Millions of U.S. households send billions of dollars abroad every year. Whether the funds are for family or friends, or to purchase international assets, it is often difficult to conveniently send large sums of money. In addition, with so many options available, people need to take into account the speed, support, and costs of the various methods that financial institutions provide for sending and receiving funds abroad. The following are five of the best and most secure ways to accomplish this task.

1. Bank-to-Bank Transfers

Some banks let people take money directly from one bank account and deliver it to a recipient's bank account. These types of transactions can be arranged online, over the phone, or in person at the delivering bank. They may have a fee depending on the institution, and the account and routing numbers for both the sending and receiving banks are required.

Key Takeaways

  • Speed, costs, and support are some of the factors to consider when sending money abroad.
  • Banks can transfer money overseas, but weaker exchange rates and higher fees can make them more expensive compared to alternatives.
  • ACH, cash-to-cash, and wire transfers offer other options.
  • Receivers of prepaid debit cards can use them to withdraw cash or make purchases.

Some banks offer special remittance programs for transferring slightly smaller amounts. Bank of America, for example, has a program where funds can be sent to a total of 5,700 locations in the country of Mexico, free of charge. However, in cases such as these, it is important to look at the exchange rates because although a fee might not be charged, the institution could be making money off of the transaction fee spread.

2. Wire Transfers

Additionally, it is possible to send large sums of money from one bank account to another through the use of a wire transfer. These types of transfers are initiated through a bank officer at the delivering bank who fills out the necessary forms. Wire transfers, for the most part, must be done in person. There is also a fee for this type of service, but wire transfers offer protection from both banks involved, making the fee worth it. For people residing in the U.S., wire transfers must be executed before 5 p.m. EST for the money to arrive the same day.

3. Automated Clearing House Transactions

Similar to wire transfers and bank-to-bank transfers, Automated Clearing House (ACH) transactions are electronic but use a computer-based clearing house that acts as an intermediary to process the exchange of transactions. The Federal Reserve bank, for example, is the largest U.S. ACH operator, processing 60% of all ACH transactions. There are no fees for these types of transactions, but they do require both banks to be linked together. To do this, both parties need to follow bank-specific instructions.

4. Cash-to-Cash Transfers

If a person has a large sum of money in cash and needs to send it abroad, it is possible to use domestic, walk-in money transfer centers to transfer that money to an international money transfer center. Institutions such as Western Union, MoneyGram, and Ria offer this type of service.

Physical cash is deposited in one of these money transfer centers. The domestic currency is converted to the currency of the destination country and can be picked up by the recipient at a participating money transfer center. In some countries, the money can be delivered to the recipient at a residential or commercial location.

5. Prepaid Debit Cards

There are some services that can send funds via a prepaid debit card. If this method is chosen to send a large sum of money, the sender can load a prepaid debit card with cash funds, and the receiver of the funds can withdraw them using the prepaid debit card. In some cases, the prepaid card can be used to make purchases just like with a normal debit card. However, there is normally an activation fee or monthly fee.

The Bottom Line

There are several ways to send large sums of money to friends or family abroad. While speed is often the primary objective, costs and security of sending funds abroad should be considered as well. Wire, ACH, or cash-to-cash transfers might be cheaper alternatives to using bank-to-bank transfers. Lastly, recipients of prepaid debit cards can usually use the cards to withdraw funds or make purchases after paying an activation fee.