What’s the Best Way to Send Money Abroad?

There are lots of reasons why you might want to send money abroad. You may have family living overseas that you help to support or have your own foreign bank account. Some people also have business interests overseas, bills they need to pay and even holiday homes around the world.

Whatever the reason, while you can simply use your bank account to make an international money transfer, it’s rarely the cheapest option.

The banks usually charge fees and give you unfavourable exchange rates, which means less of your money arrives in the recipient’s account.

The good news is there are plenty of other ways to make international money transfers, and the process is relatively quick and easy.

In this guide, we cover everything you need to know to send money abroad, including how to make an international money transfer in the most cost-effective way.

What is an international money transfer?

In the UK, if you had a bill to pay or owed someone money, you’d simply load up your banking app and transfer money directly from your bank account to theirs or use a debit card, credit card, Apple Pay, etc. to make the payment.

An international money transfer is the same, except you send money to a friend, family member or business in a foreign country.

As well as transferring money from one bank account to another, some money transfer companies give you more options.

You can send money online that the recipient can collect as physical cash from a location (such as a bank branch or shop) near their home or transfer money as a mobile top-up that goes straight into a ‘mobile wallet’ on the recipient’s phone.

You can make international money transfers very quickly, and depending on the transfer method, your recipient can access the money on the same day.

For bank-to-bank transfers, the process typically takes several working days, although that will depend on the bank and the country you send the money to.

How much does it cost to send money abroad?

That depends on the method you use. As well as your banks, you can use one of the many specialist foreign exchange (FX) providers online. If you’re making a larger transfer, typically over £5,000, you’ll usually get the best rate from a currency broker.

When you’re sending money abroad, there are two charges to look out for:

  • The transfer fee – Most providers will charge you a fee for each transfer you make. It could be a flat fee or a percentage of the transfer amount.
     
  • The exchange rate – To make the transfer, your provider must change your money from pounds sterling into the currency of the country you’re sending it to. The exchange rate you receive fluctuates from provider to provider and can even change throughout the day.

Before making a transfer, always compare the fees and exchange rates of different providers to check you’re getting the best deal. However, that can be tricky, as you’re not always comparing like for like.

For example, one FX provider might charge zero fees but give you a less competitive exchange rate, while others might take the opposite approach.

Some providers have calculators to show exactly how much money your recipient will receive after all charges.

Even when you find a good provider, you should still shop around every time you want to make a transfer, as the fees and the competitiveness of the exchange rates vary from one day to the next and from country to country.

The cheapest way to send money abroad – what are my options?

There are several different ways you can make international money transfers. Here, we describe each of those options, explain the type of transfers they’re good for and discuss some of the other things you should consider.

Banks and building societies

Best for: Transferring money to yourself or sending relatively small amounts to a recipient with the right bank account


Using your UK bank or building society to send money abroad is the safest option. It uses the SWIFT payment network, a highly secure and reliable payment method, and you’ll be protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).

While the protection you get is good, the banks’ transfer fees are usually higher than the specialist foreign (FX) exchange providers. However, there are a few ways around that.

If you have an HSBC current account, you can send money to any other HSBC account in over 150 countries without paying a transfer fee.

Similarly, if you’re a Nationwide account holder, you can avoid a fee when sending euros to the 36 countries in the Single Euro Payments Area (see the full list of SEPA countries). Some banks also allow you to send money to linked banks they have overseas without incurring a transfer fee.

If you have an overseas savings account you want to send money to, you can make the transfer for free if both your accounts are with the same bank. Santander and HSBC are two examples of banks that operate in many countries around the world.

However, even if you can avoid a bank transfer fee, you should still check the exchange rate. Money transfer companies tend to offer more competitive exchange rates than banks, and that could wipe out any savings you stand to make from the zero transfer fee.

Specialist foreign exchange providers

Best for: Infrequent transfers of under £5,000

If you want to make a one-off international money transfer of under £5,000, the cheapest method is usually through a money transfer company. They offer a range of transfer options, including bank transfers and cash pickups, to help you get the money to your recipient in the most convenient way. 

As international transfer specialists, they tend to offer more competitive exchange rates than the banks. They also usually charge a transfer fee, which will vary depending on the provider, the transfer method, the amount you want to send and the country you send it to.

One issue with money transfer companies is protection. They’re not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme like the banks, but many are still ‘authorised’ by the Financial Services Authority (FCA).

That means they must keep your money separate from the company’s funds. That means if they go bust, your money is protected. FX firms can also be ‘regulated’ by the FCA, which offers less protection.

