International Money Transfers Are Tricky When You’re Not the 1%

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International money transfers are tricky, says Bat-Bear

Dual citizenship can be tricky at times. “With great power come great responsibility”… and plenty of catch-22 situations because you belong to two places or more while being physically present in one only.

I came up with the following formula—take the level of administrative red tape you’re used to “back home” and multiply it by five, add the usual efficiency ratio and divide it by ten, then subtract convenience times two. Remember when you had to queue at that government office in your home country? Now you have to show up at the embassy, open on Monday mornings from 8:35 to 9:15 a.m. only (except on national holidays, local holidays and the week following a full moon). When it’s your turn, you may submit your request to someone who speaks your mother tongue but may or may not be able to provide a practical solution that doesn’t involve a round-trip flight to your place of birth.

Such is the life of millions of expats and dual citizens around the world.

Case in point, my last French ID card renewal took months. I had to book an appointment at the French embassy in Ottawa for fingerprinting, then the application was sent to France before being eventually mailed back to the embassy in Ottawa. It took so long I had Mark in the meantime—I remember going to pick up my card on a very, very cold day of February 2013 with a screaming baby.

Voting can also be a frustrating process. In April 2017, the French Consulate in Toronto suddenly advised me I had been removed from the voter register—that’s how I learned registration as a French national abroad is only valid for five years, a rather important detail not mentioned anywhere. When I reached out for an explanation and to find a way to vote in the (then) upcoming presidential elections, I was told I “no longer existed.” I had to bring an appeal before the High Court of Paris and I won… which meant I earned the right to lineup for hours to vote at the French embassy in Ottawa.

I gave up on going through the normal process to renew my French passport—it would have involved two trips to Toronto during consulate business hours. I eventually renewed it in Nantes, two summers ago, claiming I had moved back with my parents’ (a harmless lie, really, I am a French citizen, who cares where I live!).

Most recently, I finally managed to re-open a bank account in France. I tried for years without success—banks were always asking for certified letters from my Canadian financial institution, plus proof of address in France—until a piece of legislation changed and made the process easier.

Before leaving France in August 2018, I deposited €100 to my new French bank account. Once back in Canada, my plan was to transfer $100-$200 every month, so that I would have “pocket money” in euro for our next trip to France.

I was going to use PayPal—fees for international bank-to-bank money transfers are prohibitive, especially for such small amounts. I know, PayPal is a love-it-or-hate-it company, but I’ve never had any problems since I opened my account in 2004.

My initial idea was to connect my new French bank account to my existing PayPal account. It was supposed to work like this: Canadian checking account → PayPal → French bank account.

But PayPal isn’t as flexible as I thought. Each account is country specific, you can only add financial information for the country you have opened the account in. For PayPal, I’m Canadian with a Canadian bank account, so I can’t add a French account.

Never mind, I thought. I can outsmart PayPal, I can open a French PayPal account! The process would then work like this: Canadian checking account → Canadian PayPal account → French PayPal account → French bank account.

Except PayPal is smarter than me. I quickly realized it didn’t accept my French back account information because it’s registered to my Canadian address. It’s perfectly legal to have a French bank account and being a resident of Canada, but PayPal doesn’t care.

Eventually, I resorted to the most unlikely, yet most practical solution—I “hired” my sister. No, she doesn’t work in finance, she’s an actress who lives in a chambre de bonne in Paris with her cat, among other French and Parisian clichés. I called her, explained the issue and asked for her help. I truly hope some kind of anti-money laundering and financial crimes police was listening in on our conversation to see how ridiculous the situation was. I mean, I just want to transfer money from myself to myself!

Between suburbia, Ottawa, and Barbès, Paris, we devised a plan. I would send her money through PayPal—she has an account, I bailed her out before…—, then she would withdraw it and initiate a transfer between her French bank and my French bank. Since we use the same financial institution, there are no fees—yay!

Yes, I pay my sister for the service. I’m not a monster. She deserves the money more than any bank.

But seriously, how can all these rich people hide money in offshore accounts and effortlessly transfer millions of dollars to Switzerland, Panama or Belize? I can’t even move around a couple of very legal, hard-earned hundred dollars between France and Canada!

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

22 Comments

  1. I use TransferWise to avoid ridiculously high bank transfer fees (and Paypal!!!). It works so well, that I seriously thought it was too good to be true. But I’ve used it for months for receiving payment (US dollars), exchanging to CA dollars or Euros, sending money to Europe, etc. It’s fantastic.

    • Thank you for the tip! I’m going to look into it. I know there are money transfer companies but it’s hard to tell which ones are legit.

  2. Martin Penwald on

    When the bank of drug dealers, HSBC, got caught laundering money, it basically just had to promise it won’t do it again (look for the article “Too big to jail”). And investigations suggested that it kept 30% of laundered money. It’s far more profitable than your meager transfers.
    If drugs cartels in South America and Mexico are so powerful, it’s because they can reinject their ill-gotten gains in the legal economy. And they couldn’t do it without the help of international banks.

