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Sending Money Abroad How to send cash overseas cheaply

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Currency signs Gifting a Stateside nephew or wiring emergency funds to a travelling daughter needn't require astronomical costs - some banks charge up to £25, so use MoneySaving ways to make sure you don't get ripped off.

This step-by-step guide teaches you how to send money on the cheap. Whether it's one-off or a regular payment, you'll save some serious cash.

What will it cost?

The two key drains on your lump sum will be the fee, and the exchange rate. Don't be seduced by 'fee-free rates' - the exchange rate is often adjusted to make up for the loss.

  • Fee. The obvious charge.

    A multitude of fees, charges or commission can apply both to the sender and the recipient. Many providers impose multiples of small additional charges to disguise the real cost of the service.

  • Exchange rate. The hidden charge.

    Many companies claim to be 'commission-free' and then dampen the exchange rate so you get less bang for your buck. It's often difficult to get hold of the exact rate and compare it, as some providers don't publish daily rates which change throughout the day.

The best way to compare

A multitude of fees and exchange rates make transferring money seem like a complicated minefield. Quite simply, it boils down to one very simple key question:

"After all charges, how many euros/yen/dollars will I get?"

It sounds simple but sometimes it's hard to get an answer. Exchange rates change throughout the day, and possibly by the minute. In order to compare providers properly, you'll need to do it all in one go.

Start by benchmarking a decent exchange rate - check the Travel Money Maximiser to help. If you're transferring a large amount, then at worst you should aim to match the cheapest provider there, especially as most providers will have better rates the more you transfer - see below for more info if you've got £5,000 or more to send.

To find the best deal, follow the steps in this guide; each one lists who it's suitable for. Stop at the first method that suits you.

How safe is my cash when I transfer?

If you've got money in a UK savings account, there's a whole protection scheme set up to cover you if the provider goes bust. With foreign exchange money transfer companies it's a different ball game. Please take note:

IMPORTANT! There's NO compensation scheme if a firm goes bust

This is crucial to understand - if you use an online transfer company (or any transfer company that holds your money) and it goes bust while it has your money, there's no guarantee you'll get it back. The regulation of these companies has become tighter in the past few years, but the risk of losing cash still remains.

  • If it's 'authorised' - your money is kept separate. A large firm trading over €3 million (£2.4 million) a month, must be authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Each day, at the close of business, these firms separate your money from the firm's own accounts (known as ringfencing). This protects your cash, so you should get it back if the firm gets into difficulty.
  • If it's 'registered' - there are no safeguards for your cash. Smaller firms can choose to be registered. This means there's no safety process if something goes wrong with the firm, meaning your money isn't protected.

To check how a firm is regulated (whether it's authorised or just registered), search for its name on the FCA register. For more information on your protection, this Sending Money Safely leaflet from the Money Advice Service is useful.

Quick question

What can I do if the firm loses my money in transfer?

Use specialist plastic for regular transfers

These are designed to be used for purchases, so if you can, the easiest and cheapest way is to spend on specialist credit or debit cards. You can pay for things overseas at the best possible exchange rate with minimum fees.

Who's it suitable for?

If you need to spend money in shops or withdraw cash in another country. Typical examples include:

  • If you or your partner need to spend cash abroad.

  • Paying overseas bills eg, for second homeowners, provided companies you pay accept plastic, or you visit often enough to withdraw from ATMs.

You get the best possible exchange rate

Most normal cards add a 3% 'load' on the exchange rate so £100 of foreign currency actually costs £103. These specialist cards get you the Visa/Mastercard wholesale rate, so it's about as good as it gets, and is cheaper than buying foreign currency.

Plus unlike most cards, it will cost you little or nothing to withdraw cash from an overseas ATM.

Grab the plastic and use it to spend or withdraw cash as your normally would. As it's a UK account, just pay it off at home.

ALWAYS set up a direct debit to pay it off in full each month to avoid paying interest on any spending. You'll pay a month's interest on credit card cash withdrawals, but this is almost negligible compared to the benefits.

Top overseas credit card

Halifax Clarity credit cardhalifax

The Clarity card from Halifax* has no foreign exchange fee in the world, so you'll get the best rate possible. There's no charge for cash withdrawals, although you will be charged interest on this, even if you repay in full, as it's technically a 'cash advance'.

The rate for cash withdrawals is a fairly low 12.9% APR (see official rate example) meaning you'd pay around £1/mth in interest for every £100 withdrawn.

But remember this rate is representative, which means only 51% of people accepted for the card need to be given that rate - the rest can be given a higher APR.

For many more alternative options, including bank accounts, and detailed reviews of card differences & charges, read the Cheap Travel Credit Cards guide.

