(for UK, USA, Australia, Canada, and Europe)
While banks make it easy to manage our finances, including sending and receiving local payments, things are quite different if you have to pay or get paid in foreign currencies.
Luckily, some independent financial institutions have emerged in the past years with the intent to bring more effective international payment and currency management solutions.
This new breed of multi-currency accounts is making big waves for their low to no fees, services, and online convenience.
In this article, we will show you which are the benefits and drawbacks of both bank multicurrency accounts and their online alternatives.
Don’t miss the alternatives (below)!
- What is a Multi-currency Account?
- How Does a Foreign Currency Account Work (or Not)
- How to Decide What You Need?
- Countries and Services
- Final Word
Multi-currency Accounts by Country
- Hold, send and receive foreign currency without paying conversion fees
- Interest and overdraft protection may be possible
- Some deposits are guaranteed (in the event they fail)
- Significantly cheaper fee structure to banks
- Bank conversion fees apply when converting foreign to local currency
- Most banks require high minimums
- Do not pay interest or have overdraft protection
- Deposits are not guaranteed
A multi currency or foreign currency account is a type of account that allows you to hold, send and receive funds in multiple foreign currencies.
Businesses and individuals can benefit from a foreign currency account, because of the flexibility to hold different currencies until you need them and exchange it into the local currency as required.
Besides the business benefits, you can also open a personal foreign currency account if you have to send or receive money from international accounts.
Many banks and alternative offer various foreign currency accounts to both businesses and individuals.
In broad terms, though, you can expect the following advantages and drawbacks.
Advantages (using a traditional bank)
While today’s financial market comprises a few new players that offer advantageous foreign currency accounts, getting one from your bank may come with side benefits.
The most important include:
- Interest: Most banks will pay you interest for currencies you hold in your foreign account. While the interest can be quite low, it’s still money you get for free; undoubtedly, a great advantage that is not offered by any of the online financial products.
- Overdrafts: Another huge advantage, especially if you need a business foreign currency account, is the possibility to arrange overdrafts with your bank. Again, the conditions might not be the most advantageous. However, you’ll still have the possibility to access a quick loan if you really need it.
- Exchange Rates: Banks don’t have the most advantageous exchange rates out there, but a foreign currency account gives you the possibility to keep your money in the currency of the transaction until it is convenient for you to convert them.
Drawbacks (using a traditional bank)
The main drawback of a foreign currency account is represented by the costs and fees associated with your account. While most banks will open one for free, almost all of them charge transaction fees, as well as fees for ATM withdrawals.
Some banks may also charge annual account management fees and require you to deposit a minimum amount to open the account.
Some of the most popular and reliable ones include Wise (formerly TransferWise), Airwallex, Payoneer, Revolut, N26 and Monzo which are designed to work with pre-paid travel cards (compared) for personal or business use but can also be very useful as lower cost, more user friendly alternatives.
Wise Multi Currency Account
Wise (formerly TransferWise) has the Wise multi currency account (review) 50 currencies and is a cost effective multi currency account alternative.
The account requires no minimum balance, it has zero monthly fees, and it charges very competitive currency exchange rates whilst always converting your money at the mid-market rate.
It is also available pretty much world wide and the account comes with a supporting debit card so users can spend the money they hold in their accounts at the mid-market rate and low fees.
A big differentiator of Wise is that they provide unique local bank account details for the US, UK, Eurozone, Australia, New Zealand and Poland so that customers can receive payments in those currencies for free and there is no minimum holding deposit required.
You also can open an account online and don’t need to visit a bank.
Airwallex (review) are for business only and are excellent when it comes to low simple fees often only charging 0.3% for currency exchange with no other fees. In addition to fees being really low and transparent we found their service is excellent with a clean user interface and helpful customer service.
Payoneer (review) and their alternatives are focused on international business for freelancers, online business and importers and exporters. In addition to having multiple bank account numbers for different countries they are designed to work with e-wallets (like PayPal and Google Pay) and integrate with merchant solutions and accounting software.
The also often have a prepaid debit card and very competitive fees for currency exchange, sending and receiving money from every currency imaginable.
Revolut (review) is a prepaid debit card and app with foreign currency accounts attached. Focused on individuals and business who want to work in multiple currencies and across borders more easily and cheaply the service enables free ATM withdrawals overseas and limited but inexpensive money transfers.
N26 (review) is actually a bank, but it shares many similarities with other alternative services. Available in Europe (not the UK) and the US it is designed to keep you banking costs low with some serious cost advantages for those who travel or do business in multiple currencies. You can make free payments in any currency and free withdrawals worldwide.
