparisons here.

Simply add your recipient to your recipient’s list – and then transfer the money.  You don’t even have to be holding the foreign currency in your Transferwise account, you can make the exchange on the fly from your connected bank account, the fees are exactly the same as if you move money from say Euros to Dollars, and then pay them as if you just do it all as one transaction.

I love how transparent Transferwise is about showing me what the cost of the money is, and what their commission charge is for providing the service.

transferwise send money abroad

And I really love how quickly it all happens, as well as their humorous comments about how quick the service is compared to other things in the world (check it out when you do your transfers!)

Using Transferwise for Holiday Travel Money

We are travelling most of the year, so most of our expenditure is in foreign currency, but even if you’re looking at a one or two-week holiday Transferwise can save you money.    There’s no need to be using the seriously expensive currency exchanges at airports or border crossings.  All you need is a Transferwise account, a Transferwise debit card and an ATM.

Pop the card into the ATM, take the cash out and you’re off and running.

Don’t forget you can also use the Transferwise debit card like a normal debit card, –  paying for restaurant meals, trips, tours, car rental and so on.   I don’t know why I keep saying “like a normal debit card”, I really should say, it’s a super-normal debit card – because it doesn’t charge huge fees for spending in a foreign currency!

Using Transferwise to Receive Foreign Currency Payments

If you get paid in foreign currencies then getting that payment into your home bank account can cost a HUGE amount in fees.  Even if the person paying you wants to use, say PayPal, then your fees are high.

Transferwise lets you open accounts in multiple currencies, so you can give local bank details to the people wanting to pay you, or put them on your invoices.  And this is all for free. Check out a multi-currency account here and now. Transferwise also lets you convert more than 50 currencies!  So your bill payers will be paying in their currency, then you can use the low exchange rates that Transferwise offers to convert to whichever currency you want it in.

How to Use Transferwise to save on Paypal Currency Transfer fees

You can even use Transferwise to save on Paypal fees.   Let’s say you regularly get paid by someone in US dollars who can only pay via Paypal.  Yet, your home currency is Euros.  And you get hit with the Paypal fees.  And then you get hit with the Paypal exchange fees – which tend to add 2.5% to your transaction charges.  2.5% might not be much but it sure mounts up.  And I’d definitely prefer that it was MY 2.5%.

All you need to do is add the US dollar account that you set up with Transferwise to your PayPal account.  Paypal lets you add TWO bank accounts to your Paypal account.  One can be in your home currency and another can be in the other currency where you get a lot of payments.  For me, my home currency is British Pounds, yet I get payments in US dollars.  So I have 2 bank accounts attached to my Paypal account, one British Pounds and one US Dollars.

How to add Transferwise to Paypal

If you cannot add your Transferwise account online with Paypal, just call up their help team and ask to put on another bank account.    That’s how I did it.  It was easy.  I had to go through to 3 different people to find someone who knew how to add a US dollar account to my UK Paypal account, but they set it up and within literally 20 minutes, I was up and running.  My US dollar account on my UK Paypal account is set to be my Transferwise dollar account.

And my transfers from Paypal US dollars to a US dollar account are free.  Saving me 2.5% of transfer fees.  Easy.

Is Your Money Safe with Transferwise?

In a word. Yes. Here’s how and why.

Transferwise FCA (Financal Conduct Authority)

Transferwise is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK – they’re required by law to keep money safe.  They do this by storing it in low-risk financial institutions – in Europe, it’s Barclays in the UK, in the USA it’s with Wells Fargo.  All monies are held in a specific customer account, separate from their business operating monies.

Transferwise FCSC (Financial Services Compensation Scheme)

If Transferwise were to cease to exist, then your money would be paid back from the accounts referenced above.  Transferwise, is, however, not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) as it is not a bank.  Your money is protected by safeguarding – which you can read more about here.

FAQs on Why Use Transferwise

Got questions about what is Transferwise? About how to use Wise to transfer money? Or even what is Transferwise? Check out our frequently asked questions about Wise money transfers below, or ask us yours in the comments.

What is Wise? What is Transferwise?

Wise is an Authorised Electronic Money Institution. They are independently regulated by the FCA in the UK.

