An international money transfer is what happens when you send money to someone overseas. You provide funds and your recipient’s details to a bank or an independent transfer provider, which then exchanges the money into your desired currency and sends it to your recipient. You can send money over the phone, in person, through a mobile app or online.
You also have options when it comes to paying, depending on what the service you choose offers:
Credit or debit card
And you have options for how your recipient receives the transfer:
There are two main ways to send money out of the UK: a specialist money transfer service or your bank. Both banks and transfer services offer online transfers, with some offering in-branch transfers or the ability to send money over your phone via an app or calling an agent.
We’ll go through the steps each method takes if you were sending online.
Through a money transfer specialist
The following steps give a good example of a typical transfer using a money transfer company.
Register online with the transfer service of your choice.
Input transaction details, including the amount you want to transfer.
Get approved by the transfer company. You may need to scan or email a copy of your ID for the first transaction.
Transfer funds through your bank using the account details from your transfer company.
Get your money. Your transfer service will deposit your funds in your destination account.
For you if You want a more competitive exchange rate and lower fees than a bank transfer.
Not for you if You want the familiarity and convenience of a known bank and don’t have time to be verified.
Through your bank
If you choose to use a bank to carry out your transfer, the process is a little different.
Navigate to the international money transfers section of your account.
You’ll usually need to know the address of the receiving bank, the account details of the receiving account, the account name and often the receiving bank’s SWIFT code (an international bank identification system).
It’s a good idea to check with your bank about exchange rates.
You can use this method to send an international money order online to your home bank account or to a third party.
For you if You want the convenience of sending money directly from your existing bank account immediately.
Not for you if You want fewer fees and a better exchange rate.
While there’s no best way to transfer funds overseas, there are a few things you can do to make it cheaper.
Know your transfer currency’s mid-market rate. This rate is the midpoint between worldwide supply and demand for that currency – and the rate banks and transfer services use when they trade among themselves. Use it as a baseline to compare against the rates you’re being offered. The company that’s closest is offering you the best rate.
Send more money per transfer. Many services discount the fees or waive them altogether when you send larger amounts.
Use forward contracts and limit orders if sending money regularly. A forward contract allows you to lock in a favourable exchange rate for future transfers. This means you’ll avoid unpredictable movements in exchange rates. A limit order allows you to wait until a favourable exchange rate is found, and then lock it in for your transfer.
What should you watch out for?
Keep an eye out for the following when you send money overseas:
Hidden fees. No transfer is truly free. If a service is advertising “fee-free transfers”, there’s probably a larger margin added to the exchange rate. Compare the rate you get quoted against the mid-market rate (which you can find on Google) to see if you’re getting a good deal.
Fake rates. If you see a great exchange rate advertised on a provider’s website, make sure the rate you see is the rate you will actually receive. Some companies advertise the mid-market exchange rate, which is the rate at which banks purchase foreign exchange, rather than the rate they actually offer their customers.
Failing to do your research. If you want to save some money, compare several transfer providers before choosing one to sell your transaction. Shop around for a company that offers reliable and affordable transfers, instead of just diving in head-first.
Scams. Scams cost the UK many billions of pounds each year, and money transfer scams are the biggest culprit. With this number increasing each year, it’s important to keep an eye out for the most common scams. In general, it’s best to only send money to someone you know personally.
Other frequently asked questions
The length of time it takes for your money to arrive depends on the transfer service you choose and how you pay. In general, if you pay with credit or debit card, your money will arrive fast – often within the day. Paying by bank transfer is a lot slower and will generally take two to five days to clear.
Each service charges different amounts and this can vary between currencies as well. In general, there are two ways you’re charged for money transfers. Let’s break it down.
Upfront fee. This is typically a flat fee or a percentage of your transfer.
Exchange rate margin. This fee is a hidden mark-up on the mid-market rate, which is the rate you’ll see on Google or the news.
Nearly all services skew exchange rates for a profit and some more than others. Make sure to check the exchange rate you’re being offered against the mid-market rate to see how much you’re actually being charged.
Other fees will depend on how you’re paying for your money transfer and how you’d like your recipient to pick it up. Credit or debit card transfers are often your most expensive option, though often the fastest, while cash pick-ups can also increase what you’ll pay.
You can send as much or as little as you want, but it all depends on the service you choose. Some are aimed at bigger transfers and will have minimums that can get as high as £5,000. You can also find several that specialise in smaller transfers and have minimums as low as £1.
There are no limits in the UK to how much you can send out of the country, but the service will need to do extra verification on you to comply with the law. This could mean presenting more proofs of identity or address, like utility bills, car registration or your passport.
Some services offer “first transfer free” deals for new customers and promo codes so you can get discounts on your second and third transfers. There are also services that advertise “fee-free” transfers, but you’d still be paying a hidden fee on the exchange rate mark-up.
Check out some of the latest promo codes on offer below to see if you qualify for a free first transfer:
Free transfer with better exchange rate for new customers
Available for transfers to India, Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ghana, Poland, Bangladesh and Kenya.
Virgin Money international money transfers reviewThe Virgin brand is something of a household name - you'll almost certainly have encountered it when jetting off for a holiday, catching the train on your morning commute or looking for a broadband deal. What you might not realise, however, is that Virgin Money also offers a fast and easy alternative when you need to transfer money overseas.
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