How to get around money transfer fees to and from the UK

Since the start of 2021, when real Brexit kicked in, some Spanish banks have started charging fees on transfers to and from the UK. Here’s how to avoid these new charges.

The situation

After Brexit, the UK is still in the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) but there are misconceptions as to what this means. SEPA is a system that facilitates cross-border transfers with standards and protocols, but doesn’t limit fees.  EU regulations limit cross-border transfer fees in the EU, not SEPA. Now that the UK is out of the EU, European banks are free to set their own fees for transfers to and from the UK. Some are doing so.

How to avoid Spanish bank transfer fees to and from the UK

Here are the solutions I’ve identified with lots of help from my readers. Some of the links below will generate me a small fee if you sign up – the typical ‘recommend a friend’ bonus that anyone can get.

Try to reach an arrangement with your Spanish bank

Some readers report their branches claim no control over the transfer fee, which is set at the institutional level, so special arrangements are not possible. But, according to other reports, at least one bank is prepared to accept a regular direct debit from Spain to the UK with the funds arriving free of charge. I can see that might be a bit inconvenient, as you have to commit to a monthly or quarterly transfer rather than whenever suits you, but it might be a low-hassle solution for some people. And I’m pretty sure that all branches have some leeway over the fees that are charged, even if they can’t get rid of them altogether, so contacting your branch might be the place to start.

Use a Foreign Currency Broker

Forex brokers are horrified by these charges, which are bad for business. I’ve heard from clients of various brokers that they have scrambled to set up arrangements using transfers from within the EU to avoid them altogether. The broker I use, TorFX, are routing transfers through accounts in the EU to avoid Brexit fees. And if there are any fees charged on transfer from banks in the EU, “we are making up the difference for our clients,” TorFX tells me. 

TransferWise

Wise (formerly called TransferWise) is a London-based, online money transfer service that also offers a multi-currency account, and a debit card. So it’s a sort of cross between currency exchange and online banking. Currency is changed at commercial rates with a low flat fee, and you can set up balances in GBP and EUR (and lots of other currencies) with an account number and sort code in the UK and an IBAN and SWIFT/Bic code in the EU, thus avoiding all the Brexit-related transfer charges. You can set up your direct debits in Spain to your Wise EU IBAN, or pay your bills online with your debit card, whilst not worrying about the exchange rate. My readers have been raving to me about it. You can set up a Wise account online quickly and painlessly here.

Set up a Euro account in Spain with N26

Another outfit I’ve seen people praising is the German online bank N26, which operates in most EU countries including Spain, though not in the UK since Brexit. However, from what I can tell, you don’t have to prove residency in Spain to open an account with a Spanish IBAN number. I certainly didn’t when I opened an account with N26 this week. You just need a Spanish postal address, and an NIE number, which you will have if you own property in Spain. They offer a standard account with free online banking and a Spanish IBAN and a debit card, so you avoid account maintenance charges and transfer fees, and can set up all your direct debits in Spain to this account. One reader who is resident in the UK, and set up an account with N26, sent me the following comments:

“I am not resident in Spain, but own a property there, and need to pay bills and make cashpoint withdrawals when over.  I pressed on and opened an N26 account anyway using my Spanish Property address, UK Passport, UK based mobile number, and Spanish NIE number. The customer verification process went smoothly, and my application was accepted without having to prove residence. The N26 debit card arrived in my Spanish mailbox a few days later. My transfers went fine with no charges. I contacted N26, and they told me they have no plans to charge for GB IBAN to ES IBAN.”

He goes on to suggest that anyone opening an account with N26 might want to do so shortly before travelling to Spain if they don’t have someone local to check their post. “Even though the card is activated via the phone app, I wouldn’t like to think it was sat in my mailbox for weeks.”

You can open an account online with N26 here.

Pay most of your bills with a Curve card

One sure way to reduce transfer charges is to transfer less frequently, and pay for more with a card. A simple, easy and cheap way to do this is with a Curve card, which connects all your debit and credit cards into one spending card (slogan: One card to rule them all). You just download the app, set up your account, add the cards you want to, and you’re off to the races. You can choose a basic plan with no fees and a spending card, or a premium card with more benefits like worldwide travel insurance and airport lounge access (remember airports?). You can pay most of your bills in Spain with Curve, selecting whichever of your bank cards best suits you at the time, without worrying about the exchange rate, which UK-based Curve takes care of (the exchange rate is excellent, I’m told by users). You manage your Curve card through an app on your phone, and once you have signed up you can basically leave all your other cards in the draw (you also get a physical card to use, not just the app).

The one disadvantage of using Curve to pay your bills in Spain, like utility bills and taxes, is you have to manage your bills carefully to avoid missing a payment, which is something you don’t’ have to worry about with direct debits (though you do have to worry about keeping your bank balance topped up). If you get organised, and set up all your bills by email like I have, then a Curve card is an elegant solution for paying your bills in Spain without going near a Spanish bank account. Check it out here.

Other options

I was also sent positive feedback from readers about online banking solutions Revolut and Starling Bank. I haven’t had a chance to look into these options, and feel I’ve opened enough new accounts for now in the name of research for my readers, so I’ll leave them for another day.

Wrapping up

Clearly there are ways to avoid the charges some Spanish banks have started slapping on transfers to and from the UK, and most of these solutions will lead customers away from the banks doing the charging. I suspect that penalising UK-residents with unnecessary charges will backfire, and lead to a loss of business with British customers, who are by far the biggest group of non-resident buyers and owners of property in Spain. Annoying their British customers chasing trivial income today at the expense of business tomorrow looks short-sighted. And it’s just not cricket.

Useful links:

SPI Member Comments

Thoughts on “How to get around money transfer fees to and from the UK

  • Christopher Nation says:

    Mark, sorry but I just posted comments via the FB ‘box’. I realised this only when my moniker came up against the comments. Ron Bicardi is my FB nom de guerre.

  • Hi Mark. Looks interesting. I had a look at Transferwise relative to my current choice (Currencyfair) and they were slightly better on the rate but with a higher transfer fee. Will open an account and see how it goes.

    I haven’t suffered any charges on my regular Xfer to BancoSabadell. Odd as I know they are very greedy, always helping themselves to money from our account for new reasons, but the reason may be that Currencyfair.com are registered in Ireland. If you are interested you can get a 50 Euros credit on your first transfer using this link https://www.currencyfair.com/rafland/?channel=RESQX1

  • Mark S. : Do I deduce from your article that there are now no Spanish banks which will accept a regular international transfer direct from a British “High Street” bank without charging a fee?

    I am currently trying to negotiate a fee reduction / cancellation with Banco Sabadell, “threatening” to move my account to another bank. I don’t want to appear foolish if I can’t do it to my advantage, and I am not really prepared to use a money exchange company, which would still result in charges at the Spanish end, almost cancelling out any currency conversion advantage.

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