Do you need to send money to family and friends overseas? Here’s how you can send a safe, secure and affordable international money transfer.
In today’s increasingly connected world, there are plenty of reasons why you might need to transfer funds overseas. You might be working in the United States and sending the savings back home to your family in another country; you might need to send urgent financial assistance to a cash-strapped friend on a round-the-world holiday; or you might just want to buy something from an overseas seller.
Whatever you reason for sending money overseas, there are more international money transfer options for you to choose from than ever before – and they weren’t all created equal. From banks to money transfer providers and other payment companies, you need to compare features like exchange rates, transfer fees, transfer options, and more to find an affordable and secure way to send funds overseas.
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The first option many people think of when they need to send an international money transfer company is to go to their bank. Unfortunately, this is a big mistake. While banks can certainly send secure international wire transfers all around the world for you, their services don’t come cheap. Expect high transfer fees (usually between $20 and $75) when you send funds with your bank, while the exchange rates you receive are usually well below the mid-market rate.
You can find a much more cost-effective transfer option if you use the services of an online money transfer company. These companies provide superior exchange rates and lower fees than the banks, allowing you to save money (and your beneficiary to receive more money) when you transfer funds overseas.
Take Ross, for example, who wants to send $1,000 overseas to his girlfriend in Paris. Having heard that banks usually charge like wounded bulls for sending international transfers, Ross decides to compare his bank with an online money transfer provider to see which one offers him better value for money.
|Bank||Money transfer company|
|Exchange rate||1 USD = 0.86 EUR||1 USD = 0.88 EUR|
|Transfer method||Bank account deposit||Bank account deposit|
|Processing time||3 business days||1-3 business days|
|Amount received (in EUR)||860 EUR||880 EUR|
As you can see, not only can Ross ave USD $46 in transfer fees by sending his funds with a money transfer company instead of his bank, but he can also send an extra 20 Euros to his girlfriend.
How can I send money overseas?
Although the money transfer process will differ between companies, you will generally need to follow these steps to send funds overseas:
- Register for an account. Most companies will require you to sign up for an online account. This is usually free to do and will require you to provide your full name, address, contact details and date of birth. Proof of ID is also often required.
- Provide your recipient’s details. The company will need to know who will be receiving the funds you send, so the next step is to supply your beneficiary’s name, address and contact information.
- Provide the details of your transaction. Which country would you like to send your money to? You will also need to supply information about how much money you wish to send and in which currency the funds will be received.
- Review the details of your transaction. At this stage you will usually be shown a transaction summary that shows the amount you are sending, the exchange rate and fee that will apply to your transfer, and the amount your beneficiary will receive. Check these details closely to make sure you know how much your transaction will cost and whether you are happy to proceed.
- Pay for your transfer. Payment methods differ between companies but may include credit card, debit card, bank account, or cash.
- Track your transaction. You will usually be given a tracking number or receipt to allow you to monitor the progress of your transaction online or by visiting a transfer company branch.
- Transaction complete. You will receive a notification (usually via SMS or email) when your beneficiary has received the funds and the transaction has been completed.
There can be plenty of variations on this process depending on the company and transfer method you choose. For example, some companies will only offer one-off spot orders only, which mean you place a transfer at the current exchange rate on offer. Meanwhile, other companies may allow you to place a forward contract (this allows you to lock in the current exchange rate to be used in a future transaction) or limit order (this allows you to place a transfer request that will only be executed when specific market conditions are met), and even schedule recurring transfers.
There are also differences when it comes to your recipient accessing the funds you send. Some companies only offer bank account deposits or transfers, while others make the cash you send available for collection from branch locations around the world.
With this in mind, transaction processing times can vary greatly. Some companies can get your funds to your recipient within minutes; other providers will take several working days to complete the transaction.Back to top
What are the different money transfer types?
- Bank account transfers. Every major US bank can send international wire transfers to countries around the world for you. The main benefit of using your bank is that they can rely on secure, existing links between banks and banking systems around the world. It’s also convenient if you can use the same financial institution that handles all your everyday banking needs to help you send money overseas. The downside of sending a transfer via your bank is the cost. As mentioned above, you’ll have to pay frustratingly high fees and settle for relatively low exchange rates if you go through your bank, so this is an important factor to take into account.
