Have you ever needed to send money to another country? If you have, you probably had a ton of questions. How fast will it arrive? How safe is the transaction?
More often than not, the most important question involves fees: how much is it going to cost me? No person or company ever wanted to lose money because of a simple transfer of funds.
These questions and concerns are changing the way we understand international wire transfers.
Financial technology companies are stepping up to the plate and are not only optimizing the international wiring process, but are making it more affordable through technology.
If you’re trying to figure out how much it costs to wire money internationally and what services treat your wallet better, you’ve come to the right place.
But first, let’s tie-down the terminology.
What’s an International Wire Transfer?
An international wire transfer is a sum of money that’s transferred to another country. These transactions are processed electronically by bank and nonbank parties.
They’re often the preferred method of transferring funds (over a cashier’s check or shipping cash) as they claim to offer higher security, accountability, and stronger infrastructure backing their transit.
These transfers are typically carried out between businesses, customer to business, or person to person.
Processing speed depends on the service you use. Seeing the money leave and enter a new account can take from same day to nearly a week.
Traditionally, the fastest wire transfers are usually the priciest.
But, companies are innovating the space to make international transfers faster, while keeping prices low.
What is the traditional way to transfer money internationally?
Established in 1977, SWIFT (the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications) serves as the primary network for international banks to communicate.
SWIFT brought banks and credit unions together beneath its worldwide umbrella in the hopes of standardizing the money transfer process. When it was first introduced, the system revolutionized international transfers.
However, SWIFT was designed solely as a messenger service. Each bank in the network is given a specific SWIFT code. This code, alongside the bank account and routing number, is what banks use to identify the recipient of a transfer.
SWIFT wasn’t designed for accountability or security, just banking convenience.
While SWIFT still works, tech-driven companies are emerging as serious competitors to traditional banks. Technology is driving out the old and making way for the new, to the benefit of anyone sending money internationally.
SWIFT just can’t keep up.
Why is SWIFT important when discussing international wire transfer fees?
It’s important to address SWIFT when discussing international wire transfer fees because of its lack of intuition.
Every big bank and most credible financial establishments use SWIFT. If you’re transferring money online using a bank, chances are it’s traveling through the SWIFT network. Even if you don’t transfer through a bank, you may be using the network.
Banks are notorious for having the highest fees and slowest deliveries when it comes to international transfers. But, there are some exceptions, and many still believe their bank to be the safest way to transfer funds internationally.
But, SWIFT has no end-to-end relationship.
No one monitors the transfer from one end to another. No one provides real-time updates on the status of the transfer, insures the funds, or avoids data losses.
Using this network, you’re probably paying the highest fees for a hands-off, insecure, and unintuitive service.
SWIFT is the not the cheapest way to send money overseas. There are better ways.
If you’re sending money from your bank to the same exact bank overseas, then you might as well send your payments this way. But, odds are your recipient doesn’t use your bank. In this case, you’re losing money by transferring through your bank
For international wire transfers, you don’t get what you pay for. You get less.
Things to Know About Fees before Making an International Wire
First, Watch For Exchange Rates
Exchange rates are at the center of international wire transfers. The exchange rate from one currency to another isn’t the same across every institution. Banks often increase their profit or margin this way – not with ‘fees,’ but with their currency exchange rate.
In fact, Wells Fargo was recently accused of overcharging clients on foreign exchange rates. The bank incentivizes employees to charge more, telling clients who complained that it was out of their hands.
Wells Fargo was recently accused of overcharging clients on foreign exchange rates. The bank incentivizes employees to charge more, telling clients who complained that it was out of their hands
It goes something like this: a bank charges a fixed fee—attractive at first glance—but their exchange rate and fee will be a lot weaker than other services. Your differential will end up immensely higher than you expected because of the currency conversion. In other words, you end up sending much less money than you meant to.
These are what we call ‘hidden fees:’ Weak exchange rates and commissions built into the transfer process.
‘Hidden fees:’ Weak exchange rates and commissions built into the transfer process
Even worse, the fees aren’t only charged to the sender. The recipient often has to pay as well.
The receiver may even ask for compensation for the fee they’re asked to pay, adding even more expenses to what should be a simple wire transfer.
Know Where You’re Sending
Depending on which country you’re sending to, it may cost significantly more to transfer funds. Take Africa as an example. International transfers cost 3% above the global average, according to the World Bank
International transfers cost 3% above the global average, according to the World Bank
It’s important to know if the location in which you’re sending money lacks economic or banking infrastructures, as it may cost you more to transfer funds there.
As well, many other factors including amount of remittances and a country’s participation in global trade greatly affect the cost of wire transfers.
Volume of Money
The amount of money you send greatly affects what you’re charged. The lower the amount, the higher the commission. The more you send, the less you’re charged. It sounds odd, but it makes sense to reward you for sending more money.
Make sure that the amount you’re sending is worth it. More money is almost always better, as it can seem like a drop in the bucket that is your transfer.
What are the general fees involved with international wires?
Big banks charge anywhere from $25-$65 per outgoing wire transfer.
