Interactive Brokers money transfers

The goal of this guide is review how to use an Interactive Brokers account to transfer and exchange currency from one country to another. We will discuss carefully the advantages (low fees, transparency, control) and aspects to consider (requires some work, there may be activity fees, you need bank accounts in your name). Check the life exchange rates below.

Interactive Brokers is by far the cheapest way (often 5-10 times cheaper than Wise/TransferWise) to transfer large sums from one country to another. However, you should read carefully through all the Aspects to consider below!

Review

If you are moving from one country to another, you will often need to transfer money between the two countries. This typically involves a transfer fee (intermediate banks, wire transfer etc.) and an exchange fee (commission, markup from the current market rate etc.). For most major currencies Interactive Brokers offers BY FAR the best available option. The total fee compared to the rate quoted online (e.g. on Google) is 2 USD for amounts up to 100,000 USD and 0.002% or less for larger amount. See the official information below:

  • Currency exchange commissions. You should note that one basis point (p=0.01%) represents 0.01%=0.0001.

  • Life quotes and more information. Check out the current exchange rates and additional information. Note the quotes provide both bid and ask price, so they represent EXACTLY what you would get if you would exchange money right now.
    Please compare these rates with any other currency broker.

The best option is Interactive Brokers Lite, which has zero monthly fees and does not require minimal deposit, but requires a US reference address to open. If you do not have any ties to the US (such as relatives, vacation home etc.), you open an Interactive Brokers Pro account, whose advantages and disadvantages are compared here.

Reading live quotes

Interactive Brokers does not hide their exchange rate, but rather lists them live on this website, so that you can compare the current rates with any other service. These are exactly the rates that you get without any additional markup. The only other cost is a fee of 2 USD for amounts below 100,000 USD and 0.002% for larger amounts.

The following examples are based on the numbers from August 17, 2021.

  • Example 1. How much USD do I need to pay to receive 10,000 EUR? Based on above numbers, you would need to pay 11,772.90 USD plus a fee of 2 USD, so your total would be 11,774.90 USD (total fee: 2.00 USD = 1.70 EUR).

  • Example 2. How much EUR do I need to pay to receive 100,000 USD? Based on above numbers, you would need to pay 84,943.00 EUR plus a fee of 2 USD, so your total would be 84,944.70 EUR (total fee: 2.00 USD = 1.70 EUR).

  • Example 3. How much USD do I need to pay to receive 500,000 EUR? Based on above numbers, you would need to pay 588,630.00 USD plus a fee of 0.002% corresponding to 588,641.77 USD (total fee: 11.77 USD = 10 EUR).

Available currencies

Interactive Brokers supports many major currencies, but by far not all exotic currencies. The following currencies are supported:

  • Australian Dollar (AUD)

  • British Pound (GBP)

  • Canadian Dollar (CAD)

  • Chinese Offshore Yuan (CNH)

  • Czech Koruna (CZK)

  • Danish Krone (DKK)

  • Euro (EUR)

  • Hong Kong Dollar (HKD)

  • Hungarian Florint (HUF)

  • Israeli Shekel (ILS)

  • Japanese Yen (JPY)

  • Mexican Peso (MXN)

  • New Zealand Dollar (NZD)

  • Norwegian Krone (NOK)

  • Polish Zloty (PLN)

  • Russian Ruble (RUB)

  • Singapore Dollar (SGD)

  • South African Rand (ZAR)

  • Swedish Krona (SEK)

  • Swiss Franc (CHF)

  • Turkish Lira (TRY)

  • United States Dollar (USD)

Not all currencies can be exchanged into all other currencies, which means that sometimes an intermediate exchange into USD or EUR is required. Currency exchange is processed through Ideal Pro, as explained here. If you need to exchange other currencies, you may need to consider other services.

Advantages

Using Interactive Brokers in comparison to most other currency exchange services has the following key advantages:

  • You are exchanging at the current market rate. Rather than having a service that converts currencies for you, Interactive Brokers allows you to participate directly on the currency exchange markets, where banks and large institutions convert currencies to define what the "current exchange rate" is. If banks tell you that these rates are not accessible for private people, they are wrong, because that is exactly what Interactive Brokers offers. Consequently, Interactive Brokers only makes money from commissions. There may also be a small spread, i.e., the price of buying and selling a given currency pair may be slightly different, but we are talking here about many a basis point or less, i.e., less than hundredth percent. See here for more information.

  • You typically do not need to perform international wire transfers. Apart from losing money through markups of the exchange rates, international transfers are often also expensive due to international wire transfers. Even if you would not exchange currency, but only wanted to transfer 1000 USD from a regular USD account in the US to a USD account in the UK, you may pay 10-30 USD in fees, because the transfer involved several intermediate banks to process the transfer, which take fees. Most of such transfers are based on SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication). In contrast, Interactive Brokers has local currency accounts in many larger countries or currency areas, such as the US, the UK, the Euro zone, Australia, Canada and so on. This means you can often transfer money to Interactive Brokers for free (just as transferring money within that country) and you will often be able to receive it for free (just as receiving a local deposit).

