How to make an international wire transfer: full guide

Gabriela Peratello

If you need to send money overseas you may be considering an international wire transfer. Wires are a convenient way of transferring money between banks internationally, so the funds are deposited in the foreign currency your recipient needs.

Aside from banks, there are plenty of other ways of sending money internationally. Specialists like Western Union, MoneyGram, PayPal, and Wise help customers move money around the world fast and often for a lower fee than a bank.

📑 Table of Contents

move-and-manage-your-money

First: what's an international wire transfer?

An international wire transfer is an electronic transfer of funds from one bank account to another. Your money will be sent directly from your account to the recipient, and deposited in the currency they need for convenience. International wires can be arranged online, through payment and banking apps, by phone, and in bank branches.

What information and documentation is needed to make an international wire transfer?

What exactly you'll need to make an international wire transfer can vary depending on the bank or payment service you use, as well as the country you’re sending money to and the value of the payment.

If you’re using a provider for the first time it’s common to need to create and verify an account, which will mean showing or uploading an image of some ID. Once that’s done, you’ll usually need to provide:

  • Your recipient’s full name
  • Your recipient’s banking details including bank name and account number
  • Details of the payment including the currency required

For higher value transfers and payments to certain countries you’ll also need to provide information about what the payment is for, and the source of the funds.

A quick intro on SWIFT payments

Bank international wire transfers are normally sent through the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Transactions (SWIFT).

Each financial institution in the SWIFT network is issued a unique code between 8 and 11 characters long, known as a bank identifier code (BIC), SWIFT ID or BIC/SWIFT code.

If you need to find a code for a particular bank, check out a SWIFT/BIC Code finder.

The SWIFT banking process is the global standard for transferring money from one country to another.

In the SWIFT network, participating banks across the world work together to move money. Instead of your money traveling straight to its destination, there will often be up to three banks your money needs to go through.

It’s a bit like taking a connecting flight or two to reach your destination. Unfortunately, though, each bank takes a fee, pushing up the costs of this type of payment.

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 a total of 3 — 5 banks will charge you a fee. They can add up in the final transfer cost

  • If your money is converted into another currency, be prepared for poor currency exchange rates. An added expense

How can you make an international wire transfer?

Let’s get into the details of how to wire money internationally now. We’ll walk through a few different ways of transferring money to a foreign bank account, from an international bank transfer with your normal bank, to wiring money overseas via a specialist service.

Alternative #1: Make an international bank transfer online

First, how to send money to a foreign bank account. Depending on your bank you may need to visit a branch office to set up an international transfer, but most banks now offer international wires online.

Follow these steps on how to do a wire transfer online:

Step 1. Find the wire transfer section on your online banking service

Log into your online bank account and navigate to the wire transfer section of your bank’s webpage.

Step 2. Enter the recipient’s bank details

To complete a SWIFT international transfer, you’ll need to provide the following specific information.

  • The name and address of your recipient’s bank.

  • 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

  • The recipient’s bank’s BIC/SWIFT code

The BIC/SWIFT is a bit like a US routing number or a zip code. 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. You can also just ask the recipient bank for the information.

Step 3. Enter the amount and currency you want to send

Continue following the online prompts to enter the amount you want to send and the currency it should be deposited in.

Step 4. Pay the transfer processing fee

Your bank will charge you an initial processing fee. It typically runs from $40-$50.

The receiving bank may also charge a fee, which can range from $10-$20. According to mybanktracker, these are the current fees for several large US banks:

BankInternational Transfer Fee — Outgoing
Bank of America¹Variable depending on account
Chase²Up to $50
Wells Fargo³$35 — $45
CitibankUp to $45
US Bank⁵$50
Capital One⁶$40 — $50
PNC Bank⁷$40 — $45
TD Bank$50

However, you’ll still want to be aware that though you’ll be paying one fee with your bank, there will likely be additional fees added by anywhere from one to three intermediary banks, as well as the recipient bank.

It can get expensive, so be prepared. You can also read more in the guide to wire transfer fees.

💡 If you're a business owner, saving money on wire transfer fees* can increase your cash flow. With a Wise Business account, you can send and receive international transfers at the mid-market rate. Wise Business is here to solve your international business needs. 

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Alternative #2: Make an international wire transfer in person with your bank

If you’re the type that prefers in-person to online or your bank requires you to come to a branch, then you’ll want to know what to do when you arrive.

Step 1. Prepare the information needed for international wire transfer

You’ll need your own account information, plus:

  • The name and address of your recipient’s bank

  • Your recipient’s name and address

  • Your recipient’s account number or IBAN (International Bank Account Number — much of the world uses this format for their bank account number)

  • The recipient BIC/SWIFT code. If you don’t have it, use an online BIC/SWIFT code finder and that should help you out

Step 2. Decide how much you want to transfer, and what the destination currency should be

Confirm which currency you’re sending, and either how much in USD you’re sending, or how much you want to reach the destination bank.

