How does Zelle work? Full Guide 2024

Zelle lets you send money easily to friends and family using just their phone number or email address. It’s convenient and quick – but at the moment it can’t be used to send money internationally.

If you want to move money from one US bank account to another, Zelle is a good option. However, when you’re sending a payment to a friend based abroad, shopping online with an international retailer, or getting paid by an employer based overseas, you’ll need an alternative to Zelle.

This guide covers all you need to know about Zelle, including fees, whether it’s safe to use, how fast it is, how to get set up, and more. We’ll also cover alternatives like Wise and Remitly to help out when sending money overseas.

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What is Zelle?

Zelle is a digital payments network owned by a group of US banks, which allows users to send fast and convenient payments. To send a Zelle payment all you need is the recipient’s email or phone number, which is far more convenient than getting full bank details every time you need to pay someone back for coffee.

Zelle is embedded in the online banking services and apps of many major US banks, and can also be downloaded as a standalone app if your own bank doesn’t support it.

Can Zelle send money internationally?

Zelle can’t be used to send payments in foreign currencies – both the sender and the recipient need to have USD bank accounts to get started. That means that Zelle can’t be used to send money to Europe, the UK, Canada, Mexico or elsewhere.

To sign up for Zelle you’ll need to have a US based bank account and contact details. But what about when you’re traveling or if you need to pay back a friend in a foreign currency? In this case, you’ll need an alternative, like Wise, Remitly or Xe Money Transfers:

Wise international transfers: send to 70+ countries, with low fees and the midmarket exchange rate

Remitly international transfers: send money to bank account and for cash collection, with varying fees depending on the speed of service you need

Xe international transfers: send payments all over the world, with instant fee and exchange rate quotes available online

Go to WiseGo to Remitly

Zelle pros and cons

Before we get into the detail of how Zelle works, lets round up a few of the advantages and disadvantages of using Zelle:

Zelle ProsZelle Cons
  • Easy, fast payments
  • No need to get bank details from the recipient
  • Embedded in many online banking services
  • Funds deposited right into the recipient’s own bank account
  • Can not be used to send money overseas
  • Your own bank may charge a Zelle fee


How does Zelle work?

Zelle offers fast payments between US bank or credit union accounts. You can either access Zelle through your own bank’s online or mobile banking service, or download the Zelle app if your bank doesn’t support it. Users must be based in the US, with a local phone number and bank account – but once you’re all set up, all you’ll need to arrange a payment is the email or phone number of the person you’re paying. Here are a few things to bear in mind:

Zelle is only available in the US: To sign up for Zelle you’ll need a US bank or credit union account, and a local US phone number. When sending or receiving a Zelle payment, one side of the transaction (sender or recipient) must have access to Zelle through their online banking service – you can’t send and receive a payment if both users can only access Zelle via the Zelle app

Zelle doesn’t provide international transfers: Zelle only supports payments within the US, made in US dollars. If you need to send a payment overseas, you may want to check out an alternative like Wise for transfers to bank accounts, or Remitly if you’re thinking of having your recipient collect their money in cash.

Doesn’t support credit cards: You’ll have to fund your Zelle payment from your US bank or credit union account – which means you must have the funds available at the time of transferring. You can’t link a credit card, to send money and then settle your bill at the end of the month. Learn more about sending money with credit card.

Low sending limits: Zelle has sending limits which vary from bank to bank. Zelle app users can only send a maximum of 500 USD a week. If you need to send a higher payment amount, and still want convenient online payment options and low fees, check out alternative providers like Wise and OFX which have higher limits – or even no upper limit at all.

Go to WiseGo to OFX

Alternatives to Zelle

Zelle isn’t the right option for every payment. If you’re sending a high value payment, or need to use a currency other than US dollars, you’ll need an alternative. Here are a few to consider:

Wise International Transfers

  • International payments which use the midmarket exchange rate and low, transparent fees
  • Send money to 70+ countries
  • Pay using ACH, wire, debit card or a credit card
  • Money is deposited directly into the recipient’s bank account for convenience, they don’t need to open a Wise account
  • Open Wise account to hold and exchange 50+ currencies

Go to Wise

OFX International Transfers

  • Send money with no upper limit to payment value
  • 50+ currencies available
  • Phone service if you would rather talk through your options with a broker before confirming

Go to OFX

Remitly International Transfers

  • Transfers are available to bank and mobile money accounts, and for cash collection
  • Send on popular remittance routes around the world
  • Choose a faster service, or a lower fee, depending on what’s important to you

Go to Remitly

Zelle fees: Is it free?

