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Zelle International: Why It's Not Available, and How To Save Money With Alternatives

Jun 2, 2022
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If you're a Zelle user, you probably know that it's one of the best ways to send and receive money right from your smartphone. But if you've ever tried to use Zelle to send money internationally ⁠— you'll probably have run head-first into a brick wall, with no clear options in sight.

This is because, sadly, Zelle is only available in the US and doesn't work internationally. If you want to transfer your money overseas, you'll need to pick a Zelle international transfer alternative instead, such as Remitly for cash pick-up or Wise for bank transfers.

In this short guide, we look at why Zelle doesn't work internationally in the first place. Then, we'll delve into the best Zelle international alternatives to help you make the best money transfer choices.

Zelle isn't international. Compare top digital providers instead:

Why Isn't Zelle International?

As we saw above, Zelle is not international, and the app is currently only available to US residents. —

To use the Zelle app in the first place (let alone send and receive money via online banking), both the sender and the recipient must have US bank accounts. Moreover, this only applies to the mainland US, as Zelle is unavailable in US territories, including the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

So why exactly doesn't Zelle work internationally?

In a nutshell, Zelle international transfers aren't possible because foreign exchange is a hugely complex market, with many rules, regulations, and industry standards that companies are obligated to follow. Over and above this, the profit margins tend to be very tight and competitive.

Simply put, this leads to many mobile payments apps avoiding international transfers altogether. It saves them a lot of time, money, and stress! Zelle isn't the only app to avoid foreign exchange for this reason: Venmo and Square Cash do the same. And those mobile payments apps that do get involved in foreign exchange usually charge exorbitant fees to cover the costs (e.g. Paypal).

Zelle International Transfer Alternatives

The good news is that if you're a Zelle user who'd like to send money abroad, you'll have plenty of options to choose from to send your money overseas instead. In summary, here are the main two:

  1. Transfer via a digital provider: Many international money transfer providers offer low fees, fast transfers, and a great user experience to suit your needs. The best are Wise for bank transfers, Remitly for cash pick-ups, and WorldRemit for mobile money transfers. However, pricing and exchange rates vary constantly, so compare providers on Monito to find the best deal every time.
  2. Send an international bank wire: US banks such as Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank, and others charge very high fees and poor exchange rates because they transfer over SWIFT. We therefore don't recommend them for transferring money abroad for most people. You can learn more about bank charges for international transfers here.

We go over both of these options in detail below:

Option 1 — Digital Providers

Digital international transfer providers are online platforms that have grown in popularity in recent years as a low-cost, savvy, and safe way to send money across borders. If you're a Zelle user, we think switching over to a digital provider is a natural choice for a number of reasons:

  • Savviness: The user-friendly, seamless experience is usually slick and similar to Zelle in terms of accessibility and convenience.
  • Cost: They're (by far) the cheapest way to send money internationally, usually costing between 0.5% and 2% in total fees.
  • Speed: Money usually arrives overseas in a matter of hours or, at most, around one to two days depending on the provider.

To learn more about digital providers and how they differ from banks, take a look at our bank vs digital provider comparison.

In the end, the digital provider that's best for you will depend on factors such as 1) which country you're sending to, 2) how much you're sending, and 3) how your recipient will receive their funds. According to millions of searches on Monito's real-time comparison engine, here are the three best digital providers for transfers from the US to bank accounts abroad:

Remitly — Great for Cash Pick-Up

A world leader in low-cost international cash pickup transfers, Remitly often offers the cheapest (although seldom the fastest) money transfers abroad from the United States.

Cheapest: On 26% of Monito comparisons for transfers from the US to foreign bank accounts.

Cheapest destinations: Latin America, Asia-Pacific.

Transfer time: 2-3 business days.

Recommended for: Low-cost bank transfers where time isn't crucial, especially to Latin American countries. We also recommend Remitly for sending money for cash pick-up and cash home delivery services because of its speed and pricing for cash-related transfers in particular

More info: See our Remitly review, or visit their website.

Wise — Great for Bank Transfers

One of the most popular and widely-used money transfer services out there, London-based Wise has built a solid reputation on fast, affordable bank transfers over its user-friendly web and mobile platforms.

Cheapest: On 20% of Monito comparisons for transfers from the US to foreign bank accounts.

Cheapest destinations: North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific.

Transfer time: 1-2 business days.

Recommended for: Fast, affordable bank transfers, especially to North America and Europe.

More info: See our Wise review, or visit their website.

WorldRemit — Great for Mobile Wallet Transfers

WorldRemit is a much-loved money transfer service that's particularly popular for remittances across the globe. It offers fast, affordable bank transfers and cash pickup transfers, but its mobile wallet deposit options are particularly extensive and affordable.

Cheapest: On 15% of Monito searches for transfers from the US to foreign bank accounts.

Cheapest destinations: Latin America, Africa.

Transfer time: 1 business day.

Recommended for: Speedy and affordable bank transfers, especially to Latin America and Africa. We recommend WorldRemit for mobile money transfers due to its industry-leading coverage among mobile wallets (e.g. M-PESA, GCash, MTN Mobile Money, Airtel, and others).

More info: See our full WorldRemit review, or visit their website.

Option 2 — Banks and PayPal

The second (and generally the far worse) alternative to using Zelle for international transfers is to use your bank or PayPal.

Not only is using your bank or PayPal the slower and less convenient to transfer abroad, but going this route also comes with high hidden fees, as both your bank and PayPal will typically give you a poor exchange rate on top of the standard service fees for international transfers.

For example, our research revealed that sending $1,000 from the US to a Eurozone country with Wells Fargo would cost $30 in service fees and $50 in exchange rate margin fees. Together, these fees amount to around 8% of the amount transferred, which is about 10 times more than the cheapest available service compared on Monito's comparison engine for the same transfer. And given PayPal's similarly high exchange rate margins, the story isn't very different with them either.

But it doesn't stop there. When sending money internationally with your bank, your funds will go over SWIFT, meaning third-party banks (called correspondent banks) can potentially charge additional fees (called correspondent bank fees) that can further reduce the amount that arrives in your beneficiary's account.

This makes banks a costly way to send money abroad — and finding a cheap solution is as crucial as ever.

As we explored above, by offering bank-beating exchange rates, very low fees, and a top-notch user experience, digital providers are fortunately doing what Zelle does within the US, but internationally! And depending on where you're sending money to, providers such as WiseRemitly, and WorldRemit will probably be your best choice. See the table below to understand why:

Last updated: 2022/06/02

In summary, if there were one thing to take away from this article, here's what it'd be:

You cannot use Zelle to transfer internationally. This means you'll need to find alternatives. Banks (and PayPal) charge high service fees and exchange rates, making them a poor choice for most. Digital providers, on the other hand, are by far the cheapest, fastest, and savviest options, making them the best Zelle alternatives for international transfers.

Get started now by comparing your options below: —

Compare leading digital providers:

Frequently Asked Questions About Using Zelle Internationally

Popular Money Transfer Comparisons on Monito

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