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International Money Transfers: Everything You Need To Know

Byron Mühlberg, writer at Monito.com
Jul 24, 2021

Making an international money transfer can be filled with pitfalls. From high fees and poor exchange rates to long transfer times and ambiguous explanations — it can be far too easy to end up paying through your teeth for second-rate service.

With Monito, you can take advantage of the best recommendations to help ensure that you're making the best rated, cheapest, fastest, and safest choice when sending money overseas. Take a look at our overview below to find out how international transfers work, what you should consider when making one, and how you can save money in the process.

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Monito's Recommendation

If you're making an international money transfer, we recommend comparing the top services on Monito's real-time comparison engine to skip the fees, waiting times, and hassle of going through the bank.

Using Your Bank To Send Abroad Is Expensive

Sending money online across borders is a normal practice for increasingly many people these days, with many looking to save on the process. According to data from our comparison engine, for example, hundreds of thousands of people are running searches every month to discover the best service to suit their needs.

However, there's a significant difference between international money transfer services and high-street banks regarding the costs and transfer times of sending money abroad. In general, the rule of thumb here is that banks consistently charge higher fees than international money transfer services, such as Wise or CurrencyFair.

How Expensive Are Banks, Exactly?

According to the World Bank's Remittance Prices Worldwide report for the third quarter of 2020, traditional banks are "the most expensive type of service provider" for remittances, costing the consumer an average of 10.89% of the value their transfer in fees.

This can be seen on a micro level, too. Consider Barclays, for example, one of the most popular and distinguished banks in the United Kingdom (UK) and indeed around the globe. Our analysis of Barclays's international money transfer fees reveals that the bank imposes heavy fees and exchange rate margins on transfers abroad. If you were to use Barclays to transfer £2,000 to Poland, for example, you would pay some £172.60 (or nearly 9% of the transfer) in fees at the time of writing.

(For reference, you'd be paying more than £170 more in fees in this case than you'd be paying if you were to choose the cheapest service with Monito, which at the time of writing offered total fees of just £0.98 on the same transfer).

Why Are Banks So Expensive?

Banks are expensive choices for overseas payments largely because of the costs associated with sending money over the SWIFT, which involves many steps and expenses for banks, most of which are passed along to the customer sending the money in the form of fees and exchange rates. In addition, third-party banks also frequently deduct fees directly from funds moving along the wire, often without the full knowledge of the sender. In the end, the leaves wire transfer fees pricey for customers.

Banks make their money on international money transfers (which are typically one of the many financial services they offer) by charging two separate types of fees:

While the standard fees and commissions you pay when making an international money transfer are usually made (relatively) clear to you just before you pay, the exchange rate margin, on the other hand, is not. In fact, most banks completely omit mention of this fee to customers, instead burying any reference to it deep in their Terms & Conditions. This leads many customers not to notice that they're paying several extra percent of the total transfer amount in fees.

Another major drawback of using your bank to transfer money internationally? The transfer speed. While international bank transfer take 2 to 5 days to arrive, some specialist services offer instant money transfers online.

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Be aware that both exchange rates and fees are subject to change without notice. Use Monito's comparison engine to get the latest pricing data for international money transfer services.

To learn more about this with Monito's in-depth guide on bank charges for sending money abroad.

Alternatively, if you'd like a bigger-picture view of how these charges look for banks around the globe, take a look at the international money transfer reviews for several major world banks below:

International Money Transfers: Beware Your Payment Method

As a general rule of thumb, you can usually expect to pay more in fees when you send money offline than when you send money online. (It's well worth noting that this rule applies to international money transfer services as much as it does to traditional banks).

As such, our general advice for sending abroad would be, where possible, to send money using a bank transfer over your online banking or mobile app. If you use any other means to transfer money, there's a fair chance you'll be paying slightly higher fees for it. Some of these transfer methods include:

  • Credit/debit card transfers;
  • Telephonic transfers;
  • Post/fax transfers
  • In-branch transfers;
  • Demand drafts.

Other services that banks specifically charge higher fees for include priority and fast-lane transfers, where you'd pay extra to have your transfer arrive sooner, as well as cancellation/reversal fees if you'd like to stop a transfer after having already instructed it. If your transfer were to fail for any reason, you might also pay a fee to have the cause of the failure investigated.

