How the Odds are Stacked Against British Writers On-line

by JoHarrington

Many Britons make an income on-line, but not as much as their colleagues in the USA. Discover some of the pitfalls and nasty surprises before you are confronted with them.

Whether you want to make extra money on-line, or create a second livelihood in times of recession, Britons are taking en masse to the internet.

There is an income to be made there. For the lucky few, there's a lot of money to be made there. In the case of writers on sites like Wizzley, there's also the promise of on-going passive income, which lasts as long as your articles are on the site.

But anyone attempting it will also learn that there is no level playing field in international eCommerce. The odds are ever in America's favor; and hidden charges lurk in unexpected places.

No Foreigners Here Please!

For the best start in on-line writing, it is better to first be born in the United States.

As an on-line writer, it doesn't take long to realize that the monetization revolves around the United States of America. 

Many of the writing sites are owned by Americans and demand articles in American English.  The majority of the affiliation companies are also founded and based in the States.  They will demand US tax forms to be completed on-line, then will pay your wages in dollars.

Initially, the major hassle is finding those sites which will even accept writers from outside those borders. Some won't mention this until you have completed the registration process.  Then comes the dreaded message: 'Sorry, US writers only.'  

The world wide web was invented by a British man.  Sir Timothy Berners-Lee gave his gift to us all.  But the first to monetize it was Bill Gates and he was an American.  Since then, his compatriots have not been backwards in making their fortunes on-line.  The US got the edge and they're still running with it.

With all earnings listed in dollars, it can give the average British person an inflated sense of how much they have amassed.  For example, $100 is likely to add up to only about £65.  This in a country where the cost of living is much more expensive than in the USA.

So should Britons simply give up?   Not at all!   But there are a few things worth noting along the way to save yourself a nasty surprise later.

British Banking Charges for Foreign Currency Cheques

Banks in the UK seem universally quite surprised that there are countries which don't operate in sterling.

I can't say that I hadn't been warned.  Months before my lovely Amazon cheque was in my hand, Sam had quietly mentioned that I should look into how to cash it.

It was a hidden obstacle which hadn't even occurred to me.  British banks are in the habit of charging to cash any cheque in a foreign currency.

I happened to be walking past NatWest the next day.  I nipped in to ask how much they charged, as I still had a half-dormant account with them from my student days.  (Which was moved to the Co-Op, once I realized that NatWest's ethics were as dodgy as, well, the destruction of the Niger Delta.)

The helpful assistant informed me that I could safely bring my US dollar cheque to them.  There were no charges and it could be cashed completely free of charge.  This remained true right up until the moment that I actually attempted that.

The cashier told me that it would be £10 ($15.49) to pay my Amazon earnings into my account.  Plus whatever the exchange rate was that day.  It was a standard charge for anything between $100-$1000.  More if you went above.

I took my hard-earned wages away from her and checked out the other banks.

How Much Do British Banks and Building Societies Charge to Cash a Cheque in American Dollars?

All are based on that cheque being $100, which is Amazon's minimum British pay out.


Absolutely free.  Moreover, you could open an account that's solely in American dollars, if you liked, then link it up with another in Euros and another in sterling.  Happy days! 

Except that the only CitiBank branches are in London.  For those outside the English capital, I'm struggling to see how you would hand your cheque over.

The Co-Operative Bank

It's a percentage of the sterling amount, thus changes every day.  It will be in the vicinity of £6-£8 for a $100 cheque at current exchange rates.

Since writing this, I've indeed presented a $100 Amazon cheque at the Co-Operative Bank. Their rate does change every day, but that's only the exchange rate. The Co-Op pay you whatever is the daily rate when you hand in the cheque. That's fair enough, as that's what any bank would do.

They also charge you an administration fee of £4 for that $100 cheque. The fee goes up if the amount is larger than $2000. I should imagine that I wouldn't care, if my commission was that much!


Absolutely free, as long as you have an account with them.  At least this is what I was told at the inquiry desk.  I was told the same at the NatWest inquiry desk too.  I'm yet to put it to the test to see if there really are no charges.

HSBC changed its policy in June 2013. I heard that it had been bought out by Lloyds TSB, but I see no evidence on-line about that. Either way, HSBC is now one of the least competitive, when it comes to submitting cheques in a foreign currency.

