In a rush? Need to make a payment by a deadline? Here's a guide to how long you can expect your international money transfer to take.
December 9, 2020 — 9 min read
If you live far from your family or frequently conduct business overseas, you may need to send money from time to time. That’s where money transfers come in. There are many factors that come into play when you’re transferring money through your bank--and you need to be aware of them.
Sending money overseas has certainly gotten faster in recent years, but it’s still not instantaneous (well…most of the time, anyway). If you’re sending money overseas—and especially if you’re in a hurry to get your money to its destination by a certain date—then it’s important to understand what affects your money’s travel time.
This guide covers everything you need to know about international bank transfers.
We’ll also tell you why Xe is the best alternative to bank transfers, but we’ll get to that part later.
An international bank transfer, which is also called a wire transfer or a credit transfer, is an electronic funds transfer from one bank to another bank. If someone tells you to do a “bank wire,” they basically mean they want a traditional bank-to-bank transfer.
Banks use the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) network to process money transfers. It is a secure messaging system that allows banks to send each other information fast, like instructions for international transfers. More than 10,000 banks and financial institutions in over 200 countries use the SWIFT network.
Some banks use Fedwire instead of SWIFT. Fedwire is a real-time funds transfer system run by the United States Federal Reserve Banks. It allows banks and financial institutions to electronically transfer money to each other. Fedwire has more than 9,289 participants.
Here’s how the SWIFT system works:
The sender’s bank sends the transfer instructions to the recipient’s bank.
The instructions may go directly to the recipient bank or go through some intermediary banks.
The SWIFT system sends the instructions to the recipient’s bank to deduct money from the sender’s bank account and put it in the recipient’s bank account.
And here’s how the Fedwire system works:
The participants initiate payment instructions.
The instructions are are individually processed and settled in real time upon receipt.
Once settled, Fedwire money transfers are irrevocable.
The Fedwire system is used by banks, government agencies, and businesses for big, same-day transactions. But for a bank to use the system, it must maintain an account with a Federal Reserve Bank. Fedwire can be used by both US and foreign banks to send and receive money. Foreign banks that are Fedwire participants can send and receive funds directly using the SWIFT network.
However, Fedwire differs from SWIFT in one big way: it deals with both the transmission of instructions and the transfer of funds between institutions. The SWIFT network does not transfer any funds, it simply transmits the instructions for transfers.
What does this mean for you? It could impact how long your money transfer takes. Fedwire transfers are typically faster, as SWIFT system transfers don’t deal with the actual transactions. But these aren’t the only channels that handle international money transfers.
Making an international wire transfer isn’t hard. Some banks even allow you to make the transfer request online, over the phone, or via mobile app. Others require emailed or faxed forms and many need you to visit the branch in person.
A wire transfer can be a quick way of sending money to another bank account. However, the information required will be based on the specific wire transfer service. This is the information most banks ask for to process wire transfers:
The recipient’s name, address, and their account type.
The name of the recipient’s bank, and their address.
The account number of the recipient or the
(IBAN). The recipient can quickly get this information from their bank, online, or from a bank statement.
The recipient bank’s
. In the US, it’s similar to a zip code or a US routing number. It indicates the exact bank branch the recipient’s account is in. If you don’t know the code, your bank can find it using the recipient’s name and account number or an online SWIFT/BIC code finder. Alternatively, you can ask the recipient’s bank for the information.
There are many things that determine the amount of time it takes for money to reach an overseas account, and we’ll talk about them shortly. However, most international transfers have a standard timeline of about 1 to 5 business days.
How long the transfer takes will depend on where the money is being sent and the bank doing the transfer. For example, Chase Bank processes international wire transfers in 3-5 business days while Citibank takes 2-3 business days. Once the transfer is processed, the bank will deposit the money to the recipient’s account on the same business day.
In most cases, the receiving bank is usually to blame for the delays. Delays happen so banks can prevent fraud. When processing wire transfers, banks purposely slow down the process by adding a series of steps.
The thing is, if the transfer is fraudulent and it’s quickly processed, the banks will have no way of recovering the money once the transfer is completed.
The time delay allows the banks to do due diligence. That’s why an international bank transfer can take up to 5 business days or even longer in some cases.
As we mentioned earlier, fraud prevention is one of the main factors that affect international wire transfers. Banks and financial institutions must follow strict laws and regulations established by local and international governing bodies. At times, some payments must go through a few extra checks.
The SWIFT network requires international money transfers to pass through several banks before arriving at the recipient bank. And once the funds arrive, the processing time at the recipient bank may cause further delays. When delays happen, your bank may be legally unable to provide any information to you during the process.
At times, delays in international payments are caused by weekends and bank holidays. For example, if you send money on a Friday, the transfer will not be processed over the weekend.
To make sure the money gets to the recipient as quickly as possible, check whether there are any bank holidays in their country. It’s also wise to send the money at the start of the week to avoid weekend delays.
You should also be aware that different countries have different days for weekends. In the US and most Western countries, the weekend falls on Saturday and Sunday. In the Middle East, the weekend falls on Friday and Saturday. So, be sure to make the transfer on a business day.
Of all the things that can affect international money transfers, this one is within your control. Some people fill in the details in a hurry when making money transfers, forgetting that the money can be sent back if the recipient’s information is incorrect. So, before you make a payment, double check this information:
The name of the recipient
Their account number
The name of the recipient bank
Intermediary banks (if you know them)
The IBAN number
The SWIFT/BIC code
Additional payment instructions
If you give the wrong details, the money may be sent back to your account. The transfer may also get delayed or lost--which is the last thing you want.
When making an international money transfer through Xe, here’s the information you’ll be required to provide:
Country of residence
When it’s midday in the US, it’s evening in Europe and nighttime in most of Asia. So, if you want the money to reach the recipient as quickly as possible, send it during business hours in the recipient’s country. If you’re in Canada and would like to send money to someone in India, send it between 8.00 a.m. and 5.00 p.m.
If you fail to take into account the gap between the time zones in your respective countries, there might be a delay. For instance, if you initiate the payment in Ireland at 4.50 p.m. and send money to a family member in the US, the payment will be pending until the US bank opens.
This is another thing that can affect international bank transfer times. If you’d like the recipient to get the money in their local currency and not yours, processing times may be lengthened. Your bank may allow you to send the money in the recipient’s local currency, but you’ll be charged a fee for the service, and in most cases it will be high.
Also, most receiving banks use international currency exchange rates to determine the value of the transferred funds in their native currency. This means the recipient may get less money or more than you sent, it all depends on the currency exchange rates.
If you send money regularly to your family or friends, or make international payments, it’s important that the money arrives on time. Delays in money transfers can mean that your loved ones get frustrated--or a business partner loses trust in you.
Xe generally takes 1 to 4 working days to transfer money internationally, but many transfers are faster than that. The majority of our transfers are done within 24 hours, with some only taking a few hours or even a few minutes (and some occurring in real time). The money transfer is processed as soon as the funds have been received from your bank account. Once the transfer is complete, you’re notified via email or SMS.
Curious what else might impact the amount of time it takes to send money overseas with Xe? Check out this guide for more information.
Xe can convert your money into the recipient’s currency automatically, you’ll just pay a small fee for the convenience.