Wise: A Multi-Currency VISA for Travellers

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Hey, remember travelling?

Yeah, I sure do.

As the world continues to drop COVID-related restrictions for travellers, tourist operators have reported a surge in bookings. Clearly, the world misses international travel as much as we do, and while it may still take some time for the international tourism sector to recover, I’m more than happy to contribute to that recovery.

Accessing Money Abroad Used To Suck

When FIRECracker and I took our first trip together to the Caribbean waaaay back in 2006, I distinctly remember having a wallet stuffed full of…wait for it…travellers checks.

They were these slips of paper that kiiiinda looked liked real money that you could buy from American Express, and you had to exchange them at your hotel’s reception desk. And they weren’t cheap. The issuing bank would charge you a fee of 1-5% of the face value up front, then the person cashing them out would charge you another 1-5%, and then you’d get hit with a shitty exchange rate on top of that. It was a dark and depressing time.

Since we quit our job and started travelling full-time, it’s gotten a lot easier, but I wouldn’t exactly call it “easy,” because the method I would use to convert currency would change depending on the country. In certain countries in South America and Europe, I would use a certain bank’s ATM card that had partnerships with local banks that let me avoid fees. In others, I would pay in USD then use Norbert’s Gambit back home to convert Canadian dollars to pay it off. And memorably in Thailand, I would pre-pay a credit card so it would have a positive balance, then take out a cash advance from a bank teller to get Thai baht because that was the cheapest method.

It was a messy system that made sense only to me. FIRECracker hated it with a passion.

Which is why I’m super excited to tell you about a new way of exchanging and accessing your money while travelling!

Introducing Wise

Wise is a company I’ve done business with for years when it was known as TransferWise. Back then, it was an up and coming fintech company based in the UK that specialized in low-cost foreign exchange.

Now, they’ve grown up, rebranded as just “Wise,” and introduced a very cool debit card with it!

Here’s how it works and why I think it’s the coolest thing ever.

You sign up for a Wise account, then on the left sidebar you can request a card from them. Give them your address and in a few weeks, your cute new bright green card shows up in the mail.

Picture

This may look like just any other debit card, but the cool thing about this is that it’s a multi-currency debit card. That means that rather than just holding one currency and converting every time you make a purchase like normal boring debit cards, you can hold balances separately in CAD, USD, Euros, pounds, or any of the other 50+ currencies they support. They even support Thai baht! *swoons*

How This Saves You Money

Now you might be asking, why do I need this? Why don’t I just use my credit card for everything while I’m travelling? Two reasons.

Sometimes, you can’t. Not all vendors take credit cards for everything, especially for smaller mom-and-pop shops or street vendors. And certain countries just hate using credit cards for some reason (looking at you, Germany!), so you end up relying on cash for most purchases. This means you have to make ATM withdrawals, and you often end up getting a crappy exchange rate from your bank when you do.

The other reason is that sometimes you want to take advantage of a good exchange rate. Right now, we’re writing this article from Europe, and the news coming out of Ukraine has caused the Euro to weaken in value relative to other currencies. So when an opportunity to buy a bunch of Euros (or whatever currency) for cheap comes along, you can use this account to lock in a good exchange rate.

Normally, doing this would involve walking up to an ATM and taking out a whole bunch of cash, which can be a bad idea because cash is liable to get lost or stolen. But this way, you can do it electronically, and then withdraw or spend it as you need it later.

Because the green card you get is a VISA debit card, it can be used to make purchases as you normally would at a store, or take it out as cash from any ATM. Depending on what country you’re resident in, you get a certain amount of cash you can withdraw for free every month, after which a small fee gets charged.

As Canadians, we get 2 free withdrawals per month up to a total of $350 CAD (or equivalent), but PROTIP! If you and your significant other each get a card, that doubles your ATM withdrawal room each month since transfers between Wise accounts are free!

Getting Euros

I just exchanged $500 USD for euros, so I thought it’d be useful to show my actual experience using the app and the card.

When you add a certain currency to your Wise account, you get a virtual account that acts like a bank account physically located in that country, complete with banking details that you would normally find printed on a check. That means my CAD account comes with an Institution number and a Transit number, my USD account comes with an ACH Routing number, and my Euro account comes with a BIC and an IBAN.

