Photo of an Asian woman sitting down a chair, facing her laptop on the table, with her credit card in hand, ready to make an international money transfer.

The Smart Guide to International Money Transfers

Discover some of the best practices for making international money-transfers: 

The global money transfer market is growing at an exceptional rate.

According to a World Bank report in 2018, nearly $613bn worth of financial transactions were processed across international lines.

There’s a range of reasons why you might find yourself making an international money transfer. Be it an overseas wedding, business transaction, or sending money to someone living or travelling abroad; the process can be tricky to understand.

This is why it’s important to know about the different payment methods available.

How do they work?

Making an international money transfer involves sending an individual or organisation in a different country money with a different currency.

Once this transfer has been made, the amount of money received depends on the exchange rate at the time, and this will vary between providers.

Often, it’s either:

  • you get charged a fee on top of the original amount you wish to send
  • the recipient receives a lower amount
  • or both.

With that being said, it’s worth doing your research and shopping around for the best rates, commissions and costs.

There’s a wide range of possible fees and exchange rates which can make it difficult to work out how much your transfer will cost.

So, you should find out the total amount of foreign currency your pounds will buy, after all the associated costs are taken into consideration.

This will give you a figure that you can then compare against other offers.

The costs are in three parts:

  • Foreign exchange rates. These will change even throughout the day so if you’re comparing different offers, try and do so within a short space of time.
  • Sending fees. This is what the firm will charge you for transferring the money.
  • Receiving fees. These are the charges the receiver might have to pay to collect the money. However, it’s possible to ask to cover these at your end.

Fees can vary depending on how much you decide to send.

For example, some exchanges offer better rates if you post more than £5,000.

What are my options?

When choosing how you want to exchange your money, it’s worthwhile asking yourself the following questions:

  • How much am I sending?
  • How much is it going to cost?
  • How often will I be making a transaction?
  • How does the person I’m sending it to want to receive it?
  • How quickly do I need the money to get there?

Not all payment methods will suit your needs and each has its pros and cons.

So, don’t stick to one type of provider as rates can fluctuate and you might find that a different option suits you depending on when you’re making the transaction and with how much money.

If you don’t look at the charges imposed on your transfer closely, you might be left wondering what the extra fees mean.

Traditional providers include banks, high-street transfer providers and foreign exchange brokers.

While these can be safe and have lower fees for large amounts, the process can be slow, fees can be higher for small amounts of money, and the recipient may be charged to collect their money.

To make an international transfer with a bank, you’ll need the following:

  • full name of the account holder
  • the recipients bank address
  • the bank account number or International Bank Account Number (IBAN)
  • the SWIFT Bank Identifier Code

This information helps your bank identify what bank the money is being sent to.

In comparison, while online providers such as Paypal and TransferWise are known to be the easiest and safest to use, they can actually be more expensive and have very tight security checks, such as having to submit documentation to make the transaction.

What are my rights?

As a consumer, you have the right to see the costs involved before you decide to go through with a transaction.

These costs include:

  • The actual amount that will be transferred
  • The exchange rate that will be used
  • Some* of the fees involved
  • The taxes collected by the provider
  • The sum amount that is expected to be delivered before any taxes or fees are deducted at the recipient’s end.

*However, you should be mindful that not all fees are apparent and include undisclosed exchange rate spread and recipient bank fees. These costs can add up quickly, so it’s best to know exactly what you and the recipient will be paying for.


If you intend to make more than one large transaction, it’s a good idea to send a smaller amount before you do so in order to make sure it arrives with the recipient safely.

While money in the UK is protected by a scheme, this doesn’t necessarily apply to foreign providers.

You should also know the difference between a provider who’s labelled ‘Authorised’ and ‘Registered’.

Essentially, ‘Authorised’ providers are a safer option as you’ll get your money back if the firm runs into financial problems and they’ll also ring-fence your money.

Ring-fencing’ is legislation requiring each large UK bank to separate its retail banking activity from the rest of its business. By doing this, it protects its customers and the day-to-day banking services they rely on from unrelated risks elsewhere in the banking group.

Alternatively, ‘Registered’ providers don’t have the same safety provisions, and your money won’t always be protected if something goes wrong.

To lend a hand, Sainsbury’s Bank has published a helpful infographic providing useful information on the following:

  • selecting the best provider
  • the associated risk
  • tips on understanding the fees
  • necessary for sending and receiving an international payment.

Sainsbury’s Bank Visual-Guide/Infographic to Transferring Money Abroad

(Source: Sainsbury’s Bank)

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