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The Total Guide to International Wire Transfers


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What is an International Wire Transfer?

An international wire transfer is a bank service used for electronically transferring money from one bank account to another account in a different country, where the average transfer time is 1-2 business days.

If you are doing business with international clients, then chances are you need to send and/or receive money on a global scale. There are many traditional methods of sending money overseas that include cash, check, bank draft, or money order—all of which can be slow and risky.

The fastest way to move money from one country to another, in a secure fashion, is to use an international wire transfer. You can send thousands of dollars at once and convert the funds to foreign currency as needed.

What is Needed for an International Wire Transfer?

  • The recipient’s full name and address
  • The amount of the wire transfer
  • Name and address of the recipient’s bank
  • Recipient’s bank account number and account type
  • Recipient’s bank routing number
  • Recipient bank’s SWIFT or BIC code (when applicable)
  • Reason for the transfer

Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Transactions (SWIFT)

International wire transfers are normally made using an international standard known as the SWIFT network. This financial institution allows money to travel in between banks internationally. It assigns every bank a unique identifier code to ensure the transfer always gets to the intended recipient.

Unlike what the name suggests, SWIFT transfers are not quick. Using the network is a bit like traveling via plane. If there is no direct route from one airport to another, you will need to take a connecting flight or two. It’s the same for SWIFT.

Instead of a funds transfer traveling straight to the main destination, there is often anywhere from one to three banks it travels through first. Unfortunately, that also means some of these banks take a fee as well.

SWIFT oversees the messaging network banks and other financial institutions use to send and receive money transfer instructions. Each entity in the SWIFT network has a unique code that’s 8 to 11 characters long. This is known as the bank identifier code (BIC) or SWIFT ID.

In summation, here’s what you need to remember about the SWIFT network:

  • Transfers can take anywhere from 1-5 business days.
  • Anywhere from 3-5 banks will charge a fee for the transfer.
  • If your money is converted into another currency, be prepared to pay currency exchange rates.

Are International Wires Secure?

Providing you have the correct recipient details, and they are using established banks, international wire transfers are relatively safe. Once the money arrives in the recipient’s account, it is normally labeled “cleared funds” and the transaction is complete. The payee should then be allowed to access the funds immediately.

It is rare for a global wire transfer to encounter issues, but it does happen. If a thief or hacker gains access to a recipient’s account, they could immediately receive and withdraw funds and/or send them elsewhere. When you wire money, there is always a risk.

If you’re wiring a large amount, it’s worth speaking to the payee to establish extra controls for the transfer. The recipients should also double check no one else has access to the receiving bank account.

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The Top Ways to Send an International Wire Transfer

There are four main options for sending an international wire transfer:

Method 1: You can perform a wire transfer through your bank’s online services.

Method 2: You can visit your bank’s branch to get in-person assistance with the transfer.

Method 3: You can execute a transfer over the phone with a representative from your bank.

Method 4: Last, you can work through a special money transfer service (both offline and online).

Method #1: Making an International Wire Transfer Online Through the Bank

Many banks will ask you to come in to make an international money transfer, but several have now made it possible to do so online. Here are the quick steps to sending a transfer this way:

1.   Find the wire transfer page

If you have online banking set up, log into your account, and find the wire transfer section of your bank’s website. This is usually located at the top toolbar of their homepage. You can also Google “wire transfer” and look for your bank in the results. Lastly, call customer service if you are still not sure.

2.   Check your online transfer limit

The bank may require you to set an online transfer limit which is typically $5,000. Sometimes, they automatically set a limit. If the amount you need to send is over the daily limit, you need to call the bank and make a request.

In some cases, to verify it is you on the phone, the bank might have some additional security questions for validation. This can be anywhere from a special code sent to your phone to a secure email.

3.   Provide bank details

To complete a SWIFT transaction, you’ll need to provide specific data on the recipient. This includes:

  • Name and address of the payee’s bank.
  • Name, address, and account type of the recipient (checking, savings, etc.)
  • Payee bank account number or IBAN (international bank account number).
  • Recipient’s BIC/SWIFT code.

