When it comes to international bank transfers, cost and service is everything. With a large selection of banks, national or regional, antiqued or neo-banks, globally, it may prove difficult to know which is the best bank for international money transfers.
In this piece we will compare the best-known banks for international transfers in UK, EU, USA, Canada, Australia and touch a few more regions in order to determine whether you should use a bank to send international wire transfer, and if you do – which is the best bank for your needs.
We will also touch the topic of non-bank international money transfer services that help you save money on transfers compared to banks.
Can You Send Money Internationally with a Bank?
The answer is an astounding YES.
The significant majority of banks support international bank payments abroad to bank accounts located outside their country, and support foreign currency exchanges as a part of that transaction (while not all banks support ALL currencies, it is generally safe to say that banks can satisfy most of the customer needs in that regard).
Specifically we have sampled the following 28 global banks:
- ✓ UK Bank Barclays supports international bank transfers
- ✓ UK Bank Lloyds supports international bank transfers
- ✓ UK Bank Nationwide supports international bank transfers
- ✓ UK Bank NatWest supports international bank transfers
- ✓ UK Bank RBS supports international bank transfers
- ✓ USA Bank Of America supports international bank transfers
- ✓ US Bank Chase JP Morgan supports international bank transfers
- ✓ USA Citibank supports international bank transfers
- ✓ USA Wells Fargo supports international bank transfers
- ✓ Australian Bank ANZ supports international bank transfers
- ✓ Australian Bank CommBank supports international bank transfers
- ✓ Australian Bank Macquarie supports international bank transfers
- ✓ Australian Bank NAB supports international bank transfers
- ✓ Australian Bank WestPac supports international bank transfers
- ✓ European Bank BNP Paribas supports international bank transfers
- ✓ European Bank Deutsche Bank supports international bank transfers
- ✓ European Bank ABN Amro supports international bank transfers
- ✓ European Bank ING supports international bank transfers
- ✓ European Bank Banco Sabadell supports international bank transfers
- ✓ European Bank Caixabank supports international bank transfers
- ✓ Canadian Bank RBC supports international bank transfers
- ✓ Canadian Bank ScotiaBank supports international bank transfers
- ✓ Canadian Bank TD supports international bank transfers
- ✓HK Bank HSBC HK supports international bank transfers
- ✓ New Zealand Bank ANZ New Zealand supports international bank transfers
- ✓ New Zealand Bank Bank of New Zealand supports international bank transfers
- ✓ Singaporean Bank DBS supports international bank transfers
- ✓ Singaporean Bank UOB supports international bank transfers
The grand conclusion is that banks, or at least the majority of major banks, do support international bank payments. These banks also accept international wire transfers.
Are Banks Your Only Option for International Money Transfers?
If you are searching for the best bank for international money transfers because you want to save money, get better service, or simply to test “what’s out there”, then know there are non-bank alternatives that you must consider.
Wise is a great example of a very popular startup enabling customers to transfer money to a bank account internationally without using a bank, which has been receiving positive customer reviews and is transferring tens of billions a year for its customers.
These types of services are growing in popularity almost everywhere in the world, with a specific focus on UK where the international money transfer market is booming and where most international payment fintechs and currency brokers are headquartered.
Best Bank-Alternative for International Money Transfers
To view more specific choices use the below:
Fees: Biggest Differentiator Between Banks for International Payments
The thing that takes most people away from banks and into research like that you are conducting right now is fees. Prior to delving to the burning question of which is the best bank for international money transfers, we need to make sure you understand the actual costs you are paying now and how cheap, or expensive, a bank’s offering is.
There are two types of fees charged by banks for international money transfers – fixed bank wire fees, and a currency exchange rate markup. The fixed fee is denominated in the local currency (for example, a $30 fee when transferring money from the US through an American bank). The currency exchange rate markup is normally hidden i.e. not advertised by the bank and is a percentage of the entire deal.