This means that you can link it to your home bank account and do bank-to-bank transfers like any other bank account. This also comes in SUPER DUPER handy if you do run an international business like us and sometimes need to receive payments in different currencies. We recently received money from an airline as compensation when a flight got cancelled, and by using Wise we were able to receive and spend Euros directly without needing to convert it into USD or CAD, then back again.

So in this case, we wanted to convert USD to Euros to take advantage of a good exchange rate.

First, we go into the web app (they also have a mobile app). On the left, we can see the 3 wallets I’ve created: CAD, USD, and Euro. We start be opening the USD wallet and adding $500 USD.

Wise gives you multiple methods of funding your account, but ACH is probably the one that US residents are the most familiar with since it’s how you guys handle bill payments already.

After entering in your bank’s details, we now have $500 USD in our wallet ready to go!

Then, we click convert, and say that we want Euros. The nice thing about Wise is that they’re very transparent about their fees, and they show the exact breakdown of how much you pay, which in this case is a $2 transaction fee. The exchange rate we are getting matched up with the spot rate reported by Xe.com, so there isn’t an additional sneaky rate spread that most banks charge.

And with that, we now have Euros! Again, I can spend these by tapping the card at a point-of-sale machine like a regular debit card, or withdrawing cash from an ATM. As long as I stay within my fee-free withdrawal limits, there are no additional fees charged.

Other Cool Features

There are also a few other cool features that I haven’t experimented with as much, but I’ll mention them here. You can connect it with Apple Pay or Google Pay, so you can use your phone to tap-to-pay, if you’re into that.

A very interesting feature is called auto-conversions. Basically, you can set up a conversion pair and a certain amount you’d like to convert at a certain price. If the market hits that price, then the conversion happens for you automatically, so it’s kinda sorta like a foreign exchange limit order. I haven’t fiddled with this yet, but it’s a really interesting feature if you like to do any active forex trading.

Should You Open An Account

Now, I get about a bajillion requests to affiliate for shitty financial products (for the last time, NO we do not want to help you sell Bored Ape NFTs!), and I almost never say yes. My bar for affiliating for something is a) Will it help our readers and b) Do I use this product myself.

In this rare case, Wise is a resounding yes to both.

Wise is very transparent about how they make their money, and basically you only get charged when you actually use it to convert money. There are no fees to open an account, and no annual fees to keep the account open. There’s a small £5 fee for the debit card itself, but that’s it.

I got the card when I was trapped at home during the pandemic and decided to bring it with us, and I’ve surprised by how useful it’s been now that we’re back on the road. It actually came in super handy recently when a flight got delayed and the airline offered to compensate us in Euros. I was able to arrange a direct deposit into our Wise account and start spending it without having to do any exchanges back and forth to our home currency. It was awesome.

So if you’re planning on travelling ever again, open and account and get the card before you go so you can have it on you just in case you need it. There’s no downside, and I’ve personally found it super useful.

Check it out here.

Not that if you use this link to sign up, we will get a commission which helps keep this site going, so we would be eternally grateful 🙂


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67 thoughts on “Wise: A Multi-Currency VISA for Travellers”

  1. Amazing timing

    I have had real trouble with wise

    I just cant find a way to add money from my rbc account

    I want to send money to my uk bank acc

  2. OMG I have been looking for something like that since I just got a job in the UK and we are planning to travel again. The features look great ! Thank you for the recommendation ! I am not familiar with ACH… what would be the best choice for transferring from a Canadian account ? And when you pay, how does it know in which currency account to pay from ? For example, I am in France and want to pay in Euros, if I just tap the card on a machine at a store, will it automatically pay from my Euro account ? (what if I don’t have an account in Euro ?)
    Anyway, thank you again for the introduction ! 🙂

    1. If you’re using the card in Europe, Wise will use your Euro account. If you don’t have any Euros, Wise will do a conversion from an account that has money in it. Definitely best to ensure the account you want to use has funds…

    2. I’ve done Wise transfers from both TD and a credit union account. Bill payments are the cheapest way to fund these transfers if your bank supports them to Wise. Many do. Direct debits work too but are a bit more expensive.