  • You know exactly what exchange rate you will get and set precise limits. When you submit an order to exchange a given amount, you will always submit limit orders, i.e., you will always specify how much of the other currency you want to receive at minimum. This ensures that there are no surprises if there are sudden market fluctuations. Of course, if the current price is higher than what you are willing to pay, the order will not be executed and you do not pay any commission. You can even keep an order active and wait for days or weeks until the exchange rate matches your limit. Note, however, that this will be currency speculation, as nobody can predict future exchange rates with certainty, but you will always get the same rate as most big players on the market.

  • You can use Interactive Brokers to invest in the stock market, while being able to deposit/withdraw in many different currencies. This is mostly an advantage for people who travel or move a lot between different countries. In this case, it is natural to use a diversified stock or ETF portfolio as major part of your retirement preparation. In order to make monthly contributions or to withdraw cash when needed, it is a huge advantage if you do not need to use intermediate banks. It can therefore be advantageous to use Interactive Brokers for both currency exchange and for retirement and general investments.

  • Up to 1000 USD bonus for opening a new account. There is currently a promotion, where you can receive up to 1000 USD for opening a new account with Interactive Brokers. To be fair, this is less attractive if you only want to open the account, transfer currency and then close it again, but if you would also consider it for long-term stock investments, it gives you essentially 1% of your investment sum as bonus. You can also check out some further discussion of the bonus here.

Aspects to consider (potential pitfalls)

In order to use Interactive Brokers for international transfers, you need to satisfy various conditions. While the transfer itself is very cheap, there may be some maintenance fees which you should be aware of.

  • You need to open an Interactive Brokers account and prove your address. This requires you to prove your identity (scan of passport, ID or similar) and your address (bank statement, utility bill or similar). Opening an account is free, but can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. You will need to choose a country of "legal residence" to open an account, which you need to verify by providing a bank statement with the respective address. If you have residences (and bank accounts with these reference addresses) in more than one country, you may have some choice, which address you provide. For this, it may be useful to know that the free Interactive Brokers Lite account is only available for customers with US reference address. Your reference address does not need to agree with your tax residency, which you need to declare independently in full detail.

  • You need to have regular bank accounts in your name in source and target country. International transfers are subject to substantial scrutiny to avoid money laundering and tax evasion. For this reason, Interactive Brokers does typically not accept any deposits from or withdrawals to bank accounts in other people's name. You therefore need to own a bank account in both countries, between which you would like to perform a transfer. In particular, you cannot directly send money to other people, but you first need to transfer between your accounts (source country to target country) and then transfer from you

  • There may be a maintenance fee of 10-20 USD per month (can be avoided if you open IB Lite with US address). If you have a US address, you can open an Interactive Brokers Lite account, which does not have any fees or deposit requirements. In all other countries you will need to open the regular Interactive Brokers Pro account, which requires you to incur a minimal amount of fees, unless the value of your holdings is at least 100,000 USD. This minimal amount is 10 USD per month for accounts with at least 2,000 USD account value and 20 USD for accounts with less than 2,000 USD account value. If one does not reach this minimum, Interactive Brokers charges the difference. For example, if you exchange two times currencies in a given month, which incurs a fee of 2 USD each, i.e., 4 USD in total, and you keep at least 2,000 USD in your account (or stocks of this value), you will be charged the difference to 10 USD, i.e., 6 USD, at the end of the month. There is no such fee for the first three months after opening a new account. If you only need to transfer a single large sum, you could therefore open a new account, perform the transfer for 2 USD in fees and then close the account, before you get charged a maintenance fee. Alternatively, you could use Interactive Brokers to invest in stocks and there will be no fees, as long as the value of your assets is at least 100,000 USD.
    -> Monthly fees and the requirement of a minimal account value has been removed as of July 2021 (see fee overview).

  • Interactive Brokers often has a holding period for deposited funds. Using Interactive Brokers is can be quick if you already have the money in your account (e.g., because you also use this money to invest), but if you want to use Interactive Brokers to only make large transfers, it will take some time until you can withdraw your converted money. For most deposits, there is a holding period of a few business days as listed here. IMPORTANT: If you want to deposit USD via Automatic Clearing House (ACH), always initiate the transfer from your US bank (sending via ACH or BillPay) and DO NOT use Interactive Broker's option to pull funds from your US account, as this comes with a holding period of 44 business days.

  • Interactive Brokers charges a small withdrawal fee when you withdraw more than once per month. You can do one outgoing transfer for free per month. For this, it does not matter if you use a wire transfer or some cheaper local transfer method (SEPA in Europe, ACH in the US etc.). For a second transfer in a given calendar month, Interactive Brokers charges small fees (1-2 USD) for local transfers and slightly higher fees (3-15 USD) for international wire transfers. A fee schedule can be found here.

  • There may be other fees from your banks to consider. When depositing to or withdrawing from Interactive Brokers, there may be additional fees from your bank, such as outgoing or ingoing wire fees, which are typically around 10-20 USD. However, as Interactive Brokers maintains local bank accounts in many regions, there are no such fees when using local currency transfers in the countries, such as the US, the UK, the Euro zone and Australia. In the case of Canada you can only use the free local transfers if your Interactive Brokers account is based in Canada - otherwise there will be low fees.

