International wire transfers: What banks really charge in America

TransferWise
07.09.18
10 minute read

Need to send money abroad? This seemingly simple task can get pretty complex if you do it the wrong way. Some banks still make international wire transfers hard work for their customers, sometimes requiring them to come into a branch rather than using online or telephone services. And then, of course, there are the fees.

So it pays to do your research, and that’s where this article can help. This article will tell you:

  • How to spot a decent deal on an international money transfer
  • How much banks charge for international transfers
  • How to transfer money abroad without using a bank at all
  • The real fees for some of the biggest US banks, to send money abroad.

What should I look for in a bank when I’m sending an international money transfer?

One of the frustrating things about international wire transfers from banks is that each bank offers a service that’s ever so slightly different. So you shouldn’t assume they all offer the same service, even if it’s hard to spot the difference at first. Here’s a list of what you should be on the lookout for.

  • Ways to make the transfer. Some banks let you make an international wire online or via an app. Others let you do it by telephone. But some - quite a few, actually - still make you come into a branch to do it. Which is irritating at best - and infuriating if you happen to be out of the country.
  • Speed. This is always somewhat variable because it also depends on where the money’s going - the speed isn’t just down to the sending bank. But different banks do offer different expected delivery times, so check that yours is competitive.
  • Limits. Is there a maximum amount you’re allowed to send abroad? How about a minimum amount? These could be important considerations, especially if you’re sending large sums of money.
  • Cancellation/recall. Banks have different policies on this. Sometimes, you have to pay a fee to cancel or recall a transfer that’s already been requested. So read the small print and check.
  • Customer support. If something goes wrong or you need a helping hand, what does your bank offer? Are they always on the phone, or available via chat online? These days, 24/7 customer service from major institutions isn’t rare, and knowing it’s there in case of emergency can be a load off your mind.
  • Security. Overall, banks need a high level of security if they’re able to operate at all, and they’ll have to comply with international wire regulations. So your bank is unlikely to actually lose your money. But there are still security issues to consider, especially if you use online banking. For instance, does your bank have 2-factor authentication (2fa)? What happens if they need to send a text to your US phone when you’re out of the country? It’s worth looking into your backup options for situations like that.
  • Cost. Last but certainly not least, always keep an eye on the cost. Most US banks charge a flat fee for international wire transfers, but there can be other costs to consider too, such as penalties if you provide the wrong details. And then there’s the exchange rate, which banks don’t tend to call a ‘cost’ at all. But unless they’re offering you the mid-market exchange rate, they’re making money at your expense through converting less of your money than they could. Which brings us on to the next section.

How much do banks charge for international wire transfers?

As already mentioned, the real answer to this is ‘it depends’. But there are four broad categories of fees that usually end up being charged for international wires. The big table below has the specific figures, but here’s a quick overview of what sorts of fees there are.

Bank sending fee

This is generally a flat fee that your bank will charge you to make the transfer. It may vary depending on whether you request your wire transfer online or in a branch.

Sometimes, banks or specialist providers claim to offer ‘fee-free’ transfers. But a transfer that genuinely has no fees is, shall we say, unlikely. Often, ‘fee-free’ simply means there’s no sending fee - there might well still be the next three types of fees.

Exchange rate markups

Did you know that banks can set their own exchange rates when they transfer your money? While they’re always based on the current market rates, banks don’t have to charge the real mid-market exchange rate, which is an average of all the buy and sell rates currently in use. Instead, banks tend to charge exchange rates that are effectively marked up, meaning that they can convert slightly less of your money than they would otherwise. Good news for them, bad news for you. And for your recipient.

Want a rude awakening? Compare the exchange rate your bank offers to the rate you find on Google, XE or TransferWise’s currency converter. The difference between those figures is going straight into your bank’s pockets.

Correspondent bank fees

International wire transfers are generally made via the SWIFT network, a complex international system of interlinked banks. It’s often not possible via SWIFT for your money to go directly to its destination, so several additional banks - correspondent or intermediary banks, as they’re known - may get involved.

There are two problems with this. Firstly, it can make the transfer process slower. And secondly, it can - and almost certainly will - cost a lot. Every single correspondent bank can charge a fee. A fee that probably comes straight out of your transfer - meaning that even less of your money makes it to its destination.

When you make the transfer, it’s sometimes possible to specify whether you or the recipient bear the cost of these (and other) fees - you should have a chat with your recipient and check with your bank.

