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Five traps to avoid when transferring money to and from the UK

Navigating international finances can be complicated, no matter how seasoned you are at transferring funds overseas. Knowing the common pitfalls of sending money abroad can save you a lot of trouble (and hopefully some money too).

Five traps to avoid when transferring money to and from the UK
Photo: tbtb/Depositphotos

The changeable market keeps most expats on their toes with exchange rates, fees and timings. Whether you’re sending money to friends or family in far-flung places or repatriating money back to the UK, you should know the most common mistakes people make when transferring money internationally.

That’s why we’ve collaborated with international payments specialist Hargreaves Lansdown to help you avoid falling into these traps.

Stop losing money on international transfer fees with Hargreaves Lansdown

1. Forgetting to check the exchange rates

Whether you’re a small business or an individual, chances are you’ve used your bank to make international currency exchanges and transfers. After all, this is the most obvious option. But it’s also often the most expensive option as you could be paying well above the odds.

Even the smallest change in the exchange rate offered by your provider could cost you hundreds of pounds (possibly thousands). So it’s important to shop around for the best rate.

Save as much money as possible by looking at currency specialists, such as Hargreaves Lansdown, as the exchange rates they offer are often better than the banks’. This is especially beneficial when transferring large amounts of currency for more expensive purchases such as property.

2. Paying transfer fees

Although still a common practice, it is unnecessary to fork out extra for high bank transfer fees. Incurring a flat fee can sting if you’re sending relatively small sums across country borders. Some currency specialists offer individuals or small businesses regular payment plans for recurring payments which help to keep costs down.

There are providers, like Hargreaves Lansdown’s currency service, that offer low or no transfer fees. This can save you up to £30 on each and every transaction, which really adds up if you are making multiple transfers or paying invoices. 

3. Making insecure payments

Not all currency specialists are created equal, some are more secure than others. Make sure you’re protected financially from the moment the money leaves your account to when it reaches its destination account.

The terminology can confuse the most clued-up of people but there is a huge difference between whether a firm is authorised or registered with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Hargreaves Lansdown’s Currency Service is an FCA-authorised service, which in practice means they are legally bound to keep your money transfers separate from their company funds and provide financial safeguards proving their stability.

Whilst registered firms may choose to safeguard your money, they aren’t required to do so. And they don’t have to provide the FCA with as much detail about their business, so the regulator can’t check on their financial health.

4. Leaving it until the last minute

Don’t leave yourself at the mercy of the exchange rate on the day you transfer. If time allows, savvy savers should plan their transfer as far ahead as possible. This gives you more flexibility as you’ll have the option to fix an exchange rate for the future, or target a specific rate. 

If you’re fixing an exchange rate you’ll have the peace of mind to know what a future purchase will cost you, regardless of whether rates move up or down. Targeting a specific rate will enable you to make the most of improvements to rates, but doesn’t offer protection if rates move against you. Both of these options are only available if you plan ahead.

Bypass bad exchange rates with Hargreaves Lansdown

5. Not keeping up to date on the latest news

You wouldn’t expect to be well-versed in current events without consuming the news. The same goes for your finances. Without monitoring the latest market developments it leaves you vulnerable to making the wrong decisions in the fast-moving world of finance.

Stay on top of trends and currency movements and how to best position yourself to take advantage of the highs and avoid the lows. Hargreaves Lansdown offers a free weekly report on their website and via email, making sure you get the most from your payments. Please note, their service does not provide personal advice, but can provide information for you to decide what’s right for you. If you’re unsure please seek advice.

Download your free guide to international currency transfers here.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Hargreaves Lansdown July 2018

The Hargreaves Lansdown Currency Service is a trading name of Hargreaves Lansdown Asset Management Ltd. One College Square South, Anchor Road, Bristol. BS1 5HL, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority as a Payment Institution under the Payment Services Regulations 2017, see www.fca.org.uk. FCA Register number 115248. Registered in England and Wales. Registration number: 1896481.

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How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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