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A Guide to International Wire Transfers

When you need to transfer money quickly and safely to someone overseas, an international wire transfer is a common and reliable method used all around the world. The term “wire transfer” originates from the days when money was transferred over telegraph wires, but it is now used as a generic term for electronic transfers.

Updated: 03/06/2021
Read time: 14 minutes
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The goal of international wire transfers is the quick transfer of funds, eliminating the delays caused by mailing and clearing of checks. While people often use the terms “wire transfer” and “bank transfer” interchangeably, this is not 100% accurate: wire transfers are used by both banks and non-banking financial institutions. This means that all bank transfers are wire transfers, but not all wire transfers are bank transfers.

This handy guide will take you through all you need to know about international wire transfers, how to wire money and whether you should use them when sending your hard-earned money abroad.

What is an international wire transfer?

A wire transfer is the electronic transfer of funds from one person to another via a bank account or a money transfer account held with a specialised provider (e.g. a credit union). There is no physical transfer of money between banks or financial institutions when conducting a wire transfer. In fact, only information is exchanged between the institutions about the recipient, their account details and the transfer amount, with the transfer itself happening electronically.

The difference between wire transfers and bank transfers

The two terms wire transfer and bank transfer are often used to describe the same thing, but this is not always the case. A bank transfer is a term used to describe the process of transferring money from one bank account to another. This transfer could happen between two different types of bank accounts of the same person (for instance from a savings account to a checking account), but more commonly the term refers to the process of transferring funds from one location to another (even overseas) via banks. 

Conversely, an international wire transfer is more generic terminology which refers to sending money electronically from one location to another. So, we can say that a bank transfer is a type of wire transfer, along with other types of wire transfers as well. For example, to send money from the US to France you may use bank transfer or you may wire it through MoneyGram, Western Union or another money transfer provider.

Pros and cons of wire transfers

Wire transfers offer a convenient and secure way to transfer money across borders, which is why they are one of the most popular ways of sending money. Whether you want to send funds to your family living overseas or to one of your suppliers in another country, wiring funds is a simple and efficient money transfer method.

Here are some of the pros and cons of using wire transfers when transferring your money:

Speed: In most instances wire transfers take 1-2 days. In some cases and depending on the currency, the amount and the service you are using, the transaction can be near-instant and the fastest way to wire money.
Safety: Both banks and specialised money transfer providers must adhere to financial regulations put in place in the country they operate in. Wire transfers are a commonly used method of sending funds, so any business that offers money transfer services will have experience keeping your transactions secure.
Convenience: You can send money to any part of the world from the comfort of your home via the internet. All you have to do is log in to your online banking and make a transfer. However, circumstances might be different for those planning on sending a large sum. On these occasions, your provider might require some additional information.
Global reach: Wire transfers can facilitate the delivery of funds to almost anywhere in the world, in any currency (as long as you find the right provider).
Cost: Wire transfers can be expensive; there are several money transfer companies that have decreased their costs substantially, so research is crucial to find out the cheapest way to wire money. Generally speaking, wire transfers are likely to be accompanied by higher exchange rate markups and fees than some other payment methods.
Non-reversible: If a mistake is made when entering details of the wire transfer, it can be very hard to reverse. Be sure to double check details are entered correctly before sending.

How do wire transfers work?

The majority of international wire transfers are processed via the SWIFT network. The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) is a secure messaging system used by banks to exchange information quickly and securely, including instructions for wire transfers. This network spans 200 countries and includes over 10,000 banks and financial institutions. 

If you live in Europe, your international wire transfer is likely to be processed as a SEPA payment. SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area) operates in a similar way to the SWIFT network, but its purpose is to provide low cost and fast Euro-denominated transfers to the 36 countries that are part of the group. All 27 EU states are members of this group.

When you send a wire transfer, the instructions are sent to the recipient’s bank either directly or through an intermediary bank. There are costs associated with using the network, which can vary depending on the currency and amount being sent, so be sure to check before deciding on how to wire money.

Most money transfer companies enable international wire transfers in the same manner, but they operate a bit differently. They employ specialised technologies that connect local banks across the world, helping to reduce costs and transfer times. We will talk more about choosing the best money transfer providers in the upcoming sections. 

How to send an international wire transfer?

How to wire money is generally pretty straightforward. The process typically works as follows:

1. Decide on a money transfer provider
2. Gather all the information you need
3. Familiarise yourself with the fine print
4. Fill out the wire transfer forms
5. Track your wire transfer

What are the fees associated with wire transfers?

International wire transfers, despite their convenience, are not always the cheapest way to send money. When making an international wire transfer, the two costs you will have to look out for are exchange rate mark-ups and fixed transfer fees. 

Exchange rate mark-ups

In order to find out the cheapest way to wire money, most people search the exchange rate before making an overseas wire transfer and expect to get the same exact rate for their transaction. However, this is rarely the case. Banks and financial institutions charge a markup on the mid-market rates (the rate you see on search engines and from financial news services). Banks are known to charge 4 – 6% margins, whereas specialised money transfer providers often keep their margin at 0.5 – 2%. It’s important to compare the exchange rates before you go ahead with the transaction, especially if sending a large amount of money as a small percentage increase can cost you a lot of money.

Fixed fee

To make a wire transfer, you may have to pay a fixed fee to the bank or provider. The fee can range anywhere from $15 – $45 depending on the bank or payment provider you choose. Banks typically charge both a fixed fee and an exchange rate margin on wire transfers. 

Wire transfer fees can be quite high depending on the number of intermediary banks involved. However, there are many money transfer providers that charge only a fixed fee and no exchange rate margin. This fee is sometimes also much lower than you’ll find with a bank. Again, it is all about choosing the right provider. 

How long do international wire transfers take?

International wire transfers can take anywhere between 1 – 5 days depending on various factors including the origin and destination country, the amount being transferred and the currencies used. Many non-bank transfer providers are able to reduce the transfer times by utilising technology that connects local bank accounts across the world. Some even offer near-instant transfers for users transferring money along a corridor in which the provider specialises.


A wire transfer is a method of transferring money electronically between people or businesses across the world. It only involves exchange of information between the institutions about the recipient, their account details and the transfer amount. This means that a bank transfer is a type of wire transfer, but there are other non-banking financial companies that can also facilitate wire transfers. Examples of these services are money transfer companies such as Transferwise, WorldRemit, and Azimo

Wire transfers offer a convenient and secure way to transfer funds. You can send money anywhere in the world. However, it’s good to be aware that they can be costly as you may have to pay both a fixed transfer fee and exchange rate mark-ups when sending your money. These fees are often higher than you’ll find with other payment options. 

It is important to shop around and make comparisons to get the best rates and lowest fees on your transaction, as there are a lot of providers now offering wire transfer services at different rates. Before deciding on how to wire money, quickly compare your options by filling out our form. So you can find out your best option in minutes and ensure your recipient gets the maximum amount possible of the money you are sending.

Find out more about international wire transfers…

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Jonathan Merry

Jonathan is the founder and editor of MoneyTransfers.com. Jonathan is highly experienced in the currency transfer market, having previously worked in the FX trading industry, alongside being an avid traveller. Using his knowledge he identified a need for transparency and further education to help people save money on their money transfers, leading to the creation of MoneyTransfers.com

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