Helen Geraghty, Copywriter   18 October 2019

computer screen showing live exchange rates data on a purple background

Transferring money abroad and exchanging currency is familiar to those living in the diaspora. But even those who transfer money abroad regularly might find it hard to understand how exchange rate works.

So, what is a good exchange rate? How can you get the most value for your hard-earned money?

To help you get a good deal on your next money transfer, we have prepared an insight into what exchange rate is, and how it works.

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What is an exchange rate?

The exchange rate is the amount that one currency is worth when compared to another currency.

In other words, the exchange rate tells you the number of units of one currency that you will receive for one unit of another currency. For example, how many American Dollars you will get for every British Pound that you exchange.

Exchange rates never stand still. They are forever fluctuating in response to economic and political changes and developments as they occur around the world.

The only time that most of us deal with them directly is when it comes to traveling or sending money overseas.

However, exchange rates indirectly impact many different areas of your day-to-day life - from the cost of your groceries and fuel to the job opportunities and the interest rate on your loans.

What’s better – high or low exchange rate?

A higher rate is better if you’re buying or sending currency, as it means you get more currency for your money. A lower rate is better if you’re selling the currency. This way, you can profit from the lower exchange rate.

What is FOREX?

FOREX (foreign exchange market or FX), is a global market for currency trading used by individuals, businesses, and banks. If you make a transaction that requires a currency conversion, FOREX determines how much value you get for your money.

To put in perspective, if you bought a product in Euros and paid in Dollars, you made a forex transaction.

A big part of the foreign exchange happens for practical purposes - for example when you're traveling or buying foreign goods. However, a majority of currency conversion is made to earn a profit.

How often do exchange rates change?

The FOREX market never sleeps; it is live and active all day and all night. This means that exchange rates don’t change once a day, or even once an hour, they are constantly changing as events develop and unfold around the world.

What is a floating exchange rate?

Most countries around the world use a floating exchange rate. 

When a country uses a floating exchange rate, it means that its government's actions can only influence the rate, not regulate it.

What is a fixed exchange rate?

A fixed exchange rate is a currency that isn’t influenced by FOREX. Instead, the government controls the rate and regulates its value. Countries with fixed exchange rates, like Hong Kong, Denmark, or Saudi Arabia, usually peg the exchange rate against an internationally common currency (US Dollar or Euro).

The country’s government then holds an abundant supply of both of these currencies. This allows them to buy and sell currency as required to keep their exchange rate at a fixed value.

What is an interbank rate?

Interbank rate, sometimes also referred to as the mid-market rate, is used when banks exchange currencies between themselves.

This rate is usually better than the rate consumers receive. This is because currency exchange service providers aim to make a profit, and often add fees or a mark-up to their exchange rate.

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What determines the exchange rate?

Here is a brief explanation of some of the key factors that help to determine the exchange rate. Usually, most of them are somehow connected to supply and demand.

1. Supply and demand

If there’s plenty of currency to go around and low or average demand, then the exchange rate is usually low. If there is less currency in circulation and the demand is high, then the exchange rate will be high.

2. Consumer confidence

When a country’s population is confident in its economy’s stability (low unemployment or inflation), consumer spending and investment tends to be high.

This makes the currency more attractive to investors resulting in a higher exchange rate.

3. Balance of trade

A country’s balance of trade looks at the value of exports compared to the value of imports. If the balance is not equal, then this will affect the exchange rate.

If exports are higher than imports, then the country is sending more of its currency abroad. And the higher the supply of currency, the lower the demand and exchange rate.

4. Inflation

Inflation is the rate at which prices for goods and services are rising over time within an economy.

When a country has a consistently low inflation rate, its currency is generally more valuable, resulting in a higher exchange rate.

5. Interest rates

Interest is the fee that banks charge consumers to borrow money. The higher the interest rate is, the more you will be charged.

6. Political unrest

Political upheaval causes uncertainty, which can put FOREX traders off, lowering demand for the country’s currency and so decreasing its value.

7. Country’s debt

If a country is in debt, then its currency is considered a riskier option by foreign investors. This can cause the country’s currency to decrease in value and the exchange rate to fall.

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Where to get the best exchange rate?

So, that’s the exchange rate explained, now how do you go about getting the best one? A good exchange rate is as close to the interbank rate (sometimes called the mid-market rate) as possible.

You can find out what the current interbank rate is with a quick search on Google. And although you can’t control the currency market, you can choose who you transfer or exchange your money with.

The two main options for sending money abroad is a bank wire transfer or online money transfer.

1. Bank or building society wire transfers

Making the international transfer with your bank or building society may sound like a simple and option, but the convenience comes with its price.

Some banks charge fixed fees for sending money abroad, which can end up being unreasonably expensive if you’re only sending a small sum of money. Many banks are also guilty of providing very poor exchange rates, a tactic used to charge further ‘hidden fees’ on international transfers.

On top of this, wire transfers can be slow - sometimes taking days to arrive with the recipient. Also, not all recipients want or can receive money on their bank account.

2. Send money online with WorldRemit

Online money transfer services tend to provide a quicker, more cost-effective way of transferring money overseas.

With WorldRemit, you only pay a small fee and receive a fair exchange rate. All our costs are shown upfront – we promise, absolutely no hidden fees!

We offer an unmatched variety of pay-out options, too. You can choose the one that is most convenient for the recipient, including:

Avoid low exchange rates when traveling

If you are traveling overseas and require a foreign currency, you can dodge the low exchange rates provided by banks, at the airports, or by currency exchange bureaus. How? Use our service to send money to yourself!

Here are two options:

  • You can transfer money to your foreign bank account if you have one.

  • Another popular potion is to pick-up cash from one of our cash pickup agents while you’re abroad.

Receive real-time exchange rates to your phone with WorldRemit

To help you get the best exchange rate, we also provide a real-time exchange rate notification service straight to your phone.

Set up exchange rate notifications using our app to discover the best time to make a transfer and start getting more for your money.

Send money with WorldRemit