Revolut and N26 on the surface seem quite similar with their offerings of Mastercards and inexpensive currency swapping but we founds some big differences in the pricing and extra goodies. As a multi-currency account, N26 allows transfers in 19 currencies while Revolut enables exchange in 29 currencies. With Revolut you also get a free UK account and Free Euro IBAN account in the UK. N26 has one account based on the country you sign up in.
Monzo (review) is a bank based out of the UK which started a pre-paid Mastercard and expanded to become a fully fledged bank. Monzo like the Revolut and N26 focus very much on using online solutions like an app and low, transparent fees to win new customers. Despite being very good at making payments in foreign currencies you can only have British pounds (GBP) in your Monzo account, so you can’t convert your balance into another currency.
Monese (review) is a pre-paid Mastercard and app with banks accounts for UK and Europe. Apart from lower costs while travelling they also make it easy to sign up with no address required making it particularly great for Expats, long term travellers and digital nomads.
Money Transfer Services
WorldFirst (review) is designed for larger online businesses like importers and exporters or online sellers (like Amazon FBA) who want the ability to send and receive money in different currencies cost effectively but also want to exchange currencies at a minimal cost.
These money transfer services could be a better alternative to a multi-currency account if you only make or receive sporadic international payments from family and friends.
Foreign Bank Account
Also worth considering is opening a foreign bank account in the other country.
This could be a great alternative to a multi-currency account in your country.
However opening one can come with challenges as most banks require their clients to be residents and this might be an issue sometimes.
The online alternative and prepaid cards may save the day, though.
Online alternative services like the Wise Multi Currency Account (review), for instance, give local bank details in multiple countries, including the UK, USA, and Germany (EU account).
One of the biggest players on the online financial industry, PayPal, could be a great alternative to any of the above if you mostly use your money for online payments.
PayPal however does charge pretty hefty fees for payments in currencies other than the primary one, and you will also have to accept their exchange rates which make up part of the fee structure.
The volume of your transactions should be a clear indicator of what type of service you need.
If you have a mid-size to large business, a multi-currency bank account could be your best option. Despite the fees, these accounts come with the most benefits for high-volume transactions. For instance, you’ll be able to arrange overdraft limits with your bank, so you’ll never delay a payment.
Even if low, the interest rate your bank offers can add a nice addition to your account.
Furthermore, you’ll also benefit from additional services, such as home, mobile, and phone banking, in-branch support whenever needed, and reliable customer service.
If you are a small business or individual, paying the hefty fees that can come with a foreign currency account could be a burden. The Multi-currency account from Wise could be a great choice, though.
This account still gives you many of the benefits of a traditional bank account, but you’ll be able to manage everything online. Furthermore, you’ll even be able to get local bank account details in a variety of countries.
If you mostly conduct your business online, PayPal or Payoneer could still be your best alternatives; both services offer individual and business accounts you can use to manage online payments in multiple currencies.
If you are now convinced that a multi-currency account is what you need, here are a few of the most popular options in various parts of the world.
The United Kingdom counts various banks that offer foreign currency accounts to their clients, including the local Barclays, Lloyds, and NatWest, but also international banks such as HSBC and Santander.
Don’t miss our alternatives (above) which are cheaper and can be faster too!
If you already have a sterling bank account with Barclays, you can open a foreign currency account in one of the 23 currencies currently offered by the bank. Besides sterling and foreign currency accounts, Barclays also proposes deposit accounts in EUR and USD.
Lloyds proposes a foreign currency account to business clients only, whereas NatWest also offers a multi-currency account only to businesses.
Alongside Barclays, HSBC and Santander are two other banks that offer foreign currency accounts to privates. Both banks require you to hold a sterling account with them and be 18 years or over, but they deal with fewer currencies than Barclays.
|Available currencies||AUD, CAD, CNY, CZK, DKK, EUR, HKD, HUF, ILS, JPY, MXN, TRY, NZD, NOK, PLN, RUB, SAR, SGD, ZAR, SEK, CHF, AED, USD||AUD, BHD, CAD, CNH, CZK, DKK, EUR, HKD, HUF, INR, ILS, JPY, JOD, KWD, MAD, MXN, NZD, NOK, OMR, PLN, QAR, RON, SAR, SGD, ZAR, SEK, CHF, THB, TND, TRY, AED, USD||AUD, CAD, USD, JPY, CHF, HKD, NOK, NZD, AED, EUR, HUF, PLN, MXN, TRY, ZAR, SEK||AED, AUD, CAD, CHF, CNY, EUR, HKD, JPY, NOK, NZD, SEK, SGD, USD, ZAR||EUR, USD|
|Maintenance fees||No fees||£60/year||£72/year||No fees||No fees|
|Transfer fees||Standard – £25|
Priority – £40
SEPA – £15
|£9.50 for all transfers||Outward SWIFT – £25 manual/£20 electronic|
Outward CHAPS – £23 manual/£15 electronic
Outward SEPA – £5
Inward payments – free up to £100 (currency equivalent); £7.5 from £100.01 onwards
|£0 for all transfers from an HSBC account to another HSBC account anywhere in the world.|
£6-£52 depending on currency for currency transfers to any other bank.
|Outward SWIFT – £30 online/£45 electronic|
Inward payments – no fees
If you live in the United States, your multi-currency options are quite limited. One of the most popular banks in the country, Chase, offers no foreign currency account options and it converts your funds automatically to USD if you receive international payments in other currencies.
