Need to send money abroad? This seemingly simple task can get pretty complex if you do it the wrong way. Some banks still make international wire transfers hard work for their customers, sometimes requiring them to come into a branch rather than using online or telephone services. And then, of course, there are the fees.
So it pays to do your research, and that’s where this article can help.
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One of the frustrating things about international wire transfers from banks is that each bank offers a service that’s ever so slightly different. So you shouldn’t assume they all offer the same service, even if it’s hard to spot the difference at first. Here’s a list of what you should be on the lookout for.
- Ways to make the transfer. Some banks let you make an international wire online or via an app. Others let you do it by telephone. But some - quite a few, actually - still make you come into a branch to do it. Which is irritating at best - and infuriating if you happen to be out of the country.
- Speed. This is always somewhat variable because it also depends on where the money’s going - the speed isn’t just down to the sending bank. But different banks do offer different expected delivery times, so check that yours is competitive.
- Limits. Is there a maximum amount you’re allowed to send abroad? How about a minimum amount? These could be important considerations, especially if you’re sending large sums of money.
- Cancellation/recall. Banks have different policies on this. Sometimes, you have to pay a fee to cancel or recall a transfer that’s already been requested. So read the small print and check.
- Customer support. If something goes wrong or you need a helping hand, what does your bank offer? Are they always on the phone, or available via chat online? These days, 24/7 customer service from major institutions isn’t rare, and knowing it’s there in case of emergency can be a load off your mind.
- Security. Overall, banks need a high level of security if they’re able to operate at all, and they’ll have to comply with international wire regulations. So your bank is unlikely to actually lose your money. But there are still security issues to consider, especially if you use online banking. For instance, does your bank have 2-factor authentication (2fa)? What happens if they need to send a text to your US phone when you’re out of the country? It’s worth looking into your backup options for situations like that.
- Cost. Last, but certainly not least, always keep an eye on the cost. Most US banks charge a flat fee for international wire transfers, but there can be other costs to consider too, such as penalties if you provide the wrong details. And then there’s the exchange rate, which banks don’t tend to call a ‘cost’ at all. But unless they’re offering you the mid-market exchange rate, they’re making money at your expense through converting less of your money than they could. Which brings us on to the next section.
As already mentioned, the real answer to this is ‘it depends’. But there are four broad categories of fees that usually end up being charged for international wires. The big table below has the specific figures, but here’s a quick overview of what sorts of fees there are.
This is generally a flat fee that your bank will charge you to make the transfer. It may vary depending on whether you request your wire transfer online or in a branch.
Sometimes, banks or specialist providers claim to offer ‘fee-free’ transfers. But a transfer that genuinely has no fees is, shall we say, unlikely. Often, ‘fee-free’ simply means there’s no sending fee - there might well still be the next three types of fees.
Did you know that banks can set their own exchange rates when they transfer your money? While they’re always based on the current market rates, banks don’t have to charge the real mid-market exchange rate, which is an average of all the buy and sell rates currently in use. Instead, banks tend to charge exchange rates that are effectively marked up, meaning that they can convert slightly less of your money than they would otherwise. Good news for them, bad news for you. And for your recipient.
Want a rude awakening? Compare the exchange rate your bank offers to the rate you find on Google, XE or Wise’s currency converter. The difference between those figures is going straight into your bank’s pockets.
International wire transfers are generally made via the SWIFT network, a complex international system of interlinked banks. It’s often not possible via SWIFT for your money to go directly to its destination, so several additional banks - correspondent or intermediary banks, as they’re known - may get involved.
There are two problems with this. Firstly, it can make the transfer process slower. And secondly, it can - and almost certainly will - cost a lot. Every single correspondent bank can charge a fee. A fee that probably comes straight out of your transfer - meaning that even less of your money makes it to its destination.
When you make the transfer, it’s sometimes possible to specify whether you or the recipient bear the cost of these (and other) fees - you should have a chat with your recipient and check with your bank.
Additionally, the recipient’s bank might charge a fee for the privilege of actually getting hold of the money you’ve sent them. That’s totally out of the hands of the sending bank, but it’s something else you can check with your recipient in advance - if they have multiple bank accounts, they should get you to transfer to the one with the lowest receiving fees.
One alternative to using a bank is Wise. Using its own system of linked local bank accounts in countries around the world, Wise can send your money abroad without going through the SWIFT system, with its multiple correspondent banks and unexpected delays and fees.
At Wise, we never hide extra fees and charges in the exchange rate. We just use the exchange rate – independently provided by Reuters. That means fair, cheap money transfers, every time.
And because Wise always offers the real mid-market exchange rate, without a markup, more of your money is likely to make it through to its destination. So, to send money online with Wise, you will pay a small, flat fee and a percentage of the amount that’s converted.
There won’t be any correspondent bank fees, because correspondent banks won’t be involved. You can even get yourself a Wise account, which - for no monthly fee - lets you hold money in multiple currencies, and use virtual account details for Australian dollars, UK pounds and euros. Something well worth considering if you often find yourself dealing with foreign transfers.