- Online money transfer companies. Online money transfer companies offer a much more affordable transfer option than the banks. Based online, these companies specialise in international transfers and allow you to quickly and easily manage your transactions from home. They offer better exchange rates and lower fees than the banks, and most will send the funds you deposit from your bank account to your recipient’s bank account overseas. Some providers will also allow you to pay with a credit or debit card. You’ll obviously need to be comfortable with making online payments if you want to select this transfer route, and as it’s an increasingly competitive market sector you’ll need to shop around for the best deal.
- Money transfer companies with cash pickup options. This service is offered by well-known providers like Western Union and MoneyGram, and its key advantage is that it gives your recipient fast access to the cash you send – sometimes within a few minutes. These providers also offer the convenience of hundreds of thousands of locations around the world, as well as the option of paying for your transfer online or by visiting a branch. The drawback with sending funds in this way is that it typically costs more than if you use an online money transfer company, but costs can vary depending on where you are transferring your money and how you pay for your transaction.
- PayPal transfers. Digital payments giant PayPal is not just for buying stuff online; it can also be used to send money overseas. PayPal offers transfers to more than 100 countries around the world, with support for multiple currencies. It also offers exchange rates that are usually better than those you can get from the banks, but often not quite as high as those available from money transfer companies. The transfer fee charged by PayPal is calculated as a percentage of the amount you send overseas, meaning it is often better for use when you want to send smaller amounts of money.
- International money order. A more secure option than writing a personal cheque and sending it overseas, a money order is basically an international bank check. You can obtain the check from your bank and send it overseas to your recipient, who can then cash it in with their bank. While this is a reliable and safe transfer method it is slower than electronic transfers. It will also cost a little extra – not only will you have to purchase the bank check but your recipient will also usually be charged a fee by their bank when they cash the check.
What are the costs involved when sending money overseas?
The first expense you need to consider when sending an overseas money transfer is the exchange rate. This is the first way in which transfer providers make money, by selling a foreign currency to you for a price higher than the wholesale price at which they purchase it. Exchange rates can actually vary quite substantially between companies, as you’ll see if you do a quick online comparison.
Even a minor difference in exchange rates can extrapolate out to quite a substantial difference when you calculate the full cost of your transfer. Two cents might not sound like a whole lot of cash on its own, but when you multiply that by the USD $2,000 you plan on sending overseas it can make a big difference to the final amount deposited into your recipient’s bank account.
Before you send a transfer, make sure to review the details of your transaction and the exchange rate you will receive.
The second main expense to consider is the transfer fee that will apply to your transaction. These can range from flat fees of a few dollars up to $80 or more, as well as fees that reflect a certain percentage of your transfer amount. Fees can be affected by a range of factors, including where you are sending your money, the amount you are sending, how you are paying for your transaction, and how your recipient will access the funds. Some companies will also waive their fees altogether if you transfer more than a certain amount, for example $5,000, so it pays to closely examine a company’s fee structure before you commit to a transfer.
Finally, be wary of any other fees that may apply in some cases. For example, your recipient may need to pay a fee to cash a bank check or to pick up cash in person from certain transfer providers.Back to top
How can I minimise costs when making a money transfer?
- Compare exchange rates. Look for a company that regularly offers rates on par with or better than the competition. Even doing a quick comparison of two companies can lead to a sizable saving – just be wary of companies that attach high fees to their attractive exchange rates.
- Know the fee structure. Check to see if a company charges a flat fee or if the fee is calculated based on the amount your transfer. You may find that some companies offer a better deal when you want to send small transfers and others can save you money on large transfers. Also check whether the fees vary depending on where you send your money, how you pay for your transaction, and how your beneficiary accesses the funds.
- Send a larger amount of money. This rule only applies to some companies that offer fee-free thresholds – transfer an amount above the threshold and you won’t have to worry about paying transfer fees.
