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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. But, what is a wire transfer? 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: 27/09/2022
Read time: 19 minutes
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What is a wire transfer? 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.

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. 

What you need to know about wiring money internationally

Wiring money internationally is a popular way of sending money abroad. The electronic nature is this type of transaction makes sending money via wire transfer fairly hands off, requiring you only to know your recipient’s name, bank details, and the sum you are sending abroad.

However, there are a few caveats to wire transfers you may want to consider when deciding if this is the right option for you:

  • Wiring money internationally via your bank can be expensive: An international wire transfer processed via your bank can incur large fees (anywhere between £8 to £40), as well as a high markup on the interbank exchange rate. You may also need to take into account any fees likely to be charged by your recipient’s banks, which could leave them with much less money than you meant to send.
  • One-off sums vs frequent smaller amounts: Typically, wiring money internationally will work out cheaper if you can send a larger sum in one go than incurring fees on smaller sums sent multiple times.

If you want to know more about wire transfers, check out our wire transfer guides below, otherwise, continue reading.

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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.

Top 5 providers to send money internationally

These days, it isn’t just traditional banks that can initiate a wire transfer abroad. Money transfer providers are well equipped to move your funds online, often for lower fees and more competitive exchange rates. At a glance, the top 5 best ways to wire money internationally are:

RankingProviderAdvantagesGet Started
🥇Xe1 – 4 daysVisit Xe
🥈Wise0 – 5 daysVisit Wise
🥉Worldremit0 – 3 daysVisit WorldRemit
#4TorFX1-3 daysVisit TorFX
#5Remitly1-3 daysVisit Remitly

Below are some of our top recommended transfer companies in a bit more detail.

1. XE

XE has a large distribution network, supporting transfers in 60 currencies to over 170 countries worldwide. This online money transfer is a popular and trusted name in the industry with no transfer fees for sending money internationally, although their exchange rate markup can be higher than some other providers in some cases.

Transfers can take anywhere between 1 – 4 working days, depending on the specifics of your transfer.

XE Money Transfer App logo

2. Wise, formerly TransferWise

Wise is an extremely well-known online money transfer operator, with over 8 million users worldwide. The company is popular for its policy to always provide transfers at the mid-market rate, with a transparent fee structure that clearly explains the fees you’ll be charged for any international transfer.

Transfers can take anywhere from minutes up to 5 working days, taking longer you if pay for your transfer via bank account.

3. WorldRemit

Supporting transfers to over 150 countries across the globe, WorldRemit is popular for its versatile delivery options, including cash pickups, mobile airtime top-ups, and bank transfers. With over 2 million people using WorldRemit’s services in the last year alone, this is a well-trusted company supporting a wide range of transfer options.

Transfers with WorldRemit could be instant, or they could take up to 3 working days for your recipient to receive the funds in their account.

WorldRemit Money Transfer App logo

4. OFX

OFX is known for offering competitive exchange rates with no transfer fees, making it a popular choice for affordable international transfers via the company’s user-friendly online platform or mobile app.

With OFX, transfers will typically take between 1 and 5 days to be processed.

OFX Money Transfer top companies

5. Remitly

Remitly supports transfers to over 50 countries worldwide and has over 140,000 agent locations worldwide to support in-person transfers and cash pickups. Remitly is well-known for providing a high-quality service with a range of payout options, even including home delivery for added convenience for your recipient.

Transfers with Remitly can take minutes, or between 1 and 3 working days for a transfer with lower fees.

Remitly Money Transfer top companies

Alternatives to wire transfers

Bank transfer

International bank transfers can be a convenient way to wire money internationally because typically all you’ll need is your recipient’s bank details plus the sum you are sending. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that though convenient, banks usually come with higher international bank transfer fees when it comes to international wire transfers – not to mention one of the slowest.

SWIFT transfers can take anywhere from 1 to 5 working days, although this can be affected by factors including the destination you are sending to and what day of the week you are sending the funds. For this reason, it’s important to make sure you’ve got the correct details for your recipient as an incorrect digit or entry can delay your transfer even more.

