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Best Ways to Send Money Internationally

Banking, Banking Basics, Money Transfer
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Best Ways to Wire Money Internationally

When you need to send money from the U.S. to friends or family abroad, your first thought might be to rush to your bank. But banks’ average fees are around $43, and their foreign exchange rates and delivery speeds aren’t the best.

Here are some top providers to consider for sending international money transfers.

Cheapest: TRANSFERWISE and WESTERN UNION
Transferwise
Learn more
at TransferWise
TRANSFERWISE
  • Cheapest exchange rates and straightforward upfront fee
  • More details
    Western Union
    Learn more
    at Western Union
    WESTERN UNION
    • Low fees for many transfers involving bank accounts
    • More details
    Fastest without extra cost: XOOM
    Xoom
    Learn more
    at Xoom
    Biggest network: WESTERN UNION and MONEYGRAM
    Western Union
    Learn more
    at Western Union
    WESTERN UNION
    MoneyGram
    Learn more
    at MoneyGram
    MONEYGRAM
    Best online experience: TRANSFERWISE and XOOM
    Transferwise
    Learn more
    at TransferWise
    TRANSFERWISE
    Xoom
    Learn more
    at Xoom
    XOOM
    Best transfers fees: OFX
    • OFX charges no transfer fees regardless of the amount you send.
    • More details
    Best for sending cash: WESTERN UNION and MONEYGRAM
    Western Union
    Learn more
    at Western Union
    WESTERN UNION
    MoneyGram
    Learn more
    at MoneyGram
    MONEYGRAM

    » MORE: Best ways to send money within the U.S.

    Cheapest

    TRANSFERWISE

    Transferwise
    Learn more
    at TransferWise
    TransferWise, a United Kingdom-based money transfer company, offers some of the best exchange rates you can find as an individual sending money. It uses the midmarket rates — the same cheap exchange rates that big banks use between one another. Banks and other providers generally profit off transfers by marking up the exchange rates they give consumers, but TransferWise makes a point to avoid this. It charges a small percentage of the transfer amount as its fee. Delivery can take several business days.

    WESTERN UNION

    Western Union
    Learn more
    at Western Union
    As the world’s biggest money transfer company, Western Union offers many choices at varying costs. You can send money in person, by telephone, on its website or through its mobile app. You can pay using a bank account, debit card, credit card or cash. The fees and exchange rates vary depending on how you pay and the delivery method you choose, but using bank accounts for payment and delivery is cheapest. When sending money online to certain countries that receive a lot of transfers, like Mexico or India, you can find some fee-free transfer options. One of Western Union’s specialities is cash transfers, which it can deliver within minutes and for less than competitors like MoneyGram.

    To compare costs by provider, see our charts below.

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    Fastest without extra cost

    XOOM

    Xoom
    Learn more
    at Xoom
    Some providers charge more in fees or exchange rate margins for express delivery options, but not Xoom. The company, owned by PayPal, gets transfers to destinations in minutes, whether they’re funded by bank account or debit or credit card. Its bank transfers have a flat fee that varies by country but is typically around $5, and the exchange rates are competitive. Delivery to some countries takes longer than to others due to banking hours and time zones, but Xoom is known for its fast speeds overall and for not charging extra for them.

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    Biggest network

    WESTERN UNION

    Western Union
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    at Western Union
    Apart from its breadth of transfer options, Western Union has the biggest physical network of agent locations. You can have money sent into a bank account or have it picked up as cash at more than 500,000 agent locations in rural and urban areas in more than 200 countries and territories.

    MONEYGRAM

    MoneyGram
    Learn more
    at MoneyGram
    Like Western Union, MoneyGram has a large physical network: 350,000 locations in more than 200 countries and territories. You can send cash to an agent location or make online and mobile transfers with a U.S. checking account, credit card or debit card (Visa or MasterCard only). MoneyGram offers similar services to Western Union, with cash transfers that can take just minutes, though it can charge slightly higher fees. The provider has some limitations, including lower maximum sending amounts for online transfers.

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    Best online experience

    TRANSFERWISE

    Transferwise
    Learn more
    at TransferWise
    TransferWise makes international transfers easy, especially compared with U.S. banks, which sometimes require you to visit a branch to wire money. Americans can send up to $49,999 to 54 countries through TransferWise’s website or mobile app. The sign-up process involves linking a Facebook or Google account or using an email address.