Payment Instructions For International Money Transfers

And, as far as the customer might be concerned, at least, things could be worse still!

Depending on which bank your beneficiary belongs to, there may be an additional fee if your bank and theirs don't have an established relationship with one another or are not part of a shared payment integration initiative (e.g. the SEPA in the European Union).

These fees are known as correspondent bank fees, as your bank will need to use a third-party bank to complete your transaction. If this is the case for your transfer, you'll be given the option to choose who will saddle the cost of the foreign bank/agent charge, with these options usually being listed under the following payment instructions:

  • 'OUR', which means that you, as the payer, will bear the full cost of the transfer;
  • 'SHARE', which means that you will split the costs of the transfer with the payee;
  • 'BEN', which means that the payee bears the full cost of the transfer.
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Avoid 'OUR' Payments

International wire transfers open the door to correspondent bank fees, which can be as high as US$100.00 per transfer (or currency equivalent.) As such, if you're asked to choose between 'SHA,' 'BEN,' and 'OUR,' we recommend you avoid choosing 'OUR' payments wherever possible. These instructions can open the door to third-party banks levying further fees from you long after the transfer has been sent.

What's more, with foreign transfers often incurring unpredictable fees for intermediate banks that somebody will have to ultimately carry, it can often happen that the total amount that's received by the recipient will be unknown until the point that it arrives in their account.

International Money Transfer Services: Simpler, Cheaper Alternatives

Simply put, specialist money transfer services such as WiseTransferGoAzimo, and CurrencyFair tend to by and large be significantly cheaper, faster, and more transparent options for sending money abroad when put to the test against traditional banks.

Using these services, you'll more often than not have the total costs of each transfer made clear to you in advance, and you won't have to make a choice between "OUR", "SHA", and "BEN". What's more, many of these services also charge no standard fees and commissions, instead relying on a small exchange rate margin in order to make a profit. Whatever fees are levied will usually be presented in a simple and transparent manner well before you send any money.

As an independent comparison platform for international money transfers, Monito strives to provide real-time insights about these services and rank them for ease of use, credibility, pricing, transparency, and much more. Take a look at the reviews below of the three services that we found to be, on average, the cheapest for making international money transfers:

1 — Wise

London-based fintech Wise is a world-class option for sending money internationally and frequently ranks as the cheapest way to transfer money internationally on Monito. According to the Monito Score, Wise is also ranked as the best money transfer service of all, and its mobile app is ranked the best money transfer app.

Cost: Wise charges a mix of fixed fees and commissions for different corridors, which usually constitute between 0.25% and 1.00% of the total transfer value. Wise was the cheapest service on 21% of global comparisons on Monito between July 2020 and 2021.

Coverage: Available in the EEA, UK, US, Singapore, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, Wise supports transfers to around 57 foreign currencies across the globe.

Speed: In 2020, around 34% of Wise transfers arrived within 20 seconds, 53% within an hour, and 81% within a 24-hour period. Overall, Wise ranked as the fourth-fastest money transfer service on Monito's comparison engine between July 2020 and 2021.

Transfer limits: Precise limits vary depending on currency and country, but in general, the minimum transfer is US$1.00, and the maximum transfer is US$1 million, or currency equivalent.

Recommendation: We recommend Wise especially for small- to medium-sized bank transfers (up to US$10,000.00) destined for international bank accounts, as the platform is particularly well-priced for these transfers.

More info: See our full Wise review.

2 — Remitly

Remitly is a US-based digital remittance service that's frequently the fastest and cheapest way to send money internationally on Monito. The platform offers various pay-in and pay-out options (including card payments, bank transfers, and cash services) and supports money transfers to over 85 countries worldwide.

Cost: Remitly's fees are built into the exchange rate and typically range between 0.50% and 2.00% of the international money transfer value, depending on the currencies in question. Remitly was the cheapest service on 20% of global comparisons on Monito between July 2020 and 2021.

Coverage: Available in Europe, North America, Singapore, and Australia, Remitly supports transfers to around 47 currencies on every continent.