Step 3. Pay the international transfer fee

Your bank will almost undoubtedly charge you a processing fee. Fees typically run from $40-$50, with in-branch payments often more expensive than online transfers.

Alternative #3: Make an international wire through the phone with your bank

Some banks also offer a phone service so you can make your international wire by calling the customer service center.

Step 1. Prepare the information needed for international wire transfer

You’ll need your own account information, plus:

  • The name and address of your recipient’s bank

  • Your recipient’s name and address

  • Your recipient’s account number or IBAN

  • The recipient BIC/SWIFT code

Step 2. Confirm the details of the payment

Call your bank and tell the customer service agent how much you want to send and which currency it should be received in

Step 3. Pay the international transfer fee

Sending money over the phone can often be as costly as making a payment in person in a branch — check out the fees before you get started.

Alternative #4: Make a wire through an international transfer provider (in person or online)

In addition to banks, you have many stand-alone transfer services to pick from. Services like PayPal or Wise take a different approach to processing payments compared to banks, which can mean the transfers move faster.

WisePayPalWestern Union
CostFee varies based on payment details5% of the payment value, from $0.99 to $4.99⁹Fee varies based on payment details
Exchange rateMid-market exchange rateMid-market exchange rate + 4%Mid-market exchange rate + a variable markup
LimitsHigh limits, usually around 1 million GBP or the equivalent10,000 USD for verified accounts¹⁰Varies by payment type
Coverage from USD80+ countries, 50+ currenciesMore or less globalMore or less global
FeaturesMid-market exchange rates, low fees and fast transfersSend money to PayPal accounts instantlyGreat range of payout options including cash collection

Wise

Wise processes payments through its own payment network, meaning you pay locally, using local bank systems like an ACH in the US, and the funds are then paid out locally in the recipient’s location too — which avoids those nasty international transfer fees.

To send money online with Wise, you will pay a small, flat fee and a percentage of the amount that’s converted.

All you’ll need is the local bank details of where you’re sending money to. Wise uses the mid-market exchange rate — the same one you see on Google — and simply charges a low, upfront fee. No hidden charges. No unwelcome surprises.

If you regularly send money across borders, consider signing up for a Wise Account. You can store your money in dozens of different currencies and pay or get paid with local bank details in regions including the US, the UK, the EU, and Australia.

Get started with Wise 🚀

Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing for the most up-to-date pricing and fee information

PayPal

PayPal is one of the most popular resources for making online transactions or receiving payments. It also offers a transfer service if you’re sending money internationally.

If you use your PayPal balance or bank account, PayPal charges 5.00% of the transaction with a minimum fee of 0.99 USD and maximum fee of 4.99 USD, depending on the currency of the recipient’s country.

To send money to Mexico or another country overseas, PayPal also adds a percentage fee onto the mid-market or interbank exchange rate to calculate the rate used to send your funds. That means that PayPal gives you a worse currency exchange rate than the one you find on Google.

Western Union

Western Union is available in 200 countries and deals in 130 currencies.

The fees they advertise vary depending on where you’re sending money, how you want to pay and how the money will be received.

As with PayPal, Western Union’s exchange rate includes extra fees. A simple online currency converter tells you how much your money is actually worth.

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.

💡 You can also read the full guide on Western Union fees to find out more.

Global money transfers: things to look out for

Here are a few extra considerations before you get started sending money.

Regulations and limitations

Financial service providers all over the world are subject to regulation which means they need to check and verify customers and payments.

Exactly what you’ll need to do will depend on the provider and payment type — but you can expect verification steps such as proving your identity and address, and for high value payments you’ll also need to show where the money came from in the first place.

💡 Learn more with our full guide on international wire transfer regulations

Hidden fees and exchange rate

Don’t get caught out by hidden fees or a bad exchange rate. The fee structures used by banks and providers can often be complex and confusing, with more fine print than you may expect.

Double check the rate you’ll get against the mid-market exchange rate, and ask about third party fees to make sure you’ll not wind up paying more than you expect in the end.


Sending money internationally can be a headache — but it doesn’t have to be. Use this guide to weigh up your options — including the features, delivery times and speed available from different providers, so you’ll know you’;re getting the best service for your needs.

And don’t forget to check out low cost international transfers from Wise, for payments which use the mid-market rate with no hidden fees and a bank beating delivery time.

Learn more about Wise


Sources:

  1. Bank of America - Fees
  2. Chase - Fees
  3. Wells Fargo — Fees
  4. Citibank - Fees
  5. US Bank - Fees
  6. Capital One - Fees
  7. PNC - Fees
  8. TD Bank - Fees
  9. PayPal US - Consumer fees
  10. PayPal US - Payment limits

*Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information

Sources checked on 12.09.2022


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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