Zelle does not charge any fees to either send or receive a payment. You’re advised to check with your own bank, just in case they add a fee to Zelle transfers.

Zelle transfer limits

Zelle transfers have their own maximum payment limits, which are set by the individual banks and credit unions which offer the service. If you’re using the Zelle app because your bank doesn’t support Zelle just yet, you’re capped at payments totalling 500 USD per week.

If you’re looking to send a higher value payment, Zelle may not be the right option for you. Check out alternatives like OFX and Wise which have higher maximum payment values instead.

Go to OFXGo to Wise

Is Zelle safe?

Zelle is a safe provider to use, as long as you take common sense precautions, and only use the service within your bank’s own guidelines. Zelle scams do happen, which means you should only send money to people you know and trust using this service. Once a Zelle payment has been sent, it’ll usually be deposited into the recipient’s account in just a few minutes, and can’t be canceled.

If you’re not sure about using Zelle for your payment, you can always choose an alternative, safe provider:

Wise: Open a Wise account to hold, exchange and receive funds, also options for business accounts and payments, and international transfers.

OFX: Accounts available for people selling online, plus 24/7 phone service which means you can always get in person help with your payment if you need it.

Go to WiseGo to OFX

How to use Zelle

Zelle transfers move from one US bank account to another – almost instantly. All you need is the recipient’s phone or email, to get started with your payment.

Here’s what you can do with Zelle:

  • Send payments to friends and family with just their contact details
  • Request a payment from someone
  • Receive money to your bank account, without needing to hand over sensitive account information

To use Zelle, you’ll first need to check if your bank or credit union already has Zelle embedded in their online and mobile banking service. If it does, then accessing Zelle is as simple as logging into your normal banking service. If your bank doesn’t have Zelle yet, just download the Zelle app to make and receive payments. We’ll cover this in more detail in just a moment.

Can you use Zelle without a bank account?

You can not use Zelle without a US bank or credit union account, or an eligible US based Visa or Mastercard.

How to open a Zelle account

If your own bank or credit union offers Zelle as part of their online and mobile banking service, you won’t need to open a specific Zelle account to use their services. Just log into your online banking or the bank’s app, and navigate to the payments section – here you’ll find Zelle and can easily make a payment.

If your bank or credit union does not have Zelle just yet, you’ll need to:

  1. Download the Zelle app
  2. Enroll in Zelle, by adding your US phone number and bank account details
  3. Add your personal contact information and email
  4. Set a secure password
  5. You’re ready to go!

How to pay with Zelle

To send a Zelle payment you’ll just need to log into the Zelle app or your own bank’s online or mobile banking service. Enter the recipient’s contact information and the amount you want to send, and your payment can be moving instantly.

Money typically arrives within minutes – although it’s important to note that this also means that payments can’t usually be canceled.

How to send money with Zelle locally

Making a Zelle payment is easy. Here’s how:

  • Open the Zelle app or your online banking page
  • Add your recipient’s email or phone number
  • Enter the amount you want to send
  • Write a memo to the recipient so they know what the payment is for
  • Confirm, and you’re done

Zelle doesn’t work internationally, but you’ll be able to check out alternatives like Wise and Remitly for international transfers:

Wise international transfers: Send and receive payments in 50+ currencies, with the midmarket exchange rate and low fees which often beat the banks

Remitly international transfers: Transfer money to bank accounts or have it collected in cash at an agent location overseas

Go to WiseGo to Remitly

Zelle local payments – who can I send money to?

A couple of notes on who you can send money to using Zelle. Firstly, as payments can’t be canceled once processed, you’ll only ever want to send money to people you know and trust.