- Look for hidden fees. Read all the fine print and make sure you’re aware of any hidden fees that may apply to your transfer, including charges that your recipient will have to pay. It might mean it takes you a minute or two longer to send a transfer, but it’s the best way to avoid any nasty surprises.
- Look out for special offers. Keep an eye out for promotions offering ‘first transfer free’ deals and the like. They can be a great way to save money if you only have limited transfer needs, but you’ll obviously need to look past the offer to make sure the provider will offer good value for money once the deal ends.
- Shop around. The best way to save costs when sending an international money transfer is to do plenty of research and look around for the best deal. There’s no shortage of companies to choose from and they all have benefits and drawbacks, so it pays to compare your options and hunt for the best value for money. Start the comparison process now at finder.com.
How do I research and compare different money transfer providers?
You can find profiles and analysis of a wide range of money transfer companies at finder.com, so start researching the strengths and weakness of different companies right here. You can also find a wealth of information on the website of each provider – FAQ sections can be particularly useful for finding out transfer fees, available currencies, transfer methods and a whole lot more. Many websites will also offer a price calculator feature that allows you to enter the details of your transfer and then see the exchange rate and fee that would apply to your transaction.
If you’re looking for more general information on exchange rates, a foreign currency authority like xe.com can be a very useful resource to help you see how the US Dollar is performing relative to other currencies around the world. Of course, exchange rates can be influenced by an enormous range of factors, from housing affordability to consumer confidence, so you can find out plenty of useful information about economic indicators on the Federal website. Even reading the finance section of your newspaper or online news site can offer an insight into some of the issues that affect exchange rates.
When comparing different providers to find the best value for money, examine the following factors:
- Exchange rates. Does the provider offer a competitive exchange rate? Does this come with a high transfer fee?
- Collection methods. Does the provider allow for pickup from a local collection point, or are the funds sent to a bank account instead?
- Fees. How much does the provider change for its transfer services? Can you take advantage of free transfers if you exceed a certain threshold?
- Transfer speed. How long will your transfer take? Is there an option to send an urgent transfer and if so, how much does this cost?
- Transfer methods. Does the company only provide online transfers or can you send money over the phone, at a branch, or using a mobile app on your smartphone or tablet?
- Transfer options. Does the provider allow you to schedule repeat payments or can you only make one-off transfers? Are other flexible options, such as forward contracts and limit orders, available?
- Transfer amount. Are there any restrictions on the minimum or maximum amount you can transfer?
- Customer support. What support is available and during what hours? Can you phone or email for help? Is there a live chat option and an online help centre?
- Payment methods. Can you pay by credit card, debit card, or bank account transfer? What about with cash or with traveler’s checks?
- Security. Does the provider offer any protection for your funds? Can it guarantee safe and secure transfers?
Who are some reputable money transfer providers?
There are plenty of trusted and reputable money transfer providers who can help you send money to all four corners of the globe. If you’re looking for an online money transfer provider, companies like WorldRemit, USForex, Payza, and TransferWise can all help. Even PayPal, which is perhaps better associated with eBay shopping sprees that sending money overseas, will allow you to send an international transfer.
For money transfer companies with cash pickup locations around the world, Western Union and MoneyGram are the two biggest players. Ria also has more than 240,000 agent locations in 130 countries, while even Walmart is getting in on the action – it has joined forces with MoneyGram to allow you to send funds online or from your local Walmart store.
If you’d prefer to send the funds through a trusted bank, Bank of America, US Bank, Chase, and Wells Fargo all provide international transfer services. Other institutions, such as Citibank, operate branches in multiple countries and can also offer simple and secure overseas transfers.Back to top
What are the pros and cons of sending money overseas?
- It’s convenient. It’s quick and simple to send a transfer from the USA to any number of international destinations, often without having to leave your home.
- It’s quick. Transfers can be sent to your recipient remarkably quickly, sometimes in as little as a few minutes.
- There’s plenty of choice. Don’t like the exchange rate on offer from your bank? Don’t worry: you have plenty of other companies that can send the transfer for you far more cost-effectively.
- Get your money where it needs to be. Whether you’re providing financial support for friends and family overseas or just making a purchase, overseas money transfers allow you to take charge of your international finances.
