Latest in International Money Transfers
International Money Transfers - May 17th
What Is Burgernomics? The Big Mac Index
The “Big Mac Index” was invented by The Economist back in 1986, as a way to simplify exchange rates theory for the general public. Also known as Burgernomics, the Big Mac Index judges the value of a country's currency against how much a Big Mac costs to buy in that country compared to other countries - i.e. the exchange rate.– Read more
Finance News - November 8th
Are comparison rates for international money transfers a good idea?
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said a Labor government would end "bamboozling pricing" by requiring all remittance providers, including the major banks, to disclose the true cost of transferring money overseas. He said this would be similar to how fees and...– Read more
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. Globally, the World Bank estimates more than $714 billion was sent in remittances (people who send money as a gift to people they know overseas) in 2019.
To make an international money transfer, you will typically need to know the full name and address of the person you’d like to send money to, as well as their account number and Branch Number or Bank Identifier Code (SWIFT BIC or IBAN).
Learn more: How to transfer money overseas
Who uses international money transfers?
International students studying in Australia:
The government’s Study In Australia website says Australia is the world’s third most popular destination for international students. We have more than 1,200 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.
According to Australian Education International, there were over 577,353 international students in Australia by the end of August 2017, which represented a 14% increase on the same period for 2016.
Useful resources for students:
There are two types of overseas workers: Australians working in a different country, and people from other countries working in Australia.
Australians are 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 while you’re away working hard.
At any given time, there are several hundred thousand working holiday visa holders and temporary skilled (subclass 457) visa holders working in Australia. As of 31 March 2017 there were 95,360 primary visa holders in Australia (457 visas). Working visa holders will often send money back home, either for their family or to cover ongoing expenses.
The countries responsible for the highest numbers of 457 visa holders are a mix of both high-income countries and LMICs. As an indication, the four countries with the largest number of applications granted as of March 2017 were:
- India (24.9%)
- United Kingdom (45.6%)
- China (6.2%)
- Philippines (6.2%)
No matter what country someone is from, if they are working somewhere other than home they may occasionally need to send money back home. This type of international money transfer is called a “remittance”.
Useful resources for overseas workers:
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 2017, there were 250 million international migrants (World Bank, Bilateral Migration) living and working away from home with many regularly sending small amounts of money back to the family that helped them secure a better future. When it comes to developing nations, remittances sent to low- and middle-income countries add up to $450 billion per year (World Bank, 2017), which helps communities grow resilient against poverty in the poorest developing countries of the world.
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.
Moving overseas temporarily or permanently is a popular option for many Australians. For many, it is short-term option and they may need to send money home to Australia. The Australian Bureau of Statistics Social Trends data found that in 2010, 80% of those who had planned to leave Australia permanently didn’t stay away – they returned to Australia within 12 months.
Returning home may mean leaving behind investments and savings in the other country, necessitating a transfer of funds either to or from overseas.
Useful resources for returning expats:
Those with family members who live, travel, or study overseas:
In the year ended December 2016, Australian residents took a record 9.9 million short-term overseas trips (ABS). When family members travel, there is always a risk they might run into trouble – or out of funds. A fast and efficient money transfer service can become essential, especially if the person in question is without their wallet!
As for family and friends who live overseas, the idea of organising to send a Christmas or wedding gift internationally can be daunting. It might be easier to send them some money so they can get something they really want.
Useful resources for those with family who are travelling:
As commerce goes global, businesses may find an increasing number of their transactions are being conducted overseas. With a range of international commerce hot spots including China, the US, Japan and many more, it’s important for businesses to be able to send money overseas. It is also worth knowing related tax requirements.
Useful resources for businesses:
What does an international money transfer cost?
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 77 cents to the dollar (November 2017).
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 20 destinations, which include the following:
- 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 in this article outlines the cost of exchanging $15,000 at the highest exchange rate and at the lowest exchange rate of the international money transfer products researched in our 2017 report, as at October 2017. As you can see from the article, the exchange rate can vary significantly between providers. That’s why it’s so important to compare exchange rates.
|5-Star||USD 11,748||GBP 9,070||NZD 16,076|
|Majors||USD 11,267||GBP 8,687||NZD 15,535|
|Difference||USD 481||GBP 382||NZD 541|
|AUD Equivalent||AUD 631||AUD 652||AUD 515|
Source: Canstar.com.au based on exchange rates as at 25 October 2017
Our tip? Set aside plenty of time to make a short list of providers and check their rates over a number of days before choosing who to finally go with.
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.
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.
