Sending Money Online Abroad in an Instant

Matt Di Vincere (Chief Editor)
Last Edited Mar 17, 2021

In this article we try to get the bottom of one question – is there such a thing as an instant international money transfer? Fast money transfers are usually associated with domestic payments, which often complete in minutes, or even seconds. International payments, however, can be notoriously slow. The reason for this is quite simple, archaic bank systems are not designed to integrate with bank systems from another country. The more banking counterparties that have to get involved in a payment, the slower the transfer will typically be. 

If you want to learn the foundation of things work look at our article on how long do international money transfer take.

What Impacts Whether you Can Send Money Abroad Online in An Instant?

Your Method for Settling Payments

For the majority of currency corridors, paying with a debit card, Apple/Google Pay or the balance in your account held with your payment provider, will result in instant settlement. If you make a bank transfer, depending on how this is processed, it could cause a delay in settlement (i.e. BACS in the UK takes three days). 

Having sufficient balance in your account with your payment provider is the sure fire way to ensure instant settlement.

If you need to settle your international payment via bank transfer you should send via:

  • Faster Payments in the UK
  • SEPA Instant Credit Transfer in Europe
  • ACH in the USA

Correct Formatting 

This is particularly important when you are funding your international payment via bank transfer. Be sure to follow the instructions of your payment provider carefully, including how to format the reference in your payment. Payment providers have to ensure the funds they receive are allocated to the correct payment – any discrepancies and they will have to get in touch, causing potential delays to your transfer.

The Provider You Choose

The best international money transfer companies  will have systems in place to automatically allocate funds received towards payments and a slick process for managing those that are received with no reference. Less efficient payment providers may sit on the payment before sending on to the required destination.

Sometimes things do go wrong with international payments and having a payment provider known for excellent customer service will ensure any issues are handled promptly and efficiently.

The Payment Systems Used

Often, multiple payment systems are required to complete to send money abroad online, in an instant or more. Banks have a set of intermediary and correspondent banks whom they have an established relationship with in order to make international payments. 

To communicate with these banks they utilise the SWIFT network to exchange messages. Payment requests can be sent via SWIFT but it is not a universal payment network which moves funds from one client account to another. Banks actually hold settlement accounts for each other and transfer money between these settlement accounts before then moving the funds across to a client account. To learn about this in more detail, read our guide to intermediary and beneficiary bank fees – not only do they slow international payments down, they make them more expensive.

You are thus reliant on different payment systems and the speed in which banks process these  transfers to the beneficiary account (some countries do not even have a set policy for when transfers should be complete).

One of the best destinations to make fast money transfers is within the EU. Under the payment services directive (now PSD2) legislation states all payments within the EU must be complete by the end of the following working day. Europe thus implemented an EU-wide payment network named SEPA. The SEPA network processes SEPA transfers, which are designed to complete by the end of the next working day, and SEPA instant credit transfers, which were established to process payments same-day. As the name suggests, despite allowing until the end of day to complete, on the majority of occasions SEPA instant credit transfers are near-instant international money transfers.

The Countries Involved in Your Transfer 

Because of the outdated nature of SWIFT that will involve either another payment system integration or a semi-manual allocation of funds, time zones can have an impact on your transfer. For this reason, a payment from the UK to Australia will naturally take longer than a payment from the UK to France. Once a GBPAUD transfer is initiated in the UK, the Australian banks and payment networks are already closed for the day, meaning funds won’t be allocated to the beneficiary until at least the following working day.

Can You Actually Send Money to a Bank Account Instantly?

According to data from Wise, formerly TransferWise, it is now processing 34% of its transfers instantly, which by their definition is under 20 seconds. 

Kristo Kaarman, CEO of Transferwise commented this in a recent mission update “In Q4 (2020), 34% of transfers with TransferWise arrived instantly – i.e. money left your bank and arrived in the recipient’s bank account, in a different country, and in a different currency in less than 20 seconds. That’s up from 32% in Q3.”


We expect a large proportion of Wise’s instant international money transfers to be happening within Europe. We also wonder if Wise is using data from transfers between Wise digital accounts (the most instant transfers one can enjoy) but the accompanying comments from the Wise CEO would suggest this is data on actual external bank-to-bank international transfers. If we are to trust the data from Wise, then it certainly suggests that clients can increasingly enjoy the ability to send money to a bank account instantly.

Sending Money Abroad Online – Not Instant, But Same Day

Whilst instant money transfers have an appeal, most clients are comfortable with the fact that their money will reach the beneficiary on the same business day. Just as Wise reports 81% of its transfers to be completed same day, OFX completes just over 80% of its transfers same-day as well. We would expect this to be a very similar figure amongst all of the most established international money transfer companies available on the market today.

Instant International Money Transfers – Your Options Ranked 

Transfer TypeSpeedWhy?
1Digital multi-currency account to multi-currency account transfers. Like those offered by Wise, OFX and WorldFirst (WorldFirst business only).InstantPayment stays within the ecosystem of the provider from one user to another. Instant transfer made through the firm’s own distributed ledger.
2Instant cash-pick up transfers, like those offered by Western Union and Moneygram.Near-instantPayment stays within the provider’s system and no need to work with beneficiary banks. Simply confirm to another branch once your transfer is settled.
3Bank-to-bank transfers from a well respected international money transfer provider.Usually same-day, except for certain currencies.Make 80% of payments same-day. Popular currencies are almost certain to arrive same day.
4Bank-to-bank transfer from your bank.2-5 Business DaysWill need to pay a premium for priority payments, otherwise likely next day. Should be funding transfer from your bank balance.
5Bank-to-bank transfer from an inefficient money transfer provider.2-5 Business DaysCan be even slower than a bank as you will need to settle the trade on your end.

Our number one tip if you need to receive or send money to a bank account instantly is, if possible, for both the remitter and beneficiary of the payment to register for the same payment provider. With banks, this simply isn’t possible for an international transfer, as they have a national focus and only accept clients from the country they operate. The largest international money transfer companies however span the globe and accept clients from multiple jurisdictions. If both the remitter and beneficiary can register for Multi-currency Accounts from the same provider then they can expect the transfer to be processed within seconds and minimal fees to be involved. This is because the whole transfer can be completed within their own payment system and requires no communication with external payment networks or banks.

If you’re sending money to a family member or friend for cash collection in another country then this is a good option for fast money transfers too. There is no requirement to send the money to a destination bank account and, like in the example above, avoids having to use external banks and payment systems. If you used Western Union for example, they would simply have to see that you have successfully settled your transfer and then they can release the cash to your friend/family in the local Western Union branch they like to visit. Cash transfers are expensive though and you should expect a bad exchange rate. It’s also worth noting that whilst Western Union and Moneygram are a great option for cash transfers, they are also some of the most expensive and worst performing bank-to-bank money transfer providers.

Instant Money Transfers – Concluding Thoughts

For a long time, there simply was not such a thing as sending money abroad online in an instant. International payments sent via the SWIFT network, whilst secure and reliable, certainly aren’t instant. FinTech providers are pushing the boundaries though and are increasingly allowing users to send money to a bank account instantly. If money transfers aren’t processed instantly, then in the vast majority of cases they are almost always completed the same day. By improving the settlement process and ensuring payments are always directed to the most efficient payment networks possible, it would appear fast money transfers for all aren’t that far off in the horizon.