Drill-down: Cost of Transferring Money Between Banks Internationally
USA Banks: International Wires
|Bank||International Wire Sent in USD||International Wire Sent in Foreign Currency|
|Bank of America||$45||$0|
|Chase (JPMorgan)||$40/$50||$5 under $5,000, $0 over $5,000|
UK Banks: International Wires
|UK Bank||Non-SEPA Wire Online||Non-SEPA Wire (Phone)||Non-SEPA Wire (Branch)|
|Lloyds||£9.50 (+£12/£20 if opt to cover correspondent fees)||£9.50 (+£12/£20 if opt to cover correspondent fees)||£9.50 (+£12/£20 if opt to cover correspondent fees)|
|RBS||Standard: Free, Urgent: £15||Standard: £22, Urgent: £30||Standard: £22, Urgent: £30|
Australian Banks: International Wires
|Bank||Fees – Sent in AUD||Fees – Sent in Foreign Currency|
|ANZ Bank||$18 / $32 in-branch||<$10,000 $9, >$10,000 $0|
|Commonbank||$22 / $30 in-branch||$6 / $30 in-branch|
|Macquarie Bank (OFX)||$15 below $10,000, >$10,000 no fees||<$10,000 $15, >$10,000 $0|
|NAB||$30 / $30 in-branch||$10 / $30 in-branch|
|Westpac||$20 / $32 in-branch||$10 / $32 in-branch|
European Banks: International Wires
|Bank||SEPA||Rest of World|
|BNP Paribas||€0 Standard / €0.50 Urgent / €7 to Switzerland||€7 – €100|
|Societe Generale||€0 online / €1.80 in-branch||0.10% of Transfer Volume, Min €26, Max €70 (+€20 to cover correspondent fees)|
|1.5% (min €10)|
Standard: €0 online / €16 in-branch
Urgent: €5.50 online / €21.50 in-branch
Standard: €9 online / €25 in-branch
Urgent: €18 online / €34 in-branch
|ING||€0||€6 (+ other fees to cover correspondent fees)|
|Banco Sabadell||€0 Standard / €0.75 Urgent||0.75% (Min €22)|
|Caixabank||Standard: €0 <€20,000, 0.4% > €20,000 (min €3.95)|
Shared costs: 0.6% (min €15)
Cover costs: 0.7% (min €27)
Canadian Banks: International Wires
|RBC Royal Bank (Canada)||$6 <$1,000, $10>$1,000|
|TD Bank (Canada)||Up to $25|
Does the Bank Cost Change Based on Desired Speed?
Some banks will charge more in wire fees for a speedy transfer. For example a normal transfer that takes up to 5 business days would cost $x and a speedy transfer of up to 2 business days will cost $2x.
Average International Bank Transfer Costs
While it appears there is not a major difference between the best bank for international transfers and the worse one (just 50 US dollars difference or about), the actual heavy cost of conducting an international bank wire is the cost of currency conversion. Since transferring money through a bank to an account abroad normally includes currency exchange, it’s the FX markup applied to this conversion which can drastically alter how you have to pay – oftentimes people don’t know it and don’t recognise it as being the biggest component in costs. This is how transferring 10,000 Pounds, Euros, US Dollars, Canadian Dollars, and Australian dollars would actually cost (spoiler: it’s a lot more than $50).
|Banks in||SWIFT Bank Fees (Wire)||Exchange Rate Markup||Average Exchange Rate Markup||Average Cost on 10,000 Transfer|
When factoring these two types of fees, our international money transfer fees research determined that sending money through a bank internationally is expensive. Whether transferring from UK to Spain, from USA to UK, from UAE to UK, from Switzerland, from Israel… banks remain expensive across the board.
In our dedicated article about the cheapest way to transfer money internationally we have concluded that banks in general are quite expensive for international bank payments. As detailed above, there are better banks and there are worse banks, but there is no real reasoning in sticking to banks over specialist services which are, in our opinion, cheaper and better as a whole for international money transfers than even the best banks.
Specialist services have lower fees overall, as their wire transfer service is fee-free, and their currency conversion markup is much lower than that of banks. They are wholesalers of currency who have lower overhead costs than those of banks, and savings are rolled over to the customer.