In Canstar’s 2017 International Money Transfers star ratings assessment, we found the following minimum, maximum and average fees across the 19 products assessed for the rating:
|Sending fees||Cancel fee||Amendment fee||Enquiry fee|
Source: Canstar International Money Transfers Star Ratings 2017
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 makes a profit somewhere, 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?
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 stuck in a foreign country because they’ve run out of the local currency. 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: (or PayPal’s Xoom)
- 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.
- Pros – The telephone is a convenient way for someone who doesn’t have access to the internet and doesn’t want to visit a branch.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- Pros – The cheque is guaranteed by the bank or post office.
- Pros – This is an easy way to make a transfer if you have the app for your bank’s mobile banking system.
- Cons – There’s a 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 hold great value by reducing the level and severity of poverty in a region. Remittances can help communities grow resilient against poverty in the poorest developing countries of the world. This leads to:
- Higher human capital accumulation
- Greater healthcare and education expenditure
- 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 and slave labour
We know that around $429 billion in remittances was sent to developing countries in 2016 (World Bank, 2017) – 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.
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 has been declining 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, as we can see from Haiti being in the top 10 for remittances contributing to their GDP (see above).
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 7.45% of the remittance in 2017. In Africa, the fee to send money between countries was nearly 10%.
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 decreased in their rate of growth in 2016 for the second year in a row 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
- 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 provide better value 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:
- Transferring to an overseas branch of the same financial institution
- Transferring to an overseas branch of a different financial institution
Ensure the provider is reputable
Canstar rates international money transfers provided by ADIs (institutions that are officially approved for banking in Australia) and non-ADIs. 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 (PDS) from your provider for their definitions of terms.
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: A fee charged to convert one currency into another before or after transferring.
Conversion rate: Also known as the exchange rate.
Currency: Money. See our list of currency codes around the world here.
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. Be sure to compare exchange rates before choosing an international money transfer provider.
Foreign currency: The local currency of any country outside Australia.
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. We research and rate online banking platforms on our website.
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 star ratings comparisons at the time of writing and details are correct as at that time. Please check the current terms and conditions of transfer providers before making a choice of provider.
- ANZ: ANZ has a long history, founded in 1835 in Sydney as the Bank of Australasia.
- Arab Bank: 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.
- Bank of Melbourne: 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.
- Bank of Sydney: Bank of Sydney was founded in 2001 in Sydney (obviously), Melbourne and Adelaide.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Citi: In 2015 and 2016, Citi (formerly known as Citibank) received a 5-star rating for outstanding value. They remained the price leader among the products we rated, with highly competitive exchange rates. Citibank moved into Australia in 1985 – the first foreign bank to be granted an Australian banking licence.
- Commonwealth Bank: CommBank offer over 30 currencies, which you can send to over 200 countries. You can 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.
- 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.
- HiFX: HiFX is part of the Euronet Worldwide Inc. group, with industry accolades including Forbes’ 25 Fastest-Growing Technology Companies and the Fortune 100 Fastest-Growing Companies.
- HSBC: 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.
- 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.
- OFX: In 2016, OFX received a 5-star rating for outstanding value. 3,250 transfers are made with OFX daily, and they offer 55 different currencies (OFX). They were founded in 1998 as an information-only website in the founder’s garage in Sydney.
- St.George Bank: 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.
- 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.
- TorFX: TorFX processes more than $6 billion in international money transfers and foreign currency exchange in AUD every year.
- Westpac: 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.
- World First: In 2016, World First received a 5-star rating for outstanding value. They were founded in 2004 in the founder’s basement in Stockwell. In 2016 alone, they donated $135,064 to charity at the time (World First).
Other international money transfer articles and guides
Our Ratings & Guides
Compare International Money Transfers using the selector tool at the top of this page – simply select the destination you wish to send money to.
General articles and guides
Author: Nina Tovey
As Canstar’s Editor-in-Chief, Nina heads up a team of talented journalists committed to helping empower consumers to take greater control of their finances. Previously Nina founded her own agency where she provided content and communications support to clients around Australia for eight years. She also spent four years as the PR Manager for American Express Australia, and has worked at a Brisbane communications agency where she supported dozens of clients, including Sunsuper and Suncorp.
Nina has ghostwritten dozens of opinion pieces for publications including The Australian and has been interviewed on finance topics by the Herald Sun and the Sydney Morning Herald. When she’s not dreaming up ways to put a fresh spin on finance, she’s taking her own advice by trying to pay her house off as quickly as possible and raising two money-savvy kids.
Nina has a Bachelor of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English Literature from the University of Queensland. She’s also an experienced presenter, and has hosted numerous events and YouTube series.