The Ultimate Guide to International Money Transfers

What is an international money transfer?

As the name sounds, an international money transfer is simply the sending of money from one country to a different country. If you’ve recently become an expat or you are expanding your business internationally, you’ll need to complete an international money transfer. 

Historically, international money transfers usually involve many parties

  • Your bank
  • Corresponding bank: This is an intermediary bank that provides banking services on behalf of your bank usually in the receiving country
  • Recipient’s bank

Most international money transfers are processed as wire transfers through the SWIFT network. The US Treasury and similar entities monitor all international money transfers to stop international flows of money for fraud, terrorist or money laundering activities. 

If you have any questions about international money transfers, please use this our money transfer guide.

Table of Contents

How much do international money transfers cost?

Like all difficult questions, the answer is “It depends.” Most international wire transfers cost $25 or higher in the US. International money transfer costs vary from bank to bank and from country to country.  There are many ways to complete an international money transfer:

  • Credit/Debit card
  • Bank transfer
  • International money transfer providers

There are other options like peer-to-peer transactions e.g Paypal. There are several costs involved in processing an international money transfer like bank service fees, exchange rate. Oftentimes, both the recipient and the sender pay bank service fees to their bank respectively for processing the international money transfer.

Understanding the fees to transfer money internationally

Transfer/Sending fees

This is the fee charged to you for sending your money from one country to another. This fee may change depending on the transfer option you select from your international money transfer provider or bank.

Receiving fee

This is the fee charged to you or your recipient for your funds to be received by the receiving bank in another country. You can usually specify who pays for this on a standard international transfer form at your local bank.

Exchange rate

This is the rate at which one currency is exchanged for another. Usually your home currency is exchanged for the currency which is used in your transfer destination country. e.g 1 EUR (Euro) to 0.85 GBP (Great British Pound). At this rate, €1,000 would be exchanged for £850

How long does it take for money to transfer between banks?

The most common money transfer option between banks is a wire transfer. Typically, international wire transfers take 2 – 5 business days to complete. Local wire transfers may take 1 business day or less. The speed of transfers also differs by country or transfer option. Wise and OFX are some of the quickest international transfer services, with speeds between instantly to about 3 business days to process transfers.

Things to consider when making an international money transfer.

There are 4 major things to consider when making an international money transfer. 

Exchange rate 

The exchange rate is the rate at which one currency is exchanged for another. For example, if the exchange rate for £1: $1.5. This means that you need £10,000 to send $15,000 overseas. Exchange rates are not fixed. Different banks charge different exchange rates for the same currency pairs e.g £/$ or $/€.  So, you need to do your research online to get the most competitive rates. If you don’t like your bank’s rate, call other banks or other financial companies to find a more competitive rate or search online amongst money transfer companies. 

Transaction size

How much money do you want to transfer internationally? The size of your transaction will guide you on what international money transfer option is best for you. Transferring $100 vs $1,000 vs $10,000 vs $100,000  are all very different propositions. It is uneconomical to initiate an international wire transfer from your bank if you are only sending $100. For example, my US bank charges $45 for an international wire transfer. If you are only sending $100, you are paying 45% of the transfer value as a transfer fee. You need to also consider your bank’s international transfer fee structure. For example, some banks/money transfer companies charge a percentage to process your transfer. If they charge a percentage, sending $100,000 will usually cost several times more than a flat fee structure.

Transfer fees

It’s a free market, so transfer fees vary across regions and banks. The important thing to remember is to always research and compare fees. You should also beware if the rates are flat, percentage of transfer value or a combination. Your bank or international money transfer provider might have rates that change based on the value of money to be transferred. You should always use your intended transfer amount to find which rates are most affordable.

Transfer time

Do you need your money to reach the recipient ASAP or are you fine with a 2 business day wait period? Most international money transfers take 1 – 5 business days. Any transfers initiated on the weekends will take longer. If you need an urgent transfer, it might be best to use an international money transfer company or app where the transfer takes a few hours or in some cases, seconds!

