Steps to making an international transfer

Hannah Conway
9 minute read

When transferring money to foreign bank account, you want to find an option that is simple, fast and doesn’t cost you more than it should. There are lots of ways to send money internationally, but an online international bank transfer is a secure, fast option.

Banks are no-longer the only way to make an international transfer. Alternatives, like Western Union, MoneyGram, PayPal and the industry-changing Wise are often cheaper than traditional banks.

Learn more about Wise

Let's take a quick look at an example payment of sending £2000 to USD.

Provider Exchange Rate Transfer Fee Recipient gets
Wise Real mid-market rate - no markup £8.13 2,543.62 USD
Monzo, powered by Wise Real mid-market rate - no markup £8.13 2,543.62 USD
Barclays Around 2.7% markup on exchange rate £0.00 2,484.45 USD
Nationwide Around 2.3% markup on exchange rate £20.00 2,470.51 USD
PayPal Around 4% markup on exchange rate £2.99 2,448.55 USD

Information correct as on 03/03/2020. Exchange rates are subject to fluctuations so always check the up-to-date information before you send money. Compare exchange rates with Wise.

What details do I need for an international bank transfer?

When transferring money to a foreign bank account, you’ll always need to provide:

  • Your recipient’s name, address, and the account type they have with their bank (checking, current, savings, money market, etc).
  • Your recipient’s account number or IBAN (International Bank Account Number).
  • The name and address of your recipient’s bank.
  • The recipient’s bank’s BIC/SWIFT code.

Options available: use your bank or an alternative provider?

Your bank may seem like the convenient option if you need to send money internationally, but it can often end-up being the expensive choice.

This is in part because most banks send international transfers using the SWIFT network. Whenever the SWIFT network is involved there are usually hefty fees too. Banks also have a tendency to state an upfront fee that they’ll charge, then hide more fees in the exchange rate that they offer you. It's called adding a markup to the mid-market exchange rate - and these are essentially hidden fees.

Combine these two things, and your international transfer is likely to cost you more than it needs to.

This is where an alternative, like Wise can help. Wise is different than traditional banks - it only charges a low, transparent fee for conversions and always offers the** real mid-market rate with no markup**. It can also help you avoid SWIFT fees.

If you use your bank, you’ll want to know about SWIFT transfers

Don’t let the name fool you. SWIFT transfers aren’t all that swift. The SWIFT banking process is the global standard for transferring money from one country to another. Because not all banks have direct connections, the SWIFT network includes participating banks across the world.

The SWIFT network, in some ways, is a bit like travelling via plane. If there’s no direct route from one airport to another, you may need to take a connecting flight or two. The SWIFT network operates in a similar manner. Instead of your money travelling straight from its origin to its destination, there will often be anywhere from one to three banks that your money needs to go through to make sure it gets there. Unfortunately, that also means each of those banks will take a fee.

In summary what you’ll want to keep in mind about SWIFT transfers:

  • Despite the name, SWIFT transfers aren’t all that fast. They can take anywhere from 1-5 working days.
  • Anywhere from 3-5 banks will charge you a fee. They can add up.
  • If your money is converted into another currency, be prepared for poor currency exchange rates. An added expense.

Option 2: Choose an alternative transfer service (often the cheapest, and sometimes the fastest option)

Banks can be expensive as they hide their fees on foreign currency transactions - but this is where alternative options can help. Alternative providers are often more convenient and fast - but you’ll still need to be aware of potential fees involved in sending money internationally.

We’ve included an overview of some alternative providers to help you in your search.


Wise works a little differently than traditional banks, and was created to provide fast and affordable international transfers - and is on average 8x cheaper than leading UK banks. **But how does it do this? **

Wise has bank accounts all over the world linked together by their smart technology. For example, if your bank account is based in the UK and you want to send USD to a bank account in the US - then you would first send your deposit for the payment locally to their GBP bank account in the UK, and then Wise would pay the money-out to your recipient via their bank account in the US.

This means that the money does not need to be sent via the SWIFT network - which reduces the fees that will be charged for your transfer. And, you’ll always get the real mid-market exchange with no markup - meaning no hidden fees.

Join Wise


PayPal is a popular option for many looking to send money internationally. It provides a reliable service, and is available across many currencies and countries - but the fees can add up.

PayPal has a number of fees that are applied when you want to make an international transfer - and they can get a little complicated. The fees PayPal charges will differ depending on whether you are sending money as an individual, or receiving money as a business. It will also be dependent on the currency that you are sending, and where your account is registered.

The PayPal fees UK, can be broken down like this:

  • PayPal cross border fees.
  • PayPal currency conversion fee.
  • Paypal commercial payment fee (only applies to commercial payments).

You can avoid PayPal fees by using PayPal alternatives for international payments.

PayPal exchange rates

PayPal charges a currency conversion fee when you convert between currencies. This fee is what is known as a mark-up on the exchange rate.

