Sending international payments should be a hassle-free experience. Once a relationship has been established with the best international payment provider, FX payments can be sent in a matter of a few clicks online or arranged in a few minutes over the telephone. Read on to learn how to send international payments, the cheapest way to send international payments and how to receive international payments.
Best Overseas Payment Providers
Updated for: October 2021
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Initiating online fx international payments can feel much like the process for setting up a domestic payment through online banking but it should be noted foreign currency payments complete a much more complex journey than local transfers.
The currencies involved, the destination country, the size of the payment, how the payment is settled and the nature of the remitting and beneficiary party will all influence the ease and speed to which fx payments can be made.
To ensure a smooth experience, it’s all about choosing a provider which has the required international footprint and a proven track record of handling payments in the countries involved in the international payment.
How to Send International Payments
When we talk about international payments we refer to fx payments that move from one bank account to another and, for the most part, require a currency exchange. It’s also possible to make remittance transfers to cash pick up points or pay overseas bills for family members. This article will not focus on remittances, for transfers such as this, see our guide to the best remittances companies.
Our five point plan explains the simple steps involved with making an international payment. Follow these steps and it’s possible to send international payments, even with a new provider, within 24 hours. Starting from the beginning, simply:
Pick a Provider
When it comes to sending international payments, the first major decision is deciding between using a bank or a specialist international money transfer company / currency broker. For individuals and SMEs we do not recommend using a bank. Unless a small margin has been agreed prior to making fx payments they are almost certainly going to be the most expensive option, whilst simultaneously offering the lowest level of product capabilities and guidance which is specific to international payments. This is because bank support staff are trained in all manner of financial services and they only reserve their suite of foreign exchange products for large business customers.
The brokerages bring these solutions to SMEs and individuals through a team of currency experts that customers can speak with over the phone. Online international payment companies constantly improve the speed and ease in which payments can be made through a few simple clicks.
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Register with your chosen provider:
Financial firms are legally required to follow Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations. This is particularly true for payment firms who have clients sending international payments as they are a key component in preventing financial crime.
When any new client is onboarded the client is required to pass identification & verification before they are able to make payments. With online international payment companies, most of this is now done completely online. It’s simply a case of sending a copy of your ID and verifying your address. For some companies a selfie might be required too!
Choose the FX solution most suited to your international payment requirements
Understand the different foreign exchange solutions that are available and identify those that meet your requirements. A lot of the time, individuals make international payments at the spot rate (i.e. agreeing to make an international payment today). This is the only option available for individuals and SMEs through banks and one of the limited options offered by online international payment companies.
Overseas payment specialists offer a myriad of different fx payments solutions, including; forward contracts (lock today’s exchange rate for a payment in the future), market orders (trade when the exchange rate reaches a certain level), swaps (agree to buy a currency today and agree to sell the same amount of currency at a point in the future) and even options contracts (completely tailored fx solutions that often involve paying an upfront premium but can offer protection and upside on the exchange rate achieved). These payment brokerages provide clients with a dedicated account manager who will be able to run through these products and discuss what might be the most appropriate solution on a case-by-case basis.
It’s worth doing research on the FX solutions available through each international payment provider prior to registering with them to avoid the unnecessary hassle of passing the identification and verification process only to find out the payment provider doesn’t have the solution you’re after.
Book your trade and lock-in an exchange rate
Either online or over the phone. Select the currency you wish to sell and the currency you wish to buy and input details of the beneficiary. For international payments an IBAN (International Bank Account Number) is likely to be required.
Once submitted, the international payment provider will provide the current exchange rate. If you’re happy with the exchange rate, you can accept the rate and proceed.
Settle the trade and monitor progress
If you make an international payment with a bank or a money transfer company that allows customers to open Multi-Currency Accounts, such as Wise (private customers) or WorldFirst (business customers) then the trade can be automatically settled from the available balance. If not, international payments can usually be settled via debit card or a domestic bank transfer.
Once confirmation has been received that your international payment has been settled, keep track of the international payment online or by speaking to an account manager. Most international payments complete on the same or following business day. For more information on payment speeds see our guide ‘how long does an international money transfer take’.
