Whether you have family living in the States, or you intend to move from the UK to the USA for your retirement, sending money abroad can feel like a daunting process, and you may be asking yourself how do I make international money transfers.
You may have concerns over how to transfer money safely and securely, or may even be unsure as to how the money will arrive at its intended destination.
There are many considerations to make before you can transfer money to the USA, ranging from which provider you want to use to send your money, all the way to practical considerations such as exchange rates and transfer fees.
In this guide, find out everything you need to know if you want to send money from the UK to the USA.
The 5-step process to transferring money to the USA
Clearly, there are lots of considerations to make when transferring money to the US. If you’re struggling to remember it all, try to remember this simple five-step process.
1. Choose your transfer provider
First, you’ll need to register with the money transfer service or bank that will be responsible for transferring your money.
As part of this, you’ll need to pass any identification checks for money laundering. Typically, this is done in under a day, sometimes even within an hour.
2. Confirm your exchange rate
Once you’re registered with the company or bank that will handle your transfer, you’ll need to secure an exchange rate from pounds to dollars.
You can request the latest rate at any time, and the transfer provider will lock in your rate once you’ve confirmed that you’d like to go ahead with it.
Most providers will email you a confirmation containing all the information, including the exchange rate, fees paid, and the amount your recipient will receive in dollars.
3. Give your provider your money in pounds
Next, you’ll give your money to the bank or money transfer service that will be administering your transfer.
At this stage, your provider will also take any fees that you’ve agreed to pay.
4. Your pounds are converted and sent
Your money will be converted to dollars at the agreed exchange rate.
Your transfer provider will send your money to the intended account via wire transfer, or to the place of your choice if your recipient is picking up cash.
5. Your recipient receives their money
Finally, your money will arrive in your recipient’s account or at your chosen agent location.
Most providers will give your recipient their money with no further payments or fees.
Best companies to send money to USA from UK
When you’re choosing a money transfer company, you’ll no doubt want to find the best deal possible. Here are some of the most popular companies for transferring money from UK to USA.
Wise is a very popular online money transfer company in the United Kingdom.
Formerly known as TransferWise, Wise has over 10 million customers that use its services to send money overseas.
Wise claims to have more competitive exchange rates than using a bank, stating on their website that they can be around seven times cheaper.
Once you’ve paid Wise’s transfer fee, your recipient is then able to receive their money for free, directly from Wise’s local bank account.
For large transfers, Wise also offers a quick deposit service.
You can only use Wise for online money transfers.
Founded in 2010, WorldRemit is an online money transfer company offering more than 70 currencies in over 130 countries.
WorldRemit offers competitive fees and exchange rates so you can send your money cost-effectively.
When using their website, you can use a credit or debit card to make payments or, if using the app, send money via Apple Pay or Google Pay.
For the US, WorldRemit does not offer a cash pick-up service and only allows you to make a bank transfer directly into a bank account.
The only other way to send money to the US using WorldRemit is to do so using “airtime top-up” where your money can be exclusively used to top up a prepaid phone.
XE Money Transfer
XE Money Transfer allows you to make money transfers to over 130 countries, with more than 98 currencies to choose from.
Much like WorldRemit, XE Money Transfer has its own app available on the Apple App Store and Google Play store.
Their service claims to be one of the fastest available, offering same-day delivery of funds in many of its countries using a consistently competitive exchange rate.
XE Money Transfer is also considered to be a highly trustworthy transfer site by its users, with an average 4.5 rating from over 47,000 reviews on Trustpilot.
Western Union (WU) is one of the most well-known international money transfer companies in the world.
Arguably the largest of the available transfer services, WU serves more than 200 countries. It reportedly handles upwards of 1.7 million transactions a day.
With its number of stores worldwide – also referred to as an “agent location” – WU is one of the best transfer services for you if your recipient needs a cash pick up, rather than a bank transfer.
There are more than 42,000 WU agent locations in the US for you to send money to.
How does my money move from the UK to the USA?
Moving money from the UK to the USA used to be a longer and more drawn-out process.
Fortunately, with improvements in technology, such as the internet, it is now far safer and more convenient than ever.
The process is now completed using something called a wire transfer. A wire transfer is a method of electronically transferring money from one account to another, using a network of banks or transfer agencies to move your money from the UK to your recipient’s bank account.
For the USA, your money will be sent via the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications) system. This system links thousands of banks and financial institutions, allowing you to send money quickly and securely.
What information do I need to provide?
To transfer money, you need to provide the name of your recipient and their bank details, including their bank account number.
This could be a bank account of someone else entirely, such as a friend or family member. You can also send money to another bank account in your name that you hold in the USA.
You will need the routing number, a nine-digit number specific to bank accounts in the US. This number identifies where you opened your bank account in the US.
How long does it usually take to send money to the USA?
Typically, transferring money from the UK to the USA takes between one and three working days.
The difference in time can depend on which provider you choose, what bank you’re sending money to in the USA, and how much you’re planning to transfer.
Is it secure to send money to the USA?
In general, wire transfers are a safe and secure way to send money.
However, once you’ve sent money via a wire transfer, your money is irretrievable.
As a result, wire transfers are popular with scammers who want to get their hands on your cash.
To avoid this, make sure that you carefully and accurately input your details when sending money. It’s also good practice to never send money internationally if you’re not 100% sure where it’s going.
What if my recipient doesn’t have a bank account?
If you want to send money to someone who doesn’t have a bank account, you can arrange a cash pick up instead.