Why You should use international money transfer companies

Money savings

Specialized money transfer services provide substantial savings on your international money transfers. They maintain less infrastructure and overhead than a traditional bank and are able to pass on these savings to the final customer. My US bank, for example, charges $45 for an international wire transfer. The rates for international wire transfers usually range from $30 – $45. International money transfer companies, like Wise, charge $7.49 to send $1,000 to the UK using the bank debit (ACH) method or $10.52 for a wire transfer. Another money transfer service, Paysend, charges a flat $2 to send money from the US to the UK. 

Time savings

Often, sending money abroad takes time. The speed of the most common international transfer method (International Wire) is between 2 – 5 business days. However, with the advent of international money transfer companies, this time can be substantially reduced. Most international transfer companies take 1 – 3 business days. Depending on your transfer’s country of origin and destination, your transfer may be done in a few hours or minutes. More than 30% of Wise transfers happen in 2 hours or less. Using Remitly, another international money transfer service, you can send money to countries like India in under 4 hours.

It is their specialty (business)

Traditional banks offer a host of banking services from credit cards, home loans, auto loans, wealth management, small business, and other important services. All these services are very important in our financial lives but all money transfer companies specialize in online money transfers. Global money transfer companies specialize in international money transfers and are best positioned to offer us the best price, speed and convenience for such transfers. If they can’t better traditional banks, they will not survive. Because online money transfers are their major business, international money transfer operators will offer a better experience and price to the user than traditional banks.

International Money Transfer Providers

International money transfer providers are financial companies that facilitate cross-border transfer of funds. In simple terms, they are usually financial (non-banking) companies that help you receive and send money between countries. 

International money transfers are commonly called remittances. These are monies sent from one party to another, usually from one country to another. e.g. An immigrant sending money back to his family back home or a parent paying for his daughter’s university schooling abroad.

Money Transfer Operators Vs Banks for international money transfers

Banks require you to have an existing account with them

To send money abroad using a bank, you must have an existing relationship with that bank. Usually, this means you must have had a bank account with them before they process your transfer. Setting up a new bank account just to complete an international money transfer is inconvenient, time-consuming, involves a lot of paperwork and you have to be physically present. 

Banks require more info

Creating an account online with an international money transfer company is usually simple and straightforward. The international money transfer can be completed online using money transfer services while many banks may require your physical presence to complete an international transfer form. Such forms require more disclosure on your part. The additional information required to complete an international transfer form differs based on specific country regulations.

Banks more expensive

International money transfer costs between $25 – $45 when using traditional banks. This fee can be substantially reduced when using international money transfer companies. Some companies like Paysend charge a flat fee, while most money transfer providers will charge less than $10 to send money abroad. You should be able to save at least 35% when using international money transfer companies.

Money transfer companies are faster

The most common form of international money transfer offered by banks is an international wire transfer. This transfer generally takes between 1 – 5 business days. Transfers using money transfer providers are usually much faster between 0 – 3 days. Some providers offer instant delivery for selected countries. For example, 90% of WorldRemit transactions are done within minutes. 

Money transfer providers offer more payment options

When sending money internationally from your bank, your recipient can often only receive payment in another bank. Money transfer providers offer other options such as cash pickup, mobile money or airtime top-up options.

Things to consider when choosing an international money transfer service

Security

When choosing an international money transfer service, the first thing you should consider is security. Is your money safe? You should check if the company is properly regulated by your destination country. You can usually find this information on the international money company/service website. These are a few regulators you should look for in each country

You should also make sure your data on the site is safe. The transfer company website should be using a “https” web address with a lock symbol showing on your browser.

Exchange Rate

Now that you’ve got security squared away, the next most important thing is to find the best exchange rate possible. Search google for the exchange rates you need and compare that against the international money transfer companies. Some companies use the mid-market rate. 

What is the mid-market rate? An exchange rate is usually formed from a buy rate and a sell rate. The mid-market rate is the midpoint between what the buyer wants to pay and the seller wants to receive. The buyers and sellers are usually large banks and financial institutions. This is why the mid-market rate is usually called the interbank rate. This rate is usually the truest exchange rate.

