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Free International Money Transfer: Can You Really Send Money Abroad Without Fees?

Byron Mühlberg, writer at Monito.com
Jul 23, 2021

Are you wondering how to send money internationally for free? Perhaps you're curious if it's possible to send money abroad for free in the first place. Unfortunately, free international money transfers are impossible in the strict sense, and, at the very least, you'll have to pay a small fixed fee or exchange rate margin when sending money overseas.

However — while the age-old cliche of nothing being free does apply to international money transfers — these days, you can send money internationally at a fraction of the cost of a traditional bank through digital money transfer services.

In this guide, we explore what you're really paying when you think you're transferring money internationally without fees. Then, we look at how to save money when sending abroad and why banks are seldom the best bet before comparing their cheapest alternatives.

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While there's no way to make a free international money transfer, you can find very cheap ways to get the job done instead. Compare the money transfer marketplace on Monito's real-time comparison engine to find the best way to send abroad —

How To Send Money Internationally for Free

While the average cost of sending money internationally has become increasingly cheap in recent years, it is not possible to transfer money overseas without fees in practically all cases. Occasionally, certain users may have the opportunity to send money abroad for free; however, these deals tend to be promotional and only apply to new customers of money transfer services.

As a result, if you're interested in spending as little as possible on fees when sending money internationally, you'll need to keep in mind several tips and tricks for keeping your costs to a minimum.

How To Send Money Abroad as Close To Free As Possible

While you won't find a way to transfer money internationally for free, there are still several tricks to keep in mind to minimise your costs and find the cheapest way to send money internationally. These include the following:

  • Opening a bank account that doesn't charge additional fees for international money transfers;
  • Avoiding credit or debit cards to fund your money transfer;
  • Avoiding high-street banks and PayPal, which are practically never the cheapest way to transfer money internationally;
  • Sending money to a bank account or mobile wallet rather than a cash pick-up location;
  • Choosing a longer transfer speed when it reduces overall fees.

To simplify your research, Monito has reviewed and compared hundreds of money transfer services. You can compare them in real-time using our award-winning comparison engine or explore the services that are, on average, the cheapest later in this guide.

Free International Money Transfers — What You're Really Paying

Simply put, banks and other money transfer operators do not offer free international money transfers because there are underlying costs to exchanging currencies. In the end, these businesses pass along these costs to their customers to make a profit.

Some of the costs associated with making an international money transfer include the following:

  • SWIFT fees (including correspondent/beneficiary bank costs);
  • Cost of labour;
  • AML and other compliance-related costs.

In the end, this translates to fees for the customers — however large or small they may be. In general, while money transfer operators tend to be much cheaper than banks for overseas transfers, both charge customers one or more of the following types of fees for international transfers:

  • Fixed fees: Single fees associated with each transaction.
  • Commissions: Variable costs associated with each transaction, usually charged as a percentage of the total amount.
  • Exchange rate margins: The difference between the mid-market exchange rate and the exchange rate offered to consumers.

Additionally, some banks (and occasionally even money transfer operators) pass on correspondent bank fees directly to their customers. Ranging between US$10.00 and US$100.00 per transfer (or currency equivalent), these fees are unpredictable and are usually the largest cost associated with sending money abroad when they apply.

In the end, this means that you could be paying a lot in fees, even when you're bank advertises its services as being free of charge. Take a look at the case study below to get a better sense of how this works.

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Case Study

Maxime lives in the UK and uses NatWest to wire money to his family in France. While NatWest advertises itself as being fee-free for GBP-EUR transfers, Maxime realises that less money arrives than the mid-market equivalent of his transfers. After some digging, he discovers that — although he pays no fixed fees — NatWest's exchange rate is around 4.50% less than the mid-market rate. What's more, he also finds that each transfer loses £15.00 in correspondent bank fees along the way. In the end, this means for every £1,000.00 that Maxime sends to France with Natwest, only £945.00 is converted to Euros at the real exchange rate — far from fee-free.

Why International Bank Transfers Are Far From Free

As we've seen, there are costs to sending money abroad that make it practically impossible to send money abroad for free. Banks (and PayPal) tend to be significantly costlier for these types of transfers than money transfer specialists, and in almost all cases, it's impossible to make a free international bank transfer.

That said, not all banks are equally expensive. US banks, for example, tend to charge a single, fixed fee for international bank wires that usually falls in the range of US$25.00 to US$40.00 per transfer. In the UK, high-street banks often advertise themselves as being "fee-free" for international wire transfers, although it's not unusual for them to charge up to £20.00 for transfers to certain countries.

In Canada, transfer fees vary dramatically (usually falling between C$3.00 and C$30.00 or higher per transfer) and tend to be steeper the more one wires. In Australia, these fees range between A$6.00 and A$30.00, while major New Zealand banks tend to charge fixed fees between NZ$10.00 and NZ$20.00 per transaction.

In South Africa, international bank transfers involve a commission of around 0.50% of the transfer value (with minimum and maximum caps) in addition to a fixed fee that's usually in the ballpark of R100.00 to R200.00 per transaction. Similarly, most Singaporean banks also charge a commission for telegraphic transfers (usually in the region of 0.125% of the transfer value) in addition to a fixed fee of S$20.00 to S$30.00 per 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.

In addition to the standard fees outlined above, banks also charge exchange rate margins, which tend to range from as low as 1.50% of the transfer value to as high as 15.00% or more at the extremes. (It's worth noting that exchange rate margins tend to be lower for transfers to major world currencies and higher for transfers to more obscure or volatile ones.)

To get a better picture of how these fees and exchange rates stack up for international bank transfers from major countries around the world, take a look at the table below:

How To Send Money Abroad at a Low Cost

Due to the high fees explored above, we generally recommend avoiding bank wires when sending money internationally. Instead, we recommend comparing money transfer specialist services to get the job done more quickly and cheaply.

While you still won't be able to make a free international money transfer with any of these services, you will be able to take advantage of faster payments and lower costs. Take a look at Monito's in-depth guide to learn more about the difference between money transfer specialists and banks for international payments. Also, to keep the costs down, we recommend avoiding cash-based money transfers where possible, and only if it's necessary, finding the cheapest way to exchange physical banknotes instead.

Three of the cheapest money transfer services on Monito include the following (all of which are significantly cheaper than the banks):

Wise

  • 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.
  • 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.

Remitly

  • 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.
  • 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.

Paysend

  • 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.
  • 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.

How To Find the Cheapest Alternative

While Wise, Remitly, and Paysend are very cheap money transfer services, they may not be the cheapest for your exact money transfer or general needs and preferences. Take a look at the full breakdown of the best providers for sending money abroad at a low cost in Monito's cheapest ways to send money abroad guide.

To make sure you're finding the best deal on every transfer, run a search on Monito's real-time comparison engine below:

Find the Cheapest Way To Send Money Abroad

Frequently Asked Questions About Free International Money Transfers

References Used in This Guide

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.

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