Back in the day, a long-term traveller needing a cash injection would have endured a long-winded, expensive process to get their hands on their money.The money sending process involved jumping through hoops and giving your life details to a total stranger.
Now credit cards, Paypal, and other forms of payments are simpler to use and easier to get. It’s easier than ever to have on-demand buying power regardless of location. But the old form of obtaining funds while overseas, money transfer, is still a popular way to move cash.
Credit card fees can add up and if you're credit card maxes out then you're left with few options. Getting the best deal out of international money transfers can save you $$$. I’ve created a comparison of money sending services below to help you decide which works for you. Want to know how to send money abroad? Read on.
If you'd prefer to skip the details and know the best money transfer service then check out TransferWise. I switched to them in the last year or two thanks to their really easy to use website and great rates. They also have a borderless account service so you can set up with foreign bank accounts.
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Money Transfer Companies
The six services I've selected are
This money transfer company list is not exhaustive. There are quite a few more but I've tested 90% of the ones I can find. Some have just plain awful websites. Others drop annoying fees on at the end which puts them way out of out of contention for best money sending service.
I used Ireland as a base location because it's not the cheapest or the dearest place to send from. I picked four countries to compare across all services (if possible). The first country is a notoriously difficult one when it comes to currency transactions: Argentina. I chose a relatively easy country to send to (outside of the EU and quite far away): New Zealand. I then chose two countries that I'd consider to be in the middle of those two: Colombia and Turkey.
Ireland is also a country that's sometimes overlooked so if it is included in the list it means that the service is pretty comprehensive. We can then assume that countries like the US and the UK will definitely be included.
The actual exchange rates and results will vary over time of course, so don't worry too much about exact numbers. The idea is to show the ease of use and value of each service based on 4 example currencies.
Azimo’s site is clean and easy to work with. The front page contains a form with fields to fill out for estimating transfer costs. I like this as I can quickly find out what it’s going to cost me without jumping through too many hoops.
If I'm sending money to Argentina I'm given the option of cash pickup or mobile top-up.
For €1000 the receiver would get ARS 16,085 at an exchange rate of 16.085. The fee is €2.99. As with all the other websites there's another fee included, and that's built into the service's exchange rate.
Currency site XE.com shows the exchange rate as 16.7036. That’s 0.6186 in the difference. We always have to take into consideration transfer fees even if the site claims to not charge these fees. Yahoo’s Currency Converter site gives 16.503 which is a bit less than Xe.com. Yahoo uses bank rates. It states that high-street rates may be higher. Xe.com uses mid-market rates. This is a bit confusing but we get a general idea of the currency exchange rate and compare this to the transfer services.
Checking €1000 to Colombia gives COP 3,562,601.92 at an exchange rate of 3562.6 to 1 Euro. There’s a fee of €2.99 which the sender pays. Xe.com gives 3,733,389.01 for €1000. The difference here is COP 48,296 which is €13. Sending to Colombia also requires pick-up at a location such as a bank.
€1000 converted to Turkish Lira (TRY) gives TRY 3,235 via bank transfer. Yahoo reports 3.3169 as the exchange rate and XE shows 3.288.
Sending to New Zealand is via SWIFT bank transfer. €1000 gives NZD 1,667.10 and there’s a fee of €12
Yahoo gives NZD 1685.47 for the same amount and Xe gives NZD 1678.66
The difference between Yahoo’s conversion and the Azimo number is NZD 18.37. Add the fee of €12 to this and it seems a little expensive.
Best For: Ease of use and range of options
Next up is Western Union, the granddaddy of transfer services that’s been around for over 160 years. This is no dot-com bubble company.
WU’s site is not as user-friendly as the rest and you have to click through a few times to get real details. This makes it a slightly frustrating experience.
I chose Argentina as the destination country and I was presented with two options for paying
1. Credit Card, at a cost of €16 but the transfer was immediate
2. Bank Transfer, costing €4.90 with a 1-2 day lead time.
There’s an option to enter promo codes and that's always worth looking out for. I use a Chrome extension called Coupon Follow which searches for coupons automatically.
The transfer amount for Argentina showed ARS 16,408.60 and there’s a service fee of €4.90 on top of this. The exchange rate shows 16.408.60. That’s quite a difference to the amount offered by Azimo. Using rough calculations, if I take an average of both sites exchange rates (16.2465) and calculate the fee of €4.90 in pesos I get ARS 79.6
16,408.60 – 79.6 = ARS 16,329
Western Union effectively gives you ARS 244 more, which is €15. Something to think about.
WU is one of the few services that allows you the option of transferring money out of Argentina. As Argentina is a country with many economic issues and was, for many years, blocked from international markets, sending money from the country is complicated. Western Union provides one way to do it.
€1000 to Colombia via bank transfer and cash pickup: COP 3,618,010 + €4.90 fee
€1000 to Turkey (cash only + Bank transfer fee of €4.90) = TRY 3186.07
€1000 to New Zealand
You’ve got two options for receiving:
1. Bank account with zero fees
2. Cash with two different paying fee options, €4.90 for bank transfer or €37.80 for Credit Card.
Considering that the person receiving most likely doesn’t have a bank account we’ll go with cash and bank transfer.
The total received would be NZD 1630.93. Actual received value (taking out fees) would be NZD 1622.97
Western Union is one of the best global money transfer companies. There is some comfort knowing that WU is a company that has been around for a long time but has changed with the times. It has seen the newcomers in the money transfer service game and taken them on with competitive pricing and technology.
