Note: This article is part of our Basic Banking series, designed to provide new savers with the key skills to save smarter.
Every year, Americans send billions of dollars abroad — in 2016 alone, more than $138 billion was sent from the United States to the rest of the world, according to the Pew Research Center.
If you’re travelling abroad and need cash sent from home quickly, or you want to send money internationally to a friend or loved one, an international wire transfer could be the best option.
Best options to send money internationally
Advancements in online and mobile technology have made it faster, easier and less expensive to send money internationally, saving you on fees and getting the money in hand more quickly. However, for consumers who still want to go to a physical retail location to send cash or arrange a transfer, there are still plenty of options.
But before you send money internationally, it is important to compare money transfer services, as well as their fees and service charges, transfer requirements and exchange rates.
How it is used: Founded in 1884, Western Union is one of the oldest and largest money transfer services in the world, operating in more than 200 countries and territories. You can send money in person, by phone or digitally. Senders can pay online via a debit or credit card, or through a bank account; you can also pay cash in person. Transfer fees are higher if you use a debit or credit card. These charges vary by amount and location.
- A well-established transfer service with plenty of options to pay: online, by mobile app, in person or by phone.
- Its 500,000 offices worldwide make it easy to send and collect funds.
- Fees can be high and vary by pickup and funding methods. It can take up to five days to receive funds.
- Funding limits are country-dependent, so read the fine print.
How it is used: Another major player in money transferring, TransferWise says it stands out because it provides costs upfront and deducts the amount before your money is converted, so the fees are included. The company guarantees the exchange rate you’re quoted as long as it receives the funds within 24 to 48 hours. It is available in more than 50 countries. Charges are based on a percentage fee and a flat transaction fee; this can vary depending on the currency you’re sending.
- Money arrives quickly, in as little as four hours or up to two days.
- Transfer charges are set.
- No fees to receive money. You also can receive money with a TransferWise Mastercard in Europe.
- Regular updates on the status of your transfer via email and the mobile app.
- Service charges vary by destination.
- Money can take longer to arrive to some locations.
- You’ll need a TransferWise account to receive funds.
- Limited service in Africa, South America and the Middle East.
- TransferWise verifies the sender’s identity by asking for your photo ID and address, which can take up to two days to verify the information.
- Mastercard only available in Europe.
How it is used: A separate service within online payment company PayPal, Xoom allows users to send money abroad through its website or mobile app using either your Xoom or PayPal accounts. The service works in more than 70 countries worldwide, according to its website. Fees are based on payment method, the amount and ultimate location that the money is sent and which currency is disbursed.
- You can log on with either a Xoom or PayPal account, although Xoom handles transactions.
- No need to call or visit an office, since all transactions are done online or by mobile device.
- Money is delivered directly to a bank account.
- Xoom only works for international transfers.
- Funds not available for pickup at physical retail locations.
How it is used: You can send funds online or by mobile app in more than 30,000 retail locations, including Walmart and CVS. Money can be transferred to bank accounts or mobile accounts or picked up in cash in more than 200 countries. When sending to a bank account, money is available in some countries as soon as within an hour or the next day, depending on the receiving country and local regulations. When you send for cash pickup, money can be picked up within minutes, depending again on local rules. If you pay with a checking account, cash pickup can take up to three days.
- MoneyGram offers a wide variety of options for sending and receiving. Senders can wire money electronically, online or in person from many physical locations, while recipients can accept funds into accounts or in person.
- Available in more than 200 countries.
- Fees can be higher than some other companies, particularly when you pay by credit card. For instance, to send $1,000 to China for cash pickup, fees would be $25.99 to send via a bank transfer or $74.99 to pay by credit card.
- When sending via a bank account, it can take up to three to four days to process the transaction.
