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I currently use wire transfers to move money from the US to the country in Europe that I live in now. The problem with this is that it's a hassle (I have to call the bank, verify I give the correct numbers, and there's a fee).

If a bank that's say, based in England, has branches in the US and also my current country, can I send money from my US bank to it, and withdraw it from the branch here (or use an ATM)?

My problem is that I regularly transfer money and pay fees for wire transfers and Western Union. Also I'll probably need to transfer a large amount at some point to buy property, and that would require several (dozens?) of wire transfers with associated phone calls and fees for each.

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    Why would you require more than one wire transfer for a large amount of money. Transfers can move millions if not trillions of dollars in one message.
    – mmmmmm
    Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 20:58
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    Could you clarify what is your problem? Answering your question, it doesn't matter at all if the bank is international or not, the only thing that matters, is they belong to SWIFT. And no, you don't have to call your bank to 'verify' the numbers. There's something wrong in whatever you do.
    – user11328
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 8:10
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    @DanubianSailor: Of course it may make a difference if the bank is international. Banks typically charge for making international SWIFT transfers, but sometimes transfers within the same bank are free (or cheaper) - whether that is true for international transfers is the whole point of the question. And yes, when you call the bank to set up a transfer, you do need to verify that you give them the correct numbers, otherwise there is a risk that the transfer will go to the wrong account, in which case you may lose it.)
    – psmears
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 9:23
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    @HorseHair You might want to read the answers here and/or do some Googling. Until you do, the obvious Answer to the OQ here, "If an international bank has branches in two countries, can I bank transfer between them?" remains "Yes, of course. Why would you doubt that?" Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 20:19
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    @RobbieGoodwin I'm guessing you're from the UK or EU, or somewhere else with a well-developed electronic interbank network, so take it for granted that you can just enter an account number into an online bank and have the bank sort out the details of getting the funds transferred. As I understand it, that's just not the case in the US, even for domestic transfers. The fact that entire businesses exist just for facilitating international "wire transfers" should be reason enough to question your assumptions of "yes, of course".
    – IMSoP
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 13:09

7 Answers 7

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This isn't something that's automatically offered just by virtue of the bank having branches in two countries. You'd need to ask the specific bank what facilities they offer.

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    It's probably worth pointing out that the branches of (say) Barclays in the US are not actually branches of the same company as Barclays in the UK. (Both banks are wholly-owned subsidiaries of a holding company, but they are different banks with different banking licenses.) Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 13:58
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    @MartinBonnersupportsMonica same with ING in Poland and Netherlands. I'm a client of Polish ING, and Netherlands one was able to recognize me as a client, offer me coffee and cookies... And they had no access to help me unlock my debit card. They offered me a free phone call to Polish "branch" but because they work on different licenses, that was all they could do.
    – Mołot
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 10:43
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    Given the scope of OP's question, almost certainly not. With transfers in the region of the value of a house, we will almost certainly be hitting AML/KYC limits.
    – Aron
    Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 1:58
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HSBC Premier allows direct international transfer free of charge. You only need to open an account in each country. Their online tool is called Global View.

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    It's certainly possible to transfer between different accounts (although the OP is a bit vague about what exactly they're doing). The difficulty may be in opening a new account and providing acceptable documents to do so - not always trivial. But certainly this explains how it can be done.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 10:33
  • Yes agree. I believe to open an account in a foreign country you might need more than just a tourist visa.
    – Pierre B
    Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 15:27
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Yes, this is almost possible, but only with one bank: Wise.


EDIT: Here below I explain how I understand Wise works because people around me who didn't know about it have suggested similar ideas for international transfers. I believe you allude to the same scheme of 1 bank in multiple countries, and sfxedit's answer also suggests a similar scheme, but with acquaintances rather than a neutral 3rd party.

So the reason to explain it is because yes, it can be that simple.

And yes, this reads like an ad because I am enthusiastic to share about it. It has saved me many times from international transfer fees, and I feel the least I can do is to raise awareness.