  • Interactive Brokers sometimes overestimates bank transfer fees in Europe (but will not charge you). Most recently, there have been some reports that Interactive Brokers will list a fee of 75 EUR (or more or less) as a fee estimate for the bank fee when withdrawing EUR using the SEPA network. However, we are not aware of any bank in Europe that charges such amounts for an incoming EUR transfer. You can read this discussion where a number of users confirm that they were not charged a fee when transferring EUR from Interactive Brokers to a European account in their name.

If opening an Interactive Brokers account does not make sense to you (because you only want to transfer a small amount once, you do not have a respective bank account in your name etc.), you can consider some other services for international transfers.

Practice example: USD to EUR

To give an example, let us consider as an example how to convert 10,000 USD into EUR. We assume that you have already opened an Interactive Brokers account, but that no money has been transferred yet. Of the following options, Electronic / Direct transfer and

  1. Create deposit notification. You need to login into Interactive Brokers and go to the left sidebar and choose Transfer & Pay -> Transfer Funds -> Make a Deposit. For USD, you will have the following options:
    - Electronic / Direct transfer: This is a good standard option, where you essentially ask your bank to transfer to Interactive Brokers by providing its bank account information (routing & account number) to your current bank. Not all banks allow such transfers and it is not always for free, but often works. It is typically free, the limit is set by your bank and there is a 3 business days holding period, before you can trade or exchange currency (or withdraw).
    - Connect Your Bank Account: For exchanging money, this is typically not such a good option, because there is a 44 business days holding period, before you can withdraw the funds to a different bank account (even after exchanging into another currency). The reason is that Interactive Brokers pulls the funds directly out of your bank account which could be reversed by the bank, if it turns out to be fraudulent and so Interactive Brokers secures itself against this risk. The advantage of this method is that there are no fees. There is a 4 business days holding period, before you can trade or exchange currency. This method also limits your deposit to maximally 100,000 USD per 7 days.
    - Bank wires: This is usually the fastest way to deposit USD, because depending on your US bank the funds are almost immediately transferred to Interactive Brokers and you can immediately use it to trade or exchange currency. There is a 3 business days holding period, before you can withdraw the funds. Unfortunately, US banks usually charge 10-50 USD in fees for a wire transfer, which makes this option less desirable if you can wait a few days.
    - Online Bill Pay: This is usually an alternative when the first option (Electronic / Direct transfer) does not work. You should confirm with your US bank that they support Online Bill Pay, which most major banks do. There is a 3 business days holding perdiod, before you can withdraw the funds.
    - Mail a Check: You could also just send a physical paper check to Interactive Brokers. Apart from postage, this is usually free, but you would need to wait until the mail arrives and there is a 6 business days holding period, before you can trade, exchange currency or withdraw funds.

  2. Transfer USD into Interactive Brokers account. Depending on the previous choice, you need to login into your US bank account and initiate the transfer based on the previous choice. It may take a few days until your funds arrive in Interactive Brokers and the holding period is over.

  3. Exchange USD into EUR. You can use the regular client portal to perform the trade. For this, you need to login into your Interactive Brokers account and choose Orders & Trade -> Enter a symbol -> (Type EUR) -> Forex -> EUR.USD IDEALPRO. Let us note that the pairing of EUR and USD is always in the order pair EUR.USD, where the first currency is bought/sold and settled in the second one. Therefore, exchanging USD into EUR means buying EUR, while exchanging EUR into USD means selling EUR. All exchanges will thus be whole EUR amounts, while USD may include cent amounts. Consequently, you choose how many EUR you would like to purchase (Quantity), set the order type (Limit), choose a price per EUR (Limit price) and choose Time-in-Force (Day). This ensures that you will maximally pay the set price per EUR. You can submit the order. There may some warnings if you want to exchange smaller amounts and do not have current market data available, but if you chose the current market price of EUR the order will execute and you will receive the appropriate amount in EUR, while the cost plus a fee of 2 USD will be subtracted from your USD balance.

  4. Withdraw EUR to your EUR bank account. You need to login into Interactive Brokers and go to the left sidebar and choose Transfer & Pay -> Transfer Funds -> Make a Withdrawal. You may need to wait a few days for the transaction to settle, before you can withdraw the exchanged amount. For EUR, you will have the following options:
    - SEPA: This is the standard choice, which is fast and reliable. The first withdrawal per calendar month is free, but any subsequent SEPA withdrawal only costs 1 EUR. The funds typically arrive within 24 in your EUR account. (Interactive Brokers may list a fee estimate of 75 EUR, which may be charged by your bank. To our knowledge there is no European bank charging such fees for an incoming SEPA transfer, as explained above, but please confirm this with your bank.)
    - Bank Wire: There is typically no good reason to use a bank wire for euros, unless it needs to be very fast or if your EUR account is not part of the SEPA network, i.e., it is in some country outside of the eurozone.

In summary, we were able to transfer 10,000 USD from a USD bank account located in the US to a EUR bank account located in the eurozone and only paid 2 USD in fees, while receiving essentially the official interbank exchange rate as quoted on Google or Yahoo Finance.