Recipient bank fees

Additionally, the recipient’s bank might charge a fee for the privilege of actually getting hold of the money you’ve sent them. That’s totally out of the hands of the sending bank, but it’s something else you can check with your recipient in advance - if they have multiple bank accounts, they should get you to transfer to the one with the lowest receiving fees.

An alternative to costly international wires

This article is really about the best ways to send money abroad via a bank. But it’s important to remember: that’s not actually your only option. There are an increasing number of alternative methods, with specialist providers often using technology to smooth out aspects of the process. It doesn’t have to be so complex anymore, and there don’t have to be so many unpredictable fees.

One alternative to using a bank is TransferWise. Using its own system of linked local bank accounts in countries around the world, TransferWise can send your money abroad without going through the SWIFT system, with its multiple correspondent banks and unexpected delays and fees.

And because TransferWise always offers the real mid-market exchange rate, without a markup, more of your money is likely to make it through to its destination. The simple fee, based on a percentage of your transfer amount, is always stated in full upfront.

There won’t be any correspondent bank fees, because correspondent banks won’t be involved. You can even get yourself a borderless multi-currency account, which - for no monthly fee - lets you hold money in multiple currencies, and use virtual account details for Australian dollars, UK pounds and euros. Something well worth considering if you often find yourself dealing with foreign transfers.

But anyway, if you’d still rather check out what the banks have to offer, here’s some more detail on what they charge.

Reviewing the total cost of an international transfer in the US

To make things easier, the following fees are all to make the same transfer: $1000 sent to Germany. All the fees are for an imagined transfer of that amount, to that destination. Many banks have different fees depending on whether you choose to send the money in US dollars or the receiving currency (which would be euros in this case) - all the figures in the table assume the transfer is made in dollars.

The figures are all correct at the time of writing but are subject to change.

ProviderFee for $1000 to GermanyExchange rateCorrespondent bank feesTotal cost
TransferWise¹$8.45the real exchange ratenone$8.45
Ally²N/AN/AN/A(only incoming international wires available)
Bank of America³$45exchange rate + likely markuplikely$45 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
BB&T$65exchange rate + likely markuplikely$65 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
BBVA$45 in most states, $55 in Californiaexchange rate + markuplikely$45/55 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
BECU$35exchange rate + likely markuplikely$35 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
Capital One$50exchange rate + likely markuplikely$50 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
Charles Schwab$25exchange rate + likely markuplikely$25 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
Chase Bank$50 with assistance from Chase, or $40 onlineexchange rate + likely markuplikely$40 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
Citibank US¹⁰Varies depending on account type: $17.50-25, or free for Citibank Global Transfersexchange rate + likely markuplikely$0/25/35 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
Citizens Bank¹¹$35exchange rate + likely markuplikely$35 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
DCU¹²$50exchange rate + likely markuplikely$50 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
Discover Bank¹³$30exchange rate + likely markuplikely$30 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
Fidelity¹⁴$15 with assistance from Fidelity, or $10 onlineexchange rate + likely markuplikely$15/10 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
Fifth Third¹⁵$85exchange rate + likely markuplikely$85 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
HSBC USA¹⁶“For applicable transfer fees, please refer to the Pre-Payment and Receipt Disclosures received at the time of your wire transaction”exchange rate + likely markuplikelyFee + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
Huntington Bank¹⁷$75exchange rate + likely markuplikely$75 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
Nationwide¹⁸$35exchange rate + likely markuplikely$35 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
Navy Federal¹⁹$25exchange rate + likely markuplikely$25 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
PNC Bank²⁰$45 (may vary by location)exchange rate + likely markuplikely$45 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
Regions Bank²¹$45exchange rate + likely markuplikely$45 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
Santander USA²²$40exchange rate + likely markuplikely$40 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
Suntrust²³$50exchange rate + likely markuplikely$50 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
TD Bank USA²⁴$40exchange rate + likely markuplikely$40 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
Union Bank²⁵$45, $50 or $65 for telephone (Direct Access), in-person or telephone (customer service) transfers respectivelyexchange rate + likely markuplikely$45/50/65 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
US Bank²⁶$50exchange rate + likely markuplikely$50 + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees
USAA Bank²⁷$20exchange rate + likely markup$25$45 + likely exchange rate markup
Wells Fargo²⁸“Fee disclosed at the time of transaction”exchange rate + likely markuplikelyFee + likely exchange rate markup + likely correspondent bank fees

As you can see, USAA is unusual in charging a separate fee to you, the sender, in an effort to cover the cost of correspondent bank fees. It’s not necessarily clear whether that fee will make you worse or better off, but you’ll at least have some clarity about what it’ll all cost you.27 With all the other services listed here, apart from TransferWise, you might struggle to find out exactly what the correspondent banks will charge - often even your bank won’t know.

