How Fast is an International Wire Transfer Processed?

11 min read

In how many films have wire transfers been an integral plot device? Usually it’s someone that needs money immediately and their only other option is to grab it in cash. This is because wire transfers, at least historically, have been portrayed as a secure, dependable, and speedy way to migrate funds from one account to another. However, often times, they are slow and untraceable.

How do they work? What purpose do they serve?

International wire transfers are processed electronically by bank or nonbank parties. They are typically sent from business to business, customer to business, or person to person. While this is not always the case, usually there is no physical money moved from location to location. A large gamut of intermediaries—through an international network—pass the funds through multiple hands (often correspondent banks) until they finally reach their destination.

The most common method of making an international wire is through an old network called SWIFT. Banks use this network to communicate to one another and pass the wire through multiple parties until it reaches its final destination.

They’re often utilized for purchases of higher importance, immediacy, volume, and those that need to be sent overseas. There are some purchases that require them exclusively, with a cashier’s check or cash as the only alternatives (even then, sometimes a party will only accept a wire transfer).

While no liquidity is moved through these wires (unless in rare occasions), the most common method of making an international wire is through an old network called SWIFT. Banks use this network to communicate to one another and pass the wire through multiple parties until it reaches its final destination. There are other alternatives to making an international wire, however (we’ll touch more on this later).

In short:

an international wire transfer is the relocation of funds from one country to another. Its purpose is to safely transfer money to foreign parties, ensure their delivery, and do it in a fast timeframe.

How Long Does an International Wire Take?

It is commonsensical to assume that an international wire transfer takes longer than a domestic one. In this case, common sense prevails. Typically, in traditional banking, the sender should expect the wire to take no more than 5 days. Today, with a vast amount of alternatives to use outside of big banks, there are services that can process an international wire at faster speeds. Some services can guarantee same-day delivery.

What is SWIFT?

Created in the late 70’s, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications is the network between financial institutions that serves as the most prominent backbone of international wire transfers. The methodology behind SWIFT can be explained in one word: standardization. In an attempt to bring the banks and credit unions of the world together, SWIFT is the platform that equalized the playing field and allowed these different institutions to communicate more intuitively.

In an oversimplification, SWIFT works by assigning each organization their individual code. Banks use these specific codes (there are four different types) as identifiers and then carry out messages by inputting them into the network. Say you want to transfer money to a bank in Italy. You can walk into your local branch with the foreign bank’s name or SWIFT code, your bank can then identify them, and by utilizing the SWIFT network a money transfer can be made somewhat securely.

But as we’ve seen with older infrastructure—although SWIFT has certainly made efforts to evolve alongside the technological progress—each day that passes they’re a bit more outdated.

Why using SWIFT and Big Banks may slow down your International Wire Transfer?

We’re going to assume you’ve mailed something once in your life. Well one of the main complaints people had about the United States Post Office was their lack of traceability, dependability, and efficiency. Often you’d put a letter in the mail and just hope it made it to the right destination. Enter FedEx, an intuitive carrier service that allows you to track each package in stages, hit faster deliveries, and reach more destinations.

Unfortunately, while SWIFT was once the FedEx of the international wire market, now there are arguments to be made against it. While SWIFT has proven to be the most useful money transferring network internationally, they lack end-to-end ownership. There is no one party responsible for overseeing the transfer of funds from one territory to another. In addition, their tracking system only provides updates in retro. Following up on where your money is without the end-to-end ownership really is a big part of time people forget about when making wire transfers through banks and SWIFT.

While SWIFT has proven to be the most useful money transferring network internationally, they lack end-to-end ownership. There is no one party responsible for overseeing the transfer of funds from one territory to another

To say that SWIFT cannot track their payments, however, is incorrect. As stated, they can do it in retro. Basically they reference ‘traces’ that allow you to track where the money has been. This brings us to our point: with SWIFT, diligence has a cost and that cost is time. To monitor the travel of your funds also means to delay the delivery time.

While SWIFT is certainly the behemoth network for transferring funds internationally, it has now been proven that it’s not the fastest. In comparison to other services, both their standard delivery rates and method of operations are lacking. This has allowed third party transferring services to capitalize on the need for a faster, securer, and more intuitive system of transferring funds internationally (not to mention cheaper).

What to know before making an international wire transfer?

Before we delve deep down into the ways in which you can transfer money internationally, or the speed in which these processes take place, it’s important that we list the integral components you need to think through before choosing which way to send your money overseas.

  1. One of the biggest problems with international wire transfers is the fees they can accrue. Make sure you know exactly how much you’re going to pay and how much your recipient is going to pay before making a decision.
  2. Currency Exchange Rate. If you’re sending money to another country, dependent on the market there might be a massive difference between the amount you’re sending and the amount they’re receiving. Be particularly careful of this if you’re going to be sending money against a stronger currency.
  3. How much? How many? The amounts of money you’re sending internationally can often directly influence the fees accrued, speed in which it’s processed, and the type of service you should use. It’s a general rule of thumb that if you’re prepared to send out multiple international wire transfers, you do them all at once. The more wires processed means the more money that can go to bank or nonbank services.
  4. The core of this article, how fast do you need your money to arrive? What is the immediacy required? This is important as you’ll find with the information provided that different methods of transferring money internationally arrive in different timeframes. Expedited orders are—not always—but usually costly.
  5. Origin of funds. We’re assuming you know where your money is coming from. It’s important to discern between the types of origins that are faster or slower. For instance, often funds transferred through a digital wallet can occur at much faster rates than any other type of A point.
  6. Where are you sending money to? This is another important thing to consider. The speed of delivery and feeds involved differ country to country. For instance, sending money to Africa costs you—on average—almost twice as much as sending it to Europe. There may also be services that are more optimal for certain territories. The latter in particular as KYC regulations are restricting certain territories.

