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Accounts & Cards

How to Send Money to Other Countries Cheaply

May 10, 2024 - Ralf Beyeler

Do you frequently send money to other countries? Find out what to pay attention to in this moneyland.ch guide to international money transfers.

The choice of options for sending money abroad is huge: Money transfer offices, banks, train station counters, and app-based services all compete for customers.

Expatriates, in particular, are very likely to send money back to their home countries. The Swiss National Bank estimates that foreigners working in Switzerland remit around seven billion francs to their home countries every year. But many companies too regularly transfer money abroad to pay foreign suppliers.

How can I send money to other countries?

Most people in Switzerland have bank accounts. But in many countries, personal bank accounts are not as widely used as they are in Switzerland. In many Asian, African, and Latin American countries, on the other hand, many people use mobile wallets.

Depending on whom and where you want to send money to, you can choose between these options:

  • Bank transfers: If the recipient has a bank account.
  • Remittance services (money transfers): You send the money from an office and the recipient collects it at a money transfer office or partner outlet.
  • Mobile wallet: In countries where mobile wallets are widely used, you may have the option of transferring money directly to the recipient's mobile wallet.
  • Credit cards: For transfers between certain countries, it is possible to send money to a credit card, prepaid card, or debit card.

Which service providers in Switzerland offer international money transfers?

Numerous companies offer international money transfer services.

  • Banks: Nearly all Swiss banks let you send money from your private account or current account to a foreign bank account.
  • Train stations: In collaboration with Western Union, the SBB/CFF and other Swiss railways (like the BLS and the Rhätische Bahn) offer international money transfers at ticket office counters and on ticket vending machines. Western Union offers a mobile app that can be used to set up the transfer in advance. You pay in the money to be sent at a train station, either at the ticket office or at a ticket vending machine.
  • Post offices: As of late April 2024, it is possible to make money transfers from any Swiss post office. The Swiss postal service offers money transfers in collaboration with Western Union. Money transfers are not offered in the postal agencies hosted by third-party merchants like supermarkets and bakeries.
  • Money transfer outlets: International remittance service providers like Western Union, Moneygram, and Ria, work with local money transfer outlets in numerous countries. You can send money abroad and receive money from other countries at these outlets. Some of these companies also let you send money from a credit card or bank account online through their web portal or mobile app.
  • Neobanks: Some online-only banks specialize in international money transfers. In most cases, the recipient must have a bank account, but some neobanks also offer transfers to mobile wallets.
  • Credit card issuers: Some credit card issuers give you the option of sending money from your card to the debit or credit card of a recipient in a foreign country.

How long does it take for the money to get to the recipient?

There are major differences in the time it takes before the person can collect the money. When you send money with money transfer services like Western Union, Moneygram, and Ria, the money is ready to be collected by the recipient within minutes. Money sent to a mobile wallet or bank account can also be completed within minutes if the recipient’s bank supports instant payments and the service provider is connected to the relevant network.  

Bank transfers from a Swiss bank account to a foreign one can take much longer. You should count on several days for bank transfers within Europe. Bank transfers to other continents can take as long as one to two weeks.

How much does sending money to other countries cost?

The differences are very large. Most Swiss banks do not charge any fees for SEPA bank transfers to participating European countries. Some banks charge a small fee of up to 1 Swiss franc per transfer. This only applies to transfers that meet the criteria for SEPA transfers (more on this below).

For other international bank transfers, many Swiss banks charge between 4 and 5 francs per transfer. But the fees charged by third-party service providers involved in the transfer come on top of that. Some Swiss banks charge an addition flat fee (typically 20 francs) on top when you choose to cover all the fees yourself (the OUR option). When you use the OUR option, the recipient does not have to pay any fees, and receives the full amount of money you send.

Money transfer services, whether brick-and-mortar or online, each have their own fee schedules. Some are generally cheap, and others are generally more expensive. The fees vary depending on which country you are sending money to, which currency the recipient will receive it in, and on the currency exchange rates used. The fees are generally higher if you pay in the money in cash and/or the recipient collects the money in cash.

Exchange rates and fees can vary broadly depending on the recipient’s country and currency. For that reason, it is helpful to inquire about rates and fees before you order the transfer. Some service providers guarantee the exchange rate that will be used for transfer. Others, particularly banks, cannot show you in advance which exact exchange rate will be used and which third-party fees may apply.

In addition to the published fees, you should also pay attention to the exchange rates used. Many service providers earn substantial profits by using unfavorable currency exchange rates. Effectively, the markups that many money transfer service providers add to currency exchange rates can actually be several percent higher than the money transfer fees themselves.

What should I know about international bank transfers?

Transferring money from your regular bank account is convenient, but it can be much more expensive than sending money with specialized money transfer services.

In an international bank transfer, the money is deducted directly from your private account, business account, or current account, and is transferred to the recipient’s bank account. Swiss banks differentiate between SEPA transfers and other international bank transfers (often called non-SEPA transfers).

SEPA transfers are often the best option for transfers to many European countries. Many Swiss banks do not charge fees for these.

Make sure to follow the criteria for SEPA transfers:

  • The currency for the transfer must be euros, regardless of which currency yours and the recipients bank accounts are denominated in.
  • You must use to share the cost of the transfer between you and the recipient (the SHA option).

