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The Best Money Transfer Service in Singapore

by Apoorv Trivedi on
Money Transfer

Update: Wise announced a fee increase for some currency pairs on 2 Aug 2022. Our calculations show increases ranging from 2% to 22% for a few currencies (e.g. USD, MYR, INR, IDR, PHP) from Singapore. Wise is still the best overall money transfer service in our view, but it is now 0.10% – 0.15% more expensive than peers for transfers to India. It remains competitive for other currencies. The tables below are updated. 


The Bottom Line

Wise provides the best combination of a lowest all-in money transfer cost, transparent disclosure and fast transfers to most major countries from Singapore and is our pick for most people.

If, however, you send money primarily to China, DBS Remit offers the lowest spread and is likely to be your best bet.

Remitly and Western Union are expensive but offer local currency transfers to most countries in the world and may be your only choices for sending money to remote places. Remitly is usually cheaper than Western Union but covers fewer countries.

Our pick
Wise
Lowest rates & fast transfers to all major countries

Wise provides the best combination of lowest all-in money transfer cost, transparent disclosure and fast transfers to most major countries from Singapore

If you found this useful, consider signing up for Wise via the link above. This gives you access to the best deals and helps us maintain the site.


The Research


Why you should trust us

We spent more than 20 hours researching online money transfer services in Singapore. We considered more than 20 services and apps before shortlisting 8 for further testing.

We checked to see if all of them were licensed by the MAS. We then opened accounts on each of them and compared the all-in cost of transferring funds in local currency to 11 countries. This included the spread they charge over the mid-market rate at the time of the transaction and also all the fees they charged.

We compared the fees for two transfers, one for S$1,000 and one for S$10,000 to see if there were any differences in the cost of transfer.


Who this is for

If you need to send money overseas from Singapore for any reason (expenses for family, college fees for kids, property purchase etc.) you will end up using a money transfer service.

Historically your options were largely your bank and Western Union. While those options still exist, we now have a number of new companies providing much cheaper and faster transfers from the convenience of your home (or mobile).

Banks especially tend to charge much higher fees than the newer alternatives and also do not cover as many countries as some of the newer service providers do. So if you need to send money to a smaller or more exotic destination, you may need to use a dedicated money transfer service.


How we tested and picked 

We shortlisted 8 money transfer services based on their dedicated presence in Singapore (and an MAS license), the ease of use of the website and a rough cut view of how competitive their coverage and rates were. These 8 were Wise, Revolut, Instarem, Remitly, SingX, Western Union, DBC Remit and SC Remit (Standard Chartered).

All-in cost of transfer was our main criteria for evaluation of the shortlisted services, followed by coverage, transparency of pricing and speed.

All-in Transfer Cost Money transfers are a fairly simple transaction and do not involve any ongoing interaction with the service provider. As a result we think the all-in cost of transfer in the single most important (some would say the only relevant) criteria when comparing these services.

The service providers are often not very transparent about disclosing all the fees being charged. What they do disclose is usually not comparable. And some providers advertise one rate but give you another once you start setting up an actual transaction.

We cut through all this complexity by comparing the all-in cost of transfers for each service provider to 11 countries. This includes the spread vs. the mid-market exchange rate for each currency pair and any other transaction charges applied by the provider.

Put simply, we looked at how much of the foreign currency reached your destination if you gave S$1,000 or S$10,000 to the money transfer service. The more the better.

There was no one provider that was consistently cheaper and there was considerable difference in the all-in cost of transfer to different countries for each provider.

Wise was the cheapest for the developed countries (US, UK, Australia, Canada) with an all in cost of 0.45% on average. Wise, Revolut and Instarem had nearly identical and lowest all-in cost for emerging markets (Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, India) of around 0.60-0.65%.

For China, DBS Remit was the cheapest option by far at 0.35% with Instarem the next best at 0.94%.

Table 1: All-in Cost of Currency Conversion and Money Transfer

Currency Wise^^ Revolut Insta
rem
Remitly SingX WU^ DBS SC
USD 0.48% 0.37% 0.56% 0.62% 0.57% 0.70% 0.47%
CAD 0.49% 0.73% 0.68% 0.76% 6.19% 0.86% 1.12%
GBP 0.43% 0.46% 0.63% 0.60% 7.81% 0.82% 0.45%
AUD 0.43% 0.70% 0.47% 0.55% 1.31% 0.64% 0.45%
MYR 0.63% 0.54% 0.60% 2.42%* 0.67% 0.71% 1.14% 1.38%
CNY 1.00% 0.94% 2.07%* 1.37% 1.64% 0.35% 1.65%
INR 0.73% 0.58% 0.58% 1.78% 0.60% 0.62% 1.06% 1.06%
IDR 0.67% 0.67% 0.68% 2.60% 0.62% 0.81% 1.23% 1.31%
PHP 0.60% 0.59% 0.60% 1.91% 0.87% 0.84% 1.18% 1.12%
BDT 0.34%* 0.15% 2.28% -3.91%** -4.42%** 4.19%
LKR 2.39%* 0.71% 2.85% 4.36% 1.96% 3.53%
Avg. 0.60% 0.58% 0.64% 2.09% 0.74% 2.28% 0.89% 1.00%
DM Avg. 0.46% 0.56% 0.58% 0.63% 3.97% 0.76% 0.62%
EM Avg. 0.64% 0.59% 0.61% 2.09% 0.69% 0.75% 1.15% 1.22%
^ WU = Western Union
^^ Updated for the price hike on 9 Aug 2022
* The maximum transfer size is < S$10,000.
** Both Remitly & WU offered better rates than what we saw on various market data sources. We confirmed these by calling the Customer Service.