Beware, some companies mark up their rates and charge low transfer fees so you need to take the total transfer fee (including exchange rate) into account when making comparisons.

Transfer Fees/Amount Received

After getting the best exchange rate, you need to look at the total transfer fees involved with your transfer. As stated earlier, some companies mark up the exchange rates so the best way to compare all companies is to put a stated amount, say $500 into an international company transfer calculator and compare how much your recipient receives. This will show you the REAL cost of your transfer. Then you can compare it amongst the money transfer providers you are interested in using. 

If a company doesn’t show you a transfer calculator on their app/site, I’d advise you to cross them off your list because they are not serious and your transfer may come with hidden fees.

Please bear in mind that the transfer fees differ by company. Some companies use flat rates, others use a percentage of total transfer size or a combination, this is why it is imperative that you use a transfer calculator to compare the absolute fee amounts.

Transfer Speed

We transfer money internationally for different reasons, some cases are more urgent than others. In general, most international transfer companies will complete your transfer faster than a traditional bank but there are a few variables that determine transfer speed. The most important factor affecting transfer speed is the selected transfer option. These options include:

  • Debit card
  • Credit card
  • Bank transfer
  • Cash pickup
  • Mobile money

Faster options usually come with higher fees but not necessarily. Most money transfer calculators (on the company website) also show you how long your transfer will take. Some transfer companies offer instant transfers while others take 2 business days. Your transfer country of origin and destination will also play a part in how swiftly your transfers will take place. 

Luckily, most international money transfer services offer transfer tracking so you can track your transfer from start to finish.

User Experience

The final thing to consider when selecting an international money transfer provider is the user experience. In other words, how easy it is for you to use. Most of the transfer providers we selected below are pretty easy to use and understand so there should be no problems there. Ease of use is very subjective so you can check a few sites or apps and get a feel for them and pick the one you prefer. 

How to compare international money transfer companies

All the factors we have discussed are still equally important in comparing international money transfer companies. Security, exchange rates, and amount received are the most important metrics to use in your comparisons. I think you should also check out independent review sites like Trustpilot to look at reviews on the money transfer companies you are looking at. You should look at the total rating as well as number of reviews. If you have time, look through a few and see if any of the reviews are relevant to you. You can also check their app ratings from your particular phone app store. If you’re short on time, you can check out our top international money transfer companies ranked below.

Top 5 Money Transfer Companies

Banknoted Rating
4.8/5

Wise (formerly Transferwise) is a global technology company that is building the best way to move money around the world. More than 10 million people use Wise to transfer money globally. Even large companies and banks use Wise technology too. Wise empowers people and companies – to pay, get paid, to spend, in any currency, wherever you are, whatever you are doing. Wise doesn’t just focus on international money transfers, they also offer services we imagine a future global bank will provide. 

These include:

  • International money transfers: Send money internationally. Up to 7 times cheaper than banks & Paypal
  • Multi-currency account: Hold, send & receive money in any of 50+ currencies
  • Debit card: Spend money abroad (when travelling/online)
  • Wise Business Account: Save money on foreign transactions with this business account. Accounting software, batch payments and API integrations are available
  • High amount transfers: Get discounted rates and additional support when sending large sums abroad

Wise scores a 4.6 on Trustpilot from over 122,000 reviews and averages 4.45 on both the Google and Apple App Stores.

Banknoted Rating
4.7/5

Remitly is an international money transfer company that is focused on remittances. They want to help immigrants in “sending money home.” Their website is super user friendly and mobile-ready. It is extremely easy to find the cost of your transaction on their website with their transparent express and economy fee structure. Transfers to some countries like India are done in under 4 hours. When sending more than $500 from the US, you can expect to pay:

  • Brazil: $1.99
  • China:  $2.99
  • India: $3.99 (fee is $0.00 if you send more than $1,000 to India) 

Remitly scores a 4.4 on Trustpilot from over 32,000 reviews and above 4.8 in both Apple App and Google Play stores. 