Lloyds TSB

Lloyd's Bank charge £5 for an American cheque of around $100.  Thank you to Humagaia for the information.

I was unable to find out for myself.  I walked up to the inquiry desk and smiled at the nice lady, "May I ask if you charge for cheques received in a foreign currency please?"

"Do you have an account with Lloyd's Bank?"

"No, but I would be willing to open one, if the charges were competitive."

She looked at me like I'd killed her first born, run off with her husband and trailed excrement all over her Axminster carpet.  In tones usually reserved for addressing war criminals, she hissed, "We do NOT open bank accounts just to cash foreign cheques."

I just stared at her and left.  My mother raised me not to punch snotty, rude people in the gob, but to rise above it.

Nationwide Building Society

The flat fee begins at £6, but rises up to around £20 for higher amounts.  Thank you to Kinworm for this information.

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS)/Natwest

A standard charge of £10.

Yorkshire Building Society

There is a sliding scale of charges, but $100 will be cashed for £7.  This is the minimum charge available, so it's more as your cheque amount goes up.

I will add more banks and building societies as I check them out.

Are you happy with your bank charges?

If you're British and have to cash a foreign currency cheque, are you happy with the method that you've chosen?
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No! I use... and it's not good because...
catherine2255 on 08/20/2013

I work on sites that pay through paypal, people per hour, squidoo, hubpages, infoinks etc, its easier that way and I can keep the money in the account to spend or withdraw it.
I save the vouchers for christmas and order toys from the USA, the freight charges aren't great but its not worth banking the cheques here when I can use it for Christmas.
I get Google adsense through my Lloyds Bank account adsense shows me GBP figures, it all works well, I'm struggling to get to grips with the Youtube monetise stuff which I need to take another look at.
I'm using redgage for backlinking and to earn a couple of Dollars, but I'm not sure if I can withdraw as I'm in the UK.
I'm about to start Bubblews too, so I will see how that pans out.
If you spread yourself around the sites you can earn some good pocket money, I'm starting back up properly again after a few years off.

Guest on 02/19/2013

I use PayPal for GBP and USD online payments from retailers/clients then have a standalone account to funnel those payments into. It's also the one I use for all my 'must have a linked bank account in order to proceed' transactions with the US corporates. It's not ideal, because it isn't linked to any of my other bank accounts. But it is ideal for that very reason so if it is hacked, nothing goes anywhere but what's in there. Which ain't much!

Yes! I use... and it's great because...
humagaia on 02/20/2013

I use Lloyds and the change is £5 at present for a $100'ish cheque. I suppose I should be grateful considering the charges elsewhere.

Credit Unions Won't Cash Cheques in a Foreign Currency

I did check out the Credit Unions.  They are probably one of the most ethical banking chains around, run by local people for local people.

Unfortunately, they won't touch cheques in a foreign currency.  This is because those have to go through a High Street bank and the charges are too prohibitive.   The lady I spoke with was very apologetic about this.

Using AuctionChex to Convert Foreign Cheques into Sterling

Eddie St Clare was a store-keeper on, when he ran into the same problems as other British people making a living on-line.  While the majority of his overseas customers used Pay-Pal, there would occasionally be a cheque that arrived in dollars.

His response was to launch  This is a service which involves you sending him your cheque in dollars.  He will then pay it into his bank and return a cheque in sterling. 

His charges are £1.25 for administration; or, if you want to set up a BACS payment, a one-off fee of £3.25 to set up the mandate.

I've tested him out and he's trustworthy.  My cheque left on Wednesday; my account changed to 'actioned' by Thursday; my sterling cheque arrived on Saturday.   All good!

Except something this good to be true turned out to be just that.  His exchange rate is not at all competitive.  I ended up receiving much less than what XE Exchange stated was the current rate to convert dollars into sterling.   Including the admin fee, it turned out to be a difference of £18 on a $164 cheque.

Why Not Get Paid in Sterling?

There is always this option. Many affiliate sites do have a British counterpart, which would mean that your earnings don't incur charges.

My cheque would have been in sterling, if I'd gone through, instead of

I could have done that. I have an affiliate account with both.  In fact, when I started out at Wizzley, I was using my British account.  But then wiser minds advised me to switch.

