Compare International Money Transfers

Helpful Information

What is an international money transfer?

An international money transfer is when you send money from your bank account in Australia to the bank account of someone you know in a different country.

International money transfers are popular for both large and small amounts. The World Bank estimates that remittances growth will slow slightly in 2015, with $586 billion in total to be sent, of which $440 billion will be sent to developing nations. The total sent is expected to rise to $610 billion in 2016 and $636 billion in 2017.

When making a money transfer, you will usually need to know the other person’s full name, address, account number, and Branch Number or Bank Identifier Code (SWIFT BIC or IBAN).

To find out whether your Australian dollars will equate to much in the local currency of the country to which you’re transferring money, check our list of 10 currencies the Australian dollar has risen against in 2015.

 

Who uses international money transfers?

International students studying in Australia:

According to the government’s Study In Australia website, Australia is the world’s third most popular destination for international students. And no wonder! We have more than 1,100 tertiary education institutions, with over 22,000 courses to choose from, and our university system ranking is ninth in the world, ahead of Japan, New Zealand, and Germany.

There were 543,123 international students enrolled in July 2015 on a student visa, according to the Department of Education and Training (International Education Australia). This data shows we’re becoming more popular, with a 10% increase in the number of enrolments since July 2014.

Useful resources for students: 

Study in Australia

CRICOS: Government register of courses international students can study here

Visa Finder Tool

Overseas workers:

There are two types of overseas workers: Australians working in a different country, and people from other countries working in Australia.

Australians are getting more and more used to FIFO jobs (fly in, fly out) that require them to work in a different country to Australia. This can mean sending money back home to pay your expenses back at home while you’re away working hard.

Working in Australia is a popular option for people from other countries. The Department of Immigration states that 38,130 people from other countries were granted a skilled temporary worker visa (subclass 457) to come work in Australia in 2014-2015. The top five countries to be granted the most working visas in 2014-2015 were:

  • India
  • United Kingdom
  • China
  • The Philippines
  • USA

No matter where someone is from, if they are working somewhere other than home they will occasionally need to send money back home, either for their families or to pay ongoing expenses like a mortgage. This type of international money transfer is called a “remittance”.

In 2014, Australians sent $2.29 billion overseas in the form of remittances, according to the World Bank.

Useful resources for overseas workers: 

Department of Immigration: Work Visas

Australia.gov.au: Information on immigration and visas

Visa Finder Tool

Overseas workers globally – sending money back home:

Remittances are also sent home from international migrants living and working in a country apart from their family. In 2014, there were 180 million international migrants living and working away from home and regularly sending small amounts of money back to the family that helped them secure a better future. When it comes to developing nations, remittances provide $413 billion per year to help some of the poorest communities in the world – three times the amount of foreign aid from governments.

Unfortunately, many developing nations allow a monopoly for international money transfer providers, so that they can charge massive fees on these small amounts of money. CANSTAR recommends that small remittances should have lower fees globally.

Returning expats:

Many Australians decide to move overseas temporarily, for a few years or so. In 2010, the ABS found that 80% of those who left Australia permanently (planning not to return) returned to Australia without 12 months of leaving.

Coming home can mean leaving behind investments and savings in another country. This usually requires either regularly transferring funds overseas to pay account fees, or closing the overseas accounts and transferring the funds back into Australian accounts.

Useful resources for returning expats:

Department of Human Services

Australians Abroad: A list of expat resources

Those with family members who live, travel, or study overseas:

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2014-2015, 9.2 million Australian residents left Australia for a temporary overseas holiday and came back within 12 months. When family members travel, especially if they are still young students, there is always the risk that they might run into trouble – or run out of funds. A fast and efficient money transfer service can become essential!

As for family and friends who live overseas, the idea of organising to send a Christmas or wedding gift internationally can be quite daunting. It might be easier to send them some money so they can get something they really want.

Useful resources for those with family travelling: 

Smart Traveller

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – List of Australian Embassies

Study Overseas

Businesses:

As commerce goes global, businesses may find an increasing number of their transactions are being conducted overseas. For example, retailers may need to buy goods from another country to sell here without actually visiting that country.

Useful resources for businesses:

Australian Trade Commission

Business.gov.au

What does an international money transfer cost?

