How to do a bank wire transfer

If you’ve ever wanted to transfer money from a US bank, you’ve heard the word “bank wire” before. But what does it mean to wire money? How do you do it? And what are the risks?

And remember: there’s a large variety of alternative (and often cheaper) ways to transfer money–check out our comparison site to find the best option.

What’s a bank wire transfer? 🏦

An example of a Western Union Telegram. Credit: “Powers, Francis Gary (Telegram)” by Public.Resource.Org is licensed under CC by 2.0.

A bank wire transfer is an electronic transfer of money from one bank to another bank. The term “wire” is a throwback to how the first electronic money transfers were executed in the 19th century. Western Union was a pioneer in money transfers and was the first to send money electronically using telegraph wires (which transmitted telegraphs, the grandfather of text messages that existed long before cell/mobile phones). The term is a linguistic antique mainly used in the US to describe modern online money transfers sent from a bank. In other parts of the world, the term “bank transfer” is more commonly used.

Wiring Instructions: How to do it

Verify what you need to do a wire transfer

Head to your bank’s website to verify what information you need from the beneficiary in order to process a bank wire.

Collect the beneficiary’s bank numbers and codes

You’ll need a bunch of details–a combination of numbers and codes–about the beneficiary’s account, so request the details from the beneficiary. But if you’re missing some information or the beneficiary can’t supply some details, you might be able to find some bank codes online. The exact information you need depends on which country you are transferring money from and to and needs to include a mix of the following:

  • Account holder’s full name
  • Account holder’s full postal address
  • Account number
  • Branch number and full branch address
  • Institution number
  • Swift,  BIC or IBAN number/code
    (Note that the US does not participate in IBAN (International Bank Account Number), so US accounts do not have IBANs.)
  • Routing Number (this number is often listed on the beneficiary’s paper checks)

Send the bank wire (online or at a branch)

Many banks enable you to do a bank wire online up to a certain amount (from American bank accounts, US $25,000 is often the upper limit to do it online). For amounts above the threshold you’ll need to visit a branch in person.

How much do banks charge for wire transfers?

From US accounts, fees are around $25 to $40 per transfer.

Are funds available immediately?

It’s fast, but not instantaneous. Within the US, the money is usually available within 24 hours. International bank wires often take a few days.

Don’t get scammed: Risks of wiring money 

There are risks for the sender. Bank wires can’t be reversed, so triple check the beneficiary’s details and make sure you know who you’re sending the money to. If you receive the information via email, it’s best to call the recipient and verify the details (it’s easy for hackers to intercept an email and replace the real bank details with their own).

Beneficiaries have little risk. In order to process a bank wire, the sender’s funds must be available.

A tangle of terms & so much confusion 🤷🏿

The term “bank wire” is often used interchangeably with “wire transfer.” And money transfer services offered by companies like Western Union or MoneyGram are sometimes described using the same words.

To complicate it even more, there’s something called ACH (Automated clearing house) transfers which also moves money from one bank to another bank, but the service takes longer (two to three days) than bank wires and numerous payments are sent in batches. An ACH sent from a bank is generally more cost effective than a bank wire or wire transfer, so it’s often used for non-critical transfers. For example, it’s commonly used by employers to pay employees or by individuals making automated bill payments to utility companies.

Compare options & save your pennies💰

Sometimes you need to make an international money transfer pronto, and there’s no way to avoid a fee. But there’s a wide variety options and fees–head to our comparison site to find the best deal.