How to Safely Receive Money from Overseas into the US
How do I receive money from overseas?
If you need to receive a payment to the US from abroad you’ll be glad to hear that there are several different ways to get your money safely. The most common ways to receive money from overseas include:
- Having the money deposited right into your regular bank account
- Collecting the payment in cash at a specialist international payment provider near you
- Receiving your transfer into a mobile wallet like Cash App or PayPal
Each of these options has its own advantages and disadvantages - both for the sender and the recipient. We’ll take a look at each in turn in just a moment so you can decide which is best for you. You can then talk to your sender to agree how best to get the money to you safely, with low fees and the best available exchange rates.
Lucky you, someone is sending you money from overseas. The question is, how exactly do you receive the money, especially if they’re sending it in a different currency? You’ve got a few options, so we’ll break them down so you can decide the best way to get at your cash.
The best way to receive money from overseas will depend on the amount of money you receive and how the sender decides to send your money to you. If they send it through their bank, the bank will probably charge the sender a fairly high fee, and you’ll be stuck with a poor exchange rate. Fortunately, your sender isn’t limited to just sending money through their bank, so you might want to suggest alternatives to them.
Information to give the sender to receive money from abroad
To make sure your money arrives safely you’ll need to give the person sending your money some key information. If you’re having your payment deposited into your bank account you’ll need to give your sender:
- Your full name and address as shown on your bank account
- The name and address of your bank, and its BIC/SWIFT code
- Your account number and account type (checking or savings)
- A reference or message to include on the transfer to help you identify it
If you’re collecting your payment in cash you’ll need to give your sender:
- Your full name as shown on your government issued ID document
If you’re having your money deposited into your mobile wallet the details you need to give may vary depending on your wallet type. You can often receive a payment to a mobile wallet with just your email or phone number, or a unique identifier like your $Cashtag if you’re a Cash App user.
1. Specialist International Money Transfer Service
A specialist money transfer service is a businesses designed specifically to help people send money overseas and they almost always offer lower fees and better exchange rates than banks. There are plenty of great money transfer providers out there. Plus, it’s quick and easy for the sender to sign up so you can get more cash as a result. We really like Wise, XE, WorldRemit and OFX, depending on how much you’re receiving.
Wise was built to make it easier, faster and cheaper to send money abroad.
Wise’s mission to offer fair fees and continue to drive down costs means their pricing system is completely transparent. There’s no bundling or hiding fees - the costs you pay are always shown upfront before you fund your Wise payment. If you need to receive, hold or exchange currencies often you could also benefit from the Wise multi-currency account for individuals and business customers. You’ll always get the real exchange rate and can hold and handle 50+ currencies all in the same place.
If your sender doesn’t want to pay any transfer fees at all. Then XE is a great choice. They’ve been around for many years and the only money they make is from the exchange rate. They have comprehensive services for individuals and businesses, and they’re an excellent suggestion for the person sending you the money.
If your sender wants to be talked through their options for sending you money, OFX is second to none. They have an excellent online experience and they provide superb customer service. Their currency transfers are fast and intuitive, they offer a better exchange rate than the banks and most transfers will be with the recipient in one to two business days.
WorldRemit are excellent if your sender is located in Asia, Africa, South America, and there’s no minimum transfer amount. You can get customer support and they have a handy online calculator so you know exactly how much your transfer will cost. In many cases, you can also choose how you want to receive money—into your bank account, picking up cash at an agent location or even having money delivered to your home.
2. Wise Multi Currency Account
The Wise Account is one of the most convenient options of all. Wise (formerly TransferWise) is a well known money transfer service offering low, transparent fees. They also have a super-helpful product called Multi-Currency Account.
The Wise Multi Currency Account allows you to hold 50+ currencies in one account and receive international payments in USD, GBP, EUR, NZD, PLN, and AUD for free. You can just keep an eye on how much your currency is worth and convert it to your native currency when it makes sense. Whenever you need a different currency, just convert the money using the mid-market exchange rate.
You can even link it with the Wise debit card that’s accepted around the world. Even better, you can automatically create full bank account details for many different countries and get paid directly into the account with a domestic transfer from that country. Much cheaper for you and the sender!
It’s free for you to sign up for the Multi Currency Account, and the only fees you’ll pay are when you exchange money between different currencies. Even then, Wise keeps those fees super low. Once you have your Wise Account setup, just give the details to your sender, and Wise can do the rest.
3. Bank to Bank International Wire Transfer
A common way to transfer money is with an international wire transfer.
Your sender goes to their bank, enters your details, funds the transfer, then sends it for processing. Their bank converts the money, sends it over the banking network and it arrives in your account within two to five days after being sent.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems with international bank transfers—high fees and poor exchange rates.
Here’s a quick summary of the various fees you and the sender will pay to make and receive an international money transfer:
1. Fixed fee, payable by the sender, for making the transfer
This fee is applied by the bank every time the sender transfers money internationally. This is a fixed fee and typically runs to between $30 and $50 USD or equivalent.
2. Intermediary bank fees, payable by you on the amount received
When banks transfer money internationally, it’s possible your currency exchange will be routed through one or more intermediary banks. Each of those banks will take a fee out of the transfer, normally between $10 and $20.
3. Receiving bank fees, payable by you
Finally, you’ll normally need to pay a fee to your own bank when you receive money into your account. This is typically a charge of $10 to $20.
Poor exchange rates offered by the sender’s bank
Banks don’t generally offer competitive exchange rates to send money, with substantial differences between the base rate and the rate they offer to the sender. These exchange rates are often two to three percent worse that the base rate, and they can be even poorer than that.