4.   Enter the amount and currency type

When you enter the payee information, the currency is usually set in the wire transfer form for the currency of that country. If not, select the currency and enter the transfer amount. As a general rule, a bank account in a foreign country is denominated by the local currency.

However, it is not uncommon for foreign banks to offer client accounts in multiple currencies. Especially when it comes to US dollars. Double check you are transferring money in the desired currency. Otherwise, if you send it in the wrong currency it is possible the transfer could be rejected.

5.   Pay the processing fee

The bank will tell you how much they’ll charge for a transfer and your exchange rate. US banks charge fees fixed between $30-$50. Typically, you’ll spend 5-7% more on a transfer than a specialist provider. Once you know the amount, simply confirm how you want to pay. This is usually drawn directly from your bank account.

In some cases, the receiving bank may also charge a fee. This can range anywhere from $10-$20. You should remember that up to three intermediary banks can also charge a fee. It can get expensive, so be prepared.

6.   Find out how long it will take to arrive

After you complete the transfer form, the website should show you an estimate of how long it will take. Your bank will track the status and keep you updated via the web portal. Most transfers take 1-3 business days depending on a multitude of factors.

For example, if the destination bank is in a drastically different time zone, they may have different days in which the bank works. Additionally, the money usually travels between 3-5 banks, so keep all of these factors in mind. If you need to know how much a bank wire costs, it’s best to start with the bank name and a phone call.

Method #2: Making an International Wire Transfer in the Bank Branch

It may be that your bank requires an in-person transaction to send an international wire transfer. It’s essentially the same as doing it online as you will need to bring the same data.

1.   Bring all banking data to the branch with you

This includes:

  • Your name and the US bank account you want to pull funds from
  • The name and address of the recipient’s bank
  • Payee’s name, address, and account type (checking, savings, etc)
  • Recipient’s account number or IBAN
  • Recipient’s BIC or SWIFT ID

2.   Decide the amount of the transfer and the currency

It’s always best to double check with the recipient before you choose the currency option. People who regularly transact with international companies usually have a multi-currency account.

3.   Pay the international transfer fee

All banks charge a processing fee that ranges from $40-$50, though it can be as high as $80 in some cases. Within the Eurozone, transfers often cost between €5-€7, plus a percentage of the transfer amount, which can range from .1-1%. The receiving bank may also charge a fee, which averages $10-$20 (€9-€18). Once you have paid, the clerk will tell you how long the transfer should take.

Method #3: Making an International Wire Transfer Over the Phone

Much like an in-person transaction, the bank’s call center can handle your international transfer. Simply collect all the data as you would for a visit to the branch and the customer service agent will walk you through the rest. At the end, they’ll let you know how long the transfer should take.

Method #4: Using an Alternative Transfer Service

One of the most convenient options to send an international money transfer globally, is to use a service that specializes in international currency exchange. These entities are focused on helping you send money overseas in a safe, cheap, and fast manner using the speed and accessibility of the internet.

To get started is simple. You just create an account with the selected provider and send your first transfer within 24 hours. With this method, there are typically a few ways to pay. You can use your bank account or pay with a credit or debit card. Specialist providers are always fully regulated, and recipients generally receive the money directly into their own bank account.

In addition to banks, there are many standalone services you can choose from. Although they may lack the history of an established bank, don’t let that scare you. If you’re looking for low transfer fees, this is just as safe an option as a bank, with a much lower price tag. However, the tradeoff is that this avenue can take a little bit longer than simply going through the bank.

Familiar payment services you may have heard of include:

PayPal

Founded in 1998, PayPal is one of the most popular wire transfer services out there. As far as fees go, opening a PayPal account is free. If you are making a domestic wire transfer within the United States or Canada, the fees are minimal.

