Compare to get the best rates and fees when you send money abroad.
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What is an international money transfer?
An international money transfer allows you to send money to a recipient in the same country or internationally. You provide funds and your recipient’s details to a bank or an independent transfer provider, which exchanges the money into your desired currency and then sends the money to your recipient in another country.
Depending on the provider, a transfer can be done in person, over the phone, through a mobile app or online. Again, depending on the provider, you can use cash, a credit or debit card, or transfer funds from your bank account. Then, the funds will either be deposited into your recipient’s bank account or mobile wallet, or made available as cash for them to pick up at a location in their country. Delivery of the funds varies from provider to provider.
How much will a money transfer cost?
There are two ways that a provider makes money on your transfer. The obvious one is the transaction fee. But the sneakier one is what your bank or transfer service marks up on the exchange rate.
Most providers either charge a set fee per transaction or they charge a percentage of your total transfer amount. To save on fees, keep an eye out for special deals.
For example, TransferWise charges a fixed fee plus a percent of the amount you are sending on all transfers. This fixed fee and percent both vary by the currency you are sending to and from. Other brands, like XE, simply charge no fees whatsoever.
Keep in mind that a lower fee doesn’t necessarily translate to the biggest savings. A lower fee might be accompanied by a poor exchange rate, negating any savings from the low fee.
The exchange rate determines how much one country’s currency is worth in another currency. Most countries’ exchange rates are flexible, which means it can change from moment to moment. Factors that influence the exchange rate include interest rates, economic stability and inflation.
Most transfer services will advertise the real exchange rate, or “mid-market rate” — the mid-point between the buy and sell prices of two currencies on the global market. But when it comes time to make your transfer, you’ll notice you almost never get this rate. The provider will mark up the exchange rate — and pocket the difference.
Using a provider that offers the most competitive exchange rate could save you hundreds on your transaction.
There’s no one best way to transfer funds overseas. It depends on how much you’re sending, how soon you need it to be made available and the exchange rates at the time. Below are a few tips you can use when sending money overseas.
Know your transfer currency’s mid-market rate. This rate is the midpoint between worldwide supply and demand for that currency — and the rate banks and transfer services use when they trade among themselves. Use it as a baseline to compare against the rates you’re being offered. The company that’s closest is offering you the best rate.
Send more money per transfer. Many services discount the fees or waive them altogether when you send larger transfers.
Use forward contracts and limit orders if sending money regularly. A forward contract allows you to lock in a favorable exchange rate for future transfers. This means you avoid unpredictable movements in exchange rates. A limit order allows you to wait until a favorable exchange rate is found, and then lock it in for your transfer.
Send same-currency transfers. It can sometimes be cheaper to transfer US dollars to your recipient, allowing them to transfer the dollars into their own currency when received. Depending on the situation, your recipient could pay lower fees overall.
Alex wants to help his family in Mexico with bills and critical home improvements. He initially planned to transfer $1,000 through his local bank, but he’s decided to compare his bank to an independent service to see what his best option is.
Money transfer service
1 USD = 19.61 MXN
1 USD = 19.95 MXN
2 business days
Amount received in MXN
Visiting his local bank, Alex learns that he’ll need to transfer money from his account to another bank account, which will take a few days. His bank offers a weaker exchange rate and a stiffer transaction fee than a money transfer service does. Overall, he’ll be out $1,035 for the transfer.
Working with a money transfer service, Alex discovers it offers not only a stronger exchange rate but also a lower transaction fee. It charges a mere $4 for bank-to-bank transfers, but offers quicker cash pickups for only $11 more. By going with a transfer service, Alex saves $20 in fees and his family can pick up the cash — and an additional 340 MXN — within minutes.
Business or personal?
Consider the purpose of your transfer. Are you sending money to friends and family overseas, or are you a business looking to pay for goods and services, potentially regularly?
For business owners, time is our greatest commodity. Without time to research our options, we often end up going with our bank. But a little planning can set you up for significant savings on your transfers. For example, if you send transfers of $1,000 every week, you could save $40 each time. That’s a savings of $2,000 a year simply by choosing a competitive independent service over your bank.
Instant cash transfers
Many online money transfer providers allow you to send and receive cash almost instantly. Transferring the money into a bank account might take a few days, and bank-to-bank transfers can also take a few days to clear. If you need to send a same-day or emergency transfer, there are providers that allow your recipient to pick up cash quickly, often within an hour.