Exchange Rates:

The exchange rate is the ratio at which the Australian dollar will buy a different currency, which determines the value of our currency and theirs by comparison. For example, the exchange rate from AUD to USD at the time of writing is around 70 cents to the dollar.

If you’re not familiar with the common abbreviation codes used to refer to different countries’ currencies, you should take a look at our list for Australia’s top 10 destinations:

  • AUD Australian Dollar
  • NZD New Zealand Dollar
  • IDR Indonesian Rupiah
  • USD United States dollar
  • THB Thai Baht
  • GBP British Pound
  • CNY Chinese Yuan
  • FJD Fiji Dollar
  • SGD Singapore Dollar
  • MYR Malaysian Ringgit
  • HKD Hong Kong Dollar

The table below outlines the cost of exchanging $100,000 at the highest exchange rate and at the lowest exchange rate of the international money transfer products researched in our 2015 report, as at August 2015. As you can see, the exchange rate can vary significantly between providers.

Currency Highest Quoted Rate (Selling Rate) Lowest Quoted Rate (Selling Rate) Difference on a $100,000 transfer
EUR 0.64809 0.61793 3,016 Euro
GBP 0.46174 0.43915 2,259 GBP
USD 0.72090 0.69085 3,005 USD
CHF 0.69941 0.66028 3,914 CHF
HKD 5.58604 0.53294 505,310 HKD
INR 46.65613 44.37320 228,293 INR
JPY 88.79375 85.05250 374,125 JPY
NZD 1.08575 1.06234 2,341 NZD
SGD 1.00181 0.96204 3,978 SGD
The exchange rates for the 15 institutions in our star ratings are captured over 4 weeks and then averaged over the prescribed period (3 August 2015 to 28 August 2015 in this case).

 

International money transfer fees:

The main fees to be aware of include the following:

  • Sending fee: This is known by many names, but it is essentially a fee charged to send the money through the institution to an overseas bank account.
  • Receiving fee: A fee charged to receive funds from overseas into your nominated local bank account.
  • Cancellation fee: If you need to cancel the transfer for any reason, some institutions will charge you a penalty fee.
  • Amendment fee: If you need to change the payment details for a transfer, some institutions will charge you a penalty fee.
  • Enquiry fee: If you need to follow up with your bank to make sure that the funds actually got to your intended recipient, some institutions will charge you a fee for the service of checking.
  • Third party institution fee: A fee charged to send money from the transfer institution to the recipient’s banking institution. For example, if you’re sending the money through your account at Citibank, and the other person is with a different bank, your institution may charge you a fee. The cost of this fee varies greatly between institutions. You should always ask an institution how much they charge about this fee before signing up to make a transfer through them.

Overall, the global average cost to send an amount of $200 has remained around 8%, according to the World Bank. The highest average cost of 12% was found in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The minimum, maximum and average fees we found in our latest star ratings are outlined below. The maximum fee you could pay is twice as much as the minimum! Thankfully though, there are many providers that do not charge fees for cancellations, amendments, or enquiries.

Transfer fee Cancellation fee Amendment fee Enquiry fee
Online Branch
Minimum $15.00 $20.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Maximum $30.00 $35.00 $30.00 $35.00 $30.00
Average $21.38 $28.67 $21.67 $28.67 $22.00

 

Hot tip: A little bit of homework goes a long way when it comes to exchange rates and transfer fees, so you should compare your shortlist of institutions using our ratings before picking one. Every institution costs something, but you can make sure that more of your money goes where it should – to your recipient, not your institution.

Different ways to transfer money internationally:

There are a lot of different ways to send money internationally from Australia, as it is a growing and competitive industry. So what the pros and cons of different methods?

  1. Online:

The vastness of the internet means there is more than one way to transfer money online:

Online money transfer company:

  • Pros – Because this is the company’s only job, they can offer you a speedy transfer at a competitive exchange rate. They usually have a currency conversion calculator so you can work out what exchange rate you’ll get before you send the money.
  • Cons – If you choose an online money transfer company, there may be a minimum transfer amount, a transfer fee (depending on the size of the transfer), and a transaction fee for the recipient.