Speed: Remitly 'Economy' bank transfers take between three and five business days to arrive, while 'Express' card transfers arrive within minutes. Overall, Remitly ranked as the second-fastest money transfer service on Monito's comparison engine between July 2020 and 2021.

Transfer limits: Exact limits vary depending on currency and country, but in general, the minimum transfer is US$1.00, and the maximum transfer is US$20,000.00, or currency equivalent.

Recommendation: Because of its speed and pricing for cash-related transfers in particular, we recommend Remitly for sending money for cash pick-up and cash home delivery services.

More info: See our full Remitly review.

3 — Paysend

A true specialist in international card payments, Paysend is a flexible and fast-growing money transfer platform that supports credit and debit card payments to an impressive network of nearly 100 receiving countries through various pay-out options.

Cost: Paysend charges a fixed fee for most card-to-card and card-to-Paysend-wallet transfers and an exchange rate margin of between 0.50% and 2.00% of the international money transfer value. Paysend was the cheapest service on roughly 25% of global comparisons on Monito in May 2021.

Coverage: Paysend is available to residents of 49 countries and supports transfers to 90 countries across the globe.

Speed: For Paysend transfers to cards or for cash pickup, funds normally arrive within a matter of seconds or minutes. Transfers to bank accounts take longer, usually between one and three business days.

Transfer limits: Default transfer limits at Paysend are US$10.00 and US$1,000.00, which can be raised to US$10,000.00 after ID verification.

Recommendation: We recommend Paysend for international card payments to credit cards, debit cards, or bank accounts due to its excellent fees and exchange rates for these types of transfers.

More info: See our full Paysend review.

International Money Transfers: Our Users Send To These Countries

According to an analysis of over half a million global searches of our comparison engine over the past three months, users looking to save money while sending abroad belong to several global transfer corridors.

Some of the most popular destinations for money transfers are India, the US, Canada, the Philippines, Colombia, Mexico, and Nigeria. According to Monito's data, money destined for these countries typically originates from the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, India, France, and Spain.

Take a look at the nine major corridors below and discover the cheapest options for each:

Find the Cheapest Service for Your Next Transfer Abroad

International Money Transfers: Extra Tips and Tricks

Comparing international money transfer services is our speciality, and our experts have a lot of expertise in matters relating to the world of moving money. Here are some of our top articles to help you get the job done cheaply, safely, and quickly:

How Can I Send Abroad Cheaply With PayPal?

PayPal is an expensive choice for sending international money transfers, one which we don't recommend. However, if you're planning to use PayPal to change currencies anyway, there are some tricks you can take advantage of to lower your costs. See our recommendations here.

Is Wise a Good Money Transfer Service?

Yes, by and large, it is. But the story doesn't end there. Wise, while great, may not be the cheapest or best all-around service to suit your needs, depending on your individual circumstances. Take a look at our full in-depth review to learn more, and discover whether Wise is indeed the right choice for you.

Can I Use Venmo To Send Money Abroad?

Unfortunately, you cannot. As things stand, Venmo is currently only available for domestic transfers within the US. Find out why and discover the best alternatives to suit your needs in our in-depth guide.

Is Western Union a Good Money Transfer Service?

Yes, all things considered, it is. However, it's very seldom the cheapest option out there. Take a look at our full review to learn more about Western Union, and discover whether using the service makes sense for you.

How Can I Send Money Abroad To Someone Without A Bank Account?

Looking to send money to somebody without a bank account but unsure which option might be best? Many international money transfer services enable you to send money at a cash pick-up location, can deliver cash to your beneficiary's home address or send to a mobile money wallet.

Frequently Asked Questions About International Money Transfers

Why Trust Monito?

You’re probably all too familiar with the often outrageous cost of sending money abroad. After facing this frustration themselves back in 2013, co-founders François, Laurent, and Pascal launched a real-time comparison engine to compare the best money transfer services across the globe. Today, Monito’s award-winning comparisons, reviews, and guides are trusted by around 8 million people each year and our recommendations are backed by millions of pricing data points and dozens of expert tests — all allowing you to make the savviest decisions with confidence.

Learn More About Monito
  • Monito is Trusted by 15+ Millions Users across the globe.

  • Monito's experts spend hours researching and testing services so that you don't have to.

  • Our recommendations are always unbiased and independent.

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