Best for: Sending to Argentina
TransferWise doesn’t offer service for Argentine Pesos but it does for the other three currencies.
Turkey: €1000 becomes TRY 3,255.51 + fee of €9.90
Colombia: COP 3,636,820 + €25.36 fee (An expensive option)
New Zealand: NZD 1,669.99 + €6.95 (This is better than both Azimo and WU)
The interface is modern, fast and clean. Their fees are high so this is something to watch out for. The New Zealand rate appears the best so far. TransferWise Colombia is expensive but I'm hoping that this changes soon. As one of my favourite money transfer websites, I will keep an eye on the details and update them here as they happen.
Best For: Multiple transfers to EU & US destinations
Transferwise recently introduced a bank account service called a borderless account. Get a bank account in dollars, Euros, or sterling, without the hassle of setting up an account in the country. You can then use this account to receive funds in the US, Europe, Australia, and the UK. It's like Payoneer, only better.
Transferwise Borderless Account
MoneyGram gives you the option to include the fee in the cost, which is handy for seeing exactly how much the money is worth at the receiving end. I calculated with the fee included.
Argentina: ARS 15,869.85 (pick-up at agent). The fee is €32 which seems high. This gives a lower receiving amount than the other services so far. The actual send amount is €968 as the fee is removed from the €1000 before sending. Even if we pay the fee at source, €1032, the receiver gets ARS 16,394 which is WU’s result but it’s quite a bit cheaper.
Colombia: (cash transfer, ten minute delay) COP 3,471,255.54. The transfer fee (included) is €32, like in the Argentina example.
New Zealand: (pick-up at agent only) NZD 1,550.22. The €32 fee is included.
Turkey: (pickup at an agent in 3 different currencies) TRY 3,066.94. This includes the €32 fee.
MoneyGram is the most expensive option so far due is most part to the flat €32 transfer fee.
Xoom is a PayPal company site that requires you to signup before you can use the cost estimation tools.
The interface is a little cumbersome. It’s definitely not my favourite but it does have it's good points.
Xoom uses US dollars as the base currency so an extra calculation is involved if you’re dealing in Euros like I am.
I used Yahoo currency to select a dollar value of USD 1132 for €1000
The receiving amount for Argentina was ARS 16,531.60 but there’s a USD 30 fee added to the transaction, bringing the total to USD 1162. (The Xoom exchange rate for the dollar to peso was 15.6039 at the time of writing). USD 1162 is €1027. So for €1027 we get ARS 16,531.60. This would give ARS 16,096.98 for €1000 which is about the same as Azimo's rate.
Colombia: COP 3,704,000 + USD 4.99 fee. This gives COP 3,687,406.66 for €1000. This is the best rate for all services reviewed here.
Xoom doesn’t offer a money transfer service for New Zealand or Turkey, unfortunately.
Best for: Sending money to Colombia. Xoom's transfer rate beats the other options in this blog post.
CurrencyFair has been offering transfer services since 2010 and its headquarters are in Ireland. The site offers 17 currencies. Of our 4 base currencies, they only deal with the New Zealand Dollar. CurrencyFair.com is one of the best online money transfer services but has limited country destinations available at the moment. However, if you're living in Western Europe, the US, or Australasia and transferring funds to another country in these areas, then I suggest looking at Currency Fair first. Transferring money from the UK to Australia, for example, will probably be cheapest with CurrencyFair.com
For my €1000 the receiver in New Zealand would get NZD 1670.6. The Fees for this transaction were NZD 5 and that’s taken from the receiving amount after calculation.
CurrencyFair claims that the bank fee would be €25 and that you’d be NZD 82.08 worse off for using the banks.
Their offer is better than the other sites that I’ve examined on the list also.
The service works by transferring money from your online bank account to the CurrencyFair website. Once approved you can transfer funds to the receiver's bank account in the target country. Effectively, you transfer money from one bank to another, only the banks are in different countries, and you bypass the bank's own transfer systems.
Best for: Sending money to New Zealand & Australia.
Here’s a quick overview of the costs using these services. I’ll add to this list and post here as I find new services and the current ones update.
If you’d like the spreadsheet I used to make your own calculations or change anything just subscribe below and I’ll send it on straight away.
For my calculation, I included the fee and then calculated what the final amount would be if the receiver was to pay the fee from the received funds. This gives a clearer picture of the value as the fees make a huge difference.
I calculated this by dividing the real amount received by the €1000 + Fees. Then multiplied by 1000.
Received value in local currency = (actual received value / (euro amount + fees)) x 1000
Here's the final calculation on an Excel spreadsheet. The yellow highlights show the cheapest option for each currency. As you can see, there's no single best service. It pays to shop around. I will be creating this same spreadsheet for the US, New Zealand, UK, Australia, and many other countries with options for sending to more locations. If you'd like a copy of the spreadsheet please sign up for the newsletter and I'll include a link to it.
New Addition – Hifx International Money Transfer
A new kid on the block called HiFX offers very competitive rates and transfers between many countries (140 currencies and 172 countries). There are no fees once you hit a certain figure and the interface is slick and intuitive. Stay tuned for a full review of HiFX
Bitcoin – Money Transfer Alternative
Another option worth thinking about, and one that in 2018, is becoming viable is Bitcoin. Coinbase offers a free online service for exchanging and monitor Bitcoin and Ethereum prices. Does anyone have experience using BitCoin as a source of funds while travelling?