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Transferwise: An honest advertorial

Just because a company pays us for content doesn't mean we don't like it. Learn why you should use our writer's new favourite peer-to-peer currency exchange service!

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Photo by epSos.de (Flickr CC)

This post is sponsored by Transferwise.

Every so often at Exberliner, we get asked to create “advertorials” or “sponsored posts”: content that has been paid for by advertisers. When we do, we’re scrupulous about labelling them as advertisements, unlike some other outlets where you can never tell if what you’re reading is the work of a real, live journalist or a soulless PR agency.

But sometimes we get asked to advertorialise something that we – or one of us, at least – really, genuinely likes. Such is the case with me and TransferWise. So, rather than ‘organically’ working peer-to-peer currency transfer into some unrelated story, I figured I’d just tell you straight up: TransferWise is awesome.

Here’s the deal. If you move to Berlin from outside the eurozone without a game plan (although, jeez, who would be silly enough to do that?), you’re going to be living off one of three sources of income: savings stashed in your home country; freelance coding, design or writing gigs for companies in your home country; or handouts loans from your folks – again, in your home country (unless they’re the ultimate helicopter parents). Until quite recently, the easiest way to convert these dollars, pounds or what-have-you into rent, groceries and Club Mate was by bank wire transfer, which costs a pretty penny – up to $45 for us Americans – and royally screws you over on the exchange rate (my US bank currently hands out 0.84 euros per dollar, compared to the overall market rate of 0.89).

Back when I moved here, I sucked it up and funnelled a few thou through my bank – losing at least $100 in the process. This past April, faced with a sky-high flat deposit, I had to get my hands on my emergency funds again – which by this point comprised little more than the proceeds from the sale of an emerald-green Toyota Camry made obsolete by 3000 miles of ocean and efficient German public transit. When it came time to make the transfer, I noticed my options had expanded over the past three years. They now included the following:

  • A lauded US-based company that transfers funds for a €5 fee and skims a little off the exchange rate (it’s €0.86 per dollar at the moment). I tried this one, only to go through a maze of confirmation emails and Kafka-esque phone calls with their customer service corps, which appears to be based in five different countries. Just when I thought it had worked, I received a message that the transfer had failed for some unknown reason.
  • A newish exchange service that matches your transfer with others happening in the other direction for an average 0.35 percent charge. I created an account with it, but then it sent me a message saying it was now charging some $20 in third-party fees – plus, one of the steps in their new process was now a regular old bank wire transfer, meaning another $45 down the hole.
  • Any number of decentralised digital currencies. If you’re a tech-savvy libertarian, you can buy one of these for dollars and sell it for euros via an online exchange platform, losing almost none of it in the process – assuming the value of said digital currency doesn’t plummet in between exchanges, which is a bit of a risky bet. Personally, I was feeling bearish.

Eventually, I turned to TransferWise, a UK-based service that works about the same way as the second one mentioned above – basically, they facilitate a peer-to-peer transaction between you and others making the same exchange in the opposite direction, using the market rate and charging between 0.5-2 percent depending on the country. (My $2000 transfer from the United States to Germany ended up costing 1 percent, or $20.) The process turned out to be ridiculously easy – I didn’t have to send them a scan of my passport photo, as other services required, or constantly toggle between their site and my bank’s. And when, slightly paranoid that I wouldn’t get the money on time, I called them up to check in on my transfer’s status, I was immediately put through to a nice English-speaking German who personally emailed me a few hours later to tell me everything was on track. The money arrived in my account the next day. (And no, they had no idea I was a journalist – this all took place months before TransferWise even reached out to Exberliner.)

Disclaimers: transfers take up to five business days (mine took three), so if you do need that money now, you’re basically stuck with the bank. And there are still some countries, like Turkey and New Zealand, that you can only transfer money to, not from. But if you’re an expat from the US, England, Canada or Australia who doesn’t have a job in Berlin yet, Transferwise is the option that gives you the most money for the least hassle.