If you have a bank account in the US and an account in the UK, and you want to move money from one to the other, is Bitcoin a sensible way to do it, or are you better off using TransferWise or just doing an international wire transfer?
While in the US last year, I sent money to myself in Europe that way once, because it was significantly cheaper than using the legacy banking system.
I think it mostly comes down to whether you have easy access to a Bitcoin exchange from your bank account in the US and what amounts you are trying to transfer. It also depends on how urgently you need the money in the other country, and which country you currently are residing in.
Alternative 1 (if in UK): Use your US credit card to get Pounds from the bank, deposit those in your UK bank.
Disadvantage: Currency exchange fee, fee for using CC abroad, (Deposit fee, if you have one)
Alternative 2: International Wire Transfer
Advantage: No manual involvement
Disadvantage: Takes several days, expensive (~$50), get lost sometimes
Alternative 3: PayPal
Advantage: Very fast, independent from residence
Disadvantage: ~3% exchange fee, % transfer fee, has to be withdrawn to Bank account
Alternative 4: Money transmitter
Disadvantage: Needs to be picked up and deposited, expensive I think
Advantage: Can be cheap
Disadvantage: Takes a few days, manual involvement
• Consider buying Bitcoin locally if in the US, else buy Bitcoin from Exchange or Coinbase (each takes a few days until it is cleared, I think)
• Send Bitcoin to your account at an exchange in Europe
• Trade Bitcoin for national currency
• Withdraw to Bank account (usually a small fee applies).
Back when I did that last year, I was able to buy Bitcoin at a Bitcoin Meetup at Bitstamp spot-price. I transfered those to Bitstamp, traded, and ordered a withdrawal.
I had a confirmation that the money was headed to my bank account within 30 minutes, it arrived two days later. I actually made a few dollars on it, because the price had slightly increased between my local trade and the trade on Bitstamp.
To organize a wire from Europe to the US and back using bitcoin without fees, you can:
- Open an account on KRAKEN.com do a IBAN/BIC wire to your kraken account (free!), takes 2-4 business days
- Open an account on circle.com and register your US bank account
- Buy bitcoins on kraken.com (very small fee, usually around 20 eurocents)
- Transfer bitcoins from kaken.com to circle.com account
- Withdraw bitcoins in USD from circle.com
I did not try it yet but the whole process should not cost you more than 50 eurocents. Of course you risk small losses/profits due to volatility of bitcoin prices. Also, I do not know what is driving the exchange rates at circle.com.
Most big US banks charge 40-50$ in fees for international transfers and take a cut of the exchange rate. You might be able to lower this if you use a company like Usforex or Xoom, which I believe take around a 1-1.5% cut of the interbank rate plus a < 5$ fee.
And Bitcoin? I just transferred 1000$ from the US to Europe, from my wellsfargo account, via coinbase (bitcoin USD wallet), kraken (bitcoin EUR wallet) and a EUR bank account there.
- Coinbase took 10$ in fees for the ACH money transfer from my bank account into the coinbase bitcoin wallet. It took around five days. I think Wellsfargo does not charge for ACH transfers when money is pulled.
- Kraken requires 6 bitcoin confirmations, so the transfer Coinbase -> Kraken took 20 minutes. The trade bitcoin -> EUR then cost 0.34%, so 3.4 EUR. This fee can possibly be lowered to 0.1% by doing the transfer with a different type of electronic money, like litecoin, I haven't looked into that.
- The SEPA transfer to the EUR bank account cost EUR 0.09 and took 4 days.
Now this is not the whole story, because I haven't figured out the cut the bank takes on the exchange rate and what the difference between the interbank rate and the US->Bitcoin->EUR rates is.
In total the bitcoin fees were less than 14 USD for 1000$, the bank transfer cost was at least 50$. The bank exchange rate spread can be around 1.5%, I have no idea what the spread in the case of bitcoin is, but probably lower.
The Bitcoin transfer took around 7 days, similar to what it takes to do a Usforex/Xoom transfer.
The bitcoin transfer takes a lot more manual clicking work. You have to transfer the money (1-2 minutes), do the bitcoin transfer (+wait 20 minutes), do a bitcoin/euro trade (+ wait 20 minutes), then do the 2nd transfer. Neither coinbase nor kraken can schedule any of this. You also can lose money if you delay any of this, as the exchange rates of bitcoin may change over time. That being said, the volatility of bitcoin at the moment is lower than the banking fees, even over weeks.
I think overall I prefer Xoom or Usforex like services for the occasional transfer, as it's so much easier to use. I hope someone automates the whole transfer one day with a program using coinbase's / kraken's APIs.
To make an international money transfer using bitcoins you need to figure out 2 things: 1. How to convert FIAT to BTC and 2. How to convert BTC to FIAT.
- FIAT to BTC
Open an account on your local exchange. I find this resource useful: https://bitcoincharts.com/markets/list/ to find local exchanges. You want to open an account on the local exchange because generally, it is cheaper and faster to transfer money locally. Once you have an account buying BTC is generally straightforward.
Things to keep in mind:
- Make sure you open an account in an exchange and not a company that sits on top of an exchange. Exchanges generally charge from ~0.1 to 0.5% per transaction, while resellers generally charge above 1%.
- Make sure to check out the spreads (the difference in buying and selling prices) on the exchange. If daily trading volumes on an exchange are low, chances are the spreads are high and you might end up overpaying for your BTC.
- You bank account name and your registered name on the exchange must match.
Sending BTC is straightforward.
- BTC to FIAT
To convert BTC back to FIAT you need to register on an exchange in the receiving country. You need to keep in mind exactly the same things as for point 1. In addition keep in mind that most exchanges require 3-6 verifications before you can sell your BTC on the exchange. This takes on average 30 to 60 minutes and during this time you are exposed to the price volatility of Bitcoin.
To simplify the process of making international transfers using Bitcoin you can give finmates.com a try. This is my company. We take your bitcoins and deliver local currency to your recipients and charge only 1%.
Having said the above IMO it makes sense to use BitCoins if: 1. The money transfer channel is not too bit (for example, not US/India), hence there is not a lot of competition and prices are high. 2. There are liquid exchanges at the both ends of the transaction (last time I checked spreads in Curacao (Caribbean islands) were around 10%. 3. You price conscious and make transfers regularly. IMO if you answer "yes" to these questions it makes sense to use BitCoins to make international money transfers
For a UK/US channel Transferwise charges ~0.5-1% depending on the amount (with a minimal of 2 Pounds or 3 USD). Hence IMO using Transferwise is easier and cheaper.