Secondly, it’s worth noting that either the sender or the recipient must have a US based bank account with an institution which supports Zelle through online or mobile banking. That means that if you’re accessing Zelle using the app because your bank doesn’t offer Zelle payments, you can only send money to friends who bank with an institution which does offer Zelle through online banking.

Local Zelle transfers within the US are quick, easy and there’s no Zelle fee to pay. However, as Zelle doesn’t offer international payments you’ll need to pick an alternative provider when you want to send money overseas. Don’t forget to check out all the fees and costs before you get started to make sure you get the best deal out there.

How to cancel a Zelle payment

Most Zelle payments can not be canceled. The only way you can cancel a payment is if your recipient hasn’t yet signed up to Zelle – otherwise, once the payment is processed it’ll be delivered automatically and immediately to the recipient’s linked bank account.

How to receive money with Zelle

If someone sends you a Zelle payment, and you’re already enrolled in the service, it’ll be automatically deposited into your bank account – there’s no need to take any action yourself. If you’ve not yet signed up to Zelle, you may be prompted to sign up with your own bank, or to download the Zelle app to add your banking details and receive your payment.

What details do I need to give to the sender?

Generally all the sender will need is the email address or phone number you’ve used to enroll in Zelle. Do double check they’ve got the correct details before the payment is processed, as transfers can’t be canceled once initiated.

How long does a transfer take with Zelle?

If both the sender and the recipient have already enrolled in Zelle, the payment will be processed instantly, and can be in the recipient’s account in minutes. If the recipient has not yet signed up to Zelle, they’ll be prompted to enroll so they can get their money.

Can you use Zelle without a bank?

You can not use Zelle without a US based bank or credit union account, or an eligible US Visa or Mastercard debit card. Credit cards aren’t accepted, and neither are international accounts or cards.

What Banks use Zelle?

Zelle is already embedded in over 1,700 banking apps – which means the chances are that your own bank already supports this service. Major US banks like Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Chase are part owners of the Zelle company, and some of the first banks to offer the service.

Conclusion: How to use Zelle

Zelle is a super convenient way to make fast transfers to friends and family in the US. That can be handy if you’re paying back a friend for dinner, or splitting a bill. However, as Zelle scams are relatively common it’s important only to use the service to pay people you know and trust. You’ll also need a different service if you need to transact in a foreign currency – as Zelle payments can only be made between US based banks, in dollars.

If you’re sending a payment to someone abroad, consider using an alternative like Wise for low cost transfers deposited to bank accounts, or Remitly for transfers that can be collected in cash around the world.

Go to WiseGo to Remitly

FAQs: What is Zelle and how does it work?

Do you need a bank account for Zelle?

To use Zelle you need a US based bank account, credit union account, or an eligible US Visa or Mastercard debit card.

Does Zelle charge a fee?

Zelle does not charge a fee to send, request or receive money. However, Zelle recommends users double check with their own banks to confirm that the bank won’t charge a fee of its own for this service.

How long does Zelle take?

Zelle payments can be deposited into bank accounts in minutes, as long as the recipient is enrolled in the service.

Can Zelle refund money if you’re scammed?

Zelle can not help you get your money back if you’re scammed. You’ll need to report the scam to your own bank or credit union. Zelle also offers a facility for reporting scams, and will pass the information you give on to the recipient’s bank or credit union to try to prevent further crime.

How much money can you send through Zelle?

If you’re using Zelle through your own bank or credit union, the limits which apply are set by your own financial service provider. Check in your online banking for more details. If you’re using the Zelle app you can only send a total of 500 dollars a week.

Can you use Zelle outside of the USA?

To use Zelle you’ll need a US bank account and phone number. That means that both the sender and the recipient will need to be US based to use Zelle – and only payments in USD are supported.

Can you use Zelle while traveling abroad?

You may be able to use Zelle to make a payment through your own bank’s online banking service if you’re out of the country on a temporary basis. To check if this is possible you’ll have to reach out to your own bank, or double check your account’s terms and conditions.


Ileana Ionescu
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Last updated
March 27th, 2023