The recipient’s bank account must be hosted in a SEPA member country.

For non-SEPA international transfers, you can choose between the following options for paying the transfer fees:

  • Sender pays (OUR): You as the person sending the money cover all of the costs of the transfer. The banks charge all possible third-party costs to your account. The total cost is not known when you order the transfer. Some banks charge a flat fee of 20 francs to cover third-party fees, in addition to their own fee. The advantage of the OUR option is that the recipient actually receives the exact amount of money you send.
  • Sender and recipient share the cost (SHA): When you choose this option, you as the sender have to pay the fees charged by your Swiss bank. The fees charged by the recipient’s bank are deducted from the money you send. This is the standard option for international money transfers, and is also used in the moneyland.ch comparisons.
  • Recipient pays (BEN): All fees are charged to the recipient. You as the sender do not pay any fees. Important: The fees charged to the recipient by your Swiss bank for a transfer to a foreign currency can be as high as 40 francs per transfer.

Many international bank transfers are routed through the SWIFT network. In this process, your payment is redirected through multiple third-party financial services providers before it is finally credited to the recipient’s account. This system can generate high costs, and the transfer can take several days.

Some financial services providers – particularly the neobanks Neon, Wise, and Yapeal – require just a few minutes to transfer your money to the recipient. But this is only possible if both your bank and the recipient’s bank offer instant payments.

The advantage of using an international bank transfer to send money is that the money is deducted directly from your private account. That is convenient, because you can make the transfer at your regular bank or using electronic banking, and do not have to use a third-party money transfer service. The disadvantages of international bank transfers are the time required before the transfer is complete, the high fees, and possible hidden costs in the form of unfavorable currency exchange rates.

What should I know about money transfer services?

The best-known remittance services in Switzerland are Western Union, Moneygram, and Ria. Transfers with Western Union can be made at Swiss train stations run by the SBB/CFF and some other railways.

The classic service offered by remittance companies is that you can pay in the money you want to send in cash. The recipient in a foreign country can collect the money in cash within minutes at a local partner outlet near them.

Today, remittance service providers also offer mobile apps that you can use to make transfers, with the recipient collecting the money at an outlet near them. Depending on the service provider, you may also be able to transfer money to a bank account, a mobile wallet, or a debit or credit card.

Conventional money transfers (you pay cash in Switzerland and the recipient collects cash in a foreign country) has the advantage that the money can be picked up within minutes in any of numerous countries around the world. A disadvantage is that this service is relatively expensive, and the currency exchange rate used is less favorable than the one used for online transfers from the same service provider. Online transfers can, in some cases, arrive within a very short amount of time. The fees are lower if the recipient gets the money in their bank account or mobile wallet instead of collecting cash.

What should I know about neobanks and money transfer apps?

Some neobanks specialize in international transfers. UK-based neobank Wise is a good example of this. Wise is also used for international transfers by Swiss neobanks Neon and Yapeal. Currencyfair, an Ireland-based peer-to-peer money transfer service, is another alternative.  

Many of these service providers use favorable currency exchange rates and have low fees. The disadvantage is that there are many countries which you cannot send money to with these online services.

Some neobanks do not charge you for transfers to other users of the same neobank, even those in other countries. That is the case with Wise and Revolut, for example. The disadvantage is that these neobanks are only available to residents of a small number of countries.

What should I know about sending money to mobile wallets?

In some countries, many of which are in Asia and Africa, mobile wallets are widely used. These can be used to send and receive money, and to make payments.

Swiss Bankers, Western Union (including the Western Union app), and Wise all have the option of sending money to mobile wallets. Each money transfer service has its own list of supported mobile wallets in each country. It can be beneficial to get informed about options from different money transfer services.

The M-Pesa service in Kenya is one example. Swiss Bankers, Western Union, and Wise all give you the option of sending money to an M-Pesa mobile wallet.

Other countries for which at least one of the three aforementioned money transfer service providers lets you send money to mobile wallets include Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.

What should I know about sending money to debit and credit cards?

Card issuer Swiss Bankers and money transfer service Western Union (including the Western Union app) give you the option of sending money that is received as a statement credit on the recipient’s debit card or credit card. This lets you send money directly to the Mastercard cards of people in certain countries.

What is the cheapest way to send money to other countries?

There is no general answer to that question. The cheapest money transfer services vary depending on which services you want and on which country you are sending money to.

Here are the most important tips for minimizing the cost of sending money to another country:

  • If it is possible to transfer the money to a bank account or mobile wallet using Wise, then this is often the most affordable option. Wise is known for having low fees and favorable exchange rates. However, there are many countries which you cannot send money to using Wise.
  • Check how much remittance services like Western Union charge for transfers when you make them online and transfer the money to a bank account, mobile wallet, or card number in the foreign country. In some cases, the fees can be relatively low, and the currency exchange rates are average. Some remittance service providers let you send money to the vast majority of countries.

International bank transfers from conventional Swiss private accounts are typically expensive, use unfavorable exchange rates, and take a long time to reach the recipient’s account. Classic remittance services which enable the recipient to receive the money in cash are very fast, but are often relatively expensive, and typically use unfavorable exchange rates.

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Expert Ralf Beyeler
Ralf Beyeler is the telecom expert at moneyland.ch and also covers other areas of personal finance.
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