Furthermore, I would really like Wise and other neo-banks1 to succeed because I feel the traditional banking has deliberately not pushed new technology to clients in order to keep them paying ; meanwhile, while they have optimised their IT, reduced personnel, and automatised most of the operations.

1 See this article on Forbes about what is a neo-bank. It doesn't have to have branches. Yes, Revolut, N24, Neon and others are neo-banks.


Wise, formerly TransferWise, has set up exactly this back in ~2014, in order to lower fees of sending money across countries. They had accounts with big banks in multiple countries, but this was transparent to the end users. In turn, end users use the Wise app to tell the bank about the transfer: amount, destination, currency, etc. Then they are given an account in their local country (e.g. US in your case), and a reference that tracks the transfer. Users send the money to this account, mentioning the reference. Upon receival, Wise retains a small fee (much smaller than regular banks), and sends money from their foreign account to the user's destination (e.g. Europe in your case).

Now they also offer an "international" card. You can charge it with money in your currency of choice, and then pay and withdraw money in any currency in any country. You can even pay online, avoiding costly conversion fees (there still are some, but are way smaller and the exchange rate is fair).

I am not affiliated with Wise, but I've been a happy cross-country user of them since 2015 and I think they provide a really good service.


P.S. Wise also has a referral scheme: if you join with a referral link, your first transfer is completely free, and the person referring you may get ~€40. "May get", because they only get it when accumulating 3 invites

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    I don't think Wise are actually a bank. Revolut are but neither really has "branches". Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 13:18
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    This answer reads like an advertisement.
    – Mookuh
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 14:18
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    Banks and services like Revolut and Wise (and many others, depending on which region of the world you care about) are great... but this answer is inaccurate for claiming Wise is unique and reading like an ad for Wise. Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 14:28
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    Downvote. I use Wise myself and it is definitely a good solution for OP, but the phrasing of the answer is a bit too enthusiastic and ad-like. Also there is no need to mention the referral feature, even if it's just a footnote.
    – bracco23
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 14:50
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    Nonsense. You can transfer money between virtually any bank belonging to SWIFT. As long as your country wasn't kicked out of SWIFT or otherwise put on sanction list.
    – user11328
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 11:48
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Not without creating another local account at the same bank in England - KYC (know your customer) norms are pretty strict internationally, and each country has their own banking and tax regulations which every bank has to comply with.

Once you create a local account, you should be able to do inter-branch international transfers with ease. However, it doesn't necessarily mean that this will be faster or cheaper. For example, Smaller banks actually use the services of larger banks to do international transfers. This can result in higher fees and slower transfer speeds too. And most banks also charge a currency conversion fees that are often higher.

But all this depends on your bank and only they can clearly tell you how much fees they'll charge and how much time the transfers will take.

Since you are buying a property, I'd advise you to create a local bank account and seek advise from the bank. You will also benefit from their advise on local banking regulations and tax laws that you should be aware of. While banking with the same bank is often convenient, check out competing local banks too as they may offer better services and deals (like reduced fees) to have you as a customer.

Note: International debit cards often allow you to withdraw currency in any country through their partner networks (often Maastercard or Visa). But obviously the fees are higher.

Tip: One thing we indians abroad often do is a "swap transfer" - basically we find another indian in the foreign country where we work, and pay that person the amount we want to transfer in the local foreign currency, and they then transfer the same amount in indian currency to our local indian bank account from their local indian account. (Or vice versa). So both parties save on the transfer fees and get better deal on the currency conversion without any additional fees. Ofcourse, you have to trust the person to not cheat you. And you also have to be mindful of the tax laws - we create documentation to show it as a personal loan, in case, on rare occasion we are questioned about the nature of such transfers by the tax authorities. This is legal in India (see my comment below for more details).

