One of the challenges with bouncing between Canada and Europe is having to deal with money in two different currencies. If you find yourself in the scenario where you routinely need to move money from Canada to Europe, here are some of the best options.
If You Don’t Have A Bank Account In Europe
If you don’t have a bank account in Europe, then some combination of cash and credit is likely your best bet.
If you pull out money from an ATM machine once you land in Europe, you’ll likely be hit with 5-7 Euros in fees per transaction, plus a currency charge from your bank in Canada, usually 2-4%. So while using an ATM in Europe is manageable, often the best deal you will get for cash is back in Canada from a dedicated currency broker. Usually you can exchange money for around 1-1.5% of the spot value, which is better than what the banks usually give you. The absolute worst places to exchange money though is via traditional banks (such as TD, Scotiabank, etc.) and at airports, so avoid those like the plague. What you want is a dedicated currency exchange broker, and often if you Google that you will find one near you.
There are currency exchange kiosks all over Europe as well, but in my experience they typically prefer the British Pound and the US Dollar, since those are relatively popular currencies, compared to the Canadian dollar. So it’s best to obtain cash back in Canada if you have the chance.
If you pay directly with your credit card locally, you’ll often pay the same 2-4% in currency exchange fees, but usually without any per-transaction fees. So if that’s all you have, it’s better than nothing.
If You Do Have A Bank Account In Europe
Opening a bank account in Europe, even as a non-resident, isn’t very difficult. I first opened bank account in Spain at BBVA as a non-resident and it only took me a few days. If you have some form of residency as well (a class-D, or long duration, visa) then you can even open a Revolut account and use that as your bank account.
Right now Revolut isn’t available in Canada though, so I’m not going to focus too much on that. But assuming you do have some type of bank account in Europe and have an IBAN number representing that account, I’ll tell what I think is the best method.
First, you’ll need a TransferWise account. TransferWise is a very well known financial company that facilities easy currency exchanges all across the world. TransferWise is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in Europe so they are totally safe.
Second, you’ll need an account at EQ Bank in Canada. It’s free to open an account there, and it’s fully protected under the Canadian financial laws. Why I recommend EQ Bank is because they are one of the few banks to allow you to pay TransferWise directly using a bill payment for up to $25,000 CAD. The other methods of getting money into TransferWise from other banks, such as TD, are more cumbersome and have higher fees.
Once you set up both of those, add your bank details into EQ Bank for whatever primary bank you use in Canada. Then you can simply initiate a transfer within EQ Bank and pull money directly, for free, from your primary account. For me I added my TD Bank account information into EQ Bank. One caveat here is that EQ Bank places a one week hold on all funds that are moved this way, so you need to start this process 7-10 days ahead of when you actually need the money.
Once the money is in EQ Bank, go ahead and initiate a payment from TransferWise to your European account. If the fees look good to you and you give the go-ahead, select the bill payment option since it is how you’ll move the money there. If you read the directions for the bill payment, you will see your personal reference number for the transaction – write that down as you’ll need it on EQ Bank.
Next, head on over to EQ Bank and add a new bill payee for TransferWise. Use the reference number they gave you for your account number. Once that is done, go ahead and initiate a bill payment from EQ Bank to TransferWise for whatever amount TransferWise is expecting. It normally takes 1-2 business days for it to hit TransferWise after the bill payment, and you’ll receive an email from them as soon as it does arrive.
If you do all these together, you can often move money from Canada to Europe for approximately 0.5% of the spot price. That’s the exact same method I recently used to move approximately $100,000 CAD for an upcoming property purchase. So while I still paid roughly $500 in currency exchange fees, it sure beats the roughly $3,000 or so TD Bank probably would have charged me if I tried to do it through them.
If you have any questions, just let me know. But I’ve investigated lots of options, and this flow (Primary Bank -> EQ Bank -> TransferWise -> Spanish Bank) is the cheapest that I’ve found so far for moving money between Canada and Europe.