    3. Wise has a few informative how to vids on YouTube that explain everything. It has worked well for me. Although Wise may allow a few fee free ATM withdrawals the bank you are withdrawing from may still charge you. Charles Schwab offers a card that reimburses you for all ATM fees. I use Wise for point of purchase transactions and Schwab for ATM withdrawals.

    4. ACH is an American thing. For Canadians, you could either do direct debit from the Wise web app, or you could add Wise as a bank-to-bank transfer in your existing Canadian bank account using the account details that Wise provides.

      And when you tap in a foreign country, you generally get a choice of what currency to pay in on the machine. If that account balance happens to be empty, Wise will automatically convert from one of your other currencies if possible.

    5. The automatic movement of money between your various currency holdings is one of the best features; not mentioned above.

      For example if you hold money in your home currency (say USD) and then travel and use the debit card. Wise will instantaneously use the USD to fund the transaction in the foreign country. It uses the exchange rate valid at the moment you make the purchase. This happens even when using an ATM.

      For me this is great because you don’t have to think about conversion in advance. As long as you have some money in Wise somewhere then the card will ‘find’ it.

      I used it extensively when traveling through Japan. It is still a cash society, weirdly, so we were heavy ATM users.

      One other nice feature is that if you add it to Apple Pay and set the Express Transit setting to the Wise card you can then use your phone on foreign rail services. We just used it when in London. Again no need to think about converting anything to GBP in advance. Just tap your phone and Wise does the rest.

      1. I was just going to ask, if you placed money in the Wise account from USD to let’s say Mexican Pesos, then after a few weeks, depart for Europe, now you have to convert the remaining Pesos to Euro and get hit with the fees though minor, on both ends. Keeping it in one currency seems to make sense if you move around frequently.

  3. Holy Sh*t !! I can’t believe that travelers checks were still in use as late as 2006, and apparently you can still get them. I’m a little nostalgic for the old TV commercials with Karl Malden.. “Don’t leave home without them !”

  4. The best part of this is that I have V in my portfolio. Thanks for the plug on a V product. Sometimes it’s better to stock pick

  5. “… or take it out as cash from any ATM. Depending on what country you’re resident in, you get a certain amount of cash you can withdraw for free every month, after which a small fee gets charged. ”

    You can take it out from ANY ATM associated with ANY local bank in the country you’re traveling in ?

  6. I retire in 2 months n was planning on traveling to a few countries. Had been looking at exchange rates, banks n credit cards for months now…. this just makes it so easier.. thanks!!! Does this mean credit cards are of no use now for us traveling retired?

    1. Car rentals are best with a credit card with insurance. Some hotels require an actual credit card and not a visa debit. But, the wise card is a good way of accessing money.

    2. Theoretically, yes this card can replace your credit cards, but generally you always want to have a backup card(s) when you travel in case your main card gets lost.

  7. Another nice thing about this card is that you can keep your money all in one currency and it will be automatically converted when you spend in another currency. No need to plan ahead. The conversion happens at the spot rate with a very slight spread.

  8. I got this card a couple months ago and was able to get some Japanese Yen since the Dollar is so strong against it. I currently don’t have any plans to visit Japan, but when I do, I know that the rate will likely not be as good as it is today. We have a trip to Europe scheduled for later this year, so I plan on getting some Euros soon in preparation. I’m glad you wrote about this card and am looking forward to using it soon.

  9. I just use Schwab checking. Free ATM withdrawals worldwide (they reimburse your ATM fees). I like to keep things simple. 🙂

  10. What are the tax implications? Every year when Turbotax asks me “do you have any foreign bank accounts,” I thank my lucky stars I can click “no” and avoid the hassle. Would this be considered a foreign account or would it be U.S.-based for someone like me? The convenience of what you describe would be negated by tax complications if there are any….

    1. as most say, Don’t Let The Tax Tail Wag The Dog !
      It’s no hassle at all (it may seem like it if you never done before). Jjust tell Uncle Sam you have a foreign account, it’s not a crime.
      I have 5 accounts (Germany, Brazil, Mexico, UK and even Cayman) and I do that every year, including FBAR and I have never had any issues at all. It’s just a matter of answering some more questions on TurboTax and done !

