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Best ways to send money online internationally

Sending money overseas? Here’s what you need to know to get the best exchange rates and avoid hidden fees on your international money transfer.

8 min read

Summary:

  • Sending money overseas can be expensive and slow when using traditional banks.
  • Money transfer companies like MoneyGram, PayPal, and WorldRemit offer alternatives that are often faster and cheaper.
  • N26 uses mid-market exchange rates and has fully transparent fees, which makes it one of the most accurate and straightforward options for international money transfers.

Whether you want to send money to your family across the world or simply want to transfer some funds to your bank account back home to pay off a bill, being able to quickly send money online at the best rates is essential. But with so many ways to send money online, how do you know which option will give you the most bang for your buck? Luckily, it’s all quite simple once you break it down. Here are the fastest and cheapest ways to send money online internationally. 

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Send money online internationally

At first, directly transferring money overseas from your bank account may seem like the best way to send money internationally—but unfortunately, using your bank’s international money transfer service is usually not the most efficient option. In fact, money transfer companies such as MoneyGram, PayPal, and WorldRemit can often work out to be a cheaper—and sometimes, faster—alternative to most banks.

But why is that?  

  • Banks tend to charge a larger upfront service fee than money transfer companies—because they generally have greater overheads to cover.
  • Banks often take much longer to transfer money internationally—expect to wait between 4 to 6 business days before the money lands in the recipient’s account.
  • Banks often discreetly hide extra fees such as international transfer charges into their exchange rates—but money transfer companies are usually transparent with their fees and use mid-market exchange rates, which gives you a better deal.

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What do you need for an international transfer?

To make an international money transfer, you typically need the following information and documents:

  • Recipient's full name — Provide the recipient's full legal name as it appears on their identification documents.
  • Recipient's bank account details — You’ll need the recipient's bank account number, which may include an IBAN for European countries, or a routing number for the United States. You may also need the recipient's bank branch address.
  • Recipient's bank SWIFT/BIC — The SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) or BIC (Bank Identifier Code) is a unique identification code for a specific bank. It helps make sure the transfer reaches the correct financial institution.
  • Your personal information — You’ll need to give your full name, address, and sometimes identification documents, depending on the provider’s requirements.
  • Transfer amount and currency — Specify the amount you want to transfer and the currency that you want to use.
  • Payment method — You’ll need to provide the necessary funds for the transfer. This can be done through your bank account, credit card, or other accepted payment methods.

How do you make an international transfer?

To make an international transfer, you can follow these general steps:

  1. Choose a transfer method. There are various methods available, such as bank transfers, online money transfer services, or payment platforms like PayPal.
  2. Research the fees and exchange rates. Different providers may have different fees and exchange rates, so it's important to compare and choose the most cost-effective option.
  3. Gather recipient information. Collect the necessary details, including the recipient’s full name, bank account number, and the bank's SWIFT/BIC (for bank transfers).
  4. Provide your information. You’ll need to give your own personal information, including your full name and address. Sometimes you’ll need to show your identification documents, depending on the provider's requirements.
  5. Initiate the transfer. Follow the instructions for your chosen transfer method. This may involve logging in to your online banking account, using a money transfer app, or visiting a physical bank branch.
  6. Confirm the transfer details. Double-check all the information you entered, including the recipient's details and the transfer amount, and make sure it’s correct.
  7. Pay for the transfer. Depending on the method you choose, you may need to pay for the transfer using your bank account, credit card, or other accepted payment methods.
  8. Track the transfer. Some providers offer tracking services, allowing you to monitor the progress of your transfer. Keep any reference numbers or transfer receipts in case you need to follow up later.
  9. Wait for the transfer to complete. International transfers can take varying amounts of time, depending on the provider and the destination country. Do your best to be patient and leave enough time for the transfer to be processed.

What is an exchange rate?

When you’re sending money internationally, you’ll often come across the term “exchange rate.” So what is it, and how does it affect your international money transfers?