International Payment Providers Explained
Broadly speaking, we can separate international payment providers into three categories.
|Banks||Currency Brokerages||Online International Payment Providers|
|Price||-Expensive for both low and high value transfers. High spreads and high payment fees.||-Normally always cheaper than banks & PayPal. Usually cheaper than other online payment providers for larger transfers.||-Prices can vary hugely. PayPal is very expensive but Wise is one of the cheapest international payment providers on the market.|
|Service||-Arrange spot payments online, over the phone or in a branch. Pay more for payments made in branch and over the phone.|
-Wide variety of international payment options including forward contract, market orders and swaps.
-Book online or over the phone with an account manager. Should not pay more for phone trades.
-Make spot payments online or via the app.
-Some have support staff to speak with, though like banks they are not trained specifically in foreign exchange.
|Examples||Barclays, HSBC, Citi Bank||Currencies Direct, TorFX, Moneycorp||Wise, Paypal, Payoneer|
|Advantages||-Security of money|
-Wide variety of hedging tools.
-Speak with a currency expert.
-Wide variety of currencies offered.
-Aside from PayPal, can be very cheap.
-Slick online experience for both registration and international payments.
-Difficult to speak with a foreign exchange specialist
-Spot transfers only
-Spreads are not always advertised.
-Apps are generally not as good.
-Usually only spot transfers are available.
-Cannot negotiate price.
Whilst banks are easy to differentiate from other international payment providers, there is definitely a strong crossover between brokerage firms and online international payment specialists. Leading FX brokerages happen to have some of the most advanced online software for international payments as well – clients just get the choice whether they would like to deal over the phone or online. Moneycorp is known to have one of the very best online international payment platforms where clients can perform a variety of functions, including; setting up new beneficiaries, quick and easy repayments to existing beneficiaries, bulk payments and forward contracts.
Can you Send International Payments with PayPal?
Providing both the remitter and beneficiary involved in the payment both have a PayPal account then sending international payments via paypal is possible. Given the transfer moves only on PayPal’s ledger and simply debits one account and credits another, the process is very, very quick. The major issue however is cost. To conduct FX through PayPal fees are a minimum of 4% of the total value of the transfer. Other fees, such as for moving money between different jurisdictions or when paying for a good/service can also apply, taking, in some instances, the overall cost up to around 8% of the value of the transfer.
You aren’t able to send international payments with PayPal to a bank account abroad. PayPal does however own the online payment provider Xoom – a wide variety of currencies and countries are available but they are around two to three times more expensive than Wise.
International Payments via Crypto
With so much being said about crypto and most people treating them as high-risk assets that they simply trade on an exchange it’s easy to forget that cryptocurrencies are, as the name suggests, currencies that can be used for making payments. In fact, in many cases, cryptocurrency payments made over blockchain will be immeasurably faster than international payments made through traditional banking networks such as SWIFT. This is particularly true for developing countries that do not have a reliable banking system.
As an example, payments moving across the XRP Ledger settle in 4 seconds regardless of whether you’re sending money within the same country or from say UK to Australia. Sending international payments to Australia from the UK via SWIFT takes 2 days.
The downside of course is the volatility seen across all cryptocurrencies, including XRP and bitcoin. Though payments can be made near-instantaneous, depending on when the beneficiary converts crypto back to a fiat currency it could be worth a completely different value. This could be negated by using a stablecoin such as USDC which tracks the value of USD.
Perhaps the most pertinent issue to consider though is cost. Coinbase allows users to send money internationally via XRP, Bitcoin and USD – and whilst there is no payment fee to consider there is a cost for buying crypto in the first instance. Coinbase charges 1.5% to both buy and sell crypto so both the remitter and beneficiary will incur a fee. At 1.5% it’s cheaper than using banks for international payments but not as cheap as online international payment providers such as currencyfair and Wise. Nor as cheap as brokerages who should certainly charge less than this for high value transfers.
Cheap International Payments
To understand what makes for cheap international payments as opposed to expensive international payments we first need to understand how banks and money transfer companies make money when sending international payments.
International Payment Fees
Banks will almost certainly charge clients a non-negotiable international payment fee. In the UK this is usually around £20. In the US it is around $40 – $50.
International payment companies usually charge no payment fees for private clients. Corporate clients may need to pay international payment fees but they’re likely to be around £5 – £10. A price will be agreed at the onset of the relationship, based on the volume of payments being made.