This involves sending money via a provider for the recipient to pick up as physical cash. In the US, this is often from a convenience store, where your recipient simply has to show their ID and provide a transfer reference number.
What transfer fees will I pay when I send money to the USA?
In general, there are two ways that you’ll be charged when you send money to the USA: directly through transfer fees, and indirectly via the exchange rate.
A transfer fee is an amount of money you pay to a money transfer firm for their services.
This could be a flat fee charged per transfer or a percentage-based fee that depends on how much money you send.
Some companies advertise themselves as transfer fee-free. However, this likely means they are just using less competitive exchange rates to make their money.
The exchange rate is the difference in value between the British pound and a foreign currency, in this case, the United States dollar.
Different transfer providers will charge varying amounts to convert your money to dollars.
As mentioned above, if a platform does describe itself as fee-free, this often means they simply give you a worse exchange rate on your money. A worse exchange rate essentially means that you give them more in pounds than the dollars you receive are actually worth.
This is why exchange rates are sometimes referred to as the “hidden fees” of money transfers.
What is a good exchange rate?
Generally speaking, the British pound is worth more than the United States dollar.
However, foreign exchange rates and wider economic or political circumstances can greatly influence the value of any currency. As a result, it can be difficult to predict exactly how much you’ll be able to get from one day to another.
Typically, if the pound is particularly strong, you may be able to get as much as $1.40 for every £1. Even so, anything above $1.35 is still considered strong.
Ideally, your exchange rate should be comparable to the mid-market exchange rate. This is the midpoint between the buy and sell prices of two currencies at any given time.
This middle ground is often regarded as the fairest, most transparent price, and so often makes a good target for you when choosing a transfer provider.
Choosing the firm to carry out your international money transfer
A key step in the process of sending money from the UK to the USA is to choose who will carry out the transfer on your behalf.
When you want to send money abroad, there are two commonly-used options: making your transfer via a bank, or using a specialist money transfer company.
Most major banks offer money transfer services to other countries, including the US.
This could be with a bank where you already have a bank account, or you could open a new bank account specifically to make the most of the best available rates.
Pros of bank transfers
- Using your bank as a way to send money can be convenient, primarily because your money is most likely already held in a bank account with them.
- This makes it a quick and low-hassle option.
Potential for free transfers
- Some banks allow you to make free transfers overseas to either a branch of the same bank in a different country or to a linked bank where they’ve formed a professional relationship.
- Free transfers can reduce the amount you have to pay in fees, meaning more of your money is transferred.
Cons of bank transfers
Banks are not specialist money transfer services
- While it’s an obvious distinction, the fact that banks are not specialists in transferring money abroad is important.
- It means that your request may not be treated as a priority, or that you’ll have to pay more than you might if you used a specialist money transfer service.
- They may also have minimum transfer amounts, meaning you’re unable to transfer the amount that you’d like to if it is a smaller sum.
Banks currency exchange rates can be uncompetitive
- Typically, banks will offer you a less competitive exchange rate than other money transfer services.
- As a result, less of your money will end up in the intended bank account in the US.
Banks may charge additional fees
- Compared to money transfer services, banks often have higher fees or even additional fees when you send money from the UK to another country.
- For example, banks may charge you an international bank transfer fee to cover the costs of their service.
- Alongside the higher exchange rate, this could eat into the amount of money that you want to send, making it a less efficient way to send money.
Using a money transfer specialist
Banks no longer hold the monopoly on overseas transfers, as there are now many financial services companies that offer money transfers.
A money transfer specialist is a company that exclusively works on sending money to different countries.
There are some well-known transfer specialists with physical stores around the United Kingdom, such as Western Union, but the market is now very much dominated by online providers.
Pros of using a money transfer service
Specialists in their field
- Using a specialist money transfer service means working with a company that exclusively provides money transfers.
- As a result, you can be confident that they’ll be able to handle your request when you send money with them.
You can open an account online
- Having an online account allows you to transfer money faster and with more ease than having to go to a physical store.
- One of the biggest advantages of money transfer companies is that they tend to offer more competitive exchange rates than banks.
- This could mean you’re able to keep more of your money than if you sent it via a bank.
- Some money transfer companies offer customers a referral fee or bonus if you sign up for their service using a code from a friend or family member who has already used it.
- This added bonus could allow you to save money, making it even more cost-efficient.
Cons of using a money transfer service
Not all firms are authorised and regulated
- While all banks and building societies are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), money transfer specialists don’t necessarily have to be authorised or regulated at all.
- This is important because, under FCA rules, firms are required to keep their own business money separate from client money in a process called “safeguarding”.
- As a result, that would mean your money isn’t protected with an unregulated provider if something goes wrong with the company.
- There are also some firms that are authorised but not regulated. This means they’re deemed to be fit to operate, but you won’t benefit from any of the FCA protections that come with regulation.
- In general, it’s often best to choose a firm that’s both authorised and regulated. You can check whether a firm meets these criteria by searching for them on the FCA register on the FCA website.
Money anti-laundering measures
One thing that’s worth keeping an eye out for is the different money anti-laundering rules and regulations that the USA works by.
In the USA, money anti-laundering is monitored by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, also known as FinCEN.
Their rules may be different from the ways in which you are assessed for anti-money laundering and fraud, which could impact your ability to open a bank account or make money transfers in the US.
Make sure you comply with these rules before sending money overseas.
Bear in mind that this article does not constitute financial advice.
Money transfers can be regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). However, not all firms are. Make sure you check this before you transfer.
Any transfer you make is at your own risk.