So, if you’d like to use your bank to send your international money transfer, there is what 27 of them will charge you - although, because of the ever-changing exchange rate, which each bank may well set for itself, the precise cost of each of these transfers is impossible to say.

For greater clarity and lower fees, TransferWise could be the perfect solution. So take a look, and see if TransferWise could save you money.


Sources:

  1. https://transferwise.com/ (July 9, 2018)
  2. https://www.ally.com/files/pdf/ally-international-wire-transfer.pdf (July 9, 2018)
  3. https://www.bankofamerica.com/foreign-exchange/wire-transfer.go (July 9, 2018)
  4. https://www.bbt.com/assets/bbtcom/content/pdf/customer-service/personal-services-pricing-guide/nc.pdf (July 9, 2018)
  5. https://www.bbvacompass.com/disclosure/clearchoice-free-checking/alabama.html and https://www.bbvacompass.com/disclosure/clearchoice-free-checking/california.html (July 9, 2018)
  6. https://www.becu.org/~/media/Files/PDF/9115.pdf (July 9, 2018)
  7. https://www.capitalone.com/assets/bank/media/essential-checking-pew.pdf (July 9, 2018)
  8. http://international.schwab.com/public/international/pricing_services/wire_transfers (July 9, 2018)
  9. https://www.chase.com/content/dam/chasecom/en/checking/documents/clear_simple_guide_total.pdf (July 9, 2018)
  10. https://online.citi.com/US/JRS/pands/detail.do?ID=WireTransfers&JFP_TOKEN=4SY39DX6 (July 9, 2018)
  11. https://www.citizensbank.com/learning/what-is-a-wire-transfer.aspx (July 9, 2018)
  12. https://www.dcu.org/pdfs/fees.pdf#page=2 (July 9, 2018)
  13. https://www.discover.com/online-banking/assets/International_WireTransferRequestForm.pdf (July 9, 2018)
  14. https://www.fidelity.com/customer-service/how-to-wire-money-out (July 9, 2018)
  15. https://www.53.com/content/dam/fifth-third/docs/legal/checking_pew_disclosures.pdf p.25 (July 9, 2018)
  16. https://www.us.hsbc.com/content/dam/hsbc/us/docs/pdf/deposit-terms-and-charges/12-29-2017/basic_banking_chking_tcs.pdf (July 9, 2018)
  17. https://www.huntington.com/pdf/Personal-disclosures.pdf (July 9, 2018)
  18. https://www.nationwide.com/banking-fees.jsp (July 9, 2018)
  19. https://www.navyfederal.org/pdf/ebrochures/2043ep.pdf (July 9, 2018)
  20. https://content.pncmc.com/live/pnc/personal/serviceCharges/ServiceChargesB.pdf (July 9, 2018)
  21. https://www.regions.com/virtualDocuments/Checking-Pricing-Schedule.pdf (July 9, 2018)
  22. https://customerservice.santanderbank.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/3393/related/1/kw/wire%20transfer/r_id/102441 (July 9, 2018)
  23. https://www.suntrust.com/content/dam/suntrust/us/en/personal-banking/2017/documents/fs-retail-english.pdf p.4 (July 9, 2018)
  24. https://www.feeds.td.com/en/document/oao/pdf/1_fees.pdf (June 24 2018)
  25. https://www.unionbank.com/Images/Personal_AllAbout_FS_and_Gap_ORWA.pdf Fee Schedule, p.5 (July 9, 2018)
  26. https://apply.usbank.com/api/documents/disclosures/Consumer_Pricing_Information_Brochure.pdf (July 9, 2018)
  27. https://content.usaa.com/mcontent/static_assets/Media/bank_account_service_fee_schedule.pdf?cacheid=3114702057_p (July 9, 2018) and https://www.usaa.com/inet/wc/wire_transfer_instructions?akredirect=true#sendingWire (July 9, 2018)
  28. https://www08.wellsfargomedia.com/assets/pdf/personal/online-disclosures/fee-fii-en.pdf p.47 (July 9, 2018)

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

TransferWise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

Find out more

Tips, news and updates for your location