Free bank transfers (BOTH need the account)

A number of banks allow you to transfer money to linked banks overseas without a fee; usually it's just an overseas arm of the same banking group. So if both you and the person you want to send money to open accounts, you can move money between them cheaply.

There is one major difference though. One allows you to send money to anyone who holds an account with the same bank overseas, while the other group requires both the UK and the foreign account to be in YOUR name.

Who's it suitable for?

This is best for regular movements of money to people who stay in one country. Typical examples include:

  • Regular cash to family members who live overseas.

  • Payments for services on homes abroad.

top fee-free bank services

Free worldwide transfers to HSBC accountsHSBC

HSBC's transfer service is free for any HSBC customer transferring money to any other HSBC account, as long as you transfer through their online banking system.

If the recipient doesn't have an HSBC account, the transfer will cost £4. Transferring by telephone or branch is more expensive and costs £20 and £30 respectively.

It's worth checking HSBC's exchange rates, as they're not always the best. So compare with the specialist international transfer companies below. It may be that even with a fee, their exchange rate's much better, and effectively cancels out the fee.

Transfer limits depend on how you send the money. The free online option is limited to £50,000, transferring by telephone is £10,000, whereas an unlimited limit applies to transfers via branch. If you need to transfer large amounts of money by branch (which takes an unlimited amount), spending £30 while transferring £50,000+ is marginal.

Thinking about using HSBC? Click here for more info

Fee-free for anyone with Citibank Citibank

This fee-free transfer service usually has a low exchange rate. Your money will usually arrive in the relevant account within five minutes. It works for 26 countries including the US, India, China, Germany and Australia (see a full list).

It's an additional Foreign Currency account which is bolted on top of your current account. To avoid a £5/month fee, you must maintain an average monthly balance of the equivalent of £2,000 in foreign currency, or be a Citibank Plus or Citigold holder (see Best Premier Current Accounts and Best Bank Accounts to compare).

How do I use Citibank to make a foreign transfer?

Fee-free to your foreign account

A number of banks also have relationships that allow you to send money without a fee at good exchange rates. However, both the UK account, and the one in the country you are sending to, usually need to be in your name.

This means it's more useful if you have a second home abroad, for example, and need to pay bills, but less so for sending cash to friends and family.

  • To India. If you open a State Bank of India UK Instant Access Savings Account and maintain a minimum balance of £500, you can send money to any Indian bank account via the SBI express remittance service.

  • USA, Hong Kong, and more. HSBC offers fee-free same day transfers to 36 countries, but you need its Premier bank account (to qualify for this account you need £50k savings, a £250k mortgage with HSBC, or £75k salary going into your HSBC Premier account).

    Lloyds Bank offers a similar Premier International account which operates in three currencies. The £20 monthly fee is scrapped if you keep balances above £2,500. It requires a minimum £50k income, or £25,000 deposit within 3 months of opening the account. You'll be able to make free international money transfers online, by phone, or by standing order.

  • To Scandinavian & Baltic countries. Danske Bank has branches in the UK, plus online banking, and if you have one of its accounts, you can transfer to any other account you hold in the Danske group.

    The Danske Bank Group operates in Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Germany, Poland, Luxembourg, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom.
  • Know any not here? If you know of another bank offering fee-free transfers to a specific country, please let us know.

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Online services for one-off small payments

A number of companies allow you to send money online, either through e-commerce systems or simply by moving your money into someone else's bank account, but the correct system depends on how much money you want to send.

Who's it suitable for?

This is generally suitable for non-urgent transfers of smaller amounts of money. Typical examples include:

  • Payments for goods received, eg, on eBay.

  • Sending a one-off sum of money to a friend/family member overseas.

It is very important to be aware that no compensation scheme exists if these firms were to go bust - read full details in Am I protected?

There are a number of UK firms designed specifically for international money transfers. You pay them in sterling, usually via internet transfer, which they convert and send to the receiving bank within two to four working days. You'll need to set up an account and have your address verified first, which can take a few days.

For smaller amounts, the options below are worth considering. But if you have a big overseas purchase to make - of £5,000 or more - you're better off calling up a forex broker. See below for step-by-step help.

Top picks for online overseas transfers

Transferwise*: Send from just £1 Low fees, good rates, arrives in up to 3 days

  • Rates: Good - they use the mid-market rate
  • Min transfer: £1
  • Max transfer: £1 million
  • FCA: Authorised (What does this mean?)

Peer to peer provider Transferwise* you transfer as little as £1 online for the lowest fees we've seen. The money should arrive in one to three days.