How do I compare international money transfer providers?
This is the rate at which your money will be converted to your target currency. Some transfer providers offer lower fees but weaker exchange rates, while others charge no fees but profit from the margin between its rate and the mid-market rate. Compare the total cost of your transfer to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
Your bank or transfer provider will usually charge a fee for making a transfer. Fees can vary widely depending on who you’re transferring with. Generally, fees come in the form of a flat fee (such as $5 for transfers up to $5,000) or a percentage of your transaction (such as 1% of your transfer amount).
Independent transfer services like OFX and TransferWise offer competitive exchange rates and no fees. If you want to send and receive cash right away, compare options like WorldRemit, Ria, MoneyGram and Western Union. Bank-to-bank transfers are safe and convenient but typically not your cheapest or fastest option.
The best method for transferring money might depend on how much you want to send. If you’re making a transfer of five figures or more, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the best exchange rate — especially since providers encourage large transfers by offering low fees. If you’re sending a small amount to friends or family, it’s wise to also consider any fees you’ll pay on top of the exchange rate.
Sending a one-time transfer differs from sending regular transfers, whether to pay for bills like an overseas mortgage payment or for goods and services. With a one-time transfer, you may put more weight on speed and flexibility in delivery, such as cash pickup. But if you’re sending recurring payments, you’ll want to set up regular transfers that can save you the most on rates and fees over the long term.
Sometimes you or a loved one are in an emergency and need funds quickly — and in cash. Thankfully there are global money transfer providers with tons of agent locations that allow your recipient to pick up the funds in cash, often within minutes. If you have a little more time, however, consider an independent transfer provider that can get you much lower fees and stronger exchange rates.
The United States does business with just about every country worldwide. When it comes to money transfers, you have options to convert your dollars into Mexican pesos, Kenyan shillings and many currencies in between. Larger networks like Western Union will have the largest number of possible currencies, whereas smaller banks and other services usually limit their supported currencies to the most popular ones. Choose your country from the drop-down:
Send money overseas:
Your best exchange options are online
The rise of online money transfer services gives you more options — and stronger rates — than ever before. These services specialize in safely moving money internationally, saving you frustration when making or receiving regular payments.
Whether you’re putting roots down in France, opening an office in Japan or spending while vacationing in Australia, compare to get the best exchange rates and lowest fees on sending money internationally.
Buying, selling or investing in a property abroad? Compare transfer services to make your purchase safely, whether closing on your dream home or scheduling recurring payments.
For larger international payments
Maybe you’re ready to buy that boat you’ve been eyeing. It could be time to pay off your child’s education abroad or support their destination wedding. Perhaps you’re coming into an inheritance that needs to be transferred to your US account. When transferring big money, it all comes down to the exchange rate.
What are my rights when it comes to money transfers?
Federal law requires most banks, credit unions and money transfer services to give you information both before and after any transfer of $15 or more. Before you agree to a transfer, you have the right to know:
The exact exchange rate you’ll receive.
Any fees and taxes collected from you in connection with the transfer.
Any fees charged by overseas agents or other entities involved in the process.
The total amount your recipient will receive.
You also have the right to cancel your transfer without penalty within 30 minutes of initiating it, unless it’s already been picked up or deposited. If there’s any error with your transfer, your bank or transfer service has 90 days to work through any problems to make it right.
How do I track it?
Most services will give you a tracking number or ID that you can use to check the status of your transfer. In many cases, your recipient will also receive one so they can check as well. Learn how to track, cancel or get a refund
Should I be concerned about taxes?
There is so much attention on money leaving the country that whether you don’t report your taxes or don’t know you have to report them as required by law — it will likely be discovered. If you’re found not in compliance, you’re on the hook for some stiff penalties that include multi-year fines and even jail time. To avoid a tax minefield, know the tax thresholds and how to report when you’ve met them. What are the tax requirements when sending a large transfer?
The maximum you can send depends on both the transfer service you use and the type of transfer you’re making.
MoneyGram and Ria both have a per-transfer limit of $2,999.99. These providers also have 30-day transfer limits of $3,000 to $7,999. Services like Xoom allow you to transfer up to $2,999 per transaction with a 30-day limit of $6,000, but you can increase this limit if more information is provided.
If you’re looking to send a larger money transfer, TransferWise offers a maximum daily limit of $199,999. Other brands like XE have no maximum limit at all.