Direct transfer from your bank account:

  • Pros – Probably the most convenient way to transfer money, since you’re already a customer with your bank. Most bank accounts are usually already set up to allow international transfers, or can be set up with one or two steps.
  • Cons – Can be expensive and slow, taking several days for the money to arrive. That’s no good if you’re trying to get money to a family member who’s currently stuck at the border of a foreign country because they’ve run out of the local currency and can’t afford to pay for a visa. You can expect a sending fee charged by your bank, and a receiving fee charged by the overseas bank. Also check whether your bank’s exchange rate is competitive before clicking “send”.

PayPal:

  • Pros – For smaller amounts ranging from $1 to perhaps a few hundred dollars, PayPal is an option worth considering. It is only appropriate for small amounts, though, as the transfer fees for larger amounts are not competitive compared to online money transfer companies.
  • Cons – Generally, PayPal fees are a percentage of the total amount (which can range from 0.5% to 3.3%, depending on your destination country) plus a fixed fee. If your PayPal account is linked to a credit card, the fees could be significantly higher.
  1. Phone:

  • Pros – The telephone is a way to make international transfers without visiting a branch, for anyone who doesn’t have access to the internet.
  • Cons – Phone banking has different limits on how much money you can send, compared to online banking or visiting a branch. With certain banks, such as Suncorp Bank, international money transfers must be made online and cannot be made by telephone.
  1. Branch:

You can get an International Money Order (IMO) from your bank or post office. It is similar to a bank cheque in that you post it overseas and it gets cashed at the other end by your recipient.

  • Pros – The cheque is guaranteed by the bank or post office.
  • Cons – This method takes a lot longer than an online transfer, and you have to physically visit a branch or post office. The purchase price can also be more expensive, ranging from $8.95 to $23.00 at Australia Post, for example. There may be a fee charged at the other end when your recipient cashes the cheque into their account.
  1. Mobile:

  • Pros – This is an easy way to make a transfer if you have the app for your bank’s mobile banking system on your mobile device.
  • Cons – There’s always the risk that the app might crash, and then you could face an enquiry fee if you need to check whether or not the transfer went through.

International money transfer scams to watch out for:

You should always ensure that the person you are transferring funds to is legitimate, especially if you don’t know them personally. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to recover funds sent overseas to a scammer. The government?s Scamwatch website has some tips on common scams to watch out for, such as scams saying you’ve come into an inheritance from an overseas estate or won a travel holiday as a prize. Also, check out our tips and traps of currency exchange.

International money transfer issues

The Australian system for sending money between countries is pretty good, but that’s not the case in every country. When it comes to remittances for international migrants sending their pay home to families in developing nations, there are many barriers in the way.

How remittances can change the world:

According to the World Bank, remittances that are small in amount can have great value by reducing the level and severity of poverty in a region. This leads to:

  • Higher human capital accumulation
  • Greater health and education expenditures
  • Better access to information and communication technologies
  • Improved access to formal financial sector services
  • Enhanced small business investment
  • More entrepreneurship
  • Better preparedness for natural disasters such as droughts, earthquakes, and cyclones
  • Less child labour

We know that around $400 billion in remittances are sent to developing countries each year – often from workers in other developing countries! These remittances provide three times the amount of global foreign aid declared by governments, and they do so much good in local communities.

The countries whose GDP was partly made up of remittances in 2013 included Tajikistan (52%), Kyrgyz Republic (31%), Nepal and Moldova (both 25%), Tonga (24%), and Samoa and Lesotho (both 23%).

Remittances act like insurance for poor countries. When times are hard for the family, workers send more, not less. For example, in Nepal, the percentage of poor people declined drastically even during a time of political and economic crisis, because of remittances sent from family members living in India. The poor in Nepal made up 42% of the population in 1995, but just 10 years later in 2005, that had lowered to 31%.

When natural disasters hit, remittances can get there before foreign aid does, such as in Somalia and Haiti. What’s more, those who send remittances don’t “forget” about the crisis their family is going through when the nightly news stops reporting on it. These remittances keep coming, a lifeline for a community that has been struck down.

Children benefit from fewer debilitating signs of poverty when their families receive remittances. Children who received remittances have been reported with higher birth weights and lower school dropout rates in Mexico, Sri Lanka, and El Salvador.

