By Gystilyn O’Brien

Working as an international freelancer comes with incredible benefits such as setting your own schedule, visiting unusual destinations, and exposure to new networks and communities. One of the few trials that come with such freedom is understanding and dealing with currency exchange. 

If you’ve ever flown anywhere in the world you’ve probably been stumped at the airport, wondering the best way to turn your cash or cashier’s checks into local currency. You’ve almost definitely had that breathtaking realisation that currency exchange comes with some unexpected and steep extra fees. With the advent of globalised banking, it’s become easier to simply go to an ATM anywhere in the world and withdraw the desired amount without too much loss in the way of exchange rates or surcharges. Unfortunately, that translation of funds doesn’t always work when it comes to being paid as a nomadic freelancer. Thanks to such sites like Paypal and Transferwise these processes have become easier. 

Paypal

Paypal is one of the most widely used banking platforms in any remote market. The ability to send and receive money in verified format with easy access to customer service has made it a safe place to exchange, send, and receive funds. Online and mobile apps make instant transactions a breeze. For all that, finding any information on exchange rates and surcharge fees within the Paypal platform is almost impossible. Both Paypal and Xoom, a subsidiary of Paypal, both function under standard VISA/Mastercard rates, meaning that VISA and Mastercard set the rates of exchange and also negotiate surcharge transactions. Paypal then adds their own rates on top of that which become a mountain of surcharges and fees very quickly.

In general, when it comes to exchange-rate fees, what you are often dealing with are borders. Exchanging the dollar for the Euro in the USA has a different set of surcharge fees than exchanging the dollar for the Euro in the UK. When you withdraw from a random ATM in Mexico with your VISA or Mastercard you may be paying your bank’s exchange rate and fees, and the ATM’s exchange rate and fees, and possibly also Visa or Mastercards rates. Banking and card platforms will often charge both surcharge fees for both countries, and a transaction fee for the process, meaning at the end of the day that you’ve lost a significant portion of your dollar. 

Transferwise

Transferwise, on the other hand, is a platform focused specifically on payments through international exchange rates. Their online and mobile platform is transparent from the start. They explain their exchange rate is based on Google’s exchange rates: they state their transaction fees in the initial currency, subtract that, and then exchange. They carefully explain how their platform focuses on saving you from unnecessary fees.

Transferwise has also gone so far as to troubleshoot the differences in their platform against Paypal and local banks and credit cards with Consumer Reports. Their detailed research into why they are a better system vastly outflanks any easily found information online regarding Paypal. 

Transferwise is verified through Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, India, New Zealand, UK and EEA, and the USA with accessible banks and ATMs around the globe and debit card by MasterCard. It was created specifically for the freelance market with focus in Upwork.com and Freelance.com

Transferwise also offers a Borderless Account which creates an umbrella account with arms reaching into each country’s unique sort code or account number. It’s like having five international bank accounts with one single sur-number. This alleviates all exchange rate fees as each payment goes through a ‘local’ account, meaning an exchange never happens at all. 

As a freelancer, I’m sold–Transferwise sounds great. I do have one problem though. Most of my clients use Paypal and they like it. People like to stay with what they know. This is where Transferwise has won me over. You can transfer payments from Paypal over to Transferwise in the currency paid without going through the exchange rate on Paypal. You can then do the exchange in Transferwise with lower fees. 

It’s truly a great time to be a digital freelancer. Technology access has made getting almost anything done more streamlined and innovative companies like Transferwise are working to remove the outdated stumbles of narrow access. When there was only Paypal, there was nothing we could do when being charged outrageous fees. In today’s growing technological climate there are simply more and better options. 

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