If your account is partially (or fully) funded using a debit or credit card (and not a bank account) then PayPal charges 2.9% of the transaction plus a fixed fee. This charge depends on the currency of that recipient’s country. Therefore, it’s much cheaper to use a PayPal account that is linked to a bank account, rather than a line of credit.

Western Union

Western Union has been around since the 19th century and was known for sending and receiving telegrams. Today, it’s a major player in the wire transfer market and is available in 200 countries with 130+ currencies.

The fees will vary depending on how you send money. If you are using a credit or debit card and sending money to someone’s bank account, Western Union charges up to $10 per transaction. Additionally, some major banks in other countries are not supported. When you use a credit or debit card and wire the money to another Western Union location, the fee is cut in half to $5.

If speed is required, Western Union may not be the best option. If you send an international transfer to a bank account, it can take anywhere from 4 to 8 days. If you send it to a local Western Union branch, it can take just minutes.

Wise (rebranded from TransferWise)

Another great option to avoid high bank fees is Wise (rebranded from TransferWise). While many banks offer competitive fees, they typically give you poor exchange rates. If you also factor in the extra international SWIFT fees, the amount charged can be overwhelming.

Wise sends out money using local bank systems to avoid high international transfer fees. All you need is the local bank details of where the money is going, and the Wise platform will only use the real exchange rate. This is the same one you see on Google. They simply charge a low, upfront fee.

Additional Online International Wire Transfer Platforms:

  • Remitly: A good option for sending money to friends and family overseas.
  • OFX: This is a specialist foreign exchange service with superior customer service.
  • WorldRemit: If you’re sending less than $10,000. This is especially good for countries in Africa, Asia, and South America.
  • XE Money Transfers: This is a reliable service with no upfront fees.

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International Money Transfers vs. Wire Transfers

International money transfers are made through non-bank remittance service providers using their own systems. Wire transfers are bank-to-bank transfers using the SWIFT system. Sending and receiving banks and intermediary banks are part of the wire transfer process. International money transfer fees are low-cost compared to wire transfer fees. 

Some international money payment services, including Western Union, MoneyGram, WorldRemit, and XE Money Transfers offer cash pickup. They’re often used by consumers to send money to loved ones in addition to business transactions. 

In terms of how it works, non-bank online money transfers may use mobile wallets from a mobile app and other types of digital wallet accounts. Foreign currency conversion fees may apply if funds sent need to be converted into a different currency from US dollars (USD) for the recipient. You can shop around for a money transfer service with a better exchange rate. 

Another bank-to-bank remittance type that you may consider to be an international money transfer is global ACH, which is explained in the Global ACH vs. Wire Transfer section. 

When comparing international money transfers vs. wire transfers, the focus here is global ACH vs. wire transfers. 

The main differences between International money transfers vs. wire transfers are: 

  • International money transfers have lower fees than wire transfers, with global ACH fees between 25 cents and $5 vs. average international wire transfer fees of $50+ 
  • International money transfers work better for higher transaction volumes through an automated global payments platform 
  • Wire transfers provide quicker payment clearing than some types of  international money transfers 
  • International money transfers by Global ACH (eChecks) may not be available in countries with limited banking infrastructure 

Tips for Making an International Money Transfer

If you’re making an international money transfer, avoid these five mistakes to ensure the payee receives payment on time:

  1. Failing to verify the payee’s bank routing information, including IBAN
  2. Failing to stay compliant with global ACH rules — there are more than 26,000
  3. Not checking to see if the funds clear the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control blacklists, which assures the money is not being sent for -money laundering or terrorist purposes
  4. Not allowing the payee to manage their own account information
  5. Failing to provide payee onboarding.

Global Currencies and Hidden Fees

Low upfront fees often cost you much more when the transfer is finished. That’s because global currencies are traded throughout the business day.

At any moment, if you take the median of the price a currency is bought and sold at, you get what’s called the mid-market/interbank exchange rate. This is the rate that sets the worth of your money when compared to other currencies. The issue is when services and banks give you a far worse currency rate than what can be found on Google. They then pocket the difference.