The barriers in the way:

In many countries, it “costs big to send small”. And since remittances are typically small amounts – $200 per month or so – flat fees and charges can take a huge chunk out of much-needed money.

Globally, this fee amounted to 8% of the remittance in 2014. In Africa, the fee to send money between countries was well into the double digits.

Furthermore, many governments allow one international money transfer company to make an exclusive monopoly agreement with the post office, so that they are the only available option for sending money. So even if you wanted to shop around for a better exchange rate and cheaper fees, you couldn’t find one.

Remittances have decreased in their rate of growth in 2015 because of the weakened economies in Europe and Russia, according to the World Bank. Other regions to show slowing growth are the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. Meanwhile, remittances to Latin America and the Caribbean have been increasing after economic recovery.

Suggested solutions to remove barriers:

There are cheaper options that could make a big difference around the world. For example, the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank started a program with Mexico where money transfer companies could send money to Mexico for a fixed cost of only 67 cents per transaction.

In his TED talk in 2014, international migrant Dilip Ratha recommended that governments and Reserve Banks worldwide take the following steps to reform the remittance industry:

  • Revoke the exclusive monopoly agreements between post offices and money transfer companies.
  • Lower the global fees for international money transfers under $1,000, from the current 8% to 1%. Recognise that small remittances do not present the risk of money laundering, and therefore do not need high fees attached.

Create a not-for-profit charity to create a global remittances platform, since this would increase foreign aid donations and make them more effective.

What should you look for in an international money transfer?

Here at CANSTAR, we compare institutions based on the features they offer and the cost charged to make a transfer, including fees and exchange rates. These ratings make it easy for you to make a shortlist of options for making an international money transfer by indicating which institutions provide better value.

So what do we look for?

Look for a good exchange rate:

The provider with the highest average exchange rate receives the top score in this category. We rate institutions for their exchange rates on the following currencies:

  • United States Dollar
  • British Pound
  • New Zealand Dollar
  • Euro
  • Indian Rupee
  • Japanese Yen
  • Singapore Dollar
  • Hong Kong Dollar
  • Swiss Franc

Look for low fees:

We’ve mentioned above the various costs in fees and charges for making an international money transfer. You can assume that the providers we’ve given a 5-star rating are a cheap option to send money overseas.

CANSTAR assesses the financial outcome of making an international money transfer through each provider – how much money gets to your recipient after the exchange rate and other fees and costs are charged? We assess each provider for two transaction scenarios:

  1. Transferring to an overseas branch of the same financial institution
  2. Transferring to an overseas branch of a different financial institution

Ensure the provider is reputable:

CANSTAR only rates international money transfers provided by ADIs (institutions that are officially approved for banking in Australia). So you know that every institution on our list of ratings is a reputable source.

Look for any extra features you need:

Apart from the basics, we also look at whether an institution provides:

  • Information about the various exchange rates, not just the rates themselves.
  • Tools and education for customers new to making international money transfers.
  • Customer service helpline or other services.

International money transfer glossary of terms

Please note that these are a general explanation of the meaning of terms used in relation to international money transfers. Your provider may use different wording and you should read the terms and conditions of your product carefully to understand what fees and charges may apply. Refer to the product disclosure statement from your provider.

Account number: The identification number for your account, or for the account to which you are transferring money. When making a money transfer, you will usually need to know the other person’s full name, address, account number, and Branch Number or Bank Identifier Code (SWIFT BIC or IBAN).

ADI (Authorised Deposit-Taking Institution): An institution authorised and accredited to provide banking services and receive and manage deposits in customers’ accounts.

Balance: The amount of money remaining and able to be spent in your savings or transaction account at any point in time.

Conversion fee: Any fee charged to convert one currency into another before or after transferring.

Conversion rate: Also known as the exchange rate.

Currency: Money.

Exchange rate: The ratio at which one currency buys another, which determines the value of one country’s currency by comparison to another. For example, the exchange rate from AUD to USD at the time of writing is $0.73 to the dollar.

Foreign currency: The local currency of any country outside Australia.

Funds: Money.

