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.
The speed, support, and costs of the various methods for sending and receiving funds abroad can vary based on the financial institutions that you use. Here are five of the easiest and most secure ways to transfer money internationally.
- 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.
1. Bank-to-Bank Transfers
Some banks let you take money directly from your 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.
Some banks may offer special remittance programs for transferring slightly smaller amounts. 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
You can send large sums of money from one bank account to another with 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 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 is the largest U.S. ACH operator; in 2022, it processed an average of $154.7 billion per day. 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.
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.
Institutions such as Western Union, MoneyGram, and Ria are some of the best-known companies that offer this type of service; they have locations in a large variety of areas. Many fintech companies provide international money transfers as well, including Wise, Payoneer, PayPal, and WorldRemit.
5. Prepaid Debit Cards
There are some services that can send funds via a prepaid debit card. The sender loads a prepaid debit card owned by the receiver with cash funds, which is usually done online. The receiver can then withdraw them from the card as cash or simply use the card as a debit card. For this method, there is normally an activation fee or monthly fee for the prepaid debit card to be used.
Are International Money Transfers Reported to the Government?
In the U.S., banks and other institutions must report wire transfers over $10,000 to the IRS. This helps law enforcement spot and prevent tax evasion, money laundering, terrorist financing, drug dealing, and other crimes.
How Much Money Will Western Union Let Me Send?
In the United States, if you want to send more than $3,000 through Western Union, you'll need to verify your identity. Once you have, you can send up to $50,000, though the country you are sending to may impose lower limits.
Is It Legal to Send Money Internationally?
It is legal to send money internationally if you send it using a legal service and are not sending it for illegal or criminal purposes.
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 are also important. Wire, ACH, or cash-to-cash transfers might be cheaper alternatives to using bank-to-bank transfers. Recipients of prepaid debit cards can usually use the cards to withdraw funds or make purchases after paying an activation fee.