To make sure the money transfer company you choose is safe, check it is authorised by the FCA and look at its Trustpilot ratings and reviews. You should ask for personal recommendations from people you know who have used FX providers before.  

Popular money transfer companies include Wise, OFX, FairFX, WorldRemit and XE.  

Currency brokers

Best for: Large international money transfers of over £5,000

If you want to send a lot of money abroad, for example, to pay a deposit on a holiday home or help your children with rent or university fees – a specialist broker is your best bet. 

With larger transfer amounts, the exchange rate becomes extremely important, so look for the best rates and get quotes from multiple brokers.

As they deal with large amounts of currency, they typically offer the best rates, but it’s also worth speaking to your bank to see what they can offer. Most brokers will not charge you a transfer fee and there shouldn’t be any receiving costs for your recipient.

Brokers are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, but given the amount of money involved, you should ensure any provider you use is authorised by the FCA. You can check whether a firm is authorised by searching for its name on the FCA register.

If a broker isn’t authorised but offers a slightly better exchange rate, give it a miss. Most brokers are completely safe but it’s just not worth the risk.   

Reputable currency brokers include Corpay, Moneycorp and Currencies Direct.  

Instant money transfers

Best for: Emergencies

If you need to send money overseas quickly or want to transfer cash to someone who doesn’t have a bank account, services such as Western Union and MoneyGram could be your best option.

They allow you to send money that your recipient can pick up on the same day, in cash, from a physical location like a shop. They have a huge network of cash pick-up destinations, so this can be an option even if your recipient lives somewhere remote. 

Although instant money transfers can be fast and convenient, they also come at a cost. The fees can be high, the exchange rates can be uncompetitive and the maximum transfer limits are relatively low.

However, in certain situations, they may be just what you need. 

PayPal

Best for: Convenience

If you and your recipient have PayPal accounts, you can send money to them in more than 200 countries. As you both have an account, you don’t have to sign up or register, which makes it a quick and easy way to send money abroad.

The funds will arrive in your recipient’s PayPal wallet and they can choose whether to transfer it to their bank account. 

Even if your recipient doesn’t have a PayPal account, you can still send them a money transfer with PayPal through a subsidiary called Xoom. You can transfer money straight to their bank account or send cash that they can pick up from a participating location. 

Sending money abroad using PayPal is convenient, but it can be expensive compared to FX providers. You’ll typically pay a percentage of the transfer amount, a flat fee and receive a less competitive exchange rate.    

How to send money abroad – frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What information do you need to send money abroad?

You will need some personal details and banking information from the person you’re sending the money to, including:

  • Their name and address
  • The name of their bank
  • The SWIFT code of their bank (also known as a Bank Identifier Code or BIC)
  • The recipient’s bank account number or International Bank Account Number (known as their IBAN)  

Their IBAN is just their bank account number written in a standard global format. Your recipient can find their IBAN on their paper bank statements or inside their web-based account if they bank online. Your recipient should contact their bank if they cannot locate it.   

How long does it take to send money abroad?

That depends on the transfer method you use. Bank-to-bank transfers typically take a few working days but money you send to an e-wallet on your recipient’s mobile phone or cash pickups from physical locations can be available almost immediately. 

How much money can you send overseas?

There’s no universal limit for international money transfers. Banks and money transfer companies set minimum and maximum limits for each transaction. Some countries also impose limits when receiving money transfers.

When transferring large amounts of money overseas, you must provide certain information. That can differ depending on the country and currency involved, but will usually include:

  • Proof of ID for the sender and recipient (usually a passport, driving licence or ID card)
  • Proof of the source of funds, such as payslips, bank statements or investment or savings certificates  

What is a forward contract for money transfers?  

If you want to send a large amount of money abroad, keep a close eye on the exchange rate leading up to your intended transfer date.

If the exchange rate peaks, some transfer providers allow you to fix your transfer at that rate before you send the money. This is known as a forward contract.

Fixing a favourable exchange rate can lead to a big saving if the exchange rate subsequently falls.  

Are international money transfers safe?

Using a bank or building society is the safest way to send money abroad as they use the SWIFT payment network and are covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). 

The highest level of protection for money transfer companies is Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) authorisation, so check that your provider has that.

You should also look at their online reviews and ask for recommendations from people you know. If you plan to make a big transfer, you could send a smaller amount first to make sure the money arrives.   

If your money doesn’t arrive at its intended destination, double-check it left your account and ensure you entered the recipient’s details correctly. You should then contact the transfer provider, as they can trace the payment’s journey and tell you where the money has gone.

You can complain to the Financial Ombudsman if the provider does lose your money. They will investigate on your behalf and should return the money to you if they find your provider is in the wrong.