Online money transfer companies will charge either no international payment fees or very minor fees which are relative to the costs they themselves incur.
Exchange Rate Spread
This is the primary way that banks and foreign exchange companies make money. It’s the difference between the exchange rate they’re able to book a trade at (in the case of banks the interbank exchange rate and in the case of money transfer companies a wholesale rate very close to the interbank exchange rate) and the rate that their client is offered.
The key thing to note here is that there is a cost to send international payments – when you consider all of the compliance and regulatory hurdles these firms have to overcome as well as the staff and tech capabilities they are required to have then this isn’t cheap either. So, clients shouldn’t expect to be able to achieve the interbank exchange rate.
Banks are known to charge spreads between 2% – 4% of the total size of the international payment, whilst international payment companies generally charge between 0.2% – 2%. The reason these firms charge less is partly due to being able to (costs are smaller for fx payments specialists as they have less overheads than banks) but it’s mainly down to the fact they want to offer a fairer price to attract business. For too long banks have been overcharging individuals and SMEs.
In the old days, banks would even add a commission to the fx payments they processed. Nowadays it’s virtually impossible to find a broker or bank that adds a commission to an already lucrative process for the provider. So don’t be fooled by “commission-free trading” taglines.
So what is the cheapest way to send international payments?
The cheapest way to send international payments will depend on a number of factors, including:
- The size of the international payment
- The currencies involved (exotic currencies are more expensive but some providers are cheaper than others)
- The timeframe one has to complete the payment
- The type of FX solution required
As we’ve already stated, the best bet for cheap international payments is to avoid the banks. You’re much more likely to find cheap international payments with a dedicated provider.
Online focused companies such as Wise provide some of the cheapest international payments available today, particularly for lower value transfers. The payment fees are completely transparent and the exchange rate margin is (by and large) fixed. For example, whether you’re sending £10,000 to USD or £100,000 to USD the exchange rate with Wise is 0.35% and the payment fee is £0.67 – that’s a cheap foreign payment by anyone’s standard, particularly for a transfer of £10,000. The downside? Only instantaneous ‘spot transfers’ are available, the only method for clients to send international payments is online/via the app and when customers are looking to move larger sums there are cheaper alternatives out there.
Foreign currency payment brokers base their exchange rate spread on the amount that is being transferred. If you’re moving a large sum then you should be able to negotiate a good deal. They can also provide guidance (not direct advice) as to how currency markets move and what may or may not move the exchange rate in your favour. If an exchange rate moves heavily in your favour and thanks to an overseas payment provider you time it right, this could easily outweigh the cost incurred by the exchange rate margin.
Cheap international payments under £20,000 = online-oriented money transfer.
Cheap international payments over £20,000 = dedicated specialist.
We do not recommend using a bank unless you have been able to specifically agree to small margins upfront.
Remember, the cheapest way to send international payments can depend on a number of factors and there is no hard-and-fast rule for who will prove the cheapest. One provider might be cheapest for international payments between one currency corridor, whilst another provider is cheapest for payments through another currency corridor. Plus, it shouldn’t just be about cheap international payments anyway – the security of your money and the ease to which international payments can be made are important factors too.
Receive International Payments
If you’re asking the question ‘how do i receive international payments?’ then the chances are you’re a business who has recently started making sales overseas or you’re an individual that’s due to receive money from a friend/family member abroad. Perhaps you could be due an overseas inheritance or an insurance payout from another country.
Whatever it is, there are a number of different options to consider if you want to receive international payments.
The Sender Takes Responsibility
As a business you could simply put the onus on the customer. Invoice the full amount you require in your domestic currency and rely on the customer to transfer the correct payment amount after they’ve incurred their own international payment fees on the transfer. In this scenario, you may receive slightly less than your invoice amount once intermediary bank fees are taken into consideration. Plus, and perhaps more importantly, there’s the possibility of losing out on customers if the payment process is just too much hassle for the customer.
You Allow Different Currencies to be Sent to Your Domestic Account
The absolute last scenario you want when looking to receive international payments is to have a different currency trying to credit your domestic bank account. As an example, if a customer sends USD to your domestic GBP account and you allow your bank (the receiving bank) to conduct the FX then you’re looking at a 7% – 8% margin to be taken on the transfer. Even more than the already expensive 4% banks charge on outbound international payments.
