Transferring Money Abroad

Jun 15, 2007 by

Some of my readers have relatives that live in countries other than their own. Many Americans send money to family members living abroad, especially if there is a large income disparity between the United States and the other country. How can money be transferred abroad with the minimum amount of fees?

Carry It

If you are visiting relatives abroad, perhaps the simplest way to give them money is to carry it on your person. I believe that Americans may bring up to $10,000 out of the country without needing to declare it to customs. While the only fees involved in this transaction will be related to getting the money converted to local currency, this method may not be frequently feasible if you do not make regular trips to the other country.


PayPal offers a means for quickly sending money for a relatively small fee to other countries. Unfortunately, PayPal cannot convert money to some currencies, such as the renminbi. PayPal’s fees vary from country to country, but typically involve both a percentage charge and a flat fee. As the money can be transferred online, there is very little hassle in the process.


Given enough time, you can send a check to your relative living abroad. Remember that the person will both have to wait for the check to arrive in their mailbox, and for it to clear in the bank. Thus, this is not a good way to transfer money in an urgent situation.

Wire It

Banks can wire money to other accounts. Unfortunately, they often charge substantial amounts for this service, and it may not be instantaneous. You will need to know both your relative’s account number and the SWIFT code of the bank to which you are wiring the money.

ATM Card

If you regularly need to send money to the same person, it may be helpful to send them an American ATM card that is usable in their country. That way, you can add money to the bank account, and they can simply withdraw it with the ATM card. The only fees involved will be the currency conversion fee and the foreign ATM charge. This is a means of providing nearly instant access to funds.

Western Union

If all else fails, Western Union can transfer money almost anywhere. Unfortunately, it charges a steep price for its services. Also, as Western Union is often used in fradulent transfers, it requires you to answer many security questions, making the transfer process rather slow and cumbersome. Western Union works as follows. You tell Western Union the name of the person to whom you are transferring the money, as well as the city in which they reside. Then, Western Union sends you a Money Transfer Control Number (MTCN). The person receiving the money then must go to any Western Union teller and let them know the MTCN, their name, and the amount that has been sent. Thus, the receiver does not need to have a bank account to receive the money through this method, and once the money has been taken, it is nearly impossible to recover or trace.

When transferring money abroad, always make sure that you are doing so in a fashion that is compliant with both the laws of your nation and the laws of the nation of the recipient. In today’s digital world, everything is increasingly being tracked.


  1. Ginger Sperry

    Great advise. ATM is a great idea as long as you trust recipient with your PIN. I recently was stranded in Guadalajara on vacation where I lost some money. I tried to transfer cash in from my Fidelity account and since I did not have a Mexico account, or the account linked with my Fidelity, my broker would not wire any money. I pleaded, gave all of my person information, codes, etc. and they indicated it was for my own protection, so beware traveler of expecting to have access to your funds in emergencies. I ended up using Western Union which was a pain, but I did get the cash, after a 24-hour ordeal. My ATM PIN’s were all out of date on my credit cards too. So now I re-set and check all my PINs BEFORE I travel to make sure they work.

  2. Some good points, although from my experiences, many local banks will not accept standard checks from a normal retail bank within another country. I’d definitely stay away from this one.

    On the ATM card suggestion, I would also first check that your bank has no explicit rules against providing your PIN to another person. I expect this will usually be the case. If this is the case, it might be worthwhile considering the implications of the activity being picked up by the bank.

  3. Adi

    Moneygram is a good service that has offices in lots of countries. Cheaper than Western Union.

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