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When sending an international wire transfer, the transmitting and receiving financial institutions both (usually) assess fees associated with the transfer. These fees can be accurately anticipated by clearly asking the banks, providing examples of dates and amounts, etc. Prior to executing a transfer, the sender is asked to approve the transaction with clear disclosure of the fees that the sender must pay to have the amount conveyed to the beneficiary.

However, the amount that the beneficiary actually gets is notably less (in examples I've heard about, about USD$65 to USD$130 less) than what should have been received after accounting for previously disclosed fees charged at both ends. Presented with the sender's receipt showing the full amount reaching the recipient, the recipient financial institution blames an unspecified intermediary or correspondent bank for taking the missing money. These intermediary fees are sometimes hefty enough that the transaction would not have been ordered if the sender had been fully informed about the costs, and in the relevant cases the sender made every effort to fully learn about the costs in order to make an informed decision about the transaction.

This violates the model of paying a supposedly-trusted pair of financial institutions a clearly discussed and disclosed fee for conveying value between parties (which, if the bank is making a profit on the fee, should also cover the costs of any service providers these financial institutions choose to work with to deliver the service; banks may choose to lower or waive fees as a convenience to customers so as to incentivize customers to generally keep deposits with them where the bank can earn interest on lending those deposits). If they cannot be trusted to deliver the full amount, but instead keep an unpredictable portion along the way, the customers might prefer to choose alternative means of transacting.

What can a sender do to find out about these extra fees, in advance of having to pay them?

For this question, it's OK to assume the sender has an honest and completely cooperative beneficiary.

  • It is totally trivial to avoid these problems, just use one of the huge international businesses (ofx.com, transferwise.com) which exist precisely to allow international payments to be made. The entire raison d'etre of those businesses was "wire transfers are a staggering ripoff, so let's start companies that only do transfers." Couldn't be simpler. – Fattie Jul 20 '18 at 1:35
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    @Fattie An informed decision accounting for all the costs involved in wire transfers might reach that conclusion, but one informed by the discoverable costs might not. Those online businesses take a pretty big cut sometimes too. – WBT Jul 20 '18 at 12:39
  • BTW I removed my answer here as it is apparently too "controversial" a topic! Good luck! – Fattie Jul 20 '18 at 19:05
  • @Fattie: The OFX website states: "Occasionally, third-party banks may deduct a fee from your transfer before paying your recipient." XE has a similar caveat: "Charges may occasionally be applied by a third party bank when transferring the funds to XE or before the funds arrive in the recipient account." So maybe it's not that trivial to avoid these problems as you think it is. – Evan Aad Jan 18 at 9:47
  • @EvanAad , it's impossible to absolutely know that your bank (the final bank) won't charge some fee. Thus, any service that sends money will have that caveat in the fine print. The money xfer companies work by having local bank accounts everywhere. That s the "secret" to how they avoid those fees. in practice you always know what you will get. Ask anyone who uses them a lot. – Fattie Jan 18 at 11:13
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Your question asks how to prove a negative, and that's not possible.

The assumption that there are 'extra' fees popping up is based on rumors, and probably incorrect. Yes, it is sometimes difficult to find all fees listed in the fine print of the bank's fee schedules, but it is not impossible; and banks don't change their fee schedule five seconds after you send a wire, just to get you.

I have sent dozens of international wires between several major US banks and varying European banks, and have rarely encountered any surprise fees (and they were my fault, for not reading the fee schedule). For example, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America do not charge more than the ~40$ flat they list in their fee schedule (for online submittal - in person or on the phone is higher).

One important point is to chose 'SPLIT' for the fees, meaning that each bank takes their fee themselves; that is typically cheapest, as they are both locked to their fee schedule. If you chose either bank to handle all fees, they likely take a huge chunk, pay the remote fees, and keep the rest 'for their efforts'.

Another critical thing to watch for is the currency conversion - most banks are eager to convert for you, and use an 'adjusted' conversion ratio, which gives them a painful chunk of your money. Read both banks' details about it, before you decide.
My experience is that it is best to let the receiver do the currency conversion and get the exact market exchange ratio, with no fees at all; but that might not apply to all cases.

Here a list of potential fees (read the fee schedule to find if either bank has them, and how much they are):

  • sending bank's 'outgoing wire transfer fee'. Varies probably depending on how you request it, online typical cheapest.
  • receiving bank's 'incoming wire transfer fee'. Can be even zero, should be generally lower than the outgoing fee.
  • currency conversion fee. Typically, higher at the sending bank, often zero at the receiving bank. This is the worst piece for large amounts of money, because it is a percentage, not a flat amount.
  • intermediary bank's 'handling fee'. If either of the banks has no international presence/activity, it will need to use an intermediary, and they take a fee (worst case, both sides need one, so two fees). I have seen 20$ for this, but it could be anything. This part is hardest to know upfront, as the sending bank won't tell you whom they work with, and they often have no idea what it will cost - it doesn't matter to them. This fee can be avoided by using larger banks.
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    It's not asking about how to prove a negative, it's asking about how to find out what the intermediary banks are going to charge. There's also no implication that banks are suddenly changing their fee schedule just to catch any specific customer. There's money going missing in transit that isn't associated with fees at either the sending or receiving bank (in addition to the money which banks give fee receipts for); both claim they didn't keep those funds but blame intermediaries. – WBT Jul 19 '18 at 21:01
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    Also, when conversion is required, no matter how carefully a sender compares rates at sending and receiving banks and clearly articulates that the funds should be sent in the source currency to only be converted at the end of the process, sometimes an intermediary will jump in to do the conversion at a poor rate, very inconsistent with both bank's details, and there's no clear way to find out that this is going to happen until after it does. This question seeks a way to find out about those sorts of things before the transfer. – WBT Jul 19 '18 at 21:05
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    This question is about how to find out the amount of the fee listed in the last bullet added in the first substantive edit. This answer does not answer the question. – WBT Jul 19 '18 at 21:08
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    @Fattie you are mischaracterizing that comment. Let me try re-ordering it for you: "When conversion is required, sometimes an intermediary will jump in to do the conversion at a poor rate, no matter how carefully a sender compares rates at sending and receiving banks and clearly articulates that the funds should be sent in the source currency to only be converted at the end of the process." – WBT Jul 20 '18 at 12:42
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    @Fattie, if you have any Facts , provide them. Otherwise, please stop repeating baseless rumors. It is clear for anybody reading your comments that you hate banks, and think they eat small children for breakfast, but it is annoying to get continuous unqualified comments from you. Bring Facts, or STFU. – Aganju Jul 20 '18 at 17:46
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Here is the answer I've received from one of the major international money transfer services in reply to my question about intermediary fees.

Depending on what route the payment takes and the relationship between the correspondent banks, an intermediary bank and/or the receiving bank may deduct a fee from the payment amount, prior to crediting funds to the beneficiary account. This fee can vary in amount and we cannot predict whether it will occur or, if it does, what amount will be deducted.

This is not a comprehensive answer to your question, just an anecdotal one, but maybe it can shed some light nonetheless.

  • I'd say that's more part of the question than an answer. Would you like to edit that in to the question? – WBT Jan 18 at 14:46
  • @WBT: I disagree with you. You asked: "What can a sender do to find out about these extra fees, in advance of having to pay them?" and my answer provides anecdotal evidence that the answer to your question is: "There is nothing a sender can do to find out about these extra fees in advance." – Evan Aad Jan 18 at 15:10

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