A bank wire transfer is a relatively secure and quick way to move large sums of money. You can use a wire transfer to move funds to pay an invoice, transfer funds to family members, or move funds for a real estate transaction.
You can send both domestic and international wire transfers. Domestic wire transfers can be completed in as little as 24 to 48 hours, while international wire transfers can take several days to a week. There are also wire transfer services, like Western Union.
With a wire transfer, funds will leave the bank more or less immediately, and you can’t get a refund unless the recipient chooses to return the funds. That means you need to know the recipient or be completely certain it’s a legitimate transaction.
If you need to move money either domestically or internationally, find everything you need to know for a wire transfer how-to in this article.
How a bank-to-bank wire transfer works
Wiring money from bank to bank is a process of sending funds directly between two bank accounts. This electronic transfer happens between banks and transfer service agencies worldwide. The funds are transferred electronically from one bank to another. This can take anywhere from one day to one week, depending on the destination and date sent.
To initiate a bank-to-bank wire transfer, you’ll need to provide common information like the recipient’s name, bank, account number, the receiving bank’s SWIFT code or routing number, and the amount of the transfer. You may need to specify a pickup location or other requested details like the bank address or recipient’s address. You’ll also need to pay the wire transfer fee when wiring money from bank to bank, which can be up to $50 or more.
How international wire transfers work
International wire transfers work in much the same way as domestic wire transfers, although you may need additional information. For most domestic wire transfers, a routing number is sufficient to identify the receiving bank or for wiring