Charges vary depending on the bank, and can be waived for certain accounts.
Incoming international wires they usually cost $10-$25. Incoming fees are typically more difficult to waive. We’re aware that this information is a bit ambiguous and especially so if you’re considering sending money internationally through your bank.
Don’t worry. There’s a cost breakdown at the end of the article.
Regardless of the fees, around 80% of international wire transfers are handled by bigger banks.
They’re capitalizing on their own complexity. While they may waive fees, their exchange rates might be more difficult to understand, and therefore worse than you thought.
While banks are not thought to be the most expensive option, being that they handle most of the world’s volume, they’re definitely not the cheapest way to send money internationally.
If you’re not careful about the fine print or the exchange rate, they can end up with a 15% margin of your transferred funds. However much your sending, that’s too much.
SWIFT Tracing Fee
The tracing fee that SWIFT requires to track your funds is also important to consider.
There are multiple people/institutions involved with SWIFT’s process of shipping a wire. So, they don’t offer an intuitive or thorough method to track your money. If you want to know exactly how your funds have travelled (and in whose hands), you’ll have to pay a tracing fee.
SWIFT will then retrace their steps to see where your wire went (this can only be done in retro, or after your payment has traveled through an institution and been logged).
But, simply to see where your money’s going and how it’ll get there, not only will you have to pay for it, you aren’t even able to track it in real-time.
The SWIFT network is out of date. Transfers are often lost, and the fees charged don’t even cover these losses.
Just recently a bank lost a New York seamstress’ international wire worth over $35k. She paid the tracing fee, but her money was nowhere to be found. So, the bank gave up.
Only after the story was publicized did her bank step in and do their part to return her money. Does that sound efficient, secure, and cost-effective to you? Us neither.
One of the fastest methods to transfer money internationally is also the most expensive.
You might know these Transfer Operators by the names of MoneyGram or Western Union.
These services can drop cash at hundreds of locations worldwide, overnighting large volumes of money, and completely ignoring bank accounts to deliver directly to the recipient. Sounds pretty good so far, right?
Their fees are typically calculated by assessing the distance the funds have to travel, the amount, and the speed in which their sender wants them to land.
But, the the initial cost of a transfer isn’t what makes these transfers expensive, it’s poor exchange rates. No matter what criteria you fall in, you can expect to lose 8-15% of your transfer by using these services.
While they do avoid the issues of big banks and directly connect the sender and receiver, transfer operators just cost too much, especially when sending large sums of money.
New Payment Technology Platforms
To avoid all these issues with international transfers, tech-driven platforms are taking the reins.
Companies like Veem are using multi-rail technology to ensure further security and tracking functionality for international payments, with no hidden fees.
As companies like Veem continue to develop and evolve, they gain popularity.
Fintech companies have become the fastest and cheapest way to send money.
As technology progresses, unbanked networks will continue to expand.
As of now, companies like Veem can offer transfers between over 60 countries. And they do it without charging a transfer fee – for both the sender and receiver.
Summary of Options To Send Money Internationally:
- High bank and wire fees
- No end-to-end ownership of payment – tracking functionality is flawed and retroactive
- Promise low fees but high commissions and weak exchange rates
- Highest fees (8-15% on average)
- One of the quicker ways to transfer money
- Can drop large volumes of cash at locations all over the world, with no requirement that the recipient holds a bank account
- Notoriously poor exchange rates
Payment Technology Platforms
- Fastest transfers at the most competitive price
- No caps on the international wire amount
- End-to-end, real-time payment tracking
- Payment services in 60 major countries, with more to come
- Integration and reconciliation with accounting software packages
- Live support on each payment
To put it into perspective, here’s a quick comparison of pricing between big banks, transfer operators, and payment platforms (tech-based non-bank.)
Outgoing International Wire: $40 (this can change with foreign currency)
Incoming International Wire: $16
Outgoing International Wire: $45 (this can change with foreign currency)
Incoming International Wire: $16
While there’s no set price for exchange rates or volume of currency, it’s a rule of thumb that when wires travel through SWIFT’s network, the margin lost is usually somewhere between 4-8%.
There are no absolutes when it comes to Transfer Operator fees. They’re based on method of payment, speed of delivery, if it’s cash to a location or a wire between banks, and the origin of the funds versus its destination.
No matter the overt fees accrued, it’s the exchange rates that often take the most money with transfer operators.
- Outgoing International Wire: Free
- Incoming International Wire: Free
- Highly Favourable, Transparent Exchange Rates
Innovative technology payment platforms are more transparent in their pricing and thus are much more competitive. When it comes to getting you the most economical solution to sending and receiving money abroad, these companies are the way to go.
International Wire Fees
As you’d expect, international wire fees vary by service. From traditional methods to new age nonbank intermediaries, fees are inevitable. With a whole gamut of alternative services, however, you’re no longer pigeonholed into using banks or transfer operators.
The key is to learn the ins and outs of each service, and decide what’s best for you.
In today’s global world, there’s no reason to pay more than you need to.