This means you pay an extra, un-advertised cost for your transfer. The additional charges that are folded into the exchange rate can increase fees up to 4-6% of what you are sending.

The best way to avoid these hidden fees and find the most affordable option is to do your research. You should compare the amount you will get in the destination currency before you commit to sending. Every transfer service offers a slightly different exchange rate so it’s a good idea to check how their rates stack up against the standard exchange rate.

Exchange rates change daily. Google offers a simple currency converter to ensure you are not paying exorbitant fees.

Open the Google search page and enter “currency converter” into the search bar. Set the baseline currency in the top field and the converting currency in the bottom field. Enter the amount and the tool will automatically convert. Then you can decide which services or methods are worth your time and money.

If you are regularly sending money across borders, consider signing up for a borderless multi-currency account. You can store funds in dozens of different currencies and get paid (or pay) with local bank details in the U.S., the UK, Australia, and the EU.

International Wire Transfer Fees and Rates from U.S. Banks

Banks in the United States charge high fees for international wire transfers. These fees vary depending on if you make an online transfer, do it at a branch, or over the phone. Here is the typical range per transfer for the most popular banks:

  • Citibank – $35 to $45
  • Bank of America – $35 to $45
  • Wells Fargo – $35 to $45
  • Chase – $40 to $50
  • US Bank $50

That’s not the only fee you’ll pay. Banks also hide other fees in the exchange rates offered. Always ask!

U.S. banks typically provide worse exchange rates than the base exchange rate because it’s a way for them to make extra money. It’s anywhere from 2-4% higher than you might receive elsewhere. Combined with the wire transfer fee, that means for every $1,000 spent, you are looking at fees that range from $50-70.

There are also intermediate bank rates to consider. These are the banks that are in the middle of a transaction, bouncing the incoming wire across the globe. They also want a piece of the pie.

As your international wire transfer passes through these middle banks on the way to the final destination bank, each one will take a cut of anywhere from $10 to $20. Finally, the destination bank will also take a share with an average of a $10 to $20 fee.

International Wire Transfer vs. Global ACH

When transferring funds internationally between bank accounts, there are two ways to do it. An international wire transfer or a direct deposit of funds using local bank networks (also called global ACH). Although both strategies achieve the same thing, each remittance and payment method has unique requirements and implications. This includes things like:

  • Transfer fees
  • Cost of the service
  • Information needed
  • Amount of time the transfer takes
  • Etc…

So which method is best? Try weighing them against four factors:

  1. Speed
  2. Fees
  3. Regulations
  4. Availability

Speed

If you are in a rush to get funds to someone in another country, the clear winner is an international wire transfer. Typically, funds remitted this way only take up to two business days to arrive. That’s because you’re sending the money directly from your account (i.e. a business checking or savings account) to a recipient’s account at the receiving bank.

The banks are always in direct communication with each other, and thus the transaction is faster. However, you will still need account numbers like the SWIFT code or IBAN (International Bank Account Number) of the foreign bank to complete the transfer.

The speed of the international wire transfer can vary depending on the countries and currencies involved. Every place has different standards and regulations. Typically, an international wire transfer will arrive at the destination bank between 2 and 4 business days after you send it.

A global ACH can often take up to 2 extra business days than an international wire transfer. Outbound wire transfer cutoff times will vary by bank and time zone of the originating bank. Instead of two banks communicating back and forth, a global ACH leverages the clearing network of the recipient’s bank.

For example, the clearing network in the United States is NACHA, which is short for the National Automated Clearing House Association. This is also known as an ACH transfer. In Europe, the clearing network is SEPA, which is an abbreviation for the Single Euro Payments Area.

Funds that are transferred through the direct deposit method are always processed in groups or batches with other transactions that are using bank transfers. This slows down the process and drags it out from a few hours to a few days.

International Wire Transfer Fees

As stated above, when sending money overseas, it’s important to consider the charges. International wire transfers can come with hefty fees. It can cost up to $50 to send money and up to $10 just to receive it. Additional fees are always accrued during the currency exchange as well. This is usually not discussed and may come as a surprise to any business sending money globally.