The rationale is easy.  There are more potential customers in the United States, than there are in Great Britain.  It's a population of 314m versus 63m, all steeped in Capitalism's consumer dream.

Every time I monetized in sterling, I would lose out to the American buying public.  The British buying public are not only smaller in number, but facing a triple dip recession.  It doesn't take an economist to do the math.

Other affiliate sites, like Zazzle, are much more friendly to on-line sellers from around the world.  Each store there is recreated in mirror stores globally.  It all funnels into the same affiliate account. You can choose your currency of payment.  I could sell to all of America and still get my wages in sterling.

But there's a catch.  The commission is filtered first through Zazzle's US office.  They don't use the world-wide exchange rate, but one of their own.  It's less competitive.  In short, I can earn more by being paid in dollars and converting it myself, than I would being paid outright in sterling.

These sorts of policy questions and monetary dilemmas await.  Before receiving any payment from any affiliate, a Briton needs to work out the best way for it to happen.  More importantly, the best currency for it to happen in.

Using VigLink to Transfer the Cash

This still involves being paid in dollars, but you can do it via PayPal, thus avoiding the bank transfer charges.

Image: VigLink LogoOne solution is to go via VigLink. The site not only monetizes all of your Amazon and Zazzle links, but many more online stores besides.

In the case of Amazon, VigLink used to provide a better rate of commission, until you were selling more than 110 products per month.  There was a flat rate of 6.8%, instead of the sliding scale involved, when using your direct Amazon affiliate links.

Unfortunately their policy changed. I was using this method, until I suddenly noticed that I was getting 4% commission, even if I'd sold enough products to be in a higher band. Therefore I was getting less than I should have been. Presumably VigLink were pocketing the difference.

VigLink still pays in dollars. However, it does so via PayPal.  This means that British writers avoid the bank transfer fees.  Paypal will take a percentage in fees, but this is a much smaller amount that that demanded by high street banks.

This is currently the method that I am using.

Updated: 03/18/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 10/28/2014

I've just watched a great video from an airport in Texas. A bloke was being really homophobic with a fellow passenger. He was getting right into his face and (apparently because I couldn't hear very well) calling out stuff too. Other passengers intervened, telling him this was unacceptable and trying to calm the situation. Then the lad physically attacked the gay man and suddenly people came from everywhere. They had him on the ground, restrained before the security staff got close!

I do love to see people taking down idiots.

frankbeswick on 10/28/2014

Derek, have you never heard that racial and national stereotyping is odious and irrational? It is just as racist to stereotype the British nation as it is to stereotype Black people, women, men, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Americans and homosexuals.

JoHarrington on 10/28/2014

How curious, because you evidently just did. Are you no one? And the US military, in conjunction with the academe, invented the internet, not the world wide web. That is most definitely Tim Berners-Lee, a Briton.

Derek on 10/27/2014

BTW, you Brits are so boring that no one would ever what to read your crap!

Derek on 10/27/2014

US Department of Defense invented the Web, not British, come on!!

JoHarrington on 01/05/2014

It wasn't so much the ads, but the selling of the software itself early on in the day. He did it at conferences, which really shook things up. Until then, everything was shareware, teaching how to make stuff or copying over programs. Bill Gates sat there and said, "I've made this, and I'll sell it to you." And dozens of geeks suddenly saw dollar signs in their future.

Rose on 01/05/2014

Bill Gates wasn't the first to monetise the web. He was actually a latecomer to the party. The first breakthrough was the Netscape Navigator browser in 1995, followed by AOL as a portal and email provider (and both monetised by floating on the stock exchange) . AOL then added loads of ads to their portal. In terms of advertising and selling online, you could say that AOL plus the p**n and d**g lot were the first to monetise the web. Google ads were late (only started in 2004) and Bing/Microsoft ads were later still.

JoHarrington on 06/06/2013

Ah! Thank you very much for the heads up. It's always good to see where the options are.

whitemoss on 06/06/2013

That's one of the (few at present) good things about Squidoo. If you use their amazon modules the payments come with the rest of your Squidoo earning via PayPal. I believe that if you're selling a lot the higher rates you get by using you own links make all the hassle with the cheques worthwhile, but I've not reached those heights.

JoHarrington on 03/05/2013

Hi Suramyakh,

Oh! Thank you very much for the head's up. I'll check that out.

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