How it is used: Powered by MoneyGram, Walmart’s new Walmart2World money transfer service allows customers to wire funds to 200 countries with low, fixed fees. Customers send money online or at Walmart’s 4,500-plus outlets, which recipients can then collect through their bank accounts, mobile wallets or at any MoneyGram location. For most countries, you can send up to $2,500 per transaction and as much as $6,000 every 30 days.
- Money is delivered quickly and inexpensively.
- Flat fees are the same no matter where the money is being sent: $4 up to $50, $8 for $51 to $1,000 and $16 for $1,001 to $2,500.
- MoneyGram says that recipients can pick up at a MoneyGram agent location or an international bank or mobile wallet account within minutes; however, if sent by a bank account, could take as many as three days.
- A currency exchange fee could still apply, raising the total costs.
- Exchange rates are set by MoneyGram, and might not be the most favorable.
- When sending funds from a Walmart or MoneyGram outlet, only cash will be accepted.
What fees are involved when you send money internationally?
Fees will vary by the service you’re using, as well as the amount of money you’re sending, where you’re sending it to, how you’re paying and how the funds will be disbursed. Each transfer service offers options on its website to estimate fees, which can be helpful to get a sense of your costs.
In general, the fees will be lower if you wire money from your bank account or pay cash rather than using a debit or credit card. For instance, a recent inquiry to send $1,000 to China for cash pickup via Western Union would cost $75 to fund via credit or debit card, but $26 to pay via bank account and $10 in-store for cash pickup. To send $1,000 to China, Xoom charges $30 for a credit or debit card payment, but there’s no fee for a bank transfer. For the same transaction, TransferWise estimated $1.50 for a bank transfer, about $7.50 for a debit card and about $33 for a credit card transfer, plus a company charge of about $18.
Money transfer services may also charge an additional fee for the currency exchange. Again, this varies by company, and you can find the information in the fine print of their estimates.
If you’re in a real pinch to get funds to someone and they don’t have ID or a bank account abroad, the U.S. State Department may be able to help. For a $30 processing fee, a local U.S. embassy or consulate may be able to set up an account to receive funds via Western Union, an express courier or U.S. mail.
FAQ about sending money internationally
International wire transfers, also known as remittance transfers, can be a safe and efficient way to send money internationally, but consumers should consider details, including how they’re funding their transfer, how it will be picked up and whether they need to make changes before you send money internationally.
Question: What information do I need to send a wire?
Answer: Typically, you’ll need to provide your account information, if arranging via online or mobile, as well as your I.D. Some services will need to confirm your identity before you can send a transfer. You’ll also need the recipient’s full, legal name as it appears on their government-issued ID or passport. If you’re sending money directly to their bank account or mobile wallet, you’ll need account details as well.
Question: How long will it take for money to arrive?
Answer: Depending on your money service and how you send the funds, money could be available within minutes or as many as three to five days. For the fastest service, consider sending money directly from your bank account to your recipient’s bank account or mobile wallet.
Question: Can I change or cancel my wire?
Answer: Once again, rules will vary by money transfer service and if the money has already been picked up or deposited, so check with your service. Walmart2World allows senders to cancel their transfers, but it can take three to 10 days to receive your refund. Western Union requires senders to cancel via the method they arranged their transfer (mobile, online or in office) and said refunds can take up to seven days. Charges may be incurred.
Question: What can I do to make sure my transfer is safe, secure and transparent?
Answer: In the U.S., federal law requires money services to disclose fees, service charges and the exchange rate in English. They must also provide senders with a receipt that advises them when money will be available, how they can cancel a transfer and what to do if they need assistance with an order. In addition, the law requires services to investigate if customers report a problem, and senders have at least 30 minutes after placing an order to cancel.
Question: How much money can I send?
Answer: Limits on funds can vary by the money transfer service and the country to which you’re sending money. When you use a service’s online estimator tool, it should advise you about the limits for your particular transaction. Western Union, for instance, caps online transfers at $10,000 per transaction, but doesn’t place limits on in-person orders. The company also cautions customers that individual countries can impose limits.