How (and Where) To Conduct an International Wire Transfer

Send money overseas simply and reliably

A bank teller processes a transaction for a bank customer.
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Wire transfers are among the fastest ways to send money directly from one bank to another. The practice is relatively straightforward within the U.S., but what if you want to send money to another country? There may be a few extra steps with international transfers, but it’s something that most banks (and specialized online services) can handle for you with ease.

Learn more about the process of wiring money internationally and discover some of the best, most convenient ways to transfer money.

Key Takeaways

  • A bank-to-bank wire transfer is a simple, fast, and reliable way to send money overseas.
  • Before settling on a wire transfer provider, compare all costs, including fees and foreign exchange rates.
  • Alternatives to bank-to-bank wire transfers include “money centers” like Western Union, online transfer services, and person-to-person payment apps like PayPal. 

When Do You Need To Wire Money Internationally?

Whenever you need to move a large sum of money to another bank, wire transfers are an excellent option. The transfer is fast, and you don’t need to worry about checks bouncing or getting lost in transit.

Be wary of sending money to anybody you don’t know—especially with a wire transfer. Con artists often ask you to send funds with these payment methods, and it can be difficult or impossible to get your money back after you send it.

International transfers may make sense when you’re traveling abroad or supporting loved ones overseas. Credit cards are fine for small purchases from merchants in other countries, but if you need to send a substantial amount abroad, a wire transfer can get the job done quickly, safely, and at a reasonable cost.

How To Transfer Money Overseas

A wire transfer is an electronic transfer of funds between banks. With an international wire, the recipient often receives funds in about three to five days (although it can happen faster), and the funds can potentially leave your account on the same day you request the transfer.

To send money overseas with a wire transfer, contact your bank. You’ll need to complete a request and provide information about the person or organization you’re sending money to. You can often submit requests online, although it may be necessary to submit a form. In many cases, you pay a fee to transfer money, so be sure to have extra funds to cover any costs.

Be prepared with the following information:

  • Recipient’s name
  • Receiving bank’s name and address
  • Recipient’s account number (including IBAN) and account type
  • Receiving bank’s SWIFT ID or BIC
  • Whether to transfer in U.S. dollars or foreign currency

You may need to provide additional details. The recipient’s bank can supply detailed instructions on how to route the transfer properly, and it’s important to follow those instructions carefully.

Comparing Your International Transfer Options

Research service providers to find the best option for transferring money to another country. Some of the most important factors are below.

Cost

It typically costs money to transfer money overseas. You may pay a per-transaction fee, which could be a flat dollar amount or a percentage of your total transfer (or both). Compare various billing methods with large and small transfer amounts to determine which is best.

Exchange Rates

Exchange rates are a component of your total cost, but the amount you pay might not show up as a line-item transaction. The intermediaries involved in your transfer may earn a profit when converting funds from U.S. dollars to another currency, and some providers are more competitive than others.

When comparing vendors, pay attention to both the exchange rate and any flat fees you pay. With a large transfer, a small flat fee with an unfavorable exchange rate can be more expensive than a higher flat fee and a better exchange rate.

Transfer Time

Overseas transfers often take several days, but the timeline can depend on the service you use. Remember that with financial transactions, things sometimes take longer than you’d like, so it’s smart to leave some buffer time.

Transaction Limits

If you need to send a substantial amount, verify that your preferred transfer service can accommodate you. Some operations limit you to relatively small transfers, while others allow you to send substantial amounts.

Country Availability

Your recipient’s location may determine which service works best for you. Large banks and money transfer services often serve 100 countries (or more), so you shouldn’t have much difficulty. But in rare cases, you may need to search for a provider that serves a specific country.

Best Services for International Wire Transfers

Your Bank or Credit Union

If you have an account at a bank or credit union, that’s an excellent place to start your search. The cost may range from free to $45, and you typically do an official wire transfer, as described above.

If you don’t plan to make frequent transfers, paying a modest fee might make sense—as long as the exchange rate is reasonable. You might not want to spend time opening new accounts for lower transaction fees and comparable exchange rates for something you only do once every few years.

Chase Bank, as just one example, offers free international wire transfers if you complete your request online and send at least $5,000. You can send funds to 90 countries (or more, if you’re a business customer). If you send less than $5,000, the fee is a flat $5. Funds should be available within three to five days, according to Chase.

Traditional Money Centers

If you want the option for in-person services, money centers like Western Union and MoneyGram may be a solution. While these money transfers aren’t necessarily the same as bank-to-bank wire transfers, they enable fast transfers to foreign countries.

To transfer $1,000, Western Union fees range from free to $34, depending on how you fund the transfer and how the recipient gets their money. You can fund a transfer with a bank account at no charge, or you can use a debit or credit card (with higher fees). Payees can receive funds in their bank account or pick up cash at a retail location—sometimes within minutes. Western Union works with over 200 countries.

As you compare options, pay attention to the exchange rate. It may change, depending on how you choose to fund your transfer or how the payee receives funds.

Online International Transfer Services

There are several online services designed specifically for cross-border money transfers. With these services, you can fund international transfers with an ACH transfer, a bank wire, or a payment by card. And because these services focus on international transfers, the money can move quickly—as soon as the same day, in some cases.

Online money transfer services often offer calculators that help you understand how much you’ll pay. (Here’s one from Wise.) With that information, you can choose the best service, and you can often complete the process online.

Wise, formerly known as TransferWise, and Xoom are two popular options, although there are others. Wise charges a fixed fee that depends on your payment method, plus a variable fee based on the amount you transfer. The company claims to use an exchange rate based on data from Reuters (with no markup), so ideally, your funds get converted at a reasonable rate. There are no published limits, so you can send large amounts if needed. Wise supports 61 countries.

P2P Payment Tools

If you already have accounts with services like PayPal, you can already send money to other countries. While personal payments within the U.S. are generally free, you pay a fee to send personal payments to foreign countries. PayPal charges the lesser of up to 5% or $4.99 for most personal payments as well as a potential fixed fee (depending on the currency involved).

When converting between currencies, you pay a fee of up to 4%, and PayPal may take a spread as well. PayPal does not restrict how much you can send, although individual transactions are limited. You may have to break large transfers into multiple transfers. Standard bank transfers from your bank to PayPal (and back) take several days, although you may be able to pay an additional fee for faster service. PayPal is available in over 200 countries.

The Bottom Line

It’s relatively easy to send money to another country, and electronic transfers make the process safe and fast. However, you need to pay fees, and it’s critical to watch out for invisible costs like an unfavorable exchange rate. As with most financial transactions, it pays to spend some time comparing different vendors.