- Exchange rate risk. Exchange rates can fluctuate dramatically and take a big chunk out of the amount of money that arrives to your beneficiary.
- Fees. You will usually have to pay a transfer fee when you send money overseas.
- Security. The security of your money and personal details online could be a concern if you don’t transfer your funds via a trusted provider.
What if I need to convert money into an ‘exotic’ currency?
While transfers of popular global currencies are easy to find at any money transfer provider, there are some other, rarer currencies that you might have a little more trouble transferring. But while not all providers will allow transfers in exotic currencies, there are some who will.
Take Moneygram, for instance, which offers support for more than 45 currencies. Need to send a transfer in Hungarian Forint? No problem. Want to send a few Samoan Talar back home to your family in Apia? MoneyGram can take care of that as well. You can send your money online by supplying your personal details and providing your recipient’s name and country of residence. Alternatively, you can send the funds by visiting your nearest MoneyGram agent, and your recipient can access the money by visiting a MoneyGram branch.
For online transfers, Travelex’s International Payments service offers support for more than 45 currencies and USForex provides transfers in over 50 currencies. You’ll need to register for an account with the provider before you can send your funds, which requires you to provide your name, address and contact information. Next, provide your recipient’s name and contact information as well as details about how much money you want to send and in what currency. Then it’s a simple matter of paying for your transaction and waiting for your money to arrive.Back to top
What should I do if I have a problem or can’t track my transfer?
If you ever have a problem with a transfer the first thing you should do is contact your money transfer provider. These companies usually offer customer support via phone, email, and occasionally live chat, so contact your provider directly to see if you can get to the bottom of the problem. The provider’s online help centre or FAQ section can also be a useful resource.
If you need to make a complaint, a reputable provider will have its own complaints handling procedure you will need to follow – check this by contacting the company directly. The company’s complaints handling team will then attempt to resolve your complaint to the satisfaction of both parties.
If you’re not satisfied with their response, the next step is to take your dispute to the State Banking Department in your state. Of course, legal action is also an option if you want to pursue that route – contact your legal adviser for more information.
Frequently asked questions
How long do transfers usually take?
The answer to this question varies greatly depending on a wide range of factors, including the transfer provider you choose, where you are sending your money, how you pay for your transfer, and how your recipient will be accessing the funds. Transfers can be as quick as instant (within 10 minutes) or take as long as several business days.
What if I only want to transfer a small amount of money?
Some companies, for example PayPal and TransferWise, can be very useful if you only want to send a small amount of cash. Other providers will impose minimum transfer limits of $250, $500 or more, so make sure you’re aware of any transfer restrictions before you register for an account.
How can I track an international money transfer?
Once you have paid for a transfer you will be given a transaction reference number. You can use this number to check up on the progress of your funds, often online through a money transfer provider’s website.
Are there countries where I can’t send money?
Yes, every money transfer company will offer a list of countries to which they are unable or unwilling to send funds. Commonly excluded countries include Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sierra Leone, and North Korea, but contact your chosen provider for a full list of the places to which they will not send funds.
Can I pay for a transfer with cash?
Yes, there are some money transfer companies that will allow you to pay with cash, such as Western Union.
Can I send transfers from my smartphone?
Yes, many providers operate mobile websites and even dedicated mobile apps to allow for more convenient transfers.
Can I change or cancel an international money transfer?
You are typically able to change or cancel a transfer if your recipient has not accessed the funds you send, or if you attempt to modify a transfer request within a certain time period after you lodge it (for example 30 minutes). However, contact your provider to find their policy on such requests.
What is a forward contract?
This allows you to lock in the current exchange rate for a transfer that you will place in the future. For example, if you want to send money in three weeks’ time but you like the look of the exchange rates on offer now, some companies will allow you to secure the current rate for your future transaction.
Is it free to register for an account with an online money transfer provider?
Yes, in most cases you will not have to pay anything to sign up for an account.
How can I find a reputable company?
Look for a money transfer provider that has all the proper licenses and registrations in place, and that can guarantee the security of your money and your personal details. Reading online reviews and asking friends and family for their recommendations can also help you find a company with a good reputation.