Wise, the company who has built its brand on currency conversion and international accounts for everyone, has finally launched its payments card in Canada.
If you’re not familiar with Wise, you can check out the details of how its borderless banking works in our previous review, but in this case, I’ve looked into how that extends to its physical and digital card. This card isn’t new in a number of countries, but it comes to Canada years after the company first came to Canada in 2016, then known as TransferWise.
The card acts as both a debit and credit card, depending on how you use it. Wise partnered with Visa as the issuer in Canada. Some of the other countries, including the U.S., have a Mastercard-branded one. Despite that, there are no real differences in what the cards do.
If you have a Wise account, you can apply for a card for free through the website. Here’s what you can expect once you get your hands on it.
If you’re holding balances in different currencies, the card can theoretically access all of them. Like a credit card, it has a 16-digit number, expiry date and 3-digit verification code. You also set a PIN for it for transactions through card readers. Several nuances apply to how all this works, both within Canada and abroad.
For example, you can’t use the card at any ATM in Canada to withdraw cash, even if it is Canadian dollars. Wise says it’s open to the idea of enabling that, except specific details in its Scheme Partner agreement preclude it from offering prepaid products that work with Canadian ATMs.
That’s not the case if you’re using it at point-of-sale or online as a debit or credit card. With Canadian dollars in your account, it will just pull from that balance. And if you have, say, U.S. dollars, Euros, or British Pounds, for example, and you visit sites selling in those currencies, it will pull from those automatically. Just make sure to select the proper currency when doing so. There are no extra fees to use your card this way, and Wise doesn’t take a cut from you for each transaction.
However, you can’t just start throwing money around with multiple transactions the way you would with a card from a local financial institution. There are some limits involved, and I touch on those further down.
You can add the card to Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay, covering iOS and Android users. That way, you can use the card in a contactless way on a phone or smartwatch without issue.
Once you set foot in another country, you have ATM access. The catch is that you only get two free withdrawals per month — and only if the total amount is under the equivalent of $350 CAD. Anything over and above that, and you have to pay $1.50 per transaction. It’s a fixed fee, and that doesn’t include the 1.75% Wise will charge for every dollar you take out over $350 CAD.
Bear in mind these fees go directly to Wise, so have no connection to whatever the local bank or ATM might charge. It does force you to be a little strategic with your withdrawals, but you may end up saving in the long run because the ATM isn’t actually converting any currency through its own inflated rates.
Wise says it developed an “intelligent currency selector” that kicks in if you’re holding money in multiple currencies, of which none are for the country you’re in. It rifles through your balances and goes with the one that gives you the best exchange rate. You do pay a fee to convert currency if you’re withdrawing one that you’re not holding. For instance, if you’re travelling in Japan and aren’t holding any yen, Wise tacks on a conversion fee between 0.24-3.69%.
You can use the card at point-of-sale in foreign countries like you would anywhere else. It’s best to tell the merchant to charge you in their local currency rather than CAD, or else they can jack up the exchange rate. The same goes for ATMs. Never choose to have the machine do the conversion. Even if you don’t have the local currency in your Wise account, you still get a better rate by selecting the local currency every time.
You can set them yourself through the website or app. Go into your account and under the card section, go to “Account Limits” and choose a payment method. Wise sets daily, monthly and one-shot limits for you. You can change them to maximum so that you’re basically free and clear, but I found them to be quite reasonable.
You also have the option to turn off a specific payment method entirely. If, for whatever reason, you want to shut down ATM withdrawals completely, you certainly can. Or if you misplaced or lost the card, turn them all off to turn the card into a dud.
It’s important to note that the restrictions Wise applies to ATM withdrawals don’t affect online or point-of-sale payments. You have far more leeway in avoiding fees with those two options. Prior to travelling, you can always convert funds to the local currency for wherever you’re visiting. In some instances, you may not be able to, like in Cuba or China, for instance, where the convertible peso and yuan, respectively, don’t float on the open market. You would have to convert after touching down for places like that.
In case you lose the card, or someone steals it, you can temporarily freeze it through the website or app, as I noted earlier. You can also report any unusual transactions, in case something is off.
Wise holds your money in dedicated bank accounts or high-quality liquid assets. The company claims to have “cutting-edge” security in place overseen by in-house staff. Then there’s regulatory compliance. Wise Payments Canada is registered with the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) as a Money Service Business (MSB) with registration number M15193392. It also operates under an MSB license with the Authorité des Marchés Financiers (AMF) via licence number 902804.
All online transactions come with two-factor authentication (2FA) with the most modern version of 3D Secure 2.1, and offer both virtual cards and mobile wallets (like Apple and Google Pay) to protect our customers online and offline.
The Wise card is for personal accounts, but Wise Business has its own card, too. It’s an expense card that works much the same way, letting Canadian businesses pay a $42 one-time fee to issue the cards to employees. That fee opens up access to local banking details in multiple countries, as there are no monthly fees or subscriptions.
This lets business owners set their own spending limits per employee, including flags for any large expenses. Businesses who use Xero accounting software can have employees attach receipts to their expenses for faster processing. Wise also added a “Preparer role” that enables designated users to set up payments that require approval from an authority within the business.
Absolutely. Given the dearth of options for travelling or saving money spending in multiple currencies, the Wise card holds real value. Its ATM limits are a drawback, but if you mostly stick to point-of-sale for buying things abroad, you can better plan how to hold on to less cash. What makes this work most is in that you save considerably when initially converting funds before you even go anywhere.
Not only that, but if you’re holding funds in other currencies, shopping online changes, too. Now you can buy something in the local currency without worrying about how bad the conversion will be. That’s a win for everyone, and especially the freelancers and contractors who may be earning money paid in multiple currencies.