For example, if you want to send money via PayPal for a personal cross border payment, then you’ll be charged:

5% of the transaction amount (min. £0.99, max. £2.99) + **2.5% markup on the exchange rate **

For commercial payments, the conversion fees range from 3% to 4%.¹

It’s common for providers and banks to add an extra fee, hidden in the exchange rate - this is known as a markup and can result in you paying more than you need to. The real exchange rate is the mid-market exchange rate - that’s the one that you’ll see on Google.

It gets increasingly confusing as many providers won’t mention this, unless you dig into their Terms & Conditions, or they may use a different word for it. PayPal, for example, calls it a fee above the base exchange rate.

While adding a markup is common, it's good to know that there are providers like Wise that choose to offer the mid-market exchange rate - one you’ll see on Google.

Western Union

Western Union is used by many to transfer money internationally. The fees they advertise vary depending on where you’re actually sending money.

The fees involved in a transfer will be shown to you just before you complete a payment with Western Union - but the exact fees are not displayed before this. Let’s take a look at an example payment of sending 200 GBP to USD - for which you’ll be charged a fee of £4.90. However, there are more fees involved than the ones that you see on the send money estimator.

Western Union will convert your money at the current exchange rate + markup.

This means that in addition to the upfront fees that you’ll see when you start your transfer, there is also a hidden fee in the exchange rate.

Basically, Western Union hides extra, unadvertised fees in the exchange rate. You get a poor rate, and they profit. When you add it to the fees already charged, that amount can start to add up, fast.

So, before you submit your order, make sure to find out the exact amount you’ll get in the end. It never hurts to take a few minutes to shop around, compare and do your research.²

Western Union may also charge additional fees for a money transfer, depending on the specific details of the payment. For full details, see the Western Union website. If can also check the nearest Western Union branch on dedicated websites.

How to make an international bank transfer

1. Find the wire transfer section on your bank’s website

If you have online banking set up, log into your online bank account and navigate to the wire transfer section of your bank’s webpage. There will probably be a section on the top toolbar at your bank’s homepage.

Alternatively, you can do a Google search for “wire transfer” and the name of your bank. If neither of those methods work, give your bank’s customer service a call. They should be able to steer you to the right place.

2. Double check your online transfer limit.

Your bank may require you to set an online transfer limit, which is often $5,000. Sometimes they set one for you. If the amount you need to transfer is over your daily limit, you’ll normally need to call your bank to authorize it.

In some cases, in order to verify it’s you making the request, your bank may have an additional security step. This can be anywhere from a special code sent to your mobile phone, or a secure email sent to your email address.

3. Enter the recipient’s bank details.

To complete a SWIFT international transfer, you’ll need to provide your recipient’s information.

4. Enter the amount and choose the currency you want for the recipient bank.

When you enter your recipient’s information, the currency of his or her country is often automatically set in the wire transfer form. If not, select the correct currency and then enter the amount of the transfer.


How long does an international wire transfer take?

Despite the name, SWIFT transfers aren’t all that fast. They can take anywhere from 1-5 working days

Most transfers take one to three business days depending on a number of factors. For example if the destination bank account is in a drastically different time zone, or they have different days of the week on which their banks work. So you’ll want to keep these things in mind. Also, as the money doesn’t travel directly from one bank to another, it will take time.

The tradeoff with stand-alone transfer services is that while the upfront costs might be lower, sometimes, depending on where you’re sending money to, the transfer might take longer than 1-2 days.

What is an IBAN number?

Made up of up to 34 letters and numbers, it’s a code that helps banks process international transfers.

You can get this information upon request from the bank, or appears online or on recent bank statements. You can also calculate an IBAN with Wise, if you know your recipient’s account details.


What is a SWIFT / BIC code?

A SWIFT code is a standard format for a Business Identifier Codes (BIC) - and it denotes the exact bank the recipient account is in. Your bank may be able to find out the recipient’s BIC/SWIFT code using the recipient’s name and account number or by using an online BIC/SWIFT code finder, but you can also just ask the recipient bank for the information.

How much can you send via an international bank transfer?

You can send a large sum of money abroad, as the UK government doesn’t limit the amount of money that can be sent abroad from the UK. However, the bank and provider may have their own limits in place - so always best to double-check if you are unsure.

Your bank or money transfer provider will be asked to collect some details about both the sender and the recipient of many international payments. Usually you’ll just have to follow the service provider’s process, and everything will be in order.

When sending money internationally, it’s important to do your research to make sure you are choosing a provider that offers the best service for you. Make sure to always check the upfront fees and also the exchange rate, to see if a markup has been added. Providers, like Wise will always offer you the mid-market rate, with no markup.

Join Wise

Sources used:

  1. PayPal: User Agreement - A1.2.2; A3.1; A3.1.2.2
  2. Western Union: Terms and Conditions - 2.8; 2.9

Sources checked on: 03-March 2020.

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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