    And we haven’t talked yet of exchange rates…

    • Oh, exchange rates gauging drive me nuts. And it’s easy not to notice you’re getting screwed as well.

      I’m sick of bank fees. I understand they aren’t a not-for-profit but some of the fees are just ridiculous.

  3. An interesting predicament…I have toyed with the idea of opening a bank account in France again. Right now I have a Canadian Scotiabank account (I know, I know, see comment above) that lets you withdraw euros from any BNP Paribas in France (or Guadeloupe, or Martinique, etc.) with no fees. So that’s been my solution, though it costs me $3.95 a month for the account.

    • Yep, I have the same Scotiabank account. It works fine with BNP Paribas but in Latin America, I’m being charged high fees to withdraw money… from Scotiabank ATMs. Ah, ah. And I’m getting really sick of Scotiabank fees and shitty service as well… but we don’t have much choice when it comes to banks.

  4. I transfer money from Australia to Holland. Normally it costs me 8 dollars from the Aussie part and 5 euros from my Dutch bank. If I transfer money within EU, it is free. I am surprised it is so much hassle for you. But yeah I know the bureaucracy involves when you are a resident of more than one country. No joke we were running to the embassy like every six month for our passports. My kids have two passports each and the validity is 2 years for kids below certain age. So when one was done, I started the process for the other one! Luckily now they get it for 5 years so I can catch a breath in between…. to organise our residence cards, drivers licenses, bank cards etc!! Last month I decided to give up my Slovak residence because it was just getting too much!! So it is true what you said about with all power comes with responsibilities too!

    • I know it’s much, much easier (and cheaper!) to transfer money within the EU. Things get more complicated between the EU and North America, but I find your Australian-Holland transfer pretty cheap.

      Oh, kids and passports… that’s why Mark only has a Canadian passport, not a French one. I don’t feel like dealing with more paperwork for a document that will expire in just a few years!

      You had Slovak residence???

  5. J’utilise TransferWise aussi. De la France au Canada, le transfert met moins de 24 heures, et ca coute en general une dizaine de dollars (Enfin ca depende du montant aue tu transferes je pense). Et on n’a jamais eu de probleme, ca marche super bien. J’imagine que du Canada a la France, ce doit etre a peu pres la meme chose… C’est une collegue anglaise qui m’avait conseille ca, j’ai mis du temps a voir confiance, et puis finalement c’est vraiment simple ! Ca fait un peu publicite comme ca, mais j’etais tres contente de trouver ca alors je partage.

    • Thank you for the tip! I wouldn’t have trusted “the Internet” (some of these companies are super shady) but I do trust you guys!

  6. Yep transferwise is legit. It never failwd us. Used that to transfer our money from France when we moved to Ottawa. Best idea ever. We saved lots. We would have lost so much with la banque postale.

  7. Quand tu es Suisse, voter depuis l’étranger ne pose aucun problème (et pourtant, ou peut-être parce que on vote 3 fois par an ;). On reçoit une enveloppe avec les infos et le bulletin de vote par la poste, et on le renvoie de la même manière. Pas de queue interminable à l’ambassade 😉
    Par contre, j’ai moins d’expérience pour le transfert d’argent… Cela dit, il ne me semble pas que ce soit si cher pour envoyer de l’argent à l’Ile Maurice.

    • Oh, ça c’est une manière efficace de voter! Ça suppose un bon service de courrier, mais j’imagine qu’à la taille du pays, ça doit bien marcher.

  8. J’ai aussi un compte BNP. Il est principalement alimenté par les remboursements que nous font nos familles et l’argent des cadeaux d’anniversaire. Et si besoin, je peux retirer à la scotia aussi 🙂

    • As-tu un jour essayé de faire un transfer entre tes comptes français et canadiens? Je suis au Crédit Agricole par facilité, ils me connaissaient déjà, car j’avais un compte chez eux à 18 ans… mais je me demande maintenant si ça aurait été plus facile avec une autre banque.

  9. Why not just get a no-forex fee credit card, like the HomeTrust one? It has no annual fee, and gives you 1% back on purchases. Put all of your purchases on that. When you’re in France, you pay something like 1.5% (min $6 or something) to withdraw cash for some pocket money. To avoid paying interest, overpay your credit card before you arrive, and make your one big withdrawal on Day1 to avoid paying any interest.

    Or find some hole-in-the-wall bureau de change in Canada and pay them their 2.4% or so (KantorFX has great rates in Toronto). Scotiabank will let you open a EUR account without any fees if you hold enough, if you prefer to hold EUR.

    Either should be better than Paypal’s criminal exchange rates.

    Voila.

    • Thank you for the tips! I had never heard of no-forex fee credit cards, sounds like something I may use in the future.

      Withdrawing money abroad has never been a huge issue with my Canadian debit or credit cards. For instance, Scotiabank has a partnership with BNP Paribas, so the foreign ATM fee is waived. I mostly wanted to reopen a French bank account for two reasons: 1) easy money transfer to relatives in France 2) easy withdrawal from PayPal (some clients do pay me through PayPal).

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