There are many reasons why you might like to send money to the UK. Perhaps you are running a business, investing in property, or paying for university tuition. Or maybe, you are one of the thousands of expats who immigrate to the UK each and every year.
Whatever the reason, you have probably realised that it is more complicated than you first thought to transfer money to to the UK. And if you are using your bank, it’s very likely that you’re paying more than you should for the privilege. I ran into the same challenge a couple of years ago, so in response, prepared this guide to help you navigate the international payments landscape.
Read on, and I’ll show you the best way to send money to the UK; and with a bit of luck we’ll save you some money along the way.
About the currency of the United Kingdom
First, a quick word on the UK. The country is located to the east of mainland Europe. The official currency is the British Pound, also referred to as “pound sterling”. The currency code for the Pound is GBP, and the currency symbol is £. The most frequently exchanged pairing is with the US Dollar, and the currency itself is issued by the Bank of England.
The Pound is used by the countries that comprise of the United Kingdom, including England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, as well as other British controlled colonies such as Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey, Saint Helena and Ascension, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and Tristan da Cunha.
How the foreign exchange market works
What is the best way to transfer money to the UK without being stung with a range of hidden fees and charges? It is a very good question that will take a few minutes to answer. But understanding the basics before getting started will save you a lot of time and money in the long run.
Let’s begin with how the foreign exchange market works. Banks and other money transfer services will buy foreign currency at a price very close to the mid-market exchange rate. They will then sell this currency to you, the customer, for a higher rate than they bought it for, taking a margin in between – known as “the spread”.
The spread is essentially a hidden cost that is not disclosed to you during the transaction. Then, in addition to the spread, some services will charge a transaction fee on top – which is typically the fee that they quote to you. In any case, the total cost of the transfer for you, the customer, is the combination of the two; the spread + transaction fee.
Why you should use a money transfer service
Now that you understand how the market works, what should you do? Well, unfortunately, it is reasonable to assume that the institution that you are most likely to trust with your money – your bank – won’t be looking out for you on this one. A typical bank will charge up to 5% of the overall transfer value in spread and transaction fee to complete a transfer on your behalf. Not great.
Instead, we can look to a range of dedicated money transfer services that aim to close the gap on these costs, help you transfer money safely, and ultimately provide you with a better experience overall. While is is important to acknowledge a money transfer service will never achieve the mid market rate exactly, they will provide the cheapest way to send money to the UK when all is said and done.
So what is a reasonable cost for using a money transfer service? In my experience, if you can achieve a total cost of less than 1% of the overall transaction value then you are on the right track. However, it really depends what your needs are and if you are willing to pay a little bit extra for additional features, advice, or research.
How do money transfer services differ?
Each service will vary slightly from the next and will offer a range of features tailored towards the needs of their clientele. At the very least, most provide an online platform that allow its users to initiate payments at any time of day (or night), and keep track of these payments as funds are delivered to the intended recipient.
Some services have been developed for transferring small amounts, while others are better suited to large transactions. Some can arrange payments quickly at higher cost, while others may do it cheaper but take a few days longer. Some are designed with the everyday consumer in mind, while others are focused on business money transfer.
Below, I will provide an overview of the services that can help you transfer money to the UK. We will also cover some of the factors you should consider when selecting a service for your own needs. And finally, I will give you a quick heads up of what to expect when signing up with your service of choice.
Send money to the UK: A list of services
Here is a comprehensive list of services that can help you transfer money to the UK. Beside the name of each service, I have also included the total number of currencies they transact, their speed of transfer, their average cost, and their score as received in our review. If you would like to learn more about a specific service, I encourage you to read our review in its entirety.
