Whether it’s because you’re a frequent world traveler, have friends or family who live in another country, or maybe you do business overseas, at some point in your life it’s possible you’ll need to make an international wire transfer. And money is a sticky subject for a lot of people - if they don’t receive it on time, you’re probably going to hear about it. How long does it actually take to send money abroad with an international wire transfer? Unfortunately, there’s no one, simple answer to that question. But this guide should give you a good idea of what to expect for a timeline when you make your first international wire transfer.
In this article you’ll find covered:
- How international wires work in the first place
- How long international wires take along with popular banks and their cutoff times
- How long international wires take with Wise – which may get your money there faster
- How long it takes to receive an international wire
- What factors can slow down a transfer, and what you may be able to do to prevent that
International wire transfers are generally done on the SWIFT network. SWIFT stands for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, and it’s a secure messaging system banks use to quickly send each other information, including instructions for international wire transfers. The SWIFT network includes more than 10,000 banks and financial institutions in more than 200 countries, but it doesn’t include all banks.
The SWIFT system works a little bit like airlines. Transfer instructions get sent from the sender’s bank to the recipient’s bank, but not always directly – sometimes the transfer instructions have to go through some intermediary banks along the way. It’s important to note that your money isn’t actually being sent via SWIFT, just the instructions to deduct it from your bank account and add it to the recipient’s bank account.
Generally, making an international wire is a fairly simple process, though that process will vary depending on which bank you use. Some banks allow for making international wire transfer requests online, via mobile app or over the phone, while others require faxed or mail forms and many even require an in-person visit to a branch.
You’ll also need to gather some necessary information before making your transfer request, which will also vary from bank to bank. In general, for a regular international wire transfer, you should expect to need to know:
- The name and address of the recipient’s bank
- The recipient’s account number or IBAN (International Bank Account Number)
- The BIC/SWIFT code of the recipient’s bank
- The amount of the transfer and the currency it should be received in
- The reason for the transfer
- Who will be paying the fees (you can generally choose to pay them all yourself, split with the recipient, or have the recipient cover them)
Speaking of fees, there are also generally fees associated with making SWIFT transfers. There will likely be an outgoing international transfer fee levied by your bank, and each of the intermediary banks is entitled to a fee deducted from the transfer amount. The recipient’s bank normally also levies an incoming international transfer fee.
And, if the currency needs to be exchanged, one of the intermediary banks will likely do the conversion at a marked up exchange rate, further making a profit for itself. The average spread is 4-6%, which can add up.
So, while the SWIFT system is a secure way to send orders for international money transfers, you can see how the costs to do so can add up.
In addition to those fees that can add up quickly, international wire transfers have another downside — they aren’t always as swift as their name might imply. Generally, the process of sending the wire transfer is one of the fastest and easiest parts. You need to gather the necessary information, then submit it to the bank in whatever way is acceptable and most convenient for you. If your bank offers international wire transfers online, this could be done in minutes. If it requires that you request the transfer in-person at a branch, well, that’s going to take a little longer.
How long it will take the bank to process and send out your transfer again depends on the bank and its specific policies. Generally, wire transfers will only be processed on business days if they are requested before the bank’s cut off time. Those cut off times will vary but, below, you can find the international wire cutoff times for some of the most popular US banks.
|Bank||International wire cutoff times|
|Wells Fargo||5 PM Eastern Time (EST)|
|Chase Bank||4 PM Eastern Time (EST)|
|Bank of America||5 PM Eastern Time (EST)|
|Citibank US||5:15 PM Eastern Time (EST)|
As long as you make your transfer request on a business day before your bank’s cut off time, it should be processed same day. Otherwise, it will likely be processed the following business day. Funds for the transfer and any transfer fees are usually deducted from your account at the time the wire transfer is processed.
But just because your bank processes an international wire on that business day doesn’t mean it will arrive to your international recipient’s bank account that same day. Many sites quote that an international wire should normally arrive within 1-5 business days. But there are many factors that can add time to your transfer. More on those factors later.
Wise transfers work a bit different than normal banks. Its smart new technology connects local bank accounts all over the world, which nearly always translates to lower costs and faster transfer times.
Just like with any other transfer service, Wise can’t guarantee transfer times as there are many factors involved.
You can find your money’s estimated arrival time when you go to the Wise home page and put in:
- Your sending amount and currency
- The method by which you’ll pay for your transfer (this makes a difference in how fast it arrives)
- The currency you want your recipient to receive
Funny enough, it’s the receiving end of an international wire transfer that can often take the most time. In our increasingly digital world, most banking transactions take place online, so you’d think a wire transfer could be done instantly, right? Not quite.
So banks can do their part to prevent fraud.