Coverage Unlike many other financial services, its quite easy to open an account with a money transfer service (unless you are using a Bank) and its quite easy to switch to another one. So it doesn’t really matter much if the same provider will be able to help you with another transaction the next time you need it.

Still, no one wants to open a different account for every country and we used the number of countries covered as a tie breaker where needed. We focused primarily on the number of countries that a provider could send a local currency transfer to.

Most services offer the option of sending USD to many more countries. For example, both Wise and Revolut can help you send money to Bangladesh but while Wise can send Bangladeshi Taka, Revolut can only send USD.

This is important because a deposit in the local currency saves the recipient the trouble and cost of then converting USD to the local currency for spending.

Banks in Singapore also charge a fee for receiving a USD deposit. If the banks in your destination country do the same, then that is an additional layer of cost for you or your recipient. Local currency deposits in the destination country should hopefully be free.

Table 2: Number of Countries Supported

Service Provider Countries Covered
Wise 56
Revolut 30
Instarem 38
Remitly 150+
SingX 12
Western Union 200+
DBS Remit 18
SC Remit 26

Western Union was the clear winner here with more than 200 countries covered and they support the local currency transfer in most cases.

While we couldn’t test every single country, in our random testing, Iraq was the only country where only a USD transfer was supported. If you want to send money to Afghanistan or Bolivia or Laos, Western Union is your only option.

Remitly was second here with more than 150 local currencies supported. While they do not support transfers to Afghanistan or Bolivia and only support USD transfers to Laos, we found they offered much better exchange rates than Western Union for countries like Congo, Benin and Vanuatu. Surprisingly, despite this wide coverage, we couldn’t find the option to transfer money to US, Canada, UK or Australia on Remitly.

Among the rest, Wise supports 56 local currencies and covers most major markets while others players cover 12-40 markets.

Transparency We preferred money transfer services that make it easy for you to understand and calculate the true cost of a transfer. While most services we tested did a decent job of this, there were still some that seemed to be pulling a fast one.

Wise, Instarem, Western Union and DBS were the most transparent showing clearly how many SGD you need to spend and how much local currency reaches the destination.

Revolut and SingX were slightly confusing. They disclose the fee clearly but it is shown separately from the amount sent. As a result it looks like you are getting a better exchange compared to say a Wise or DBS but because the fee is charged separately, the disclosed exchange rate is overstated.

Remitly and SC Remit were the most confusing for us.

Remitly shows a promotional exchange rate that is applicable only for the first S$750 or S$1,000 of your first transfer even if you are transferring a larger amount. They apply a lower exchange rate for any amount above this without clearly explaining it.

Remitly pricing
Rate shown is 56.83 but it applies to first S$1,000 only
Remitly promotion
The fine print

SC Remit shows a very good exchange rate when you start the process but refreshes it with a much weaker rate once you provide the recipient details.

SC Advertised Rate
Advertised rate for INR on SC Remit
SC Actual Rate
Actual Rate for INR on SC Remit

For example, we got better than mid-market rate quoted to us for a S$1,000 transfer to US but once we provide the recipient details, the rate refreshed to a 0.45% spread. We got an excellent 0.15% spread quoted to us for India but after providing a recipient, it refreshed to a 0.94% spread.

Since we were not able to create a valid recipient for every country, we added a 0.45% spread for all developed markets and 0.8% spread for all emerging markets to the rates quoted by SC Remit, to estimate the actual rates we might get in those markets.

Speed We looked the transfer times promised by the players for each market. The data here wasn’t very good as most service providers gave only very broad estimates such as “Same day” or “Next Business Day”.

Wise stood out on this criteria with much clearer guidance that was specific to each market – from “should arrive in seconds” for India and China to “should arrive in a few hours” for Indonesia.

Wise Transfer time to GB
Transfer time: Seconds
Wise Transfer time to AU
Transfer time: 5 hours
Wise Transfer time to US
Transfer Time: 1 Business Day

However this does not mean that they are necessarily faster than others, simply that they provide a better estimate.

