Updated on 01.17.17

How to Make an International Wire Transfer

The Simple Dollar Staff

Need to send money overseas? Here's the best way to transfer money internationally.

Your college student is doing a semester abroad, and you need a way to send cash in case of an emergency. Or maybe you live in a different country than your family, and you want to send money home to take care of the folks. Or perhaps you’re traveling the world, but your responsibilities at home haven’t disappeared while you’re adventuring.

Whatever the reason, you need to make an international wire transfer – or figure you might need to in the near future. If the latter is true, you’re especially in luck: A little research and planning ahead of time will help you save both money and aggravation, and make the process go much more smoothly.

First things first — whether you’re sending money internationally or domestically, there are some common caveats to consider when wiring money:

  • Some money-wiring options are more expensive than others. An outgoing international wire transfer can cost you anywhere from $35 to $65 at the largest U.S. banks, but those aren’t the only fees to take into consideration when wiring money abroad. You should also account for the exchange rate (which is typically higher for individual consumers than the rate the banks charge other banks), taxes, and correspondent fees, or you could wind up sending less money than the recipient is expecting.
  • Typos can cost you. One transposed number on a bank account or misspelled recipient name could delay the transfer of funds … or wire them to the wrong account entirely. It’s important to get these details right, since wire transfers can’t be reversed automatically.
  • Sending smaller amounts more frequently can rack up fees. If you know you’re planning to send $1,200 over the course of a year, it’ll be cheaper to send it all at once than to parcel it out in monthly, $100 increments with separate fees each time.

Your Options for International Money Transfers

Banks

Generally speaking, banks are the most expensive option for an international wire transfer, ranging from $35 to $65 per transfer, as noted above, along with other potential fees and taxes. Banks typically charge $5 to $10 less for making wire transfers online than in person, but some will charge $5 to $10 more if you make transfers in a different currency.

However, if you and the recipient are customers of the same bank — perhaps a large global outfit — you could cut out costly transfer fees and taxes altogether by skipping the wire and transferring money directly to their account.

Credit Unions

Credit unions are typically cheaper options than banks for making an international money transfer, averaging $36.22 for outgoing international wire transfers, compared with $47.50 at the 10 largest U.S. banks, according to an analysis by MyBankTracker.

Walk-In Money Transfer Centers

Nonbank money-transfer centers like Western Union and Moneygram allow you to send cash internationally, from physical stores, online, or by phone, and are usually cheaper than most banks and credit unions. Total fees vary depending on the amount of money you’re sending and the country to which you’re sending it, but can be less than $10 total.

Online Money Transfer Services

Most money transfer centers offer an online option these days, but some only operate online – good news if you’re someone who prefers to do most of your banking from the comfort of your own home.

Online money transfer services like TransferWise can be cheaper than most other options, and they’re almost certainly a lot less hassle. Fees typically vary based on how you’re sending the money (directly from your bank account, or via debit or credit card) and where the money is going.

In addition, each service has its own perks — TransferWise, for example, boasts that it transfers money at the mid-market exchange rate, not the higher rate charged by banks.

How Long Will It Take to Wire Money Internationally?

The last and potentially most important thing to check before you commit to sending money via a particular service is how long it will take for the cash to show up in the recipient’s account. In general, it’s a smart idea to plan on international transfers taking at least four business days from start to finish. It’s not instant, but it still beats stuffing a suitcase full of cash into the cargo hold of an ocean liner.

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