How to Transfer Money Internationally, Part I

For almost anyone, the idea of transferring money can be stressful. If you’re like me, you’re triple-checking it “went through” even if transferring money between accounts of the same bank.

But this article is not about accounts in the same bank, nor about banks in the same country. This is about international money transfers.

I’m talking about doing it across the ocean,

    when source and/or destination doesn’t speak English,
      and you’re not a financial guru anyway. …yup, stressful.

Well, stress no more.

I’ll do this in a couple parts.
In Part I: we go over some words we’d better understand.
In Part II, we’ll go over some principles about foreign exchange, and do some scenarios.
In Part III, we’ll recap, plus set some expectations about fees.

PART I
Disclaimer #1: I am not a bank nor a financial expert. Seek the helpful advice of a relevant professional, like your bank’s customer representative. I can accept no liability for the disappearance of your life’s savings as a result of your following this blog post.
In short, take me with a grain of salt.

Words To Know

SWIFT
The network of banks. Nearly every bank on the world is a part of the SWIFTnet network. And every bank has what’s called a SWIFT code, or BIC. If you see an 11 character code- that’s the BIC.
By the way, SWIFT stands for “Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication.”

BIC
BIC is a code for the bank (It stands for bank identifier code). It’s a unique number for each bank, just like your social security number is unique to you. BIC is also called the SWIFT code. The SWIFT code or BIC is always 8 or 11 characters. A bank’s primary office has 8 characters. If it’s a local branch, the last 3 specify that branch. For example, NatWest in London is NWBKGB2L. Or Kommercni Banka in Prague is KOMBCZPP.
If you need your bank’s BIC code, look on their website or just ask for it.

IBAN
IBAN is a code for 1 bank account (it stands for International Bank Account Number). Caution: it’s an intimidatingly long string of numbers and letters, starting with a code per country, bank & account.
You must ask for your account’s IBAN number, because it denotes YOUR account.

Bank Transfer
This is what we’re on about, right? To transfer money, you need a IBAN and a BIC. That’s it. Oh, and the money to transfer.

Only so many hours in a workday…tune in til next post when we’ll discuss principles of foreign exchange and cover some scenarios.

Published by

Jeff

An American who likes to move around. I now live on the eastern Canadian seaboard. My job? A stay-at-home dad for two cute but demanding bosses. My wife? Also cute; not so demanding. My wife and I both love travel. We met in South Korea, travelled across Australia, India, Europe and beyond. We lived in Czech Republic for four years. Many stories to tell and experience to share. If you let me, I will help you travel as we do. Enjoy.

10 thoughts on “How to Transfer Money Internationally, Part I”

  1. Basically, only European banks use the IBAN system. US, Canadian, New Zealand, Russian, Japanese, etc banks do not use these numbers as identifiers — they use BIC/Swift plus a variety of other identifiers (e.g. bank branch address, etc, in the case of Japan).

    1. Yes – thank you for that, Nekoni!

      I find the IBAN number only useful when explicitly asked for it. But if not requested by the service provider or requester, there’s no need to drudge up that long beast.
      Even here in Europe, service providers have us pay our utility bills using their bank code and account number.

      Cool – again, thanks. 🙂
      -Jeff

  2. Always remember international wire transfers( using SWIFT ect) involves intermediary bank charges. International wire transfers go through many financial institutions before coming into your bank in US or anyother country. Ask your sending bank about the intermediary bank charges before sendign wire.

    My friend send me $1100 from UK to my US bank using SWIFT method(Wire transfer )…I received $15 lesser than what I am supposed. When I called my bank in US they told me that fee is the intermediary bank charge.

    1. Very true! I wish your friend had read the Part 2 to this post:
      http://www.expatyourself.com/2010/03/how-to-transfer-money-internationally-part-ii/

      In that follow-up post, I wrote: “But what you might not know is that the transfer fee, say $10, can be taken by each interim bank used for the transfer. For an IBAN transfer, each bank that your transfer goes through is entitled to take their little bite from the balance (yes, without asking permission).”

      Ugh,…it pains me to learn someone paid more than they expected. The banks don’t deserve it.

  3. Hey Guys, for everyone who wants to send money abroad I use TransferWise. It’s the most convenient and cheaper way that I found. It’s very fast and the only company that gives you the same xe rate with 0,5% fee( no hidden charges likes banks do) .Transferwise is started by the founders of skype and paypal. It uses peer-to-peer system, innovative way of transferring money, far better than banks or any other service . use the below link for your first transfer for free: transferwise.com/chandra

  4. If you’re looking to find a swift code for the bank you’re trying to send money to, you can use: http://bank-code.net/

    It list all banks in all countries and their associated swift code, along with a breakdown of the actual swift code so you can understand what the swift code means.

    1. Hack a bank server?
      Can I? Yes.
      Will I? No.

      No software to recommend. Just takes 1337 skillz.

      But really, did you have a serious question? 🙂

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