How to track an international wire transfer

Gabriela Peratello
15.06.22
8 minute read

If you’re wondering about how long an international wire takes to send and receive, why it might get delayed or returned or how to track it, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to find out:

📑 Table of Contents

How to track an international wire transfer?

When you send a wire transfer, you’ll receive a Federal Reference number, or fed number, that confirms the transaction¹. If you’re worried about your payment, you can contact the sending bank and request a trace on the wire transfer using the reference number¹. Many banks will do this, though you may have to pay an additional fee.

If you’re expecting a wire transfer that hasn’t arrived, you can contact the sender for the Federal Reference number and use that to find out if you have a pending deposit¹.

It’s not uncommon for the recipient bank to hang on to the transfer for a day or two after receiving it, before posting the funds in the recipient’s account¹. If you think your money should have arrived and it still hasn’t, it’s possible this is what’s happening and you just need to wait another day or two.

If your transfer is done through the SWIFT network, make sure to request a MT103 document to track the payment

How to track international wire transfer with reference number?

Once you have your fed number you’ll need to contact the bank or specialist provider which arranged your payment, and request a wire trace.

The bank or provider will then use the reference number to find out where the funds have ended up, and can report back to you to help you decide what to do next.

How to track a wire transfer as a receiver?

If you’re waiting for an international wire payment that hasn’t arrived there are a few things you can do. Firstly you’ll need to contact the sender to get some more information on the payment, including:

  • The fed number for the transfer
  • Their own bank’s SWIFT code
  • Details of when the payment should have arrived
  • The payment amount

You’ll then want to give this information to your own bank to help them advise you on whether or not it’s time to ask the sender to initiate a wire trace.

If your bank can’t find the payment using the extra information provided, you’ll likely need to get in touch with the sender and ask them to track the international wire from their end via the sending institution.


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What’s an international wire transfer?

Have you ever flown to a different country that is really far away? More than likely, you weren’t able to just get on one plane and go directly from Point A to Point B.

Instead, you probably got on a handful of connecting flights on your way to your destination. That’s pretty much how international wire transfers work.

International wire transfers are commonly done via the SWIFT network — an international messaging network that banks use to securely send information, like money transfer requests, between one another.

When you request an international wire transfer, that request is processed at your bank, then sent to, usually, 1-3 intermediary banks within overlapping SWIFT networks with your bank, before finally arriving at the recipient’s bank.

What’s an intermediary or correspondent bank?

Intermediary, or correspondent, banks are like the connecting flights in that travel analogy. They’re connections that your transfer instructions pass through on the way to their final destination.

In a typical SWIFT transfer, there will be between 1 and 3 of them, but there are no hard and fast rules about how many intermediary banks a transfer will pass through.

The downside is that each intermediary bank is allowed to charge a fee, which is typically deducted from the transfer amount, resulting in a smaller amount being delivered to the recipient than what was originally sent.

How long do SWIFT international wire transfers usually take?

It’s hard to pin down a number of days for how long the average international wire transfer takes because there are so many factors that can affect processing and delivery times.

But in most cases, you can expect the money to be available in the recipient’s account within about 5 business days.

You can always check with your bank for an estimate about how long an international wire will take, but keep in mind that there may be factors outside of the bank’s control that affect the processing and delivery time and that estimates are just that: estimates.

What happens if the recipient hasn’t received the money?

If the recipient has not received the wired funds within five business days, don’t panic. It’s possible that, for some reason, the transfer was simply delayed.

Below are some common reasons for international wire transfer delays. It’s probably best to just give it a few more days, because more than likely, your transfer will end up exactly where it was meant to go.

But after a week or so, if it still hasn’t been received, it’s not a bad idea to call the sending bank, the recipient bank, or both to check on its progress.

You can also carefully check over the wire transfer receipt to make sure there were no mistakes made, as mistakes can cause a transfer to be delayed or lost.

Why might an international wire transfer get delayed?

Factors that can delay or impact how long an international wire transfer takes include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Bank holidays. This might sound like a silly one, but local bank holidays in the source or destination country might affect when your money will be processed. Make sure you’re aware of any relevant holidays when you set up your transfer.

  • The time and date that you submit the transfer request. Most banks have cut-off times, and if transfer instructions are received before them, they’ll often be processed as soon as possible. But if you miss the cutoff time, you may have to wait a business day. And if it’s Friday or the day before a holiday, the delay could be even longer while you wait for banks to reopen either in the sender’s country or the recipient’s country.

