When you’re living or traveling abroad, it’s entirely possible that, at some point, you’ll need to send money overseas. It could be to make a payment or to send money to family, but there are several options for how to do it. One of those is an international money order. Money orders are relatively simple to send, but this guide will help make sure you’re prepared before you start.
You’ll find covered:
- Exchange rates — a mostly hidden fee that may be the largest cost of international money orders
- Pros and cons of international money orders
- A step by step guide on making one
When you send money internationally, it usually has to be converted into a different currency from the one you sent it in. And when banks and international money providers exchange currencies, they often do so at a marked up rate different from the mid-market rate — that exchange rate you see when you Google it — so they can make a little extra profit. That may not seem like such a big deal, but when you factor in that the average difference is 4-6%, that can really start to hurt.
For example, one of the most infamous international money order offerers, Western Union, notes:
Western Union also makes money from currency exchange.¹
And even well-known online money giant PayPal writes:
We receive a wholesale rate quote from our bank twice a day and add a percentage to determine the retail foreign exchange rate to apply to transactions that involve a currency conversion.²
Which means if these 2 major players make money on your exchange rate but don’t note it as a fee upfront, then likely most other money transfer services do, too. That’s where a company like Wise comes in.
Wise was founded by 2 immigrants sending money home who realized they were being taken by high street banks and money exchange services on poor exchange rates. It didn’t seem fair to them that big banks got great exchange rates, but normal everyday folks lost money on hidden and poor currency conversions. The pair founded Wise to start saving people money all around the globe by giving people the same kinds of rates they could find on Google.
See if you can start saving with Wise and get started.
Money orders have upsides and downsides. So it’s best to weigh your options. If you’re looking for a fast and secure method and both you and your recipient have bank accounts, Wise offers bank-level security. You sign up for free and generally go through a one-time verification process. Everything can be done online, taking out the hassle of waiting.
1. Layer of security on the person sending the money.
Money orders generally require a signature and photo ID to send, which adds a layer of security.
2. More safe to mail than cash.
They’re also fairly safe to mail, since if they get lost or stolen, many companies allow you to cancel and reissue the order.
3. Fairly accessible form of sending money, especially in Latin America.
Normally, money orders are also easily accessible in many countries, especially Latin America, making them an often convenient way to send money abroad. In many cases, they can also usually be converted to the local currency when they’re cashed, which makes them a good option for sending money to another country if money orders are common there.
4. Normally, no one needs a bank account.
Generally speaking, neither you nor the recipient will need a bank account for a money order. So if you consider yourself unbanked, this could be to your advantage.
5. Money orders are guaranteed sources of funds.
Because it’s already paid for by the time the recipient receives it, a money order is a guaranteed source of funds and, unlike a bad check, won’t bounce.
1. The recipient may be gouged on fees.
You may be thinking about fees charged to you, the sender. However, that’s not where the fees often stop. Places that cash money orders can often charge the recipient huge percentages and fees to cash your money order. Which means what you send isn’t always what they get. If your recipient needs an exact amount, you may want to do a bit of research first to find out what places charge in that country to cash the order.
2. Poor exchange rates make international orders even more costly than you realize.
As mentioned earlier, poor exchange rates are common, and are a way many providers sneakily gouge international consumers. Often you’ll see international money orders advertised as fee-free or low cost when, in reality, the company makes money on offering you bad exchange rates and simply pockets the difference.
3. Depending on the country, your recipient may not even be able to cash the order at all.
In some cases — especially if the money order is issued in the form of a check — depending on your recipient’s country, recipients may not even be able to cash the order, causing even more hassle. Many banks in countries outside of the US refuse to process checks at all or charge around $30 to cash one, which can leave your intended beneficiary stuck.
4. Cancelling an order can be costly.
Money orders can unfortunately be lost in the mail, and, if that happens, canceling them can sometimes incur hefty fees.
5. Getting a replacement may take forever.
And the wait time to get a replacement or refund, if it’s issued at all, can vary wildly depending on the provider. Anywhere from 30 minutes³ to 10 business days⁴ is more normal, but some providers can leave consumers waiting 6 months³ for a replacement check.
6. Fraud and scams are commonplace with money orders.
Scammers love money orders. There are pages of articles dedicated to spotting a scam with money orders. Because money orders are less regulated than normal bank transfers or sending money through other financial services, fraud is more rampant and scams are fairly commonplace. It’s always a good idea to make sure you know your recipient before you agree to send money.