      1. Drew, how did you find foreign banks to do business with American citizens? Admittedly, it’s been a while since I researched this, but a few years ago, I could not find a foreign bank that would actually accept me as a client due to the onerous IRS reporting that banks must do if they have American clients. I would definitely appreciate any advice (from anyone on here!) reading this.

        1. At first, it wasn’t very easy, as you said, you’d need an in-country address or have an off-shore company but lately with online banks it has become easier. The best way is just open online bank accounts in the form of expat accounts; it’s just like the Wise account is.
          The “burden” to report these accounts falls on you and not on the foreign institution then so they do open for americans…
          I probably spend some extra 20 minutes a year on TT plus some more for FBAR on 1 account I have above the 10k threshold and that’s it.
          Besides, imagine how many foreign people move to the US from another country every year, get a visa then a green card while keeping international bank accounts they have (like myself). We/They have to report all of them as well…it’s not something uncommon, specially among the FIRE community.

          1. That’s a subject I really wanted to read more. How someone who moves to the US under a visa or green card can handle everything financially. I made so many mistakes that I really wish Wanderer and Firecracker could write a series about it…

            1. I would, but I have zero experience dealing with IRS reporting requirement for financial institutions. My strategy is always to check “HELL NO” if a bank asks me if I’m a US person, and then everything becomes easy 🙂

          2. Hi Drew, thanks for responding and sorry I forgot to reply to you earlier. That is very interesting to know. I don’t mind the extra time/money/energy it would take to report a foreign account on my taxes. It’s a matter of finding a bank overseas that actually accepts American clients! I didn’t try expat accounts – I will have to look into that.

            Not sure what you mean by “The “burden” to report these accounts falls on you and not on the foreign institution then so they do open for americans…” From what I know (I am 3/4 of a CPA, i.e. I’ve passed 3 out of 4 of the exams, haha), wouldn’t FATCA mean that the foreign institution has to report American clients to the IRS? Just my thoughts from the (albeit limited) knowledge I have.

            1. Expat account no, they don’t even ask where your tax residence is or anything like that (at least the banks I bank with). Everything is up to you to report to whatever country you happen to be a tax resident of for that year. This is designed to help nomads who will be in a different tax residence every year…
              and BTW, when will the US fix this Fatca thing and become a country foreign banks will want to do business with? for a super power, this is quite shameful for those patriots, to have to almost hide your citizenship

        2. The Wise account solves that problem. You can have a real bank account with Wise in multiple countries. I live in the US and have Wise bank accounts in the US and the UK. You are right almost no other institution will allow you to open a UK account if you are a US resident or citizen; that’s due to the onerous reporting imposed on the institution by the IRS.

          As to your own personal tax reporting in the US you need to state that you have a foreign account and what the average balance was in your federal tax return. Simple.

  11. We have been using WISE the last 18 months and it is brilliant! (Paid in USD, most daily costs in lei, occasional spend in Euro and monthly bills in AUD), needless to say WISE was the way to go for us as my transfers can take as little as 1 minute for several thousand dollars.

    One issue I’ve had though is that I have set up a Euro account and funded it, but when we were in Greece, it defaulted to withdrawing funds from our primary account which is in Lei… no way to choose which account it comes from…. not a big deal but also a bit annoying.

    1. It gets it right most of the time, but I have noticed a transaction or two coming out as the wrong currency. Again, it just auto-converts on demand so it’s not a big deal, but yeah I’ve noticed that too.

  12. Wise is like the best international bank account ever for travelling.

    EQ Bank and Wise have a relationship I believe and they make it easy to transfer to each other using this method. The fees exchanging to different currency between these two banks are the cheapest I ever seen any where.

    Since EQ Bank has the highest saving interest out of any online banks I seen, this is a fantastic relationship with Wise for Canadians.

  13. So there’s a $9 fee for the debit card?? Is the fee waived if you get a business account?
    Also, what about spending with your credit card to get points? Does this negate all that?

    1. Yes, you’re correct there’s a fee to get the physical card, but after that you only pay when you use it.

      You don’t collect points with this, so if you have a credit card that collects points, prioritize that when making purchases and use this to make ATM withdrawals. Just make sure your credit card doesn’t have a forex conversion fee of 2.5%, because that would offset whatever points you’d be getting.

