Keep an eye on fees and exchange rates when sending money overseas: experts

TORONTO – Several years ago, while studying abroad, Anton Malkin found himself facing an unexpected challenge.

Malkin, 30, was living in China while completing research for his graduate studies, but his income from teaching and scholarships was in Canada. Every few months he found himself wiring anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 overseas through his bank.

“The thing I was surprised the most about is how cumbersome and confusing it is every single time,” Malkin says.

“You would think that it would get easier the more you do it, but unless you use the exact same two branches every single time, it doesn’t.”

Sending large sums of money overseas can be a complex and expensive process. Experts suggest keeping a close eye not only on service charges, but also on currency exchange rates, as some institutions can have better offerings than others.

“In one case I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation … and realized that if I used bank Z instead of bank X, I could have gotten $400 or $500 more dollars,” says Malkin.

A plethora of online-based financial technology startups have sprouted up in recent years, offering alternatives to the traditional banks and money transfer services like Western Union.

Some are able to offer more competitive rates because they don’t have a bricks-and-mortar presence, which means their costs are lower.

Online remittance company WorldRemit allows migrant workers to send money back home to their families for as little as $2.99 per transaction, depending on how much money is being sent and where.

That makes it more cost effective to do more frequent, smaller transactions, rather than having to do send money in one big lump sum, says Richard Meseko, WorldRemit’s Canadian country director.

“They are able, for the first time, to do micro-remittances,” Meseko says.

“While $20 may not seem like a lot here, it can help friends and families in these developing countries get through the week or deal with an emergency.”

With so many online services now available, it’s vital to ensure that whichever one you pick is trustworthy and secure says Anay Shah, head of international partnerships at online remittance company Remitly.

It’s also important to consider how easy it will be for the person on the other end of the transaction to pick up the money says Darrell MacMullin, CEO of Goldmoney’s personal and business division. Goldmoney is an online service that allows users to buy gold and transfer it around the world.

“The last mile is very important — so how does someone on the other end actually receive the money?” says MacMullin.

“Do they have to go a bank? Do they have to go to a physical cash location? Or can it go electronically into someone’s bank account?”

Finally, consider the length of time that the service will take to transfer the money. Some are faster than others, MacMullin says.

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