These are banks products only and the best best foreign currency account in USA for your needs may be one of the alternatives.
CitiBank US also proposes USD accounts only, but you can open a foreign currency account with CitiBank International and transfer funds to your US account directly in US dollars.
TIAA – formerly known as EverBank – doesn’t provide foreign currency accounts to its customers, but it does have a deposits account you can use to hold various currencies and access them whenever needed.
If you need a multi-currency account for your multi-million dollar business, Wells Fargo could be a great choice. The bank deals with 33 different currencies, but account details are discussed with each business individually.
|Available currencies||AUD, CAD, CHF, EUR, GBP, HKD, JPY, NZD||AUD, GBP, CAD, DKK, EUR, HKD, JPY, NZD, NOK, SGD, SEK, CHF||AED, AUD, BHD, CAD, CHF, CNY, CZK, DKK, EUR, FJD, GBP, HKD, HUF, JOD, ILS, INR, JPY, KWD, MAD, MXN, NOK, NZD, OMR, PHP, PLN, QAR, SAR, SEK, SGD, TRY, USD, XPF, ZAR|
|Minimum balance||$200,000||$2,500 opening deposit or $100/month||Contact branch|
|Maintenance fees||$150/month if minimum balance isn’t met||Depend on currency||Contact branch|
|Transfer fees||Citi Global transfers – $0|
SWIFT – $60
|Currency conversion costs of 1% of the wholesale rate for the selected currency.||Contact branch|
These are banks products only and the best best foreign currency account in Canada for your needs may be one of the alternatives.
CIBC is ideal if you don’t need too many currencies, but only a USD account. The service is available for both individuals and businesses.
|Available currencies||EUR, JPY, GBP||USD, CNH, EUR, GBP, HKD, CHF, JPY||US|
|Maintenance fees||$16/month||No fees||No fees for personal account|
$6/month for a business account
|Transfer fees||2 free outward transactions per month.|
$1-$5/transaction for all other transactions
|Depend on currency||Personal account – $0.75/transaction|
Business account – $1-$1.25/transaction
These are banks products only and the best best foreign currency account in Australia for your needs may be one of the alternatives.
NAB opens foreign currency accounts to both privates and businesses; you won’t have to maintain a minimum balance, but maintenance fees can be charged for holding some currencies in your account.
Commonwealth offers multiple currencies to business customers, although they are all subject to eligibility criteria.
Following the trend of many banks, ANZ has a foreign currency account for corporate clients only. If you want to find out what fees they apply and what is the minimum balance required, you will have to contact an account manager.
Whether you’re a private or business client, Westpac welcomes you. You can open the account online in less than 10 minutes for 11 currencies, or in branch if you need an account for other currencies.
|Available currencies||CAD, CNY, DKK, EUR, FJD, HKD, JPY, NZD, NOK, PHP, WST, SGD, ZAR, SEK, CHF, THB, AED, GBP, USD||CAD, CNY, CZK, DKK, EUR, GBP, HKD, HUF, ILS, JPY, NZD, NOK, SGD, ZAR, SEK, CHF, THB, AED, USD||USD, GBP, EUR, CAD, CHF, HKD, JPY, NZD, SGD||USD, GBP, JPY, ZAR, EUR, NOK, CAD, DKK, SGD, NZD, CNY|
|Minimum balance||No||No||Contact branch||No|
|Maintenance fees||Depend on currency||No fees||Contact branch||No fee|
|Transfer fees||Outward payments: $10|
Inward payments: up to $15
|$17-$37, depending on transaction||Contact branch||$10-$28, depending on transaction|
Opening a foreign currency account in Europe is a bit trickier because banks in each country follow different regulations. The conditions for opening a multi-currency account and the fees, therefore, vary widely even between branches of the same bank opened in different European countries.
Picking a bank with branches in multiple countries could be a wise choice, though, as most banks practice free foreign currency transfers between their European branches.
A multi-currency account could be a great solution for big businesses and corporations. Some banks have advantageous deals for privates and small businesses too.
If you are a globetrotter individual though, a multi-currency card offered by one of the many online services, such as Wise, could serve you better.
No matter your situation, we hope this article has helped you find the right financial product for you.