Banknoted Rating
4.6/5

Paysend is an international money operator that transfers money to over 90 countries around the world for a flat fee of roughly €1.50/$2.00. Most transfers occur in under an hour to any Visa or Mastercard cards or bank accounts in their service countries. 

Paysend was the first fintech to introduce global card-to-card transfers to connect the 12 billion cards issued by international payment systems such as Visa, Mastercard, China Union Pay, Alipay and other local card schemes.

Trusted by over 3 million users, Paysend scores a 4.7 on Trustpilot from over 24,000 reviews and averages a 4.3 on both Google and Apple app stores.

Banknoted Rating
4.5/5

WorldRemit, as its name implies, is an international money transfer service that also focuses on global remittances. It is a fast and secure service that lets you send your money around the world conveniently. 

Transfer options include:

  • Bank transfer
  • Cash pickup
  • Mobile Money
  • Airtime Top-up

WorldRemit is especially popular in Africa. Their coverage is wide with 130+ countries and +70 currencies supported on their platform. An outstanding 90% of their transactions are done within minutes. 

WorldRemit scores 4.0 on Trustpilot from over 49,000 reviews and averages a 4.6 on Google and Apple app stores.

Banknoted Rating
4.5/5

Revolut is NOT just an international money transfer company, it’s a global financial services company. Their goal is to be the financial SUPER-app: An app to manage all things money. Their services are more far-reaching than other operators on our list. Their financial services range from everyday needs, wealth, security and travel.

  1. Everyday Needs – payments, cards, subscriptions, donations, etc.
  2. Wealth – crypto, stocks, commodities, etc. 
  3. Security – Revolut shopper 
  4. Travel – International transfers, global insurance, currency exchange, etc. 

Trusted by over 15 million users worldwide, Revolut scores a 4.3 on Trustpilot from over 85,000 reviews and averages a 4.55 on both Apple and Google app stores. They also have a multi-currency wallet where you can hold and easily change currency in your wallet at the interbank exchange rate (this will be shown prior to exchange). 

Revolut only currently covers around 30+ fiat currencies and international money transfers may also be limited on weekends. 

However, Revolut will be especially appealing to those who spend time in different countries but would like to manage all their finances (banking, insurance, cards, wealth) in one app.

How to get the best exchange rate when sending money online

The only way to make sure you get the best exchange rate is to do some research. Find the exchange rate from your bank, search online to see the actual rates and then search among international money transfer providers for the best rate for “your” transfer. While searching, always keep in mind the amount you want to send, how soon you need the transfer to be processed, your transfer country of origin and transfer destination country. If you want the absolute best exchange rate, you might have to compromise on transfer speed.

How to send money internationally online

Research

Search online and select an international money transfer service.

Sign up

Sign up for an account from the company’s official website or through your phone’s app store. You will need to provide your first and last name, email address and either bank details or debit card information. 

Verify your identity

In most countries, the transfer of funds internationally is highly regulated to prevent fund terrorism or moving stolen funds. As such, most fintech including international money transfer providers will need you to verify your identity. This verification usually uses your driver’s license, passport or any official ID. Some companies may allow you to transact without verification for transfers under $1,000.

Initiate transfer

When logged in, you can now initiate your international money transfer. Most online money transfer services will show you the live exchange rate, transfer fees, the amount the recipient will receive and the estimated arrival time of transfer. Please ensure you fill the correct recipient details and transfer amount. After confirming, you can click “send” or a similar button, and your transfer will be initiated. 

Track transfer

With most online money transfer companies, you can easily track your transfer from their dashboard or app. Your bank will notify you when the funds have left your card or bank account. Then, you should receive an email from the transfer company at each of the following steps: funds received, exchange processed, recipient reception. You can also call, webchat or email the company, but this step is usually not needed with most online international money transfer providers unless there is a hiccup. 

We hope you found this guide. If you made it all the way here, thanks for reading.

Cheers and have a wonderful day. Till next time!

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