Servicing a mortgage or sending money home when working or living overseas can be a time consuming business if you're continually looking to make your hard earned cash go that little bit further.
In the good old days of foreign exchange you'd know how much you were paying in commission, it would be in big letters before you'd even struck a deal with your bank or broker. Nowadays everybody offers money transfer "Commission Free" so that means everybody offers the same rates, right? Wrong! Expats have to dig quite a bit deeper to discover the true cost of transferring money to another country.
When banks trade currency amongst themselves they exchange at a rate known as the "interbank" rate. However this rate is not available to retail customers. Corporates using their banks to manage currency exposure may get a rate close to interbank but they're generally dealing in millions. An expat exchanging €1000 a month to service a mortgage stands no chance of getting access to the interbank rate. That's because the interbank rate is effectively a wholesale price for a currency. Let's say £1 is worth €1.15, that's the wholesale cost of buying £1. But just like a shop adding on a margin to the goods it sells, your bank or broker will add a margin to the currency it sells you. This is called the spread in banking terms but in retail terms it's really the commission.
So now your £1 is going to cost you, say, €1.18. But the amount of spread applied is never obvious when you fix a rate to transfer money. If you phone around various banks and brokers to compare rates and find the best deal you still won't know for sure who's giving you the best deal without doing a bit more work. You see, the interbank rate is constantly fluctuating due to the large amount of money exchanged daily between the banks. So even though one rate looks better than another that may be because the interbank rate has improved, you need to know the interbank rate at the exact moment you received your quote in order to calculate the spread offered by each bank and broker....AND then it gets even more complicated. Some banks will have already included the cost of electronically transferring the money, others will add it on once the exchange rate has been agreed. Only once you've factored in all this can you make a true and fair comparison.
So remember, every time you call your bank or broker to get a comparison rate, ask what the spread is, ask what the interbank rate is and ask what the fee for transferring the money is, and have your calculator handy!