Sending money overseas seems pretty straightforward, but it can be a costly experience if you don’t know what you’re doing. Should you utilize your bank or a money-transfer operator? What about the remittance service at your local supermarket? And how should you send the money — cash, card, check, etc.? These questions can be daunting for any consumer.
Each year, an estimated 6 million households in the U.S. send money abroad. There are several options to send cash to your family and friends — with costs varying for each method. To help you figure out the best way for you to send money abroad, we’ve put together a guide.
Why are you sending the money?
Ask yourself these questions to determine the method you should utilize to send money overseas:
- How much are you sending?
- Is it a one-time transaction or will you be doing this frequently?
- Who are you sending the money to and how do they want to receive it?
- How fast does it need to be sent?
- How much do you want to spend?
These questions should help you get a better idea of what your needs are — and help you decide what method best fits those needs.
How are you sending the money?
There are several ways to send money abroad. Choosing the best method depends on your personal needs.
Prepaid card — Some services send money via a prepaid debit card that the recipient can use for withdrawals and sometimes purchases. And in some cases, you can replenish the card in the U.S. However, you might have to pay a high fee. If you just want to send a regular prepaid gift card, Visa and MasterCard offer prepaid cards that you can load with money and send abroad. Be sure to choose a card that allows you to load the amount of money you want and that can be used internationally. Then mail the card off to your recipient. You don’t want your card to get lost in the mail, so look into certifying or insuring the package just in case.
Bank — Most banks offer international money transfers, but typically you’ll need to have an account at the bank. You’ll need the account and routing numbers for both your bank and the recipient’s as well. Banks are good for small, one-off transfers, but for larger amounts you might get a better exchange rate elsewhere. If you and the recipient have the same bank, you should be able to transfer funds with just a click of a button and for free. You’ll need to know the person’s account number and full name.
Money wire operator — You can take your cash to wiring businesses like Western Union or MoneyGram to send money abroad. You’ll need to show your identification, pay the money you want to send, fill out some paperwork, as well as pay a fee and taxes. Once you’re done, the cash is converted to the currency of the destination country for the recipient to pick up. While you might not get a very competitive exchange rate, using a money wiring service is highly dependable.
Credit or debit card — Some services, like Western Union, allow you to use a debit or credit card to speed up the time it takes to send money. But it might cost you more than paying with cash or a bank account. Plus, you might be charged a fee from your card issuer depending on how the transaction is credited. Some services, such as MoneyGram, allow you to send money to a recipient’s credit card.
Online accounts — Sites like AlertPay and PayPal allow you to transfer money via the web. Typically, you need to have an account with the service provider. You might have to link your bank account with the payment provider before transferring money. Be sure to watch out for fees.
Bank drafts, money orders or cashier’s checks — Purchase a bank draft or money order in the currency of the destination you’re sending money to. You can purchase money orders inexpensively at the post office. Typically, a money order is used for smaller amounts. If you’re sending a large amount of money, purchase a bank draft. While these methods of transferring money are more time consuming than a wire transfer, they’re usually a more economical choice.
What are the costs?
When you send money abroad you’ll face costs in the form of fees and the exchange rate. Fees can vary and might include transaction charges and/or commission. Some companies might advertise low prices, but then pile on small fees. Here are a few fees to watch out for:
- A fee to send certain amounts of money
- A fee to send the money faster
- A fee that’s calculated as a percentage of the money you want to send
- A fee charged when your friend picks up the money
You might also lose some money on the exchange rate, which is the amount of foreign currency that your recipient might receive for every dollar you send. Because exchange rates change every day, whoever is receiving the money you transfer might end up with more or less than you’ve sent. The rate differs from service to service because some companies adjust the amount in order to make money on the transfer. Some companies may even claim that they’re “commission free,” but then pile on the exchange rate. So when you conduct your transaction, make sure that you get a guaranteed exchange rate instead of an estimated one.
Also, if you’re using a money wiring store, you’ll have to pay the same state and local taxes you normally do.
Before sending off the money, be sure to ask these three questions:
- How much money will be received after all the charges have been deducted?
- What currency will the money be in?
- Will there be fees that the recipient has to pay?
Use caution when choosing how you want to send the money overseas. One store may offer lower fees, but have a worse exchange rate, which means your recipient would get less money than if you paid a bit more in transfer fees. Check out page 2 to see a table of fees from the top 10 banks in the U.S. for sending a wire transfer abroad.
Below is a table outlining general fees at the top 10 banks in the U.S. for sending a wire transfer abroad in foreign currency and U.S. dollars. Note: Actual fees may vary depending on the type of account you have.
|Bank||Foreign outgoing wire transfer sent in foreign currency fee||Foreign outgoing wire transfer sent in U.S. Dollars fee|
|Bank of America||$35||$45|
|Wells Fargo||Fee disclosed at the time of transaction||Fee disclosed at the time of transaction|
|Chase||$45 per item if made at a brance OR $40 per foreign outgoing wire transfer if made online||$45 per item if made at a brance OR $40 per foreign outgoing wire transfer if made online|
|Citibank||$40 OR $30 for wire transfer online||$40 OR $30 for wire transfer online|
|PNC||$45 ($100 USD minimum amount)||$45 ($100 USD minimum amount)|
|TD Bank||$40 plus exchange rate, taxes and correspondent fees||$40 plus exchange rate, taxes and correspondent fees|
Completing the order
Check the order to make sure that the recipient’s contact information is listed correctly. Once you complete the transaction, check the receipt to verify the information listed. Let your recipient know how much money to expect and the method of delivery — plus any relevant information they might need. Find out if your intended recipient received the money and received the expected amount.
If your recipient hasn’t received the money as expected, check to make sure your recipient has the right information about where to pick up the money, the transaction number, etc. If there’s still a problem, report it right away to the business or service you used. If they don’t resolve the issue, report it to the Federal Trade Commission.
Watch out for scams
Only wire money to someone you know personally. Scammers will try anything to convince you to wire money to them. Scammers might try to email you saying you’ve won a prize, but have to pay fees to receive it. They might lure you into transferring money with pleas for help or ask you to pay for something you’ve just bought online when you haven’t bought anything. Avoid getting scammed by never sending money to someone you don’t know or someone who has contacted you first. Learn more about different scams to avoid.