Online money transfer provider

Online money transfer providers are an extremely popular option for sending money internationally, and tend to be a much cheaper and faster way to wire money internationally.

Money transfer providers will either charge a set fee for your international transfer at the mid-market rate (such as TransferWise), no fees but a markup on the exchange rate (such as OFX and XE), or a mixture of both (such as Instarem and World Remit).

Sending money internationally online

Online transfer providers are an extremely popular option for sending your money internationally, offering:

  • Lower fees
  • More competitive exchange rates
  • Faster transfer times

Whether you’re looking to send money abroad as a one-off payment or as a regular thing, researching money transfer providers could potentially save you a lot of money. Instarem, for example, promises savings up to 90% compared with a traditional bank.

Walk-in transfer providers

Another option for wiring money internationally is to use a walk-in transfer provider with a physical location, such as Western Union or MoneyGram. These options can be convenient if you would prefer to talk to someone in-person and both provide the option to deliver your funds to your recipient as a cash pickup.

Canadian Regulators

In Canada, there are some organisations that are responsible to supervise the different financial institutions operating.

We created the following guides to help customers by providing relevant information related to the process of sending money to Canada:

  • CDIC (Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation): it helps customers by ensuring their money always is protected.
  • FCAC (Financial Consumer Agency of Canada): ensures customers are protected by the laws against money transfer companies.
  • FINTRAC (Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada): investigates and detects money laundering.
  • IIROC (Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada): it is in charge of overseeing the trading activity and investments in the Canadian markets
  • PC (Payments Canada): also known as Canadian Payments Association, it makes sure the Canadian economic system is trustable.

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 markups and fixed transfer fees. 

Exchange rate markups

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. 

What to look out for when wiring money internationally

As well as cost, there are a number of other factors to watch out for when sending money internationally that can affect your overall experience. These factors are all taken into consideration in our comparison tool to help you find the best service for your sending needs, and include:

  • Security
  • User reviews
  • Transfer speed

How long do international wire transfers take?

When you want to wire money abroad, you should keep in mind how long does a wire transfer 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 wire 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. Using an online money transfer provider to send your money, for example, can get your funds to your recipient’s account within minutes (especially if you arrange for the transfer to be a cash pickup and you pay by card). But, how long does a traditional wire bank transfer take? It can take longer, closer to 3 – 5 business days.

What is the cheapest way to wire money internationally?

The cheapest way to send money abroad really depends on: 

  • The sum you are sending
  • The currency pair you are converting between
  • How fast you want your recipient to receive the funds

Charges associated with sending money abroad can be broken down into a few key areas:

  • Fixed fees
  • Exchange rate markups (a percentage added on to the mid-market exchange rate)
  • Charges for particular payment methods, such as credit card fees

Finding the cheapest way to wire money internationally therefore really depends on comparing these various charges for the individual circumstances of your transfer. Typically, an online money transfer operator such as the examples listed above will give you more competitive exchange rates and lower fees than wiring money abroad with a traditional bank.

How do I stay up to date with latest changes to regulations and fees?

You can stay up to date by reading industry news from leading professionals at MoneyTransfers.com. Check out some of the topics you might be interested in:

Bottom line: should you wire money internationally?

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 WorldRemitWiseXECurrencyfairCurrencies DirectKey CurrencyInstarem and TorFX

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 markups 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.

Article Factchecked by Elliot Laybourne on 20th July 2022

Elliott is a former investment banker with a 20 year career in the city of London.

During this time he held senior roles at ABN Amro, Societe Generale, Marex Financial and Natixis bank, specialising in commodity derivatives and options market-making.

During this time, Elliott’s client list included Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Credit Suisse, Schroders Asset Management, and the Pennsylvania State Public School Employees Retirement System, amongst others.

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Artiom is a marketing graduate from the University of Portsmouth, Artiom’s primary experience is in SEO but he has a broad knowledge of all facets of digital marketing. He optimises the organic experience on MoneyTransfers.com with the content team, manages and creates unique marketing tactics, and generally supports the overall growth of the website.

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