The exchange rate is simply the value of one currency when compared to another currency. For example, the exchange rate can tell you how much one US dollar ($1 USD)  is worth in euros (€), or how much the Japanese yen (¥) is worth in British pounds (£). 

Most exchange rates are “free-floating,” which means that they’re based on the status-quo of the decentralized foreign exchange (forex) market. The forex continuously measures the supply and demand of different currencies in relation to each other—which is why you’ll notice that the foreign exchange rate fluctuates constantly. As a result, it’s entirely possible for exchange rates to vary dramatically within the course of a single day. For instance, the British pound could be stronger than the US dollar in the morning, and by the end of the day, the US dollar could be stronger than the British pound. 

How do international exchange rates work?

So, how does the exchange rate work when you’re sending money internationally online?  Simply put, the timing of when and how you decide to send your money overseas is crucial. 

Just like there are many ways to send money online, there are also many different international exchange rates available. Because traditional banks are more likely to hide hidden fees in their exchange rates, you may be surprised to find that the amount that lands in the recipient’s account is less than you expected. 

Say for instance that you want to send €1000 from Germany to the US. The current exchange rate according to the forex is that €1 is equal to $1.20. So, if you send €1000 to your recipient in the US, they should receive $1200.

Yet as is often the case, when you check with your bank, you realize that they are offering a much lower exchange rate of €1 to $1.10. This means that when you send €1000 to the US, the recipient will receive $1100—and the remaining $100 will be kept by the bank, hidden as part of their foreign exchange fees. And if that weren’t enough, you may also be expected to pay an extra charge for making an international bank transfer.

So, how can you send money online quickly and cheaply to your loved ones overseas? It’s time to consider your online money transfer options.

How to send money online instantly and affordably

The smartest way to send money online internationally is to avoid using bank transfers. Instead, consider sending your money with a money transfer service, as these options will likely give you better rates, and get your money to the recipient faster. Here are some of the top money transfer companies to consider when sending your money overseas online.

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MoneyGram

MoneyGram is the largest international money transfer provider in the world, facilitating international money transfers between more than 200 countries. As one of the quickest money transfer companies around, all online payments take between a couple of hours to a single business day to arrive. 

However, their app only accepts Mastercard and Visa payments, and their transaction fees vary significantly between different countries. What’s more, they don’t offer transparent exchange rates, and frequently charge more than the mid-market rate (i.e. the current forex rate). This makes MoneyGram one of the fastest but not the most cost-effective choice among international money transfer services.

WorldRemit

Similar to MoneyGram, WorldRemit prioritizes speed when it comes to making international transfers—90% of their transfers are authorized in a matter of minutes. Covering over 150 countries, WorldRemit also sends both the sender and the recipient an alert via SMS or email when the transfer is successful. 

However, like MoneyGram, WorldRemit’s fees are not fully transparent as their foreign transfer fees vary on a country-by-country basis, and they also add a margin to their exchange rates for some countries rather than using the true mid-market rate.

PayPal

While often a favorite for making domestic payments online, PayPal is also frequently used for sending money internationally. Operating in over 200 countries, PayPal is notable for its secure payment method that analyzes all transactions for fraud. However, it can only support around 20 different currencies. 

To transfer money internationally online with PayPal, both the sender and the recipient must have their own PayPal accounts, rather than just a bank account. What’s more, PayPal follows the likes of WorldRemit and MoneyGram by offering a weak exchange rate, often valued below the mid-market rate. Depending on the country you’re transferring your funds to, you can also expect a varying scale of transaction fees to be added on top. 

Your money at N26 

Seamlessly integrated into the N26 app, easily transfer money in over 38 countries with just a few taps, and enjoy full transparency over transfer fees and a real-time quote of the best exchange rate.

Want to transfer money a little closer to home? Our MoneyBeam feature allows you to instantly send and receive money with other N26 customers, all without tediously typing in everyone’s bank details. Make instant money transfers effortless by entering the recipient’s email or phone number, and simply enter the amount you wish to send—and that’s it! Ready for the world of 100% mobile banking? Find out which bank account suits you best here.

By N26

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