GST: Goods and services tax charged on purchases made in Australia. Certain internet purchases may also be subject to GST.

Internet banking or online banking: Banking that is done via the internet on a computer or mobile device.

Transfer: To send money from one account to another.

Visa: A document from the government of a country that grants permission for a person to come to that country to holiday, live, work, or study.

Who offers international money transfers from Australia to other countries?

The following international money transfer providers were included in our comparisons at the time of writing and details are correct as at that time. Please check the current terms and conditions of transfer providers.

  1. ANZ: ANZ allows you to use internet banking to make international money transfers quickly and easily. ANZ has a long history, founded in 1835 in Sydney as the Bank of Australasia.
  2. Arab Bank: In 2015, Arab Bank was in the top 3 cheapest options for sending money overseas, of the products we rated. Arab Bank was the first private sector financial institution in the Arab world, founded in 1930 in Jerusalem (Mandatory Palestine). It is now one of the largest financial institutions in the Middle East.
  3. Bank of Melbourne: In 2015, Bank of Melbourne introduced a phone helpline to help customers who were having trouble making a transfer. Bank of Melbourne was founded in 1989 and exists exclusively in the state of Victoria. Check out their Melbourne Made short film campaign that celebrates the Victorian people and businesses who bank with them.
  4. Bank of Sydney: Bank of Sydney was founded in 2001 in Sydney (obviously), Melbourne and Adelaide.
  5. BankSA: In 2015, BankSA removed the minimum transfer amount required to send money. BankSA was founded in 1848 as a one-man, one-room operation, and it exists exclusively in the state of South Australia.
  6. Bankwest: Bankwest were founded in 1895 as the Agricultural Bank of Western Australia by the state government to provide for farmers. Back then, WA was so big and empty that staff would travel miles between farms, sleeping on the side of the road.
  7. Bendigo Bank: In 2015, Bendigo Bank removed their fees for cancelling, changing the details of a transfer, making an enquiry about transfer status, and rejected transfers. Bendigo Bank serve around 1.5 million customers across Australia.
  8. Citibank: In 2015, Citibank received a 5-star rating for outstanding value. They remained the price leader among the products we rated, and offered the highest average exchange rate for 8 of the 9 currencies we consider. Citibank moved into Australia in 1985 – the first foreign bank to be granted an Australian banking licence.
  9. Commonwealth Bank: CommBank offer over 30 currencies, which you can send to over 200 countries. You can even use the CommBank app on your phone to make the transfer. The Commonwealth Bank is Australia’s largest provider of financial services, founded in 1911 as the government bank for our young nation.
  10. Delphi Bank: Delphi Bank refers to international money transfers as “telegraphic transfers”. Delphi Bank was founded in 2012 by Bendigo and Adelaide Banks, and they have 14 branches across Victoria, NSW, and SA at the time of writing. Delphi Bank was named after the ancient city of Delphi, to represent their journey of growth and opportunity and the Mediterranean culture of many of their customers.
  11. HSBC: In 2015, HSBC received a 5-star rating for outstanding value. They offered the highest exchange rate for NZD and ranked highly across all the other currencies we consider. HSBC was founded in 1865 in Hong Kong to finance trade between Asia and Europe, and 100 years later, moved into Australia in 1965. It is one of the world’s largest banking and financial institutions, serving 48 million customers around the globe.
  12. NAB: NAB separates international money transfers into incoming and outgoing, so you need to look at their information separately according to what you’re planning. NAB was founded in 1981 and is one of the big four banks in Australia, with over 12.7 million customers worldwide.
  13. George: St. George allows you to use internet banking to make international money transfers. St. George is best known as the bank with the dragon logo. It was founded in 1937 and has 2.6 million customers in Australia.
  14. Suncorp Bank: Suncorp allows you to use internet banking to make international money transfers, as long as you already have a security token. You can transfer up to $50,000 at a time. Suncorp was founded in 1902 and remains Australia’s leading bank in regional areas.
  15. Westpac: Westpac allows you to use internet banking to make international money transfers. Westpac was established in 1817 as the Bank of New South Wales and serves around 13 million customers, as one of the big four Australian banks. They own a number of other banking brands including St. George, Bank of Melbourne, BankSA, and RAMS.