The UK may be facing hard times, but it remains a popular choice for inward investment. Ernst & Young recently reported that the UK recorded 929 Foreign Direct Investments projects last year. And, whilst this was 6.4% less than in 2021, it was the second most FDI of any country in Europe.
It’s not just companies but people, too, that continue heading to Britain. Currently, a quarter of a million homes – worth around £90 billion – in England and Wales are foreign owned. Brexit has introduced some friction, but the UK government has actually been low-key working hard to make up for this. Since Brexit, UK net migration has never been higher.
Whilst EU residents may not be able to freely move here as easily as before Brexit, high net worth individuals have an advantage. Be it through an investment visa, a well-paid job, or a sponsor, there are many options to gain UK residency.
For those that are making their way over, there is just the small matter of shifting money and assets to the UK. With London being the highest net exporter of financial services, the financial capital of the world (and its subsequent companies) presents many options for people to move money around.
With that in mind, here are your core set of options when transferring money to the UK. We cover both the good methods and bad, along with the expensive options and most cost effective.
Bank to Bank
Bank to bank transfers are the traditional and relatively straightforward option. It’s convenient in the sense that you can use your current bank, and it’s safe because it is FSCS protected. However, there are two major costs involved with these transfers: wire fees and poor exchange rates.
SWIFT bank fees in the UK often rack up to £30, though this can be higher when sending from other countries. If you’re completing a large transfer, these may not be an issue, but they can render smaller transfers unviable.
The second cost, which is much more important, is often obfuscated. Exchange rates are often assumed to be relatively fixed in place, but in actual fact, banks tend to offer a rate that is around 1.5% to 4% worse than the real rate in the name of a “markup” or “spread”. In reality, of course, this is just commission, because only a very small amount needs to be taken for risk management.
If you’re transferring €200,000 euros, a 3% margin equates to an eye-watering €6,000 in wasted money. Of course, there will be options out there that are cheaper than this, but it can be tricky to find because banks seldom declare their margin in open sight until you’re 80% of the way through the process.
Making use of a currency broker is a more sophisticated option, as they use more advanced techniques and a more bespoke service to deliver your money more efficiently.
Generally, you will find that fixed fees are similar or lower than banks. Though, many do not charge a fixed fee at all. The real cost savings come from gaining a better exchange rate. As a loose rule of thumb, a 1% margin is fairly standard if you’re sending money from another major currency, but sending large amounts may mean getting an even better rate – perhaps down to a 0.5% margin or less.
If you like working with reliable banks, then this is no problem. Try and set up a bank account in the UK to receive money into. The currency broker will perform the exchange, then deliver a domestic £ to £ transaction to the UK bank. If you’re struggling to set up a bank, then it’s possible to send money from one currency broker account to another; signing up for a currency broker in the UK may be quicker and easier than setting up a UK bank account.
One major claim of blockchain proponents is that the decentralised system transcends national borders. And, this is true in theory, but it also doesn’t tell the whole story.
Bypassing banks and intermediaries can certainly mean saving money. Sending from one wallet to another, no matter how far it is around the world, may involve a small “gas fee” of just a few pounds or less. If the transaction started and ended with just sending crypto from one wallet to another, this would be the best option.
However, most individuals want to convert their crypto back into fiat (in this case, pounds) because pounds denominates all assets and purchases in the UK, like property, buying cars, and repaying credit cards. This presents two extra costs.
Firstly, the value of the crypto may have fallen during the time of sending the money, meaning that when you convert back to pounds, you lose money.
Secondly, converting fiat to crypto, and crypto back to fiat via an exchange involves fees, along with deposit and withdrawal costs. This can soon add up to a couple of percent. And, it’s also worth mentioning that these exchanges are prone to attacks and failures. Generally, this is not a safe option, nor is it likely the cheapest.
Money transfer services and P2P
Money transfer companies like Remitly, OFX, and Wise are highly innovative fintech firms that use a blend of traditional (SWIFT) and modern (P2P and treasury balancing) methods to accommodate cheap and fast transfers across borders.
On average, fees and exchange spread will add up to around 0.5% and 1.5%, making them a reliable option for frequent transfers. These are a great tool for any expatriate, as you can hold multiple currency accounts across the world, each with their own account details. And, a spending card also makes it practical too, accessing each account within minimal fees on-demand.
The only real downside to this option would be for large transfers. Generally, these companies do not have over-the-phone services like currency brokers, nor do they offer sophisticated products like hedging. They may well be useful for sending a few thousand pounds, but when you’re into the tens or hundreds of thousands, currency brokers are a more comprehensive option.
Despite the rocky economy and political changes in the UK of late, the country remains to be the fifth largest economy in the world that attracts corporations, investors, high net worth individuals, low net worth individuals, and struggling asylum seekers.
All in all, moving to the UK is relatively straightforward with its visa processes, laws, minimum administration, and financial infrastructure. Of all the options, currency brokers will be the most comprehensive – and in many cases cheapest – method for sending large amounts. A UK bank account will be necessary regardless (i.e. for a mortgage), whilst a money transfer service provider is a great option to have in your back pocket for ad hoc smaller transfers and multiple currency handling.