The only advantage banks have over commercial companies is stricter regulation and in some cases, a governmental “insurance” (for example FDIC in the US and FSCS in the UK) if the financial institution collapses. This is of course a significant component, but you have to remember that money transfer providers are also regulated and that they are forbidden from using any customer funds for their own needs (these funds are SEGREGATED, the accounts are marked as customer funds with the name of the customer and the providers are required to implement various safeguarding policies to keep client money safe).
Intermediary Bank Transfers & SWIFT
If you know how FX transfers work when using a SWIFT transfer, you realize that there could be additional fees incurred by each international bank transfer before they hit a recipient’s bank and also be incurred unexpectedly. These fees, named intermediary bank fees are levied by banks which “mediate” the transfer in case the bank sending the funds does not have a direct relationship with the recipient bank of the funds.
In some cases, circumventing your bank and using a wire transfer service for international money transfers can help these types of fees to be avoided. Companies like Currencies Direct can, in some destinations, debit one bank account and credit another bank account and avoid the actual SWIFT transfer. For example if you are using Currencies Direct to transfer money from a US bank account to a UK bank account, you’d transfer the money in US dollars to Currencies Direct US and they would automatically credit the recipient’s bank account in UK in Pound Sterling.
Online Transfer Platforms vs Online Banking for Payments
According to a 2017 study, 78 percent of banks in the United States offer online banking, and it’s reasonable to believe now the number is closer to 100%, but does this satisfy the need of those needing to make a bank transfer to a foreign country?
When it comes to online money transfer platforms there is much greater functionality required when it comes to international bank transfers online than using a bank’s online banking platform. For example, with a specialist provider you could set a rate alert so that you will be notified when a certain rate hits. In fact, some US banks and Canadian banks won’t even allow a bank SWIFT transfer via the online platform and will force you to go to the branch and transact in person. Those are added values on top of the preferable pricing.
Bank Reviews for International Payments
On our journey to find the world’s best international money transfer service, we have covered both commercial companies as well as banks (and other sorts of financial institutions and even online wallets like PayPal international payments). By covering, what we mean is that we have delved into the ins and outs of each service, not only its specific fees, but also what customers think about it, what kind of functions are available online, and so forth.
When choosing which bank, or service, you will use for international bank transfers, reading reviews will help you make a more informed and holistic decision. Especially since now you know there’s a lot of money on the table with regards to the fees when sending money internationally to a bank account.
In total, we have 80+ reviews written about a variety of leading money transfer services, as well as a few banks. These are the banks we have reviewed to date:
- Virgin Money International Payments Review
- Natwest Bank’s International Payments Review
- Lloyds Bank International Money Transfers Review
- Starling Bank Money Transfer Review
- Commonwealth Bank of Australia International Money Transfers Review
- Monese Review (quasi-bank accounts, not an actual bank)
- Revolut Review (quasi-bank accounts, not an actual bank)
What our reviews tell us is that even the best known banks aren’t international payment specialists in a sense that private customers and SMEs don’t have access to a private currency dealer, there is no access to useful hedging tools like a forward contract, and there is no real-time indication on the status of a transfer.
In other words, the level of service provided, even by banks with relatively reasonable international money transfer rates, is subpar. This is particularly true for large amounts (whether you are transferring large sums abroad or receiving large sums internationally).
Bank Criticism… Another Reason to Circumvent
If you are still fixated on the idea of finding the best bank for international money transfers, then you should consider the reasons for which you still prefer to choose an old financial establishment over a specialist in this space. Yes, banks are more convenient. Yes, they are more heavily regulated. And yes, your money is insured for the most part (that aspect is very country-specific).
However, do the above reasons satisfy you to an extent you’d be happy to pay, in certain situations, as much as x10 more on an international wire transfer with a bank compared to a specialist service? Could you justify shelling thousands of pounds, dollars, Euros, CAD or AUD on a large international bank transfer? Could you justify opting to use a bank that has very little availability and is the vast opposite of “close up and personal” or “bespoke”? Or supporting a financial giant that is sitting on its laurels and shows little regard for its customers? (the last one being a blanket statement about banks… but it’s usually very true).