If you’d still like to try banks, in this segment, we’ll review the total cost of an international transfer in the US.
To make things easier, the following fees are all to make the same transfer: $1000 sent to Germany. All the fees are for an imagined transfer of that amount, to that destination. Many banks have different fees depending on whether you choose to send the money abroad in US dollars or the receiving currency (which would be euros in this case) - all the figures in the table assume the transfer is made in dollars.
The figures are all correct at the time of writing, but are subject to change. Here are the 23 best banks that accept international wire transfers:
|Provider||Fee for $1000 to Germany||Exchange rate||Correspondent bank fees||Total cost|
|Wise¹||$8.45||the real exchange rate||none||$8.45|
|Ally²||N/A||N/A||N/A||(only incoming international wires available)|
|Bank of America³||$45||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$45 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|BB&T (now Truist)⁴||$65||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$65 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|BECU⁵||$35||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$35 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|Capital One⁶||$50||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$50 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|Chase Bank⁷||$50 with assistance from Chase, or $40 online||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$40 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|Citibank US⁸||Varies depending on account type: $17.50-25, or free for Citibank Global Transfers||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$17.50-25 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|Citizens Bank⁹||$40||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$40 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|DCU¹⁰||$50||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$50 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|Discover Bank¹¹||$30||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$30 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|Fifth Third¹²||$85||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$85 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|HSBC USA¹³||“For applicable transfer fees, please refer to the Pre-Payment and Receipt Disclosures received at the time of your wire transaction”||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||Fee + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|Huntington Bank¹⁴||$75||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$75 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|Nationwide¹⁸||$35||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$35 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|Navy Federal¹⁵||$25||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$25 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|PNC Bank¹⁶||$45 (may vary by location)||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$50 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|Regions Bank¹⁷||$45||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$50 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|Santander USA¹⁸||$40||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$40 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|Suntrust¹⁹||$50||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$50 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|TD Bank USA²¹||$40||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$40 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|Union Bank²²||$45, $50 or $65 for telephone (Direct Access), in-person or telephone (customer service) transfers respectively||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$45/50/65 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|US Bank²⁶||$50||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||$50 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
|USAA Bank²³||$20||exchange rate + likely markup||$25||$45 + likely exchange rate markup|
|Wells Fargo²⁴||“Fee disclosed at the time of transaction”||exchange rate + likely markup||likely||Fee + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees|
As you can see, USAA is unusual in charging a separate fee to you, the sender, in an effort to cover the cost of correspondent bank fees. It’s not necessarily clear whether that fee will make you worse or better off, but you’ll at least have some clarity about what it’ll all cost you. With all the other services listed here, apart from Wise, you might struggle to find out exactly what the correspondent banks will charge - often even your bank won’t know.
So, if you’d like to use your bank to send your international money transfer, there is what 23 of them will charge you - although, because of the ever-changing exchange rate, which each bank may well set for itself, the precise cost of each of these transfers is impossible to say.
None of the major US banks we compared offered free international wire transfers. The cheapest was Citibank which offered some account holders international wires at $17.50. However, it’s important to know that even when the upfront transfer fee from your bank is relatively low, there are likely to be additional costs wrapped up in the exchange rate or as third party fees. Specialist services like Wise may offer lower fees and a better exchange rate compared to a regular bank.
Banks are obligated to report all international wire transfers over $10,000 to FinCEN. They must also make a report if any currency transaction looks suspicious, to prevent illegal account use and fraud. These precautions are in place to protect bank customers and their money.
Sending money internationally with your bank might not be the fastest option available. International bank transfers can take around 3 - 5 days to arrive in the destination account. Delays often occur when payments are processed via the SWIFT network. Specialist providers like Wise can often get your money where it needs to be faster. Infact, right now, 45% of Wise’s transfers are instant money transfers, with the vast majority arriving within 24 hours.
If you're a business owner, then you can get a Wise Business account to manage your international finances with ease. Pay employees and suppliers around the world at the real mid-market rate, and save up to 19x compared to PayPal.
- Ally - International wire transfer
- Bank of America - wire transfer
- Truist - Consumer fee schedule - Page 7
- BECU - Consumer account disclosure - Page 2
- Capital One - Essential checking - Page 2
- Chase Total Checking - A guide to your account - Page 4
- Citi - Online Wire Transfer Services
- Citizens Bank - What is a wire transfer?
- DCU - Schedule of Fees and Service Charges - Page 1
- Discover - International wire transfer request form - Page 1
- 5/3 Bank - Prices and services applicable- Page 1
- HSBC - Wire transfers
- Huntington - Personal disclosures
- Navy Federal - Schedule of fees and charges
- PNC Bank - Consumer schedule of service charges and fees
- Regions - Pricing schedule - Page 5
- Santander Bank - What are the Fees for Wire Transfers?
- SunTrust - Consumer fee schedule - Page 9
- TD Bank - Personal fee- Page 1
- Union Bank - Personal accounts fee schedule - Page 6
- US Bank - Consumer pricing information - Page 5
- USAA - Send a domestic wire
- Wells Fargo - Ways to send money
All sources checked on 8 February 2022
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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