The US has the discretion to grant you special permission to send money to family members in countries like Iran. You must be able to prove that your funds are not for commercial purposes, and how much you send could be limited. Refer to the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations for more information.
Sanctions and Iran
The US sanctioned Iran after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, further expanding economic sanctions when Iran refused to give up its uranium enrichment program for nuclear weapons. The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control severely limits US citizens from committing funds or other financial assets in Iran.
However, U.S. depository institutions are allowed to handle funds transfers, through intermediary third-country banks, to or from Iran noncommercial family remittances and travel-related remittances, among others. But add to this the fact that people in the US are prohibited from dealing with some specific Iranian banks due to their links with financing terrorism and it quickly becomes apparent that sending funds to Iran is very difficult.
Most US banks will not handle a transfer to Iran for you, and popular money transfer providers like Western Union and MoneyGram don’t offer their services to Iran. Even if you can find a money transfer willing to help you send money to Iran you will then need to be very careful about the purpose of the transfer.
There are several complex rules and regulations surrounding money transfers to Iran and there have been some highly publicized cases of people unwittingly falling foul of the law. Obtaining advice from the Office of Foreign Assets Control before sending a transfer is recommended.
Must read: Section 560.550 Certain noncommercial, personal remittances to or from Iran authorized
According to the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations by the US Treasury: “(a) In cases in which the transfer involves a noncommercial, personal remittance, the transfer of funds to or from Iran or for or on behalf of an individual ordinarily resident in Iran, other than an individual whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to § 560.211, is authorized, provided that the transfer is processed by a United States depository institution or a United States registered broker or dealer in securities and not by any other U.S. person; does not involve debiting or crediting an Iranian account; and is not by, to, or through the Government of Iran, as defined in § 560.304.
(b) Noncommercial, personal remittances do not include charitable donations to or for the benefit of an entity or funds transfers for use in supporting or operating a business, including a family-owned enterprise.”
This means that for the average sender, getting permission to send money to Iran is going to be difficult, but not impossible. By consulting legal help, it is possible to appeal to the US Treasury and get permission to send remittances to family and loved onan — just be prepared for a potentially lengthy process.
Sending money to sanctioned countries — and the potential consequences
There are ways that people have chosen to get around these economic sanctions. But we stress that doing so is illegal and exposes you to severe legal and financial penalties. If you choose to route your money through a country that doesn’t have sanctions against your intended destination — the UK, for example — you could be charged by the US with money laundering.
What is money laundering?
Money laundering is any activity that illegally obtains money and attempts to conceal the source, destination or identity of those funds. In the US, money laundering is illegal under federal and state laws. The specific laws about what constitutes money laundering and its prosecution may differ. However, if you’re convicted of money laundering crimes, you face years in prison and significant fines.
One option for sending money to Iran commonly touted on online forums is to first send your money to a friend or relative in the UK, from where it can then be sent on to your beneficiary in Iran (transfers between the UK and Iran are allowed but restricted).
But this option is definitely not recommended as it raises the possibility of money laundering, and depending on where you live it may even be illegal. If you hold a bank account in another country as a resident of that nation, research the rules in place for sending money to a sanctioned nation from that account.
The exchange rate determines how much one country’s currency is worth in another currency. When a country’s currency is strong, it yields more money when exchanging it in a country with a weak currency.
However, most countries’ exchange rates are flexible, which means they can fluctuate with the market. Factors that influence the exchange rate include interest rates, economic stability and inflation.
When in doubt
If you’re in doubt as to whether you can send money to a sanctioned country, always assume that transferring funds from the US to a sanctioned nation is illegal unless a lawyer tells you otherwise. As the US Treasury advises, “You cannot do something indirectly that you would not be able to do directly.” For more information about sending money to Iran, look into your state’s laws on money laundering, the US Treasury’s updated list of sanctioned nations and the laws that dictate where your bank can make transfers.
Frequently asked questions
As of this writing, countries sanctioned by the US are Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Burma, the Ivory Coast and Iran.
Economic sanctions are commercial and financial penalties that can include trade barriers and restrictions on spending money in another country.
Some money transfer websites offer the option to send money to sanctioned countries. However, the US considers transferring funds to sanctioned countries online or through a third party illegal.
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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