On the contrary, global ACH or local bank transfer transaction fees can be very minimal. In fact, some are as low as $5, which is significantly less than an international wire transfer. While larger financial institutions and banks can be the obvious choice for security, when a business needs to make one-off cross-border transfers, the processing fees can add up.

Although online banking will remove some steps, banks can charge fees based on the type of currency you send. For example, Bank of America will charge $35 for outbound international wire transfers sent in a foreign currency, and $45 for those sent in U.S. dollars.

These amounts do not include foreign currency exchange fees either. Additionally, wire transfers sent in a foreign currency will always arrive sooner than those sent in U.S. dollars. This seems sort of backward.

Global Money Transfer Regulations and Limitations

Another point to consider when choosing between an international wire transfer or a local bank transfer is the size of the transaction and frequency. Each financial institution has different minimum and maximum limits on the amount you can send and how often.

This is a “make it or break it” point if you are sending high volume amounts or transfers on a constant basis. All of this will affect your bottom line. If you are not sure how your bank charges, log into your online banking software or call a company representative. Do not go into the transfer blind.

If you intend to wire large amounts of money, the best ways to do so depends on a few factors like:

  • The countries and currencies money is sent between
  • How you pay for the transfer (some methods cost more than others)
  • The fee and exchange rates that are charged by the bank or provider being used
  • How the recipient chooses to receive their money

When taking all of this into consideration, the most economical way to send international funds is by using a money transfer service.

There can also be limitations and other restrictions on the frequency of overseas wire transfers or global ACH. These include per person, per day, or per month depending on the service you use. A global ACH is ideal for a business that makes transfers on a regular and/or high-frequency basis, such as paying a freelancer overseas for an ongoing project.

Consumers are federally protected for international direct deposit and wire transfers. All financial institutions are required to disclose the following data:

  • The exchange rate
  • Fees and taxes charged by banks, intermediary institutions, and other third-party agents
  • When the money will arrive at the final destination
  • How to cancel transfers and correct errors

Financial institutions that are handling your international transfer are required to follow the guidelines set forth by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The agency regulates economic and trade sections against specific foreign countries, banks, and individuals based on the United States foreign policy. All banks are required to screen global ACH payments to ensure the transaction complies with every OFAC regulation.

In addition, as a component of your compliance, regulatory, and screening process, sometimes more advanced data is required to execute an international wire transfer. Information such as identification and bank details can be requested.

Banks like Wells Fargo and Chase require common identifying details like SWIFT, BIC, IBAN, and CLAB (for Mexico). Bank of America asks for all of that plus additional screening details like the intent and purpose of the wire (i.e. business, loan, etc.).

More advanced compliance procedures involve a photo ID to check against larger crime-based databases. This is to ensure all funds being transferred are not for criminal organizations or violating sanctions.

Availability  

Global ACH may not be available in countries lacking the required banking infrastructure.

Spend More and Send More

In business, to stretch money further, send larger amounts in batches so the fixed fee doesn’t take up much of the total amount.

Choosing between sending your funds via an international wire transfer or a global ACH depends on a variety of factors that make the most sense for your business, like time, amount, and frequency. You may want the money to arrive in a foreign account as soon as possible. That will come at a higher remittance fee.

Companies like Tipalti offer a business an inexpensive alternative to sending larger amounts worldwide. They help companies with mass payment needs save money by switching from expensive international wire transfers to a global ACH (a local bank transfer) in countries where this is an option.

There are many aspects to consider when sending your money across the globe. Luckily, modern technology has allowed a business to save time, drive revenue, and nurture international relationships.

You may also be interested in:

Echecks: Efficient Global B2B Payment Methods 

Automated Invoice Processing Software: What is it and How Does it Work?

Global Payments Methods: 4 Popular Types of ePayment – Tipalti

eBilling – What is Electronic Billing?

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