  14. I’m team Schwab too! Wise has a no-fee limit of $100/month if you are US based. Not so very useful….

  15. Oh but on their website, it says you can only get a Wise card if you are resident of some countries and Canada is not included in the list.. how did you get yours ??

    1. I’m in Canada and I received mine a few months ago. Just request it and it will
      come through.
      I use it to pay for things online in the original currency. I’m headed to the UK this summer and booked/paid for almost everything using this credit card. You have the card number in the app as well once you receive it and activate it.

      1. Thanks ! I opened a Wise account and just ordered the card. But I did not get charged any fee for ordering the card. Does the fee comes afterwards ? (after reception when I activate the card or…)

  16. Love this,

    I first used transferwise when i lived in oz for a year and it was great for sending and receiving cash abroad. I recently got the debit card but due to covid and family circumstances I have yet to put it to good use, but its in my wallet ready to be of service. Maybe it will get its first use to pay for a thai massage.

  17. Hello, thanks for the great information above. Wondering if Wise is good for sending international fund to families in another country?

  18. I mainly use:
    Chase Sapphire Reserve for card transactions to avoid foreign exchange fees (+ points at restaurants).
    Charles Schwab debit card, which has very fair exchange rates (up to this day in exchange rate) and that works for me.

    Of course, this means I can’t just buy a bunch of Euros as news of war breaks out and play the whole FX trading game. But at the same time:
    1. If you don’t use the money for a long time, you’ve got opportunity cost.
    2. If you plan on traveling before the Euro recovers, then it may not be useful to exchange USD->Euros beforehand since you’ll enjoy good rates when you exchange while traveling.

  19. Hi. Is there a foreign exchange fee for transactions? E.g., you use your debit card to pay in country X and you only have currency accounts for countries Y and Z. I understand the exchange rate would be current but would there be any other fees attached to it? Where can you see these in advance?

    1. If you spend in a currency and you have a balance in that currency, it will spend directly. If you don’t have a balance, but you have a balance in another currency, it will do a conversion for you on the spot. There will be a fee involved, but it’s the same fee schedule as if you did the conversion manually, i.e. very little. The $500 conversion I did here cost $2, so that’s like a 0.4% fee.

  20. Based on what I see, it seems better to transfer funds from your credit card to Wise versus bank account even if the fee is slightly higher. $0.06 fee from bank account versus $0.72 from credit card. I get 1% cash back from credit card so if I transfer more than $72, I’m technically in the positive on the funds transfer.

    Am I missing something here or could we technically make a bit of money every time we transfer funds to Wise, or at least cover the fees charged?

  21. Professional expat here. I have been using wise around the world for years. I have also given the affiliation link to all my coworkers too 😉 !
    Currently expat in the UK, there is a new wise funtion here, you can invest your savings in ishare world ETF!

  22. Great info thanks

    I have set up my Wise account
    And already sent Canada dollars to my new uk bank.. Monzo

    And just set 3 auto conversion

    Just had 2 weeks in uk visiting family. Summery weather

    Now in Croatia.. $33 return from Manchester.. Amazing..

    Good to be back onroad while my dividends roll in

  23. So many good words about Wise and as an expat myself I have used it too. But since Revolut (also from UK) is on the block, the Game has changed. It was actually Revolut that started the multi currency accounts. Main point though is: for most services described above, Revolut is free (or at least cheaper due to high free allowances). Guess you will love it too!
    Best from Sunny Tokyo!

  24. So we dont need all kinds of currencies in the account
    Because wise auto converts

    But . the auto conversion method is a way to get best X rate in advance

    ?

  25. I’m a Canadian but make a lot of US purchases online (in USD), can I use this card like a regular credit card to make those online purchases? (and not get slammed on FX fees). Or is this considered more useful for debit/in-person purchases?

  26. Does Wise card work with the chip and PIN system in Europe. That was one of my problems the last time I traveled in the BC (Before COVID).
    Thanks,

  27. i used this for past 8 weeks in croatia uk and greece

    i applied for a card . which i presume has arrived at my home in canada

    however i was able to use the card virtually using Google pay .. how cool is that

    i did many auto conversions too

    its the best . thanks so much

    btw .. i didnt take out cash once in UK .. its a cash free society now ..

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