Last update on April 15, 2019

With more and more people moving across borders and settling in different countries, the need for cross-border banking options has grown considerably in recent times. If you’re an expat looking to transfer money from one country to another, there are both traditional banks and newer financial companies that can meet your international banking needs.

Rewire, a company that offers cross-border bank accounts for international living in Europe, looks at some of the different ways that money can be sent across borders.


Rewire is an all-in-one financial platform for internationals living and working in Europe. You can open up a free Euro bank account that offers mobile banking, a prepaid global Mastercard and international money transfers to India, Nigeria and the Philippines.

What is cross-border banking and why has it become more important?

Cross-border banking is simply having the option of sending money between bank accounts in different countries. People and companies have always transferred money across borders, but with cross-border flows of both citizens and capital increasing in the modern age, more financial companies are now providing this service and there have been moves towards making international banking easier, quicker and cheaper.

This need is expected to continue to grow. The number of people living outside the country they were born in has increased by 41% since 2000. Meanwhile, cross-border financial transactions between businesses are predicted to increase by over a third – to $218 trillion annually – over the next four years.

If you’re an expat living overseas, you may want to send money back home to family or simply transfer funds into an account in your home country. In the past, this may have taken several days and been very expensive to process. Nowadays, there are options that greatly reduce both the time and costs involved.

Cross-border banking through traditional banks

Most traditional banks offer international banking services to customers. The exact level of service differs between institutions, but services can include:

  • international money transfers to overseas account using secure systems such as SWIFT
  • tailored Expat bank accounts and services designed to make cross-border banking and transfers between different currencies easier.
  • Euro bank accounts which are designed to make banking and payments between Eurozone countries easier, using Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) integration.
  • partnering with third party financial service providers to speed up the international money transfer process (e.g. Santander partnering with Ripple to offer a blockchain-based payment network).

Banks that offer cross-border banking or expat-specific services include HSBC, Deutsche Bank, FNB, Citibank, BNP Paribas, Barclays, China CITIC Bank and Bank of Montreal. You can enquire at your bank to find out more information on what exactly is on offer to make international banking easier.

However, there are two problems often associated with cross-border banking transactions carried out through banks. The first is fees. Cross-border payments between currencies can be complex and will often involve costs passed onto the customer – usually called “service fees”, “transaction fees” or “exchange rate fees”. Banks have been criticised for not fully explaining these upfront, although there have been moves towards more transparency recently.

The second problem is the time it takes for money to arrive. Systems have been put in place to reduce this, but money transfers between certain countries paid through banks can still take a few days and it can be difficult to arrange same-day transfers.

International banking through Fintechs

An alternative to using traditional banks for cross-border banking is to use a “fintech”. Fintechs are new financial technology companies specialising in services such as cross-border transactions that can be performed through devices such as smartphones and tablets, often cheaper and quicker than through traditional means.

Fintechs have grown considerably in both number and popularity over the past few years. Initially focusing primarily on services to businesses, more fintechs now offer a range of services to individual consumers and have started to be seen as an alternative to traditional banking.

Services available varies from company to company. Some fintechs specialise in a particular service – e.g. international money transfers, loans – and market themselves as being able to save the customer time and money. For example, CurrencyFair and WorldRemit offer only an international money transfer service. However, some fintechs such as Rewire and Revolut have set themselves up as very similar to traditional banks, offering a borderless account with credit cards, mobile banking and bill payment options.

Differences between traditional banks and fintechs

Where fintechs tend to differ from traditional banks is in the scope of services they offer. As these start ups are newer and smaller than established banks, they don’t offer the same range of account options (such as savings or premium accounts) and you’re less likely to find fintechs that offer international banking also covering things such as loans or insurance. However, given time, scope is likely to expand and there is also an increase in fintechs partnering with traditional banks to increase and improve service.

Opening a fintech account

Opening an account with a fintech provider is typically quicker and easier than through a traditional bank. You can usually do this online or through an app. You may need to upload personal documents for ID purposes if opening a full bank account. For borderless accounts offering international banking, you’ll only need to do this once.

Brands offering international banking services include:

  • CurrencyFair – offer money transfers to over 150 countries and have exchange rates up to eight times cheaper than the banks, helping you avoid excessive bank fees.
  • Rewire – offers a cross-border bank account for internationals from India, Nigeria and the Philippines living in Europe. Services include a free Euro account, a smartphone app to manage money, and international transfers at a rate 60% cheaper than standard banks.
  • TransferWise – an international money transfer provider available in 59 countries that offers transfers between cross-border bank accounts up to eight times cheaper than traditional banks.
  • Revolut – offers money transfers to bank accounts in more than 120 countries at around 8% cheaper than standard bank rates, as well as offering buy and exchange services in cryptocurrencies.
  • Worldfirst – experts in FX, Worldfirst has an award-winning customer service and promises no hidden transfer fees.
  • WorldRemit – offers low-cost money transfers to around 140 different countries.
  • PayPal – online global payment service provider that has plans to partner with small banks to offer more traditional banking services.