7. If the money order was stolen or you feel you’ve been scammed, you may be out of luck.
There are forums full of angry money order clients noting that a money order was stolen and fraudulently cashed by someone other than the intended recipient. In most of these cases, it seems many of the money order providers were unable to reimburse the sender nor replace it. So in the unlikely event your money order is stolen, you may be stuck. Once you’ve sent off the payment, and especially once the recipient has cashed your money order, it can be nearly impossible to get your money back if you feel you’ve been scammed or have changed your mind.
8. It’s a fairly slow way of sending money.
Since international money orders need to be sent to the recipient through snail mail, they can be a slow way to send money. Depending on where they’re being sent, it could be weeks or even months before they arrive at their destination.
9. You can’t generally send a lot of money that way.
One of the biggest downsides to international money orders is that they tend to have pretty low maximum sending amounts. Which means if you’re sending money abroad as payment to suppliers or as a downpayment on property, money orders probably aren’t right for you. Many companies cap international money orders at around $1,000. Which means if you need to send more than that, you’ll have to buy multiple money orders and pay multiple fees.
10. The recipient may need to show multiple forms of ID that may be tough to get.
In some cases, the recipient may need to show ID and, in some cases even verify their address with a proof of address. That may make things trickier than you intended.
11. Money orders often have to be made and picked up in person.
Depending on the method you used to send your money order, the recipient may need to go in person to get money. In fact, you may also need to order it directly from a branch.
Follow these steps to make sure you’re filling out an international money order correctly.
It may seem like banks will accept and cash international money orders just about anywhere in the world, but before you pay for a money order, it’s a good idea to make sure it will be accepted where you plan to send it. This may depend on what money order service you use and how the money order is issued.
For example, USPS money orders are only accepted in 28 countries outside America.⁵ And Western Union money orders purchased in the States may only be able to be cashed in the US.⁶ If you aren’t sure, ask your money order provider if its money orders are accepted in the recipient country.
On the line that begins with “Pay to the order of,” or simply “Pay to,” write the name of the person or business you’re sending the money order to. Don’t ever leave this line blank with other parts of the money order filled out. If it’s blank and you lose it, anyone can write in his or her name and cash it.
On some money orders, like with the USPS, you may also need to fill out the recipient’s address.
If there’s any problem with the payment, the recipient will need to be able to contact you, so fill in the “purchaser” or “from” section with your name and contact information.
If you’re using an international money order to pay a bill or sending money to a business, you’’ want to include the correct reference in the memo line. Normally in the “memo” section you’ll include your account number so the recipient knows how to apply the payment. Write your account number in the “payment for/account number” section.
At the bottom, where the money order says “Purchaser’s signature,” make sure you sign it. This makes the money order official and cashable by the recipient. Don’t write anything on the back.
Your receipt for the money order is proof that you made the payment. If anything goes wrong, you may need to prove you paid for the money order, so keep your receipt in a safe place.
Old-world bank accounts only work properly in one country. They hold money only in one currency. And it gets expensive when you try to use them across borders.
The Wise borderless account solves all this. It’s not a bank account - it’s better. Global banking the way it should be.
With the borderless account, you get your very own local bank details for several regions around the world — so you can pay and get paid locally.
You can store, send, receive and organise your money in dozens of currencies internationally, without crazy fees or even-crazier exchange rates. Just a small, fair charge when your money moves between currencies.
The borderless account lets you:
- Sign up for free
- Say bye to frustrating monthly fees and account balance minimums
- Receive domestic payments in several regions (like the UK, the EU, the US, and Australia) by generating your own domestic bank details
- Store your money in dozens of currencies and convert between them at the real mid-market rate for a small, fair fee
- Make international money transfers to over 50 nations at the same exchange rate you find on Google for a fair fee – always stated upfront
- Use your Wise debit Mastercard to spend locally and abroad in dozens of different currencies (available in select countries)
As you can see, sending an international money order isn’t too complicated. But you should examine all your options for sending money internationally to make sure you’re choosing the method that’s right for you — and your wallet.
- https://www.westernunion.com/us/en/home-new.html (April 24 2018)
- https://www.paypal.com/us/selfhelp/article/where-can-i-find-paypal's-currency-exchange-rates-faq1976 (April 24 2018)
- https://www.uspsoig.gov/sites/default/files/document-library-files/2016/FT-AR-16-007.pdf (Page 8, April 24 2018)
- https://www.westernunion.com/ee/en/customer-support-topics.html#Q12 (April 24 2018)
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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