International money transfers make it possible for you to send money around the globe, but providers can differ in terms of speed, fees, and exchange rates. By comparing banks, money transfer apps, and services that send cash, you can save money and time when sending your international money transfer.
We’ve scoured the market to find the best international money transfer services based on low fees, strong exchange rates, fast delivery and flexible options. Here’s what you need to know.
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What is an international money transfer?
An international money transfer is the process of sending money between people or financial accounts in different countries. Every day, trillions of dollars are transferred between people and businesses all over the world.
Typically, you need to give a bank or money transfer service your recipient’s details and the money you want to send. The bank or transfer service then converts your funds to the currency in which it will be received and electronically sends the payment to your recipient.
Depending on the money transfer service, you may be able to send funds online, via mobile app, over the phone or in person.
How can I pay for my money transfer?
Not all money transfer services accept the same payment methods, but you may be able to pay by the following:
- Debit card
- Credit card
- Bank transfer (requires your account number)
If you want to pay in cash, you’ll need to visit a bank branch or money transfer agent in person. If you transfer funds online or via mobile app, you can only pay electronically by card or bank transfer.
How can my recipient receive the money?
Again, receiving options vary between transfer services, but your recipient may be able to receive funds the following ways:
- Bank account
- Mobile wallet
- Cash pick-up at a bank or money transfer location
- Airtime top-up
What are the benefits of using an online money transfer service?
While it might be easy to assume that big banks are the best way to go when sending an international money transfer, there are many reasons why an online money transfer service might be just as good if not better:
- Security. Similar to banks, online transfer services usually follow industry-standard security practices to protect your money and personal information. This often includes encrypted data transfer, SSL certificates, two-factor authentication, security questions/answers and personal identity verification.
- Regulation. Money transfers are regulated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- Cost savings. Online transfer services often translate to lower fees and stronger exchange rates
- Fast. Online money transfer companies often use the latest financial technology to get your money where it needs to go fast.
- Easy. Mobile apps and convenient online platforms make it easy to send money anytime from anywhere. Additionally, many money transfer services offer features that let you set up recurring transfers, making it easy to pay bills, send regular remittances, manage international business payments and more.
How do I send money overseas?
There are multiple options to consider when sending money overseas:
|Online money transfer service||Electronic funds transfer through an online money transfer service.|
|In-person money transfer service||Cash or electronic transfer by visiting a money transfer service location in person.|
|Bank||Wire transfer or international money transfer through a bank.|
(Note: All major banks support wire transfers, but not all offer additional in-house money transfer services.)
|Check||Write a check and mail it to your recipient.|
|Money order||Get a certified money order printed and mail it to your recipient.|
How to send money using an online money transfer service
Online money transfer services are increasingly competitive with big banks, in many cases offering more flexible options and lower fees. Sending an international money transfer through an online service is simple:
- Compare services, and select one that suits your needs.
- Create an account by entering personal details like your name, email, address, phone number and Social Security number (SSN).
- You may need to submit a scanned copy of your personal ID (i.e. passport photo page or driver’s license) to qualify for higher transfer limits.
- Link your bank account, debit card or credit card to your newly-created account, so you can pay for transfers. Alternatively, you may need to transfer funds from your bank account.
Most of time, you can access your account immediately after submitting all the required information. For some services (particularly transfer services for businesses), there may be a delay while your information is reviewed and a transfer specialist is assigned to your account.
How to send money through a bank
Bank transfers have long been regarded as reliable and safe. The steps for sending an international money transfer through your bank are generally as follows:
- Login to your online banking portal.
- Navigate to the international money transfers section of your account. It’s usually a good idea to check your bank’s exchange rates before sending money.
- Typically, you need the address and SWIFT code of your recipient’s bank and their account information. SWIFT codes are used internationally to identify banks.
To send a bank wire transfer or money order, you need to visit your bank in person. You may also be able to get money orders at other financial institutions like post offices, credit unions, giant retailers like Walmart and even some convenience stores and gas stations.
What do I need to send and receive money abroad?
Make sure you have the following on hand when sending an international money transfer.
- Your personal details. Name, phone number, and government-issued identification like a driver’s license or passport. Additional details may be required for security purposes, particularly for very large transfers.
- Your recipient’s personal details. Name, phone number and residential address.
- Your recipient’s bank information. Bank name, address, routing number, SWIFT code and your recipient’s account number.
- Payment. Check beforehand what types of payment methods are acceptable. For example, not all money transfer services accept credit cards.
What documents do I need to send money abroad?
For transfers under USD$10,000, you don’t need any particular documents for sending money overseas other than government-issued personal identification.
If you’re sending more than USD$10,000, you may also need to provide your Social Security number (SSN) and proof of residence like your most recent utility bill or bank statement.
According to US law, if you receive more than USD$10,000, make sure you report this amount to the IRS using Form 3520 — Annual Return to Report Transactions with Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts.
How much does it cost to transfer money internationally?
The cost of sending an international money transfer varies between service providers. Factors like the type of transfer, destination country and amount being sent can affect your total cost.
Generally, banks and money transfers services make money from international transfers in two ways:
- Transfer fee. This is typically a flat fee or a percentage of the transfer amount.
- Exchange rate margin. Most banks and money transfer services make a profit by taking a fee worth a small percentage of the mid-market rate (the “true” exchange rate between two currencies). This fee is called a “markup.” To save money, look for services that have as small a markup as possible.
Transfer for cash pickup can cost more than transfers to a bank account. Some companies charge higher fees for large transfers, while others will actually slash fees for large transfers.
Companies that offer fee-free transfers may make up for it with a poor exchange rate. This is why it’s important to look at the total cost of your transfer, not just the transfer fee or exchange rate.
Tips to save money on your international transfer
Looking for low fees and strong exchange rates isn’t the only way to save on your next international money transfer besides. The following tips can also help keep your costs down:
- Use a service that offers zero markup the exchange rate. The mid-market rate is the “true” exchange rate between two currencies. While most transfer services add a margin on the mid-market rate to make money, some don’t. Instead, these services prefer to make money through transfer fees and possibly other charges. Depending on the type of transfer, it may work in your favor to use such a service.
- Send larger transfers. Some services offer discounted or waived transfer fees if you send at, or above, a minimum amount.
- Use forward contracts and limit orders. A forward contract lets you lock in a favorable exchange rate for future transfers. This means you’ll avoid unpredictable movements in exchange rates. A limit order allows you to wait until a favorable exchange rate is found before locking in your transfer.
- Watch out for scams. Scams cost Americans $3.3 billion to fraud in 2020, up 83% from $1.8 billion in 2019. With this number increasing each year, it’s important to keep an eye out for the most common money transfer scams. It’s usually best to avoid sending money to anyone you don’t know personally.
- Pay attention to taxes and regulations. Every country regulates money transfers differently. Make sure your recipient is aware of any tax or reporting obligations that apply to your transfer. Learn more about tax guidelines and regulations for large transfers to the US in our guide.
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