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How can I send money to someone in a country with sanctions?

Sending money worldwide has never been easier – but what can you do when loved ones are in a country with sanctions?


Unfortunately, world politics can stand in the way of being able to help your friends and family in sanctioned countries.

Sanctions take into consideration the political climate of a country, its human rights record and the people and organisations within it that the New Zealand government wants to avoid financially supporting.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) can impose sanctions in response to a threat to international peace and security. As a UN member state, New Zealand is bound by the UNSC’s decisions.

New Zealand currently has economic sanctions on countries like Libya, North Korea and Yemen. While you may discover options to get around these sanctions to support friends and family, the government often considers these to be illegal.

Sanctioned nations

There are more than a dozen countries that New Zealand has sanctions against, which you can read more about on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s website (MFAT).

  • Iran. New Zealand has had a long-standing relationship with Iran – its embassy in Tehran dates back to 1975, making it New Zealand’s oldest embassy in the Middle East. New Zealand has imposed sanctions on Iran in the past but most of these were lifted in 2016. Restrictions now only relate to the dealing of arms and nuclear material. However, MFAT advises that New Zealanders wanting to do business with Iran obtain legal advice because of ongoing tensions between Iran and the United States which could affect New Zealand.
  • North Korea. Sanctions were imposed on North Korea in 2017. They prohibit a wide range of dealings with North Korea, North Korean citizens and North Korean companies. Penalties for breaking the sanctions include up to 12 months in prison and/or a fine of up to NZ$10,000 (NZ$100,000 for businesses).
  • Somalia. New Zealand’s sanctions against Somalia have been in place since 1992, when the country was gripped by civil war. The sanctions were updated in June 2018.

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 New Zealand with money laundering.

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.

What is money laundering?

Money laundering takes illegally obtained money and attempts to conceal the source, destination or identity of those funds. In New Zealand, as with many countries, money laundering is illegal. If you’re convicted of money laundering crimes, you may face prison time or significant fines.

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 New Zealand to a sanctioned nation is illegal unless a lawyer tells you otherwise.

For more information about sending money to these countries, look into MFAT’s list of sanctioned nations.

Compare money transfer services here and see supported countries

Frequently asked questions

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