Transferwise is a financial services company with more than 6 million active customers who move more than US$4billion dollars EVERY MONTH, saving on average US$4 million a DAY in bank fees. Wise is an Authorised Electronic Money Institution independently regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in the UK. They are required by law to keep money safe by storing it in low-risk financial institutions. In Europe, they do this with Barclays. In the USA they do this with Wells Fargo.

Which countries can get a Wise Account? Can I use Wise in Canada?

As of December 2021 as a resident or citizen of the following countries, you can get a Wise account and Wise debit card: Canada, UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan, Switzerland and EEA. As of December 2021, Canadian residents can get access to Wise cards too. > Get your Wise Account here

What is Transfer wise borderless?

The Transferwise borderless account is the old name of the Wise Multi-Currency Account. It’s the same thing. A Wise borderless account is simply a way of holding multiple currencies.

Does Transferwise work in Cuba?

No. The Transferwise card will not currently work in Cuba. If you’re looking for an ATM or debit card for Cuba, then we wrote about that on our sister site Cuba’s Best – here.

How to Use Transferwise Debit Cards?

You use a Transferwise card / Wise debit card in the same way that you do any other debit card. Pay in restaurants, pay at tolls, pay in supermarkets. Use it online. There’s no charge for using a Transferwise debit card to pay for goods and services. As of December 2021 the Wise debit card is also available to Canadian residents > more here

Can You Link Transferwise to Paypal?

Yes.  You can link a Transferwise account to Paypal easily.  Usually, you can link a bank account from your primary Paypal currency online. (So my UK bank account linked to Paypal online). Then to add a second account in a different currency (say US dollars), you might need to call Paypal. If you are not able to link Wise to Paypal online, then you can phone Paypal and they can add it manually for you. I did this to link my Wise account to Paypal for dollars and they were incredibly helpful and it only took 5 minutes.

Can you use a Credit Card on Transferwise?

Yes.  You can link a credit card to Transferwise and use it to transfer money to your Transferwise multi-currency account. You can easily use a credit card on Transferwise.  However, you will be charged a CASH advance fee if you use a credit card attached to Transferwise. And therefore it is usually cheaper to use a debit card.  You should check with your card provider what charges they will make as payments made via Transferwise using a credit card may be interpreted by your bank as being a cash withdrawal and therefore may incur additional charges.

How do I use Transferwise?

How you use Transferwise depends on what type of transactions you want to use it for. You can set up a Wise account for free.  You can then add different currency accounts to your wise account for free. There is no charge for this.  You do not need to hold money in these currency accounts to have them open.

You link your Transferwise / Wise account to a “bricks and mortar” bank account or even a credit card. This then means that you can make transfers using Transferwise as the mechanism.  So if you hold your money in Pounds sterling, but want to pay someone in US Dollars, the Transferwise currency conversion rates tend to be LOTS cheaper than regular bank transfers.

You can also use the Transferwise debit card. You can receive money into your Wise multi-currency account. Wise lets you hold and convert FIFTY-FOUR currencies. Then you can use your Wise Debit card to spend in the local currency in the country that you are in. Or that you want to pay in. You can use the Wise debit card as an ATM card as well.

Is Transferwise covered by FCSC?

No.  Wise is NOT covered by the FCSC. Transferwise doesn’t provide financial protection through the FSCS (Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), which is a scheme used by traditional bricks and mortar banks.  That’s because Wise is not a bank.  BUT they are very clear about how they safeguard your money.

Transferwise safeguards your money.  Safeguarding is a legal requirement that means your money is kept in separate accounts to those which are used to run the business of Transferwise.  If anything ever happened to Transferwise then your money will be safe in the accounts of the banks in which it is stored. You can read more about how Wise safeguards your money here.

Final Words on Using Transferwise to Save Money

Whether you are a frequent or infrequent traveller getting access to cash and paying for items in currencies outside your home currency is usually always expensive – regular banks charge a fortune to pay in different currencies. The Wise multi-currency account and wise debit card changes all of that. You can pay in multiple currencies, you can transfer money into multiple currencies and you can get paid in multiple currencies too. Wise operates a transparent method of charging – you can ALWAYS see how much something will cost to convert before you convert it. It makes travelling and using your own money a lot cheaper and easier.

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