Cross Border Fees: What They Are and How to Avoid Them

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Cross border fees are the additional cost of doing business when you accept transactions from customers from another country. Cross border fees impact many merchants, particularly those who live in border cities or tourist destinations.

What are cross border fees?

Cross border fees, sometimes called International Service Assessment, are credit card processing fees applied when doing business where a foreign currency is involved, either in person or online.

Cross border fees are non-negotiable and issued by credit card networks such as Visa, MasterCard, Discover, or American Express. Card networks charge cross border fees to credit card processors like Square or Payment Depot. In turn, the credit card processor may choose either to absorb the cost of the fees or transfer them to the merchant. You will see these fees listed as either a "foreign transaction fee" or "cross border fee".

Why am I being charged a cross border fee?

Let’s say a tourist buys an item from your store or a Canadian client buys items from your online store. In both instances, your clients are using credit cards issued by a bank outside of the US.  When this happens, extra transactions need to take place in order to convert the currency, whether the purchase was in person or online. In some cases, the issuing banks carry additional risks when a country's currency is instable. 

Whether your business is brick and mortar, e-commerce, or omnichannel, you are conducting business in a thoroughly global economy and will undoubtedly have customers from another country come through your physical or digital doors. If they pay with a credit card, they will more than likely be using a card issued by a bank in their home country, so cross border fees will apply.

Since 2005, credit card companies and banks have been charging merchants for costs incurred with these transactions.

For instance, Mastercard applies a 0.6% fee on transactions from countries other than the merchant's and another 1.0% on interchange fees on funds that aren't in American dollars.

Visa has taken a different approach, through the creation of Visa B2B Connect, which makes it simpler for financial institutions to settle cross-border payments. This network operates in over 80 markets worldwide and is beneficial for businesses as it allows transactions to be made directly from their bank to the beneficiary bank, which has an impact on cash flow and creates more transparency and efficiency.   

 Two variables for applying cross border fees:

Visa and Mastercard assess two variables when determining whether or not to apply- and charge- cross border fees on transactions. 

1. Where is the business registered?

When a business signs up for a payment processing service, they need to report the country in which their business is registered. All sales that come from within that country will qualify as domestic. Any purchases from outside the business’s registered country will result in cross border fees.

2. What is the location of the card-issuing institution?

Once the location of the merchant account is reported, then credit card companies determine where the card-issuing bank is located.

Can cross border fees be avoided?

Cross border fees can be thought of as an insurance premium. Processing international transactions require more effort and resources as well as carry more risk to the credit card network. Like insurance fees, they are a necessary evil that must be dealt with in order to be protected in the long run.

As long as you want to continue cross border e-commerce or in-store sales to international consumers, cross border credit card merchant fees are impossible to avoid. Even if your credit card company sets the base fees, you want to make sure your processor isn’t charging you additional fees for the cross border transaction. If extra fees are being charged, contact your processor to see if those fees are negotiable.

Also, if you do enough business in one area of the world, you might consider registering your company and opening a bank account in that country.

Remember that accepting sales across borders comes at an extra cost. But for most business owners, selling internationally is also an opportunity to generate revenue growth.

Questions about cross border fees? Our Payment Experts can help.

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