How to send money overseas

There are several ways to send money overseas and no shortage of firms competing for your business, including banks, money transfer firms and foreign exchange (FX) brokers. Get an overview of your main options, follow links for more detail and find out how to choose what’s best for you.

Choosing how to exchange your money

The right way to send money overseas depends on a number of factors including:

  • How much you are sending
  • How often you are sending it
  • How quickly the money needs to get there
  • How the person wants to receive it
  • How much it is going to cost

Follow these steps to help you a good deal that is right for you:

Step 1 – Look at your options

There are three main options for sending money:

  • Bank or building society
  • High street transfer firms (such as Western Union) and
  • Foreign exchange (FX) brokers

As a general rule - banks are safe and convenient if setting up a regular payment. Money transfer firms are very fast, but can be more expensive if sending smaller amounts. FX brokers are normally the best option if sending larger amounts, usually over £3,000.

Step 2 – How much will it cost?

Ensure you find out how the total amount of foreign currency your pounds will buy, after all costs.

How much it is going to cost you to transfer money abroad is obviously a key consideration. The costs fall into three categories.

  • What you will be charged by the firm transferring the money
  • Charges the recipient might have to cover to receive the money (although you can request to cover these at your end) and
  • Foreign exchange rates

An easy way to start is to get a quote from you bank to compare to others you get and using FX brokers using a site like FX Compared.

Step 3 – Confirm all the details

Once you have established the best value option, you will need to confirm they will be able to handle the amount you want to transfer and in the time limit you want. Where possible, make sure you get this in writing (either by post or email).

You might also want to check if your money transfer firm or FX broker is Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) authorised. If you’re sending a lot of money, it’s good to know you’re protected.

Make sure you keep all the paperwork and receipts in case something goes wrong.

To get a more detailed overview of your other options for international money transfers read our guide below.

Using you bank or building society

Your bank or building society is always able to transfer money and is a safe and convenient way to send money overseas.

Pros and cons

  • Easy to arrange – your bank will guide you through the process and you may even be able to make transfers from your mobile phone.
  • Convenient – banks and building societies are on the high street and you can set up a transfer as a regular payment.
  • Safe and secure - you will be protected when you send money overseas using a UK bank or building society.
  • For amounts over £5,000, you’re more likely to get a better exchange rate from a foreign exchange broker.
  • Not the fastest option. Standard transfer takes 4-6 business days, but you can pay extra for an express service which takes 1-2 days.Some foreign banks charge for receiving the transfer. You can ask your bank to cover all the charges so the recipient gets the full amount.

If you make regular payments

Top tip

If you need to send regular payments overseas for your own use, the cheapest and easiest transfer option is likely to be setting up an account with the overseas branch of your UK bank.

Many UK high street banks have their own branches overseas or special arrangements with overseas banks.

This can result in lower charges (or no charges) on overseas payments as well as more competitive exchange rates.

This is particularly useful if you need to make frequent payments abroad – as when, for example, you are paying the bills on a second home abroad.

To benefit from the reduced fees, you often need to hold an account in the same name in both countries.

What you’ll need

  • The International Bank Account Number (IBAN) and Bank Identifier Code (BIC) for the account you are paying to – the owner of the account can get these details from their bank or from a bank statement
  • You will also need the IBAN and BIC from your own bank account, though for a transfer to another branch of your bank abroad they may not be needed

Check you’re using a valid IBAN on the UK payments website

Using an online or high street money transfer firm

Finding a money transfer firm to help you send money abroad is easy. Some, like Western Union, have high street branches, many offer online services and you can find MoneyGram in Post Office branches.

Pros and cons

  • Range of services – some offer ‘instant cash for your recipient, others can transfer money directly into a bank account.
  • Easy set-up – you don’t usually need an account. For smaller amounts, you may not even need identification.
  • Fast – A cash transfer can be completed in a few minutes. Sending from a bank account can take a couple of days.
  • Fees vary widely - depending on the service you choose and can be especially high for smaller amounts – you could end up paying £10 to transfer just £50.
  • Exchange rates can vary on a daily basis and according to currency, so make sure you compare costs on the day you plan to send the money. This can often be done online.
  • Not as safe – The Financial Services Compensation Scheme does not cover these firms if they go bust.