Table 3: Indicative Transfer Time (in Hrs)

Time (in Hrs) Wise Revolut Insta
rem
SingX WU DBS
Remit
SC
Remit
United States 24 24 48 12 24 12 24
Canada 24 24 48 24 24 12 24
United Kingdom 0 24 48 24 24 12 12
Australia 7 24 48 12 24 12 24
Malaysia 0 12 48 12 24 12 72
China 0 12 48 12 24 12
India 0 12 48 6 0 12 12
Indonesia 5 12 48 2 0 12 24
Philippines 24 12 48 24 2 12 24
Bangladesh 11 12 48 48 24 72
Sri Lanka 0 12 48 12 0 72

Our Pick – Wise

Wise consistently offered the best exchange rates across most markets, had the most transparent disclosures and fastest transfers to most markets. Their app and website are easy to sign up for and use.

While they don’t offer local currency transfer to as many countries as Western Union, they do cover most major countries and should meet the requirements of most people.

If you need to use a single money transfer service for multiple countries, Wise is your best bet.

Wise also offers a number of other services like multi-currency accounts and a debit card. However, we did not evaluate these services for now.


Best for China – DBS Remit

If you need to transfer funds to China regularly, or make a one-off large transfer in RMB, we recommend DBS Remit. In our testing DBS remit charged an FX spread of 0.35% for RMB transfers. The next best option for China was InstaRem at 0.94%, nearly 3x higher.

DBS Remit offers same day transfers for China and is easy to use, with clear disclosures.


Best for large transfers to USA / UK / Hong Kong – Interactive Brokers + Bank

Interactive Brokers (IB) offers the lowest spreads for currency conversion by far. They claim a typical spread of 0.002% and in our testing we observed spreads to be lower than 0.02-0.04%.

That compares to 0.45% spread offered by Wise, which was the next best option and more than 10x higher. However, IB does not help you transfer funds to theird parties or other countries.

So, if you need to make a large transfer ($20K+) to US, it can make sense to send your SGD to IB, convert SGD to USD on IB, transfer the USD back to a multicurrency or USD account with your Bank and then use your bank to transfer the USD to the target account in USA.

Many bank now offer free local currency transfer to foreign markets (e.g. USD to USA or HKD to Hong Kong). At least, DBS and Standard Chartered both do so.

In this case, you may need to pay an inward remittance fee to your Bank when you transfer the FX from IB to the Bank. However this fee is small, typically around S$10 and for a large enough transactions, the savings from lower conversion spread on IB will more than make up the fee you pay for inward remittance.

IB only offers one free withdrawal a month however, and enforces a 3 day waiting period for withdrawing new funds. So this method only works if you have plenty of time or existing funds in IB that you can use for conversion and transfer.


Best for smaller markets – Remitly & Western Union

Neither Remitly nor Western Union offer competitive exchange rates for the more mainstream markets. However they have significantly wider coverage than any other service provider and if you really need to send money to Congo or Vanuatu, they are your only options.

Western Union has the best coverage of all but for most of these far flung markets, we found Remitly offers much better rates.


The competition

Instarem also offered consistently good exchange rates, had transparent pricing and an easy to use app & website. However they cover fewer markets (38 vs. 56 for Wise), had slightly higher rates for developed markets and did not provide very good guidance on transfer times (within 2 days for all markets).

Revolut also offered consistently good exchange rates. However they do not offer transfers to China and cap transfers to Indonesia and Malaysia at relatively low amounts per transactions. They cover even fewer markets than Instarem (30) and we found their price disclosure to be less intuitive than the best in class (although still fairly easy to understand).

SingX offers transfers to 170 countries in all but only converts to 12 currencies. You can only transfer USD or another major currency to the remaining markets. The currency exchange spreads were 0.10-0.20% worse than the peers and similar to Revolut, we did not love the way they disclose the transfer cost.

Remitly curiously does not offer transfers to developed markets like US, UK, Australia and Canada. Their exchange spread for emerging markets like Indonesia and Malaysia are ~3x higher than peers (2.26% vs. 0.7%). Their pricing disclosure is also confusing as the disclosed promotional rate is not applied to the entire transaction but only to the first S$750 or S$1,000 depending on the market.

Where Remitly stands out is in offering local currency transfers to a very large number of markets – more than 150. Only Western Union has better coverage and Remitly offers the better pricing than Western Union in many small markets.

Western Union is the granddaddy of money transfers and it shows – they offer local currency transfers to more countries than any other provider we tested – more than 200. If you want to send money to Afghanistan or Laos, Western Union is your only hope.

But Western Union has a low transfer cap per day (<S$5,000) and their exchange rates are usually on the higher side. In some cases they are simply incredible e.g. for UK we observed a spread of nearly 8%! That compares to the next highest spread of 0.77% by DBS Remit.

DBS Remit is the convenient option if you already have an account with DBS and are looking to do small transfers. Their pricing disclosure is easy to understand and accurate.

However, except for China, their exchange spreads are relatively high, 1.5-2x of the most competitive peers. They also provide local currency access to only 18 markets, which is the second lowest among the providers we tested.

SC Remit had the most confusing pricing disclosure of the providers we tested. While the price displayed initially is very attractive, once you provide recipient details, it refreshes to a much worse rate. Their actual pricing was among the highest in the market, based on our estimates. They also cover only 26 markets.

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