Sending money abroad is not complicated once you understand the process.
I'll explain how a transfer works, how long it takes, the information you will need, and the best and cheapest ways available.
How to transfer money abroad (in 4 simple steps)
Step 1 - Identification
All new clients need a basic ID check.
This is a legal requirement due to anti-money laundering financial regulations.
For most people, the ID check can be quickly done using proof of identity (passport) and proof of address (a driver's licence or bill).
Step 2 - Lock-in an exchange rate
After the ID check is done, you can secure an exchange rate.
Whenever you're ready, your bank or money transfer company will quote you their current exchange rate.
If you are happy to go ahead, the exchange rate will be locked-in for you.
Step 3 - Provide your money
Before any money is converted and transferred, you need to provide your money.
Your bank or money transfer company will provide you with the bank account details of where to send your money.
Banks require your money upfront. Money transfer companies may give you 1-2 working days to get your money sent in.
Step 4 - Your money is converted and sent out
Once your money is received, your bank or money transfer company will convert your funds into the currency needed and transfer it to the overseas bank account you've requested.
How long does it take to transfer money abroad?
Transfers of cash internationally are faster than electronic payments. Cash transfers can take as little as 15 minutes before the recipient receives the money.
An international money transfer, which is routed via the SWIFT banking network, generally takes 1-4 working days.
The time taken for a SWIFT transfer varies based on the destination, time zones, and efficiency of the banks involved.
Before your funds are credited to the recipient, they will pass through anti-fraud and anti-money laundering checks. In some instances, these can cause delays.
Some transfers may also be routed via an intermediary bank if the sending and receiving bank have no direct relationship. This can also make the process slower.
What information will you need to send money abroad?
To transfer money to a person overseas, you will need to have the following details of their bank account:
- Account name
- Bank name
- Bank Swift/BIC code
- Bank account number
You can normally get all this information from a bank statement, logging into the account online, or asking within a branch.
A money transfer specialist can assist you with this and help double-check the details.
What is the cheapest way to send money abroad?
It is cheaper to send money abroad using an international money transfer. Sending cash, or using a debit or credit card, tends to be a more costly option.
The cost difference depends on the amount you send.
For smaller sums, the speed of sending cash, or the convenience of using a debit or credit card, may outweigh the extra cost.
As cash transfers can arrive within an hour, they are the fastest option, and the recipient doesn’t even need to have a bank account. They can be handed the cash once they identify themselves.
But for legal and safety reasons, cash transfers are limited to smaller amounts (a few thousand maximum).
For cash transfers, MoneyGram and Western Union are the two best-known names, but there are others such as Xoom (part of PayPal), Azimo, Ria, and Remitly.
A debit/credit card is another way of making an international payment.
Mastercard and Visa are the two main players, but the fees and exchange rates can be relatively high compared to making an international money transfer.
For anyone making a large one-off transfer or regular overseas payments, it is cheaper to use an international money transfer.
Sometimes these are also called telegraphic transfers or wire transfers.
It's just different jargon to describe the same thing.
You can use a bank or money transfer company to carry out an international money transfer.
While a bank might seem an obvious option, if you are on this page, you probably already suspect there may be cheaper options out there.
Money transfer specialists can often undercut the banks by a significant margin - in the region of 60%-70% in terms of costs.
So it's always worth shopping around.
Compared: Banks vs Money Transfer Companies
Convenient and familiar
High fees & not the best exchange rates
Small one-off payments
Money Transfer Company
No fees, competitive exchange rates, personal service
Need to register before you can use
Large or regular amounts
How can I send money abroad without fees?
Most banks charge a transfer fee every time you send money internationally.
The UK's largest banks charge transfer fees are in the region of £10-£25 per payment.
You may also be subject to a recipient fee and a priority payment fee, depending on the bank.
There are some money transfer companies that do not charge any fees on international money transfers; however this may be subject to a minimum transfer amount.
The exchange rate you receive will also have a charge embedded within it.
For large international transfers, the exchange rate costs are often far greater than the fees.
It's important to consider both types of charges when comparing the cost of sending money abroad.
Our research found that the 'big four' UK banks typically charge 3% to 5% of the amount for international money transfers.
While the fees tend to be fixed, the exchange rate will improve for larger amounts.
It is always worth getting a quote from an alternative provider.
How much money can you transfer internationally?
While there are no legal limits on the amount of money you can transfer in or out of the United Kingdom, banks and money transfer companies often set their own daily limits.
These are the daily limits for the UK's largest four banks:
- Natwest: £25,000
- HSBC: £50,000
- Barclays: £50,000
- Lloyds: £30,000
Foreign banks also tend to have daily limits in place.
You can usually find out what the amount is through a Google search.
Make sure you search for the limit on an international transfer (also called a wire transfer), not a regular bank transfer.
For large international money transfers, these daily limits may mean you have to make multiple payments, which would then cost you more in transfer fees (not to mention the extra time and hassle).
Some money transfer companies, such as Key Currency, don't have any daily limits, making them a better option for large transfers.
Do you pay tax when you transfer money abroad?
A bank or a money transfer company will not charge or collect a tax when you send money abroad. It is a matter for your personal tax return. Tax laws are different in each country.
In the UK, whether money transfers are taxed depends on your residency.
For example, if someone is a tax resident of the UK but is working abroad, then any money transferred back to the UK may be subject to income tax. That can apply to all forms of foreign income, including salary, dividends, rent or pensions.
It can depend on how long you were living overseas and whether you own a property in the UK.
There are also possible exemptions, such as gifts and inheritance, but again these are subject to conditions.
The rules around tax residency can be quite complex.
If in any doubt, it's always best to get the help and advice of a tax accountant.
What is the safest way to transfer money internationally?
SWIFT is a highly secure and reliable way to send money to another country. It's estimated that around half of all high value cross-border payments in the world are made using SWIFT.
The SWIFT network is tried-and-tested, having been in operation for over 40 years.
SWIFT payments work by assigning a unique code to identify each bank.
This is called a SWIFT code or Bank Identifier Code (BIC).
Over 11,000 banks and financial institutions are registered with SWIFT.
An additional safety check when sending money abroad from the UK is to ensure any bank or money transfer company you deal with is Authorised by the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority).
Authorised companies are required to hold all client funds in a safeguarded bank account.
That's an important protection for customers.
To find out if a company is Authorised, just type their name into the Financial Services Register.
Quick Summary: Transfer Money Abroad
- You can send money abroad using cash or an international money transfer.
- Cash transfers tends to cost more but are quicker.
- An international money transfer can take 1-4 working days but is a cheaper option.
- The cost of an international money transfer tends to be a combination of fees and exchange rates.
- You can use a bank or money transfer company for an international money transfer.
Key Currency is a leading money transfer specialist.
We serve customers throughout the UK, EU, the Middle East and Australasia and can transfer money in 39 different currencies to just about any country.
Our exchange rates are highly competitive, and we don't charge any fees.
What's more, we offer you a helpful service.
Unlike online-only operators, we don't push you onto a trading platform and make you do everything yourself.
All our customers have an account manager who can assist you with the payment set-up, offer guidance on exchange rates, and keep you informed from start to finish.
As a money transfer company, we appreciate trust and transparency are of utmost importance.
That's why we don't hide behind a logo, catchphrase, or corporate waffle. The names, faces and backgrounds of all our people on our website.
You can read more about us here.
Key Currency is Authorised by the FCA (No.753989). As such, all transfers are conducted through safeguarded client accounts for your peace of mind.
We have gained a 5-star "Excellent" customer rating on Trustpilot - which is the highest possible rating.
If you need to transfer money abroad or would simply like a free quote, please click below.