M-PESA international money transfer guide [2024]

Gabriela Peratello

M-PESA®¹ is the financial platform operated by telco Safaricom®², which offers customers with an eligible cell phone and SIM ways to send and receive payments, access finance and complete other transactions, even if they don’t have a bank account.

This guide walks through some of the key things you can do with M-PESA, including how to send and receive payments, with a focus on M-PESA Kenya.

We’ll also touch an alternative you might want to compare for payments to and from Africa or elsewhere - Wise. Wise offers electronic transfers which use the mid-market rate and low, transparent fees* which can mean you save.


What is M-PESA?

M-PESA launched back in 2007, and is now one of the most successful digital payment options in East Africa. It was originally set up by Safaricom, and has recently moved to a joint venture between Safaricom and Vodacom® as part of its ongoing growth³.

M-PESA is available in a selection of African countries, primarily in East Africa, with international transfers available beyond that.

How does M-PESA work?

M-PESA operates through smart phones and an extensive agent network, allowing customers with an eligible cell phone and SIM to transact with their phone and in cash at agent locations.

Customers can send and receive local and domestic payments, pay bills, save and get credit for example. Because there’s the option to move to and from digital payments to cash by cashing in and out at agents, this allows customers to manage their money both digitally and physically without needing a bank.

Is M-PESA available in countries other than Kenya?

Yes. M-PESA is operational in countries including Kenya, Tanzania, Lesotho, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Mozambique and Egypt⁴.

From Kenya you can also make global payments - which we’ll look at in more detail shortly - to countries including Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Botswana, Zambie, Malawi, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Burundi.

M-PESA customers in Kenya can receive global payments to M-PESA from a selection of countries including the US.

Can you send M-PESA transfers from the US?

Yes. You can send money from the US to be received into an M-PESA wallet. This service is offered by a selection of third party providers, including well known and popular international money transfer services like Western Union®, WorldRemit® and Wise.

The way you send money to M-PESA from the US does vary a bit depending on the provider you pick.

To give an example, if you use Wise to send to M-PESA Kenya, you’ll be able to send money in USD to Wise using a local payment method like an ACH or wire⁵.

This is usually the cheapest available option, or you can choose to pay by card which may involve a fee but which is also often quicker and more convenient.

The funds are converted by Wise to KES using the mid-market exchange rate and a low, transparent fee, before being deposited into the recipient’s M-PESA wallet. This process is fast - or even instant⁶, depending on how you pay.

Make low cost international transfers with Wise

Another smart option if you’re sending money overseas. Meet Wise.

Register a Wise account online or in the Wise app, and send money to 70+ countries, with the mid-market exchange rate and low, transparent fees.

Wise always shows you the amount you’re paying and how much your recipient will get — and you can even compare against other providers on the Wise app or desktop site.

If another service is cheaper for your particular payment, you’ll be shown — so you can’t lose.

Get started with Wise

See how Wise compares with international bank transfers in our full guide

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

Is M-PESA safe for international transfers?

M-PESA should be safe for international transfers as long as you follow the guidelines set by Safaricom and any other third parties involved in the process.

Bear in mind that mobile wallet payments can be super fast, so you’ll need to be sure you’ve got the right details for your recipient before you confirm - canceling may not be an option once the money is on the way.

How to send money abroad with M-PESA: step by step

The exact process to send money abroad with M-PESA might depend on where your phone is registered, whether you dial into the service or use the app, and where you’re sending to.

To give an example, let’s look at how to opt into M-PESA Kenya and start to arrange payments⁷:

To send an international payment with M-PESA Kenya by dialing in:
  1. Dial *840#

  2. Accept terms and conditions to Opt in

  3. Select send money abroad

  4. Follow the prompts to enter your recipient phone number and the payment details

To send an international payment with M-PESA Kenya in the Safaricom app:
  1. Open the Safaricom App, and select M-PESA

  2. Select M-PESA Global

  3. Accept terms and conditions to Opt in

  4. Select Send and follow the prompts to enter the payment details

How long do M-PESA international transfers take?

Sending money from an M-PESA wallet to another M-PESA wallet can be very quick. If you’re sending money to or from M-PESA through a third party service, the delivery times will depend on the specific provider and payment.

M-PESA international money transfers fees and costs

The costs of using M-PESA to send a payment will depend on where your phone is registered to and the way you set up your payment. In some cases, when sending a payment overseas there will be no specific M-PESA transfer fee, but an exchange rate markup will apply.

This is a fee rolled into the rate used to convert your currency to the one required for deposit. Where this is the case, you can see the M-PESA exchange rate on the Safaricom app or desktop site in advance.

In some other cases, when sending from Kenya, you may pay a transfer fee. This depends on the value of the payment and where you’re sending it to. East Africa payment corridors may have no transfer fee, but for other destinations such as Malawi, Zambia and Botswana, the following fees may apply⁸:

Minimum payment valueMaximum payment valueFee
101 KES5000 KES100 KES
5001 KES20,000 KES250 KES
20,001 KES35,000 KES350 KES
35,001 KES150,000 KES500 KES

*Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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