  • Know Your Customer (KYC) rules. Because international wire transfers are often at risk of fraud, banks are required to adhere to strict rules to make as sure as possible that fraudulent transfers aren’t allowed. There may be extra checks related to anti-fraud or anti-money laundering regulations, which senders and recipients, by law, aren’t informed about if those checks are being performed. Don’t get too upset, though — those rules are in place to help keep your money safe.

  • Whether the instructions were correct. Any mistake made in the instructions for an international wire transfer can result in it getting delayed, or worse: ending up in the wrong recipient account. Make sure all your information, including the routing number, is correct before submitting a wire request (This means all details requested by the sending bank).

  • The banking infrastructure in the recipient’s country. Some countries are simply better prepared to handle international wires than others.

avoid-big-transfer-costs

International wire transfer tracking FAQ

Still got questions? Check out this handy FAQ covering some of the common questions that arise when sending and tracking international wire transfers.

How do you know the money has arrived? What does a wire transfer confirmation number look like?

To find out if an international wire you sent was received, you have a few options:

  • You can contact the recipient and ask directly
  • You can request a trace on the transfer, and your bank will be able to tell you whether the money has been deposited into the recipient’s account².

To do that, you’ll need your Federal Reference number, which is usually 16-20 digits².

Typically, there’s no system of automatically notifying the sender when an international wire transfer has been successfully completed, so to find out for sure, you may have to do a little legwork.

Is it possible to get a wire transfer confirmation number or receipt?

With every wire transfer you request, you should receive a receipt. That’s your proof that you made the payment, and you should keep it for your records in case anything goes wrong.

Your receipt is also where you’ll find your Federal Reference number, which you’ll need to use if, for any reason, you need to trace or recall your transfer². It will be a 16-20 digit number listed under Fed Number or Federal Number

When using the SWIFT network you can also request a MT103 document which can be helpful in tracing international payments.

How to make transfers traceable?

If you’re concerned about being able to track your payment in real time you might prefer to send your money with a specialist provider rather than your normal bank.

While some banks will offer free wire tracing, this isn’t the norm — there’s often a fairly steep fee involved.

On the other hand, specialist international money transfer services like Wise can often let you track your payment online or in an app so you’ll always know where your funds are. It’s also common for specialist services like these to drop you an email or push notification on your phone, once the payment has been successfully received — giving you peace of mind that your money got where it needed to be in the end.

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Is wire tracking different with different banks?

No matter what bank you use, tracing a wire transfer will be a pretty similar process. Whether you sent your transfer from Bank of America, Wells Fargo or Chase Bank, you should be able to put a trace on it.

You’ll need your reference number, and you might need an ID or some other way to verify it’s your wire transfer. The main thing that tends to vary is the fees banks charge to trace a wire.

Because processes and fees can vary depending on your bank and what type of account you have, you should contact your bank for the most accurate details about how to trace your transfer and what it will cost.

Can an international wire transfer be returned?

If you’ve put a trace on your international wire transfer and determined there’s a problem, or if you made a mistake when you sent the wire, you can request to have it recalled.

A recall will most likely only work if the funds haven’t been picked up or deposited into the recipient’s account yet. Many banks also have rules that you must request a recall within a certain amount of time from when you sent the wire. If the money has already been deposited or if it’s been too long, you may not be able to recover the funds you sent.

You may also not be refunded wire fees, even if the bank is able to recall the amount of the wire. It’s also worth pointing out that recalls aren’t instant and can take quite a lot of time in some cases — it’s common that they take around the same amount of time as sending the money.

How much does it cost to return an international wire?

Having your wire recalled will likely cost you a fee, and depending on your bank, this can vary. Expect anywhere from around 15 USD to up to 50 USD or more. You can check with your bank, and they’ll be able to tell you the exact cost.

While some banks will be able to refund the amount of the transfer and any fees you paid to send it, others will only be able to recall the transfer amount, and you’ll lose whatever you paid in fees. Again, this depends on the bank, so check with yours to find out what its policies are before requesting a refund.


Whether you choose your bank or another service like Wise for making international transfers, it’s important to know all your options, and how your choice might affect your transfer.

There are pros and cons no matter what you decide to go with, so knowing your own needs and priorities is the first step. Good luck!


Sources:

  1. Sapling - Track wire transfer
  2. Legal Beagle - Trace transfer Fed Number

Sources checked on 06.15.2022


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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