Currencies include euros, US dollars, Indian rupees, New Zealand and Australian dollars (but they'll trade around 20 in total). The exchange rate is OK, but the fees stand out - just £1 on transfers up to £200 and 0.5% above that. The exact fee will be shown when you make the transfer.

Transferwise is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). This means any money you send using the service is kept separate from company accounts. So just like the non peer-to-peer services, if the firm falls into difficulty, your money should be able to be returned to you. See Is my money protected? for more details.

Currencies Direct*: Fee-free from £500 Online, rates match top travel cash, arrives in up to 2 days

Currencies Direct
  • Rates: Good - same as you'd get for holiday money
  • Min transfer: £500
  • Max transfer: £15,000 online (more if you call)
  • FCA: Authorised (What does this mean?)

The online transfer service from Currencies Direct* allows you to send £500 to £15,000 fee-free, an exclusive via this link only (usually it's only fee-free on £5,000+), and the rates are almost as good as travel cash.

You may be able to get a better rate if you're sending more too, but you'll get an indication of the rate before you begin the transfer. Transfers can be made with around 25 currencies, including euros, US dollars, SA rand, and the Indian rupee.

Until Thursday 1 Jan 2015, Currencies Direct* (via this link) is offering a £75 Amazon voucher to new customers who set up a personal currency transfer account and use it to send £10,000+ abroad within the next 12 months.

The £10,000 limit can be reached in one or more transfers. The Amazon voucher will be sent within 30 days of the conditions being fulfilled.

Currencies Direct is fully authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority, so any money you send is kept separate from the company's accounts. If it falls into difficulty, your money should be returned to you. See Is my money protected? for more details.

FairFX: Fee-free from £600 Online, good rates, arrives in up to 3 days

  • Rates: Good - same as you'd get for holiday money
  • Min transfer: £600
  • Max transfer: £250,000 online
  • FCA: Authorised (What does this mean?)

Usually known for its prepaid travel card, FairFX also has a fee-free money transfer service. You can transfer £600 to £250,000 online, though higher amounts are possible if you call them. The cash will arrive in one to three days.

Better rates are also available the more you send, but you'll get an indication of the rate before you begin the transfer. It's available in 11 main currencies, including euros, dollars, Indian rupees and Japanese yen. Other currencies are available on request.

FairFX is fully authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority, so any money you send is kept separate from the company's accounts. If it falls into difficulty, your money should be returned to you. See Is my money protected? for more details.

Travelex: Fee-free if sending £2,500+. Min £600, good rate, arrives in up to 3 days

  • Rates: Good - same as you'd get for holiday money.
  • Min transfer: £600
  • Max transfer: £200,000 online
  • FCA: Authorised (What does this mean?)

Sending cash via International Payments from Travelex offers better rates than the options below, but there's a £300 minimum. It'll cost £7 to transfer less than £2,500, but more than that is fee-free. The money will arrive in one to three days and you can send up to £200,000 online.

However, you'll have to register for the service (for free) before you'll get an indication of the rate. You'll need to enter your account details as well as the recipient's account details and you may have to provide ID. It's available in over 40 currencies, including US dollars, Australian dollars and euros.

It also offers a price promise, guaranteeing to beat a competitor's quote if you find one cheaper within 30 minutes of getting one from Travelex.

Travelex's International Payments service is run by UKForex, which is fully authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority. This means any money you send using the service is kept separate from company accounts, so if it falls into difficulty, you should get your money back. See Is my money protected? for more details.

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Sending larger amounts (£5,000+)

When the amount you wish to transfer jumps to the 'serious' level, the only players able to give a good rate are specialised foreign exchange brokers.

There are a lot of companies, and the same lack of protection applies as above - so be very diligent in checking, as the amount you could lose is huge.

Who's it suitable for?

This method only really adds up for sending a few thousand pounds at least, or making slightly smaller, but regular payments. It's possible to use this method for smaller amounts too, but then it's costlier. Typical examples include:

  • Buying/selling property abroad.

  • Making regular payments - this includes overseas mortgages, bills or a pension.

  • If you're moving abroad and want to convert all your cash.

It is very important to be aware that no compensation scheme exists if these firms were to go bust - read full details in Am I protected?

How to do it?

When transferring larger sums, it's important to remember that even small differentials in exchange rates can make an enormous difference.

Think about it - a 1% rate improvement on £100,000 is a £1,000 gain. So finessing the very best rate takes on even more significance.

  1. Benchmark the rate.

    Quickly go to the Travel Money Maximiser to check out the best rates. That finds the top rates for getting cash when going on holiday, so you should be aiming to beat its best rate, after all fees.

  2. Ask your bank for a quote.

    It's rare your bank will actually be the best buy. But it's a very useful second benchmark. Some have special facilities for existing customers, so it could actually come up trumps.