Top tip

The best way to compare costs is to calculate the final amount of euros, dollars or other currency you’ll get after the exchange rate and all charges have been taken into account.

Using a high street money transfer service

How it works:

  • You can find a money transfer service through a high street agent, in newsagents or at the Post Office.
  • You generally don’t need to open an account. Simply hand over the funds you want to send and pay any fees.
  • After paying you’ll get a reference number – give this to the recipient (and only the recipient). Whoever has that number can pick up the money you sent to the overseas branch or agency.

Before handing over your cash:

  • Check the fees – these services can be fast, but expensive.
  • If sending ‘instant cash’ abroad, find out where the money can be collected. Then check with your recipient to make sure they’ll be able to get to that branch or agency. Increasingly, you may be able to send cash to a recipient’s mobile-phone ‘wallet’ if they have one (using systems such as M-PESA).

Using an online money transfer service

How it works:

  • Online money transfer firms allow you to make international money transfers through online services, often for a very small fee.
  • To sign up, you’ll need to register your bank account or credit card details through the firm’s website – so you’ll need internet access and an email address.
  • Online transfers can take a few days, so they’re better suited to non-urgent transfers.

Before sending money overseas:

  • Find out what your recipient will need in order to receive the cash. If they need a bank account, internet access or an email address, confirm that your recipient has those things before you sign up.
  • To protect your money, take care to choose a password that’s hard to guess and don’t share it with others.

Using a foreign exchange broker

If you’re looking to send a large sum of money overseas, you’ll probably get the best deal from a foreign exchange (FX) currency broker.

Pros and cons

  • Low fees – if transferring over £3,000, FX brokers will usually charge you no fees.
  • Great exchange rate – FX brokers specialise in currency transaction and will likely offer a better exchange rate than a bank or money transfer firm.
  • Fast – money will usually be in the recipient’s bank account the same, or following day.
  • Regular payments – some FX brokers will deal with regular transfers.
  • Opening an account – to make a transfer with an FX broker, you will need to open and pay into an account. This can take a day or two.
  • Smaller amounts – FX brokers are not generally best for sending smaller amounts of money.
  • Not as safe – The Financial Services Compensation Scheme does not cover these firms if they go bust.

Know you’ll need to transfer a large sum at some point in the future

You can choose to send money abroad using the current exchange rate. However if you’re worried about exchange rate changes for a future amount you’re planning on change consider a ‘forward contract’ to lock in the exchange rate for a future trade.

Forwards are useful if you know you’ll need a large sum of cash at some point in the future. For example, if you know you’ll need to cover the down payment on a holiday home in Spain but are worried about the pound weakening or the euro strengthening before it’s time to send the money, this method will let you lock in a rate.

If things go wrong

Top tip

Always check you money transfer firm is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority

Regardless of which option you choose, make sure you keep all receipts and paperwork in case something goes wrong.

Money transfer forms and FX brokers are not covered by the compensation scheme, so are not as safe as using a bank.

If a company is ‘registered’ with the FCA, they do not need to safeguard your money if they go bust.

However, if they are ‘authorised’ by the FCA, your money must be kept separate from company funds.

You can check a firm’s authorisation on the Financial Conduct Authority website. When searching for small firms, including money transfers agencies such as Western Union, it’s a good idea to find the postcode so you can narrow your search.

For more details on FCA authorisation – and to find out what to do if you have a complaint about a money transfer firm – read our guide Checking the authorisation of a firm to send money overseas.

Alternatives to sending money overseas

For many purchases and payments – like online shopping from overseas stores – a credit or debit card is a convenient alternative to money transfers.

Avoid sending a foreign bank draft (similar to a UK cheque) overseas. It’s going to be slow and expensive, because you’ll have to pay foreign bank charges (and possibly UK bank handling charges).