|wdt_ID||Service||Currencies||Speed||Ave. cost||Our score||Review|
|1||CurrencyFair||20||2-4 days||0.45 %||5 stars||Read review|
|2||XE Money Transfer||60||2-4 days||0.54 %||4 stars||Read review|
|3||WorldFirst||43||2-4 days||1.11 %||4 stars||Read review|
|4||OFX||55||3-5 days||1.20 %||4 stars||Read review|
|5||HiFX||60||2-4 days||0.45 %||4 stars||Read review|
|6||OrbitRemit||21||1-3 days||0.43 %||4 stars||Read review|
|7||Ria Money Transfer||TBC||1-3 days||3.06 %||2 stars||Read review|
|8||Currency Online||60||2-4 days||1.50 %||3 stars||Read review|
|9||WorldRemit||TBC||1-3 days||1.35 %||4 stars||Read review|
|10||TransferGo||23||1-3 days||0.84 %||3 stars||Read review|
How to compare money transfer services
Now that you know about the various services and the types of features they offer, what should you be paying special attention to when weighing up your options? Here are some of my suggestions.
Does the service offer a competitive rate? Money transfer services earn their revenue through charging a fee on each transaction, a percentage of the value exchanged, or a combination of both. When comparing services, take a look at the total cost involved, and consider which one will provide you with the best value. If you would like to view the current mid market rate for your preferred GBP currency pairing, you can use this helpful tool at xe.com.
Does the service offer the features you require? Not all companies offer the same features. Make sure that any service offers what you need before committing to the sign-up process. Think about the types of features that will make your life easier, such as:
- Spot contract
- Recurring payment
- Currency forward contract
- Foreign currency options
- Market order
- Multi-currency account
- Flexible delivery
Is the transfer speed acceptable? The time required for each service to complete your transfer will vary, and most provide an indication of this on their website. If you need a fast exchange, you may need for forego a better rate, while being prepared to wait a few days can result in a better exchange rate.
Is the service reputable? Research a company’s reputation ahead of time can save you a lot of hassle in the long run. Take a look at a review aggregator website such as Trustpilot, to see what previous customers have said about their experience.
Does the service have a secure website? Any company you choose to business with on the internet should have a secure website. To check that a company is complying with secure communication standards, check that their website URL begins with https://.
Is the service properly regulated? Any reputable currency service should be registered with the relevant financial regulators in the countries from which it operates. For example, TransferWise (review) is regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), and in Australia by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).
Is customer support easily accessible? Just in case you get stuck when using the online platforms of money transfer services, it is nice to know that help is easily available. Make sure that you can locate the telephone number for customer service to ensure that you have access to support if it’s needed.
If you’d like to know more about what to look for, read our guide on how to compare money transfer services.
How to get started with your service of choice
While each money transfer service offers a distinct range of features, most have a common onboarding process. Here is a summary of what to expect.
Step 1 – Sign up. Visit your service of choice and register for an account. Depending on the service, this process can take between 30 seconds and 10 minutes. You will need to provide some general information about yourself including your name, email, phone number, and address.
Step 2 – Verify your identity. Because money transfer services are subject to financial regulation, you will need to formally verify your identity. Typically this will require providing two types of documents:
- Photo identification, such as a passport or drivers licence
- Proof of address, such as a bank or utility statement
Step 3 – Commence your first transaction. Once you are registered and verified, you can log in to your account and set up your first transfer. You will need to specify the name and bank details of the recipient, what country they reside in, and the value of funds to be sent. You will then decide on how you would like to facilitate the transaction; either by bank transfer, debit or credit card.
Step 4 – Deposit money into the service’s local bank account. If you opted to facilitate the transaction by bank transfer, you will need to deposit your funds into a local bank account. Once the funds are received by the service, they will then carry out the required process to deliver these funds to your recipient. If you made payment by debit or credit card you will skip this step and move straight to Step 5.
Step 5 – Funds are delivered to your recipient. Once your funds have been received by the service, it will usually take a few days for the transfer process to be completed. The length of time will depend on the service’s particular payment network; some own their own while others use an established network such as SWIFT. Most services will keep you updated along the way, so you have a reasonable idea of when delivery is expected.
It doesn’t need to cost you arm and a leg to send money to the UK. Dedicated money transfer services can save you a lot of time and effort – but they come in different shapes and sizes, and serve a variety of purposes. With some careful research and a little bit of patience, I’m sure that you will have no trouble finding one that is right for you. However, if you are still stuck for ideas, take a look at our guide on how to send money online.
If you have any questions or queries, let me know in the comments below.