KYC (Know Your Customer) Regulations

KYC was part of the Patriot Act that came into effect after 9/11. It was an installment backed by the government to further secure the way in which we transfer money overseas. Spurred by the need to debilitate terrorism funding, KYC regulations also work to prevent fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, thievery, and any sort of international transfer corruption prevalent.

There are two requirements for the KYC; Customer Identification Program and Customer Due Diligence. They go by the acronyms CIP and CDD.

There are two requirements for the KYC; Customer Identification Program and Customer Due Diligence. They go by the acronyms CIP and CDD.

CIP is the way in which banks or nonbanks verify the customer’s identity. The starting point is always a passport or identification card. For businesses it’s a government-backed business license. However, the CIP process differs institution to institution and can require a wide range of other information.

CDD is the way in which banks or nonbanks research the customer and recipient in order to evaluate risk or identify any sort of threat possible. There’s no standard for this process either and it can range from dissecting the origin of funds to executing a full evaluation of a company’s financial history.

Why this is important in terms of international wire transfer speed?

While KYC is certainly important in practice it has restricted the flexibility of these banks to send money to the places they want to. Today, some banks can no longer send money to certain locations because they do not comply with KYC regulation. Not only that, but KYC regulations can require large amounts of time to complete, which means a slower transfer rate.

This industry wide paradigm shift has rung a siren for new technology to be developed in the international transfer space. This call has been answered and it hasn’t necessarily been by the traditional infrastructure (banks) we’re used to relying on. Today, there are multiple digital services that can wire money internationally at a much faster rate, with fewer fees accrued. Their KYC processes are simpler, more intuitive, and quicker, which only optimizes the experience.

Today, there are multiple digital services that can wire money internationally at a much faster rate, with fewer fees accrued

These new digital platforms are attempting to utilize this opportunity that the dated SWIIFT network is creating, and they’re doubling their efforts to be more efficient and far reaching.

What are the ways to make to an international wire transfer?


Once all of these factors are considered and processed, you can then decide what sort of method you want to transfer money internationally.


This is obviously the most traditional method in which to make an international wire transfer. You walk into a bank and then ask to wire your money to an overseas account. This method works best when it’s the same bank to bank. The thing is, not everyone banks at the same place, which creates a divide.

Wiring money internationally can be done within the branch itself or through their digital platforms. They typically require the recipient’s identification, their branch code, and the routing and account number. Each bank has their own form a sender has to fill out before making their wire transfer.

What’s the speed?

In this day and age, not only are banks considered to be the slowest option when wiring money internationally, but also the least cost-efficient. Their wires typically take 3-5 days to migrate from one account to another, with quicker speeds when it’s done internally (same bank to bank). Their delivery rates can be expedited… but usually for a cost.


The new age method in which to transfer money internationally, this is done by setting up an online account that acts as an intermediary between banks. It’s commonly thought that digital wallets are going to be the most ubiquitous form of banking come a few decades from now and the scaling of these online services is proving that.

What’s the speed?

There’s no definitive speed for all digital services. Some claim to be faster than others and can prove that statement, while others are still developing. Take PayPal for instance. You can transfer money over to someone abroad with a few clicks on your computer, but it may still take up to a week for the funds to transfer as the person still has to ‘withdraw’ their funds from PayPal’s ‘escrow.’ However, as the industry continues to evolve, digital services continue to improve.

Multi-rail solutions are now using blockchain (like Veem, for instance) to create international networks with new and traditional systems. They have higher flexibility, better tech, and a bigger vision when it comes to transferring money internationally. Aside from higher security and better rates, mult-rail solutions are quickly becoming the fastest international wire service providers in the market.


Money transfer operators like Western Union work to move money on the ground as fast as possible. They’re incredibly beneficial for people that don’t have access to digital platforms. However, they’re certainly the costliest option, but that’s because they have the capabilities of placing physical funds in certain locations. This means you can send money to a location somewhere overseas and your recipient, once the company has approved their documentation, can walk into a physical branch and actually pick up their funds.

What’s the speed?

It’s typically thought that these transfer operators which can move quickly across the ground are among the fastest in the business. They service people that need to acquire or send money immediately and some can provide the transfer same day (like same bank to bank transfers). But, unfortunately, like most expedited processes they come with a cost.

Their speed ranges from same day delivery to a week.

Personal versus Business

Typically, there is no difference when it comes to sending out a personal international wire or doing it through your business. When it comes to speed… that’s not necessarily the case. Being that KYC regulations can often require more from businesses, the process to verify funds and pass the screening can often add a few days to the international wire transfer speed.

If you’re making an international wire transfer for a business—depending on the amount—don’t be surprised if its take longer than doing it personally.


International wire transfer speeds vary dependent on multiple different factors. The quickest and safest route is thought to be same bank-to-bank transfers, but relying on your recipient always banking where you bank is not practical.

What we know is that SWIFT—while trying to improve their technology—is being superseded by digital companies that are simplifying the process and improving the speed in which they transfer money. If enough infrastructure is built out, soon we’re going to see a service that can provide the fastest transfers at the lowest rates. As of now, there are plenty of options to choose from.

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* This blog provides general information and discussion about global business payments and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.