Below are some highlights from our article on UK Bank Scandals in the MTC Magazine:
- In 2014, Lloyds was fined £218 million after adjusting the London interbank offered rate, or LIBOR, for the Japanese yen. It also tried to artificially adjust the rates for the British pound and the American dollar. Much of this was in an attempt to manipulate the market and to provide benefits to some of the preferred clients that Lloyds has been working with in recent years.
- RBS was also fined £399 million in late 2014. This came after the group assisted some customers in efforts to adjust foreign exchange rates to their benefit.
- Barclays engaged in some activities to adjust LIBOR rates in recent time. In 2012, Barclays settled on charges stating that it had adjusted LIBOR rates. The bank had been engaging in this activity since around 2005. Several inaccurate rates were sent to investors for their benefit. Barclays was fined a total of £59.5 million for its actions as well as $360 million US from American enforcement agencies for the same issues.
American banks are just guilty of being involved in scandals. The biggest scandals involving US banks include the Enron scandal, the WorldCom scandal, and the subprime mortgage crisis:
- The Enron scandal was a major scandal that involved the collapse of the energy company Enron. The scandal also involved several major US banks, including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Merrill Lynch. These banks were accused of helping Enron to hide its debt and artificially inflate its stock price.
- The Worldcom scandal was a major scandal that involved the collapse of the telecommunications company Worldcom. The scandal also involved several major US banks, including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Merrill Lynch. These banks were accused of helping Worldcom to hide its debt and artificially inflate its stock price.
- The subprime mortgage scandal was a major scandal that involved the collapse of the subprime mortgage industry. The scandal also involved several major US banks, including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Merrill Lynch. These banks were accused of helping to create the subprime mortgage crisis by offering loans to people with poor credit histories and then selling those loans to investors.
Similarly, Australian banks have been at it too. The biggest scandals involving Australian banks include the Commonwealth Bank financial planning scandal, the Westpac life insurance scandal, and the NAB foreign exchange scandal.
Dissatisfaction with Banks Grows
If we look at online reviews of some of those “best banks” that we have compared in this article, we can see how customers are satisfied or dissatisfied. Please note these are general bank reviews and aren’t specific to international bank transfers:
- Barclay Reviews: 1.4 / 5 stars on TrustPilot.
- Lloyds Bank Review: 1.5 / 5 stars on TrustPilot.
- Nationwide Bank Review: 1.7 / 5 stars on TrustPilot.
- NatWest Bank Reviews: 1.4 / 5 stars on TrustPilot.
- RBS Reviews: 1.4 / 5 stars on TrustPilot.
- Bank of America Reviews: 1.4 / 5 stars on TrustPilot.
- Chase Reviews: 4 / 5 stars on TrustPilot (!).
- Citibank Reviews: 1.3 / 5 stars on TrustPilot.
- Well Fargo Reviews: 1.2 / 5 stars on TrustPilot.
True for Nov 22, 2022.
In fact, we have even issued a survey in Australia asking customers whether their trust in banks has eroded. It is clear that disproportional high fees from banks, for international wire transfers or other services, does have that impact.
To summarize things, we believe that the future is in the hands of Fintechs. The right question should be not “which bank is best for international money transfers” but rather which is the best way to transfer money internationally.
Dual Currency Bank Accounts
If your intention is to receive an international bank transfer to your account, then a good choice globally would be HSBC, rated best international bank account in UK, which has no fees on international wire bank transfers between HSBC accounts, savings accounts available in 16 different currencies, and an online system geared for on-the-move international lifestyles.
On the flip-side, HSBC’s FX margins are high at 2.75% on any currency exchange, not very competitive compared to the best bank alternative for receiving international bank transfers – Wise, offering accounts in 55 different currencies (10 in-country local accounts) with FX margins of just 0.5% for most currencies and rated #1 best multi-currency account. With Wise you can issue a multi-currency debit card, but not invest the funds. There are additional alternatives for receiving bank wires internationally which are very bank-like: Revolut and Monese, both providing customers with bank-like accounts which include savings and investing.
Are UK banks set to join the FX race?
As the global remittance market reaches new heights with cross-border payments soaring to $150 trillion in 2022, UK banks are reconsidering their role in individual and small business money transfers. The 2023 McKinsey Global Payments Report highlights a growing market that UK banks may no longer ignore.
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