The minimum you can send depends on the service you use. Travelex has a slightly higher minimum of $500, while others let you send as little as $1. PayPal’s services are optimal for transactions under $200. Some forex providers waive transfer fees when you send more than $5,000 per transaction.
WorldRemit: $0 minimum
Travelex: $500 minimum
TransferWise: $1 minimum
OFX: $150 minimum
MoneyGram: $1 minimum
XE Money Transfer: $0 minimum
Currency Online: $0 minimum
CurrencyFair: 8 EUR minimum
CurrencyTransfer: $5,000 minimum
Venstar: $10,000 minimum
This could be for a few reasons — including whether the country is currently under economic sanctions (such as Iran) or your transfer provider hasn’t yet built the facilities and networks needed to send money to a particular country. Use our table to compare providers and see if they services the currency you wish to send.
Providers generally turn a profit on your money transfer in two ways. One is by charging you a fee to complete your transaction. These transfer fees can vary widely by provider but are typically a flat fee or a percentage of your transfer. If you’re sending a large amount, ask whether you qualify for a fee-free transfer.
The other “fee” is an often hidden markup on the mid-market rate — or the rate banks and transfer services use when they trade among themselves. Nearly all providers skew exchange rates for a profit, so be sure to find one offering the smallest margin between the mid-market rate and the rate they’re offering to you.
Other fees will depend on how you’re paying for your money transfer and how you’d like your recipient to pick it up. Credit or debit card transfers are often your most expensive option, though often the fastest, while cash pickups can also increase what you’ll pay.
The quickest money transfers will arrive instantly and depend on the specific service you use and where you’re sending the money to.
Western Union can have funds to your recipient almost instantly. MoneyGram, on the other hand, can send funds to China that are available in as little as an hour, but funds are available the next business day when sent to France. Other services like OFX can take longer than quicker cash services like MoneyGram and Western Union. Sending money to Australia using OFX takes at least a day, whereas countries like Canada can take one to three days.
Yes, a number of providers have fee-free thresholds for international money transfers. For example, OFX charges no fee for transfers of $5,000 or more.
Keep in mind that even if a service is free, you’ll likely pay through a margin applied to the exchange rate.
Today, you have many options for initiating money transfers. But if saving money is your goal, online services are a wise choice. Most banks offer the ability for account holders to initiate a transfer online simply by logging into their account. Banks, however, typically won’t be your cheapest online option.
Online money transfer specialists like TransferWise and XE have been giving banks a run for their money, offering lower fees and stronger exchange rates. Still other online options include PayPal and payment apps like Circle. With these services, you can often send funds to friends and family for free.
To initiate a wire transfer, you can visit your local bank, go to a money transfer office or use an online money transfer specialist. With any of these options, the process will differ slightly.
Generally, you’ll need to complete a wire transfer form indicating your personal banking information, your recipient’s name and banking information, and the amount you’re sending. Once your transaction is complete, you’ll typically receive a tracking number to confirm that your recipient receives your funds.
PayPal is a popular way to make international payments. Both the sender and the receiver both need an active PayPal account. Once the funds are transferred to the recipient’s PayPal account, they will then need to transfer them to their bank account to be withdrawn.
PayPal international transfer fees vary according to the method of payment. Using a credit card to credit a PayPal account with money is more expensive than transferring the money from a bank account. The fee is a percentage of the total transfer amount.
Yes. It is industry standard for international money services to use 128-bit SSL encryption systems at a minimum. Many also are licensed with US financial regulators. When processed through a reputable bank or company, your funds are safely tracked until in the hands of your recipient.
If you’re sending money internationally, federal protections are in place that require banks, credit unions and money transfer companies to, for example, disclose all fees upfront and give you 30 minutes to cancel a transfer, assuming it hasn’t yet been picked up or deposited.
You’ve undoubtedly heard about someone who’s fallen prey to a money transfer scam. Scammers are becoming more sophisticated, using increasingly elaborate plans in an effort to separate you from your money. Common scams to look out for include: Advance fee scams, bogus checks, requiring a wire payment for a purchase or phishing.
Adrienne Fuller is the publisher for money transfers and also the head of publishing at Finder. With a decade of experience creating guides in finance and education, she aims to deliver the accurate and transparent information she wishes she had when she made some of life's important financial decisions. She has a BA from Colorado College and when she's not helping folks save money, she's hiking with her two Catahoulas around her home in San Diego.
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