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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.
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.
What’s the most important factor of a money transfer?
According to a Fall 2018 survey we conducted that received 2028 responses, low fees was the most important factor for people when sending money. Here’s a breakdown of the data:
|What’s most important when sending money?||% of responses|
|Low fees||33.2% (673 responses)|
|Getting the best exchange rate||27.6% (559 responses)|
|Speed||20.4% (414 responses)|
|Picking up cash||18.8% (383 responses)|
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.
Case study: Alex sends money to Mexico
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.
|Bank transfer||Money transfer service|
|Exchange rate||1 USD = 19.61 MXN||1 USD = 19.95 MXN|
|Processing time||2 business days||Within minutes|
|Amount received in MXN||18,610 MXN||19,950 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.
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.
Frequency & Purpose
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.
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?
Common questions about money transfers
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