    For transfers that originate in the U.S., TransferWise moves money exclusively between bank accounts, so delivery time depends on local banking hours.

    XOOM

    Xoom
    Learn more
    at Xoom
    Xoom makes it easy for online and mobile users to send money to 55 countries, with an emphasis on developing countries. You can deliver money to a foreign bank account or cash pickup location, such as a grocery store or bank. In about half the countries that Xoom serves, you also can have money added to a mobile phone balance.

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    Best transfer rates

    OFX

    OFX, an online currency exchange platform formerly known as USForex, specializes in large transfers in 91 countries. Transfers take at least one business day, but there are no upfront fees, regardless of how much you send. You can transfer money via phone or online, but only between bank accounts.

    Once logged on to its website, you can view OFX’s consumer exchange rates and compare them with market rates. You can book rates any time online or by calling an OFX dealer during business hours. To have more control over the exchange rate you get, you can set up email alerts for specific currencies. You can also lock in rates for a future transfer or target rates, meaning that a transfer will be sent only if the market rate drops to the one you specify.

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    Best for sending cash

    WESTERN UNION

    Western Union
    Learn more
    at Western Union
    Because of its network size in the U.S. and abroad, Western Union has the most robust system for transferring cash quickly. There are thousands of agent locations in the United States, which you can find by using Western Union’s online tool. You can usually get money delivered as cash pickup or bank deposit.

    MONEYGRAM

    MoneyGram
    Learn more
    at MoneyGram
    MoneyGram locations also number in the thousands, and as with Western Union, sending cash can take minutes, depending on local regulations and procedures. Money can arrive on the other end as cash or in a bank account.
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    However you send money, using one of these providers can be a cheap, fast and convenient way to get your money where it needs to go.

    Spencer Tierney is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: spencer@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @SpencerNerd.

    Updated March 13, 2017.


    COST COMPARISON CHARTS

    Cost to send $200 from the U.S. to Mexico: Between bank accounts

    ProviderUpfront FeeExchange Rate MarginTotal Cost
    Western Union$0.001.23%$2.45
    TransferWise$3.000.02%$3.03
    MoneyGram$0.003.32%$6.64
    OFX$5.002.08%$9.16
    Xoom$4.992.29%$9.57

    Cost to send $200 from the U.S. to Mexico: As cash

    ProviderUpfront FeeExchange Rate MarginTotal Cost
    Western Union$8.001.90%$11.80
    MoneyGram$9.991.53%$13.05

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    To sample costs by provider, we looked at the most popular destination for U.S.-based transfers: Mexico, according to recent World Bank data. We selected $200 as the transfer amount, which is what World Bank uses for comparisons.

    In assessing costs, we looked at upfront fees and the foreign exchange rate margin. The margin is the difference between the currency exchange rate a big bank uses — the “interbank rate” or midmarket rate — and the exchange rate a provider charges you. This interbank rate is what you find on Google or Bloomberg, and it’s generally better than the exchange rate you can get, since banks and other providers mark up rates to make money off transfers.

    In our tables, a positive margin is the dollar amount that a provider’s exchange rate adds to your total cost. It appears as a percentage of the $200 transaction. A 0% margin means the transfer is sent at the interbank rate of $1 to 20.631 Mexican pesos, the rate on Bloomberg on Dec. 2, 2016, at 11:30 a.m. PST. We used providers’ rates from their websites at that time as well.


    METHODOLOGY

    To determine the best money transfer services, we compared 23 providers by fees, delivery speeds, security, number of supported currencies and number of physical locations worldwide. Priority went to the ones with a combination of the lowest fees, fastest delivery, tightest security and most supported currencies. We excluded services that don’t work in the U.S.

    Money transfer providers surveyed: Currencies Direct, CurrencyTransfer, MoneyCorp, MoneyGram, OFX, PayPal, Payza, Remitly, Ria, Sharemoney, TorFX, Transfast, TransferWise, Travelex, Venstar Xchange, Viamericas, Wal-Mart, Wells Fargo (ExpressSend), Western Union, World First, WorldRemit, XE and Xoom.