  3. Use a specialist currency broker.

    These companies buy and sell vast sums of foreign currency which allows them to offer excellent exchange rates because, even if they only make a small percentage profit on every pound, that soon adds up when you're dealing in hundreds of millions of pounds.

Quick questions:

What do they usually offer?

Should I get quotes around the same time?

What if the rate isn't as good as I'd like?

If the rate is good now and I don't think it'll get better, can I lock it in?

Can I negotiate on the rate?

Top picks for larger amounts

There is no hard and fast rule to which currency broker is best, so get quotes from all of them to find the the best rate for your currency. The regularly quoted big brokers below are the obvious places to start - though of course, they're still no more protected than any of the others.

Fee-free on £5,000+ (plus £75 Amazon vch)

Also a top pick for smaller amounts, Currencies Direct* has good rates and is fee-free if you've over £5,000 to transfer. You'll need to open an account with it before you can start making transfers but it can be done online if you're transferring under £15,000. For bigger transfers, you'll need to give it a call.

Currencies Direct is currently offering users a £75 Amazon voucher when they sign up for an account and send £10,000+ in one or more transactions over a 12 month period.

To qualify, you need to sign up to Currencies Direct (using the link above) before 1 Jan 2015, and send and pay for at least £10,000 of foreign currency trades within 12 months. You'll get the voucher within 30 days of sending £10,000 or more.

Currencies Direct is authorised by the FCA, the highest level of regulation they can have - see above for what this means.

Low fees and transparent

With HiFX* you can transfer money in around 30 currencies online, though more are available by phone. It can be done online up to £300,000 or over the phone for larger amounts (or as a matter of preference) and is fee-free for over £3,000 (it's £9 if you've less).

HiFX authorised by the FCA, the highest level of regulation they can have - see above for what this means.

Good for lower regular payments

If you need to send a smaller amount more frequently, Moneycorp* allows regular transfers starting from £250. It allows standard (3-5 days) and express (up to two days) payments for £4 and £8 respectively. Transfer can be made online or over the phone, though the fees are higher than the options above.

Moneycorp authorised by the FCA, the highest level of regulation it can have - see above for what this means.

WARNING! There's no compensation scheme

Unlike banks, currency exchange businesses are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, so there's always the risk, if something goes wrong, you won't be guaranteed full compensation (full details in 'how safe is my cash?' above).

Knowing this, these companies work hard to prove their stability, and a little research should bear that out. For example, HiFX stores your money in a Barclays account while it's in transit before it hits your account overseas.

See a full Q&A on international money transfers.

Need to transfer instantly? Last resort instant transfers

The methods above will all take a few days for the money to hit the destination, although check first - some may only take a day and you'll be far better off if you can wait. It's much cheaper than the options below.

But, if speed is paramount, a few companies offer instant cash transfers to thousands of locations anywhere in the world. Be warned, they ain't necessarily cheap...

Who's it suitable for?

Those who need to move cash at speed, or where the recipient doesn't have a bank account in that country. Typical examples include:

  • Emergency funds for a friend/family overseas. If a backpacking son or daughter, or a friend who's had all their cards nicked, needs cash.

It is very important to be aware that no compensation scheme exists if these firms were to go bust - read full details in Am I protected?

Do remember it's far better, if possible, to set up the card system above.

How does it work?

You either go into a branch (there are many in newsagents, post offices and banks) or pay the money online. The recipient then picks it up at an agency at the other end once it's done - they don't need to be there that moment. They can either present ID or, if that's a problem, a code can be used to legitimise the transfer.

The cheapest instant transfers

The word "cheapest" should only be used advisedly here. This isn't a cheap service, and should only be done if necessary. It's extremely expensive, especially for small amounts, though the recipient won't normally need to pay a fee.

The most important thing to do in this case is to check that there's an agent/branch where the recipient can pick up the cash. The two big operators are Moneygram and Western Union.

If you've the luxury of a choice between the two, check both and choose the cheapest for the amount and country you're sending money to. Moneygram's usually cheaper for smaller amounts - £4.50 to send up to £100 - but Western Union may be better for amounts up to £4,000, and for sending to America or outside the eurozone.

However, there are firms which provide transfers from the UK to specific countries, which can often be found in areas where there's a large community of those of that ethnic origin.

Both the big firms here are Financial Conduct Authority-authorised, which is the highest protection a currency broker can have, but still not brill - read full details in Am I protected?

International transfers Q&A

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Duplicate links of the * links above for the sake of transparency, but this version doesn't help Currencies Direct, Halifax Clarity, HiFX, Moneycorp, Transferwise

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