We value our editorial independence, basing our comparison results, content and reviews on objective analysis without bias. But we may receive compensation when you click links on our site. Learn more about how we make money from our partners.
Using international money transfers when shopping online
The right payment method can help you save on your next big overseas purchase.
Compare international money transfers when shopping online
Use the table below to compare transfer fees, exchange rates and transfer speeds of several money transfer companies.
How international money transfers can save you money
International money transfer providers typically charge lower fees than credit card companies or PayPal. Depending on the provider you choose, you may pay a smaller flat fee of just a few dollars per transaction or a percentage of your transaction amount. Some will even waive fees altogether for larger transfers.
Transfer providers also tend to offer more competitive exchange rates. And while a few extra cents on every dollar may not matter for small purchases, it can make a significant difference when you’re buying something expensive.
Check out these competitive money transfer providers:
XE offers competitive exchange rates, fee-free transfers and no maximum transfer limits, making it a popular choice for large transfers. But transfers can take a couple of days to arrive, and you’ll need to pay with a bank account.
OFX offers flexible payment and sending options, including forward contracts, limit orders and recurring payments, making it a popular option for people who make regular transfers. But you’ll need to send at least $1,000 a year.
WorldRemit offers competitive exchange rates and lets you send money for cash pickup at over 30,000 locations almost instantly, making it one of the best options for emergency transfers. But you can’t send more than $9,000 a day, so it’s not an option for large transfers.
What are the drawbacks of shopping online internationally with your credit card?
One of the most common methods to make purchases while shopping online is with a credit or debit card. However, problems can arise when you’re buying goods from overseas.
High transfer fees.
Your credit card provider will usually charge an international transaction fee — typically 3% of the total transaction. There are a few credit cards that waive foreign transaction fees, so check out the features of these cards if you’re planning to pay for your online shopping with a credit card.
Weak exchange rates.
Purchases made in a foreign currency are subject to the foreign exchange rate your bank offers when transferring your US dollars into another currency. Typically, rates offered by your bank are far weaker than the mid-market rate, which means you’ll pay more in US dollars to convert to the foreign purchase price you agreed to.
The downsides of PayPal for overseas purchases
When making an online purchase with PayPal, the company takes the prevailing mid-market rate and adds a margin of 3.4% to 3.9%, profiting the difference. Add to this margin a potential transfer fee that’s a percentage of your total and PayPal may not be as cheap an option as you’d think.
Example: Sam’s shopping spree
Sam collects rare and exotic musical instruments from all over the world. After months of searching, Sam finally found a rare Fender guitar in an online store based in Spain. He negotiated a price of €10,000 with the seller and now needs to find the cheapest way to pay for his prize.
He decides to compare the cost of using his credit card with the cost of sending an international money transfer to see which offers the better deal.
|Credit card||Money transfer provider|
||1 USD = 0.892 EUR||1 USD = 0.945 EUR|
|Amount Sam must pay in order to transfer £10,000||$11,211||$10,582|
|Transfer fee||$336.30 (3% international transaction fee)||$0|
|Total cost of transfer||$11,547.30||$10,582.00|
Sam discovers that he can save $965 by going with an online money transfer specialist to pay for his purchase, avoiding both a weaker exchange rate and the stiff 3% international transaction fee charged by his credit card provider.
Is there a downside to international money transfers?
While they offer strong exchange rates and low fees, international money transfers:
Can be less convenient.
You’ll need to sign up for an account to get started.
Often have minimum transfer amounts.
Some providers won’t work with transfers under a certain amount.
May not be the cheapest option for small purchases.
Flat fees can help you save money on large transfers, but can be more expensive for smaller transfers.
Don’t offer buyer protection.
Be sure that you can trust the seller before putting down your money with an international money transfer specialist.
When does using a money transfer for a purchase become worth it?
Generally speaking, you won’t save a significant amount of money on purchases under $100, so the convenience of using your card or PayPal account might be worth it. But if you’re spending more than $1,000, you could stand to save a decent amount by using a transfer provider. And if you’re sending more than $10,000, a specialized transfer provider will almost always offer a much better deal.
If your purchase falls somewhere in the middle, whether or not it’s worth using a specialized provider will depend on your priorities and potentially your credit card provider. Compare fees and rates from a few different options before making a decision to get the best deal. If your credit card offers cash back, points or miles, factor those into your decision.
How do I compare international money transfers?
Looking for an affordable and secure way to send international money transfers? Consider these features when comparing the pros and cons of transfer providers:
Compare the rate you’re offered to the mid-market rate — the rate banks and transfer services use when they trade among themselves — and look for the smallest margin between them.
Find out whether the provider charges a flat fee or a percentage of your transfer. If you’re sending a large amount, ask whether you qualify for a fee-free transfer.
If paying off a purchase in installments, does the provider allow you to set up a regular payment plan? Confirm whether any of these special transfer types come with hidden fees.
Range of currencies available.
Will the provider offer an easy way to send money to your favorite transfer destinations?
Compare processing times between providers to confirm that your funds will reach your recipient within the specified time frame.
Most companies offer customer service by Internet chat, phone, in person or by email. Make sure help will be available if you need it.
For buying a cute shirt or poster online, nothing beats the convenience of using your credit card or just checking out with PayPal. But if you’re buying something pricier, like a vacation or collector’s item, compare international money transfer providers to get the best deal.
Ask an Expert