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  • the "trust" in the "swap transfer" is a big thing ! There is an app doing that for you, which is big enough that you can trust. See my answer Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 10:15
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    This is great, thank you Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 13:40
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    "we create documentation to show it as a personal loan" - that sounds like fraud, because it's a currency exchange, not a personal loan. So you are not being mindful of the laws - you are being mindful of getting caught. Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 2:45
  • @user253751 - No, this is perfectly legal in India. According to indian laws, if someone gives you a large sum of money, the tax authority treats it as a gift and will tax you for it unless you can prove that it wasn't a gift. In our case, we are doing a simple exchange of currency. You can indeed show it as that too, but then you and the other person have to waste time to show them you didn't make any profits during the currency exchange as the profits are indeed taxable. In our case, we are doing a simple swap on a "no profit, no loss basis", and so it is simpler to show it as a loan.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 8:46
  • "Once you create a local account, you should be able to do inter-branch international transfers with ease. " <-- This is plain false. You should really have at least some valid examples in mind before postulating general trends.
    – Argyll
    Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 14:42
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Not without special programs that the bank offers.

What you think of as "bank transfer" relies on (electronic) settlement protocols individual countries may set up to facilitate electronic transfer of money between accounts of domestic banks. They typically connect to the central supervisory authority (ie. often the central bank) somehow and that's where the technical movement of money is sorted out.

When crossing international boundaries, those domestic systems no longer apply and banks need to use for example the Bank of International Settlements to facilitate movement of money. As money crosses jurisdictions, there is bound to be more regulatory checks and fraud-prevention checks. And to do that, there will be cost. And that is what the "wire transfer" you think of is nowadays.

The same applies to "international" banks that keep the same brand name, some management structure but operate as separate entities across jurisdictions when it comes to regular banking. (ie. obviously, things like trading or investment 'banking' would be different.)

Thus, the answer to your second question is simply: absent of special circumstances, wire transfer is the best.

You pay for actual services. And you should be able to find banks that offer a fixed (relatively trivial, compared to buying a house) fee as opposed to percentage fee for wire transfer.


EDIT:

Special circumstances can include:

  • a local bank in your area having special arrangement with another bank in your destination area that facilitate direct settlement -- thus reducing the cost they need to charge to you

  • your current area and destination area being in a wider jurisdiction such as the Eurozone

  • your current area and destination area being covered by a (trading) broker -- again, same entity only, not brand

These circumstances mean that it may be worth your time investigating alternatives. But alternatives are still not guaranteed. You can try Googling for local banks that advertise international transfer of money. If you don't find quick results, that means those special circumstances in the background don't apply to you; so just go with wire.

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Checks/Cheques are another (slower) option.

We keep a USD account in the international bank where we can convert the funds to USD, then have the bank mail us a check from the USD funds. The down side is that my local bank puts a month hold on the funds. There is a fee if we use certified mail, but not if using regular mail. You would have to verify with your local bank that they would accept a check like this from the other country (either in the foreign currency or USD).

We used to do the international banking free transfer thing. The problem was that both the US and international bank charged monthly fees, whereas my local bank does not. I couldn't justify keeping that monthly fee charging US bank account open just to transfer money, especially since they don't have any branches in my state. We just didn't transfer funds that frequently to justify the cost of keeping another account open.

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    Many banks will charge an arm and a leg when you deposit a foreign check, as well as outrageous currency exchange fees/rates.
    – jcaron
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 22:37
  • Yes, banks are great at tacking on fees. Brokerage accounts might give better exchange rates. If it participates in the NSCC's ACAT system, you can transfer the entire account to a brokerage in the US if they are traded on the NYSE.
    – rtaft
    Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 22:05
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The Post Office offers this service. Our local Post Office is often visited by foreign workers paying money into their accounts, which their families can then access at the other end.

Having said that, this is inside Eurasia. The rules may be different depending how far you want to go. But it's worth asking at your local post office.

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    Yes, I believe most Post Offices offer this service through Western Union, which has higher fees, and low limit on the amount that can be transferred.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 23:09

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