If there was a fraudulent transfer, there’s little hope that the funds can be recovered once a transfer is completed. That’s why wire transfers – both domestic and international – are done in a series of steps that are often purposefully slowed down. And that’s why, in part, once you send an international wire transfer, it can take up to 5 business days, or in some cases even longer, for the funds to be available in the recipient’s account.
Once an international wire transfer is initiated, funds are deducted from the sender’s account. Instructions for the transfer are then normally moved through the SWIFT network, passing through even up to 3 intermediary or correspondent banks before finally landing at the final destination.
Once the funds arrive at the recipient’s bank, there can still be processing time on that end of the transfer that holds things up. Which means it can take even longer for the transfer amount to actually appear as usable funds in the recipient’s bank account – even if the money’s already there.
And that’s for an international wire transfer in which everything goes smoothly. There are many other factors that can slow a transfer.
There are a number of factors that could delay an international wire transfer. Some of them are outside of your control, but others can be mitigated with careful planning.
One of the most common issues that slow a transfer down is actually one that could be well within your control. And that’s making sure that your beneficiary’s bank details are correct.
If you’re sending money internationally through your bank, make sure the information you provide is accurate. Including any intermediary banks, SWIFT/BIC codes, account numbers, names of your recipient and their bank, and any additional payment instructions necessary. Any errors in the information provided could result in a delayed or lost transfer – a hassle nobody wants to deal with.
If you’re sending money through Wise, for example, you’d generally need local bank account details rather than international ones. So making sure you’ve got the right set of information will go a long way to ensuring your money gets there fast.
In order to make sure your international wire transfer arrives at its destination as quickly as possible, you’ll want to be aware of bank holidays both in your country and in the recipient’s country. Banks may be open in your country, but the recipient’s country may have different bank holidays.
Some countries shut down banking systems for major holidays a week at a time. Which means, depending on when you send the money, there could be no open bank to process the transfer on the receiving end. Careful planning can help avoid this kind of a situation.
Similarly, weekends could delay your transfer. Though banks are closed in the US on Saturday and Sunday, the weekend isn’t the same all over the world. For example, in many Middle Eastern countries like the UAE or Egypt, the weekend falls on Friday and Saturday. Which means you’ll want to make sure you plan your transfer so you’re sending it on a business day.
And, if possible, request your transfer at the beginning of the work week so it has time to arrive and be processed in the recipient’s country before the weekend hits and holds the process up.
If the wire transfer needs to be received in a different currency than the one you’re sending it in, it’s possible this can hold up processing times. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about this, unless your bank will allow you to send the transfer in the recipient’s home currency. Or you use an alternative service like Wise where the conversion can often happen instantaneously.
Mid-day in the US is the evening for Europe. Or, on the flip side, the prime of the business day in much of Asia is when the US is sleeping. Which means that you may need to do some fancy calculations to time your transfer right. Even if your business day is open in America, that doesn’t mean India’s banking system is awake and working.
Generally, if you’re sending money through your bank, then payment for a wire transfer is simply deducted automatically from the account from which the transfer funds are withdrawn.
However, many banks and services like Wise, give you other options to pay. For example, a transfer paid for via debit card will be faster than a bank debit (ACH) or even domestic wire transfer on Wise.
Some banks and transfer services are just faster than others. There’s not much you can do to change this, but before committing to a service, look for an estimate for how long your transfer will take.
If you’re in a rush to get your money to its destination, you might be able to shop around for a faster service. If you aren’t satisfied with your bank’s transfer times, consider an online money transfer service like Wise. Wise may be able to transfer your money faster, and without many of the fees that typically come with a traditional bank transfer.
Your bank may have a direct line of communication with your recipient’s bank. If that’s the case, you’re in luck. If that’s not the case, though, depending on your bank and your recipient’s bank, it could take up to 3 intermediary banks to help your money along its way. And that takes time.
Some countries have slower banking infrastructures than others which means it can take time for banks to communicate with one another and send money to its final destination. Other countries may have steeper regulations that cause payments to go through rigorous fraud prevention methods that may slow them down further.
In an effort to fight global terrorism and fraud, banks and financial institutions have to follow strict regulations and laws set out by local and international governing bodies. Which means that, despite both you and your bank’s best efforts, there may be times where some payments may need to go through a few extra checks. Unfortunately, if that happens, there’s often little to no information that institutions can legally provide you during that process. Which not only causes confusion and frustration on the customer part, but can significantly slow down speed.
No matter your reason for making an international wire transfer, waiting and wondering when the money will arrive can be one of the most nerve-wracking parts. Hopefully, this guide gave you a better idea of what to expect and, more importantly, showed you what you can do to ensure your wire makes it to its destination in a timely fashion.
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| 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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