Given the wrong currency has been trying to credit your account you can also expect long delays – in fact you likely won’t receive the payment until you agree that your receiving bank will conduct the expensive foreign exchange.
Receive International Payments into Multi-Currency Accounts
One of the biggest breakthroughs in international payments in recent years has been the launch of multi-currency accounts. Fintechs have launched some truly innovative solutions to rival and even eclipse the services of the largest global banks. Clients can now open accounts in a wide variety of different currencies local to the country they represent (i.e. a USD account based in the USA). There’s no need to have an overseas address or pass multiple KYC onboarding processes to open each new account that you want to open.
‘Doing business like a local’ is the popular catch phrase and having a local bank account certainly helps with that. Clients are generated their own personal account number for each currency account they open which they can then provide to customers or whomever they are due to receive an international payment from. An account in the US for example comes with its own routing number.
Wise has perhaps the best multi-currency account solution for individuals to receive international payments (including freelancers/sole traders), whilst WorldFirst has the best solution for businesses who receive international payments.
Work With a Company That Focuses Exclusively on International Payments
Rather than opening your own multi-currency accounts in your name, it’s also possible to quote the account number of the international payment specialists you work with on invoices or to whomever is sending international payments to you. The company then conducts the foreign exchange and sends the international payment to your own personal account. The only requirement here is that one of the two accounts involved in the bank-to-bank transfer is in your name, so as the beneficiary who will be receiving an international payment this would be absolutely fine. You’re also reliant on the remitter inputting the correct reference details so that the overseas payment provider can correctly allocate the funds to your account.
One thing to look out for is that many companies sending money, such as notaire’s and insurance companies, will only pay into an account in your name. The payment expert you work with will likely have to prove to the notaries or insurance company that you hold an account with them and they will be forwarding the fx payments to you.
International Payments via Payoneer?
When it comes down to how to receive international payments, Payoneer deserves a special mention. Whilst 99% of all international payment specialists set out to improve how to send international payments, Payoneer took the reverse approach. Payoneer’s primary focus has always been on making it easier to receive international payments.
The service is largely built around the same multi-currency account functionality that is provided by Wise and WorldFirst. Payoneer users can provide clients with local account details in USD, EUR, GBP and more to get paid as if they had a local bank account in those currencies. Users can also be paid via a SWIFT transfer into their receiving accounts. Where Payoneer goes a step further, they provide an extensive range of alternative ways to receive payment too. Users can also send links to their clients to receive payment via debit/credit card transfer as well. In the US the accounts can even be used to process ACH bank debits, i.e. automated direct debits. This is generally not seen with other multi-currency account solutions. On top of all of this, the firm has worked hard to establish relationships with all of the leading freelance websites including fiverr, Upwork and 99Designs in order for freelancers to be able to easily receive payment from these platforms.
The primary issues with Payoneer are around customer support and fees. The tremendous growth Payoneer has enjoyed seems to have almost certainly impacted the customer support it can provide as customer growth has far outweighed Payoneer’s investment into customer support. Payoneer has invested so heavily in tech that when something goes wrong with making or receiving an international payment, they lack the client-facing capabilities to get this resolved.
Fee wise to convert money between your own payoneer accounts a 0.5% fx spread is applied – Wise charges 0.35% for this.
To make payments to non-Payoneer accounts a 2% FX spread is applied – significantly higher than many other international payment options available on the market today. Fees are a little higher with Payoneer but they are completely transparent with their fee structure, unlike banks.
Can an International Payment be Reversed?
The simple answer is no but read this guide about whether wires can be reversed here.
Final Thoughts on Sending & Receiving International Payments
There are three major types of financial firms you can use to send international payments. Banks, high-value payment specialists or online specialists. Generally, it’s best to steer clear of banks and opt for the right provider – the best payment abroad option will depend on your requirements. When sending international payments, always use a company authorised by the FCA or the relevant regulatory body for the jurisdiction you’re in. The cheapest way to send international payments is generally available through sidestepping the banks. If you are due to receive international payments then always avoid receiving foreign currencies into your domestic account and consider opening multi-currency digital accounts.