What are the cheapest ways to send money overseas?
Sending money overseas can be done in a variety of ways, some of which are typically more expensive. In descending order of cheapest to most expensive, in our experience, your options include:
Digital money transfer provider. These specialists offer more affordable transfers than banks, allowing you to manage your transactions from home. With competitive exchange rates and lower fees, you can send funds from your bank account. Many also allow you to pay with a credit or debit card.
Providers with cash pickup. Trusted providers like Western Union, WorldRemit and MoneyGram offer the key advantage of giving your recipient fast access to the cash you send — sometimes within minutes. You can often pay online or at one of the thousands of agent locations worldwide. However, services typically cost more than a digital money transfer provider.
PayPal transfers. PayPal offers transfers to more than 100 countries and supports multiple currencies. Its exchange rates are often better than those you’ll get from a bank, but not quite as strong as rates offered by money transfer companies. PayPal calculates its transfer fee as a percentage of the amount you’re sending — meaning it’s often better for sending smaller amounts of money.
Checks and money orders. Although not a quick option, you could send an international check overseas, obtained from your bank or the US Postal Service. It costs a bit more — you’ll have to purchase the check and your recipient may be charged a fee by their own bank when cashed.
Bank transfers. Many major US banks can safely wire your funds to countries around the world. Banks rely on existing links between banks and banking systems worldwide. Be aware that banks offer weaker exchange rates, have higher fees and fewer options to send and receive cash when compared to a money transfer service.
How do I send an overseas transfer with a digital money transfer provider?
Although the process differs by company, to send money overseas, you’ll generally:
Register for an account. Registration is almost always free. You’ll provide your full name, contact info and date of birth. Some providers also require proof of ID.
Provide your recipient’s details. Specify who’s receiving the funds by providing their name and contact information. If you’re sending money for bank deposit, you’ll include the bank name, SWIFT code and your recipient’s account number.
Indicate the details of your transaction. Enter how much money you’re sending and in which currency it will be received.
Review the details of your transaction. For most providers, you’ll see a summary of your transfer showing the amount you’re sending, the exchange rate, any fee you’ll pay and the total your beneficiary will receive.
Pay for your transfer. Payment methods vary by company but could include credit or debit card, bank account, cash or mobile wallet.
Track your transaction. You should receive confirmation that includes a tracking number to monitor the progress of your transfer online or through an agent location.
You may also receive an email or text when your beneficiary has received your funds and the transaction is completed.
How can I save money when making a money transfer?
Fees vary widely depending on the provider you’re transferring with. Overall, providers make money on your transfer in two ways: by marking up the exchange rate and by charging you a transfer fee.
Compare exchange rates. Use your currency’s mid-market rate as a baseline to compare against the rates you’re offered. Focus on providers that offers the closest rates.
Send more money per transfer. Many providers discount transfer fees or waive them altogether when you send larger amounts.
Look for hidden fees. Avoid surprises by reading the fine print for fees that could apply to your transfer, including charges your recipient will need to pay.
Sniff out special offers. Keep an eye on promotions that offer, for example, no fees on your first transfer. While ideal for limited transfer needs, you could also end up with a new preferred service.
Shop around. The best way to save is by comparing rates, fees and transfer speeds of each provider, closely looking at their benefits and drawbacks.
The importance of a competitive exchange rate
Banks and other services are likely to add a little to the exchange rate, “padding the rate” to increase their profits. While a few cents may not sound like a lot on its own, when you multiply it by the $2,000 you plan on sending overseas, it can add up to a big difference in the amount ultimately received.
Specialized money transfer services typically offer rates that are closer to the mid-market rate.
Crunching the numbers: Sending $2,000 to Mexico
Let’s say you need to send $2,000 to family in Mexico. Here’s what you might face as far as fees and exchange rates as of March 18, 2020.
Digital money transfer service
$25 + additional correspondent bank fees
1 USD = 23.889 MXN
1 USD = 23.788 MXN
1 USD = 21.982 MXN
Within an hour
Better than a bank transfer
Fastest and cheapest
Slowest and most expensive
Skipping the bank will get more than 4,000 pesos to your recipient, as the bank’s exchange rate is far weaker than other options.
Transfer fees can range from a few dollars to up to $80 or more, with some providers taking even more as a percentage on your total amount.
Depending on the provider, your transaction fee could be:
A flat fee on the transfer, no matter the amount you’re sending.
A tiered-fee structure — for instance, $5 for transactions under $500 or $10 for transactions under $1,000.
A fee calculated as a percentage of the total transfer amount.
$0 if you meet a fee-free threshold — $5,000 or more with some providers.
Be wary of other fees that could apply. For example, a provider could charge your recipient a fee to cash a bank check or pick up cash in person.
Tools to save on an international transfer
There’s a lot riding on a competitive exchange rate and low fee. But depending on how much you’re sending, how soon your recipient needs it and rates at the time of transfer, you could save even more with the following tools.
Regular transfers. You may be able to shave a few pennies off an exchange rate or pay lower transfer fees by setting up a plan to automate more regular payments overseas.
Same-currency transfers. It can sometimes be cheaper to transfer US dollars to your recipient, allowing them to transfer these dollars into their own currency when received. Your recipient may be able to pay lower fees overall this way.
Although it can be tempting to go with convenience over price, avoiding banks can save you both time and money when sending money internationally. Always pay attention to fees, and more importantly always pay attention to poor exchange rates that can quickly eat into your transfer.
Transfer speeds vary greatly depending on the provider, where you’re sending your money, how you’re paying and how your recipient will access the funds. It could be anywhere from 10 minutes to several business days. Confirm the timing of your transfer before handing over your money.
What if I only want to transfer a small amount of money?
Companies like PayPal and TransferWise can be useful for sending smaller amounts. Other providers impose minimum transfer limits of $250, $500 or more, so confirm any transfer restrictions before registering for an account.
Can I change or cancel an international money transfer?
Federal protections are in place that require banks, credit unions and money transfer companies to give you 30 minutes to cancel a transfer, assuming it hasn’t yet been picked up or deposited. However, contact your provider to learn more about their specific policies.
Is it free to register for an account with an online money transfer provider?
Yes, in most cases you will not pay anything to sign up for an account.
Adrienne Fuller is the head of publishing at Finder US. 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. For the past 3 years she has been the publisher of money transfers, helping readers save when they send money all over the globe. She has a BA from Colorado College and loves to hike with her two Catahoula dogs around her home in San Diego.
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