The combination of all these charges means that you and the sender could be spending 3 to 5% more than you need to for receiving money from overseas. The currency provider, XE, did a comparison and found it can cost between $200-$300 more to exchange $10,000 euros to dollars through a bank than with them.
4. Cash pickup
Your sender can transfer your payment for you to collect in cash at a location near you, through a specialist service like Western Union. In this case you’ll need to find a convenient agent close by, and tell the sender that’s where you’d like to pick up your money. Once the payment has been processed by the provider, the sender will give you a reference number to collect your money. Go along to the agent with your government issued ID document and the reference and get your money paid out in dollars there and then.
Having your payment sent for cash collection can be fast, and as long as you pick an agent nearby, relatively convenient, too. However, this is usually one of the more expensive ways to get your money. Here are the common fees to look out for:
- Transfer fee - this can vary depending on how the sender funds the payment, where they’re sending from, and the currencies involved
- Exchange rate markup - rates vary depending on the transfer type and the specific provider, but are often worse for cash transfers compared to bank to bank payments
5. Home delivery
A handful of providers offer cash for home delivery. In this case you won’t need to do anything, just give your sender your address and be ready to collect the payment when it arrives. You’ll need to provide a government issued ID to take delivery of the money.
Home delivery of cash is more commonly available in developing countries where access to bank accounts, ATMs and transport infrastructure may be tricky. If your sender is able to find a provider which sends payment to the US for cash collection they’ll want to check out the fees and exchange rates available as this tends to be a costly option as it involves a lot of work for the service provider.
6. Mobile wallets
If you have a mobile wallet through a provider like PayPal or Cash App your sender might also send you money this way. Getting paid into your mobile wallet is easy and usually fast - as long as you already have a wallet with the provider your sender selects.
Mobile wallet payments can often be arranged with just an email address or phone number. That makes them convenient - but they can also come with high fees. Unfortunately many mobile wallets like Zelle and Venmo can’t be used for international payments just yet - so you’ll need to select one which has international reach to get your money this way.
What's the fee for receiving money from overseas?
The fees involved in receiving an international transfer vary significantly depending on how your sender processes the payment. If you’re receiving a payment by wire transfer it’s good to know that there may be several fees which are deducted as the transfer moves through the system. This is common when payments are processed using the SWIFT network.
The SWIFT network is favored by traditional banks because it’s established and reliable. However, it’s usually also quite expensive and slow. Under SWIFT several banks known as intermediaries help to transfer the payment to your account. Each can take its own fee which might be 10 or 20 dollars. This is deducted after the payment is sent so your sender often won’t even know it’s happened - and you’ll get less than expected.
Modern alternative international transfer services like Wise often avoid the SWIFT network. They use their own payment networks which are faster and cut out the middle men. That means no surprise charges, so the sender can always be sure of the amount you’ll receive into your account in the end.
Should I pay taxes when receiving money from abroad?
You don’t usually need to pay taxes on money received from abroad.
However, you may need to report the income to the IRS. Whether or not you need to report a payment depends on the type of transfer, and the value. Check out all the details on the IRS website - or get professional tax advice if you’re usure.
What exchange rate will I get?
When you find an exchange rate with a currency converter or a Google search, you’ll be shown the mid-market exchange rate. However, this may not be the rate you’re given for your international payment. Many banks and international payment providers add an extra fee - a markup - to the mid-market rate, to calculate the rate they pass on to customers. This makes it harder to figure out exactly what you’re paying for your transfer, and pushes up the overall costs, too.
Banks can often use a markup of about 2% - 3% on the mid-market exchange rate. To put that in context, a 3% markup would add $150 to a transfer worth 5,000 USD - or a huge $1,500 to a payment of 50,000 USD.
Not all services add a markup to the exchange rate. If you’d rather a provider used the mid-market rate and split out the costs of the transfer transparently, check out specialist services like Wise and Revolut instead of using a regular bank.
How long does it take to receive an overseas transfer?
International payments sent to your bank account using a traditional SWIFT transfer can take 3 - 5 days to arrive.
Specialist services which avoid the SWIFT network can often have your payment deposited into your bank account much quicker - some transfers are almost instant, and many will arrive in a day or two.
If you’re getting a payment for cash collection, and the sender pays with a card, it can often be collected in minutes.
Is there a limit to receiving money from abroad?
Different providers have their own limits, which may be based on their own processes, or the laws in the sender’s own country.
Can I refuse or cancel an international money transfer?
If your sender has transferred money to your bank account the payment often can not be reversed. You’d need to wait until it arrives and then send it back, which can incur extra fees.
For payments sent for cash collection, typically there's a fixed wait time before the payment is returned if it’s not collected. In this case you can simply not collect the money, and it’ll find its way back to the sender - albeit minus service charges, and with something of a delay.
The best way to safely receive money from overseas will depend on your priorities and the details of the payment you expect to receive. Your sender will have several options which each involve different processes and fees. Sending a payment with a traditional bank might seem like an obvious choice - but it’s often slow and expensive. If you want to receive your money into a bank account, using a specialist service can cut the costs and mean you get paid faster, too.
Use this guide as a starting point to decide how best to get your money, and talk the alternatives through with your sender before the payment is made.
Often most of the costs of an international transfer are covered by the sender. However, if you're receiving a bank wire, intermediary banks may deduct costs as the payment is processed, which can mean extra fees of $20 to $40 depending on the payment type. Finally, your own bank might charge you a receiving fee - often $10 to $20.
You don’t need a bank account to get paid from overseas - although getting your money deposited into a bank is often the cheapest option. If you can’t access a bank account consider getting your money sent to a mobile wallet or for cash collection.
Depending on the reason for the payment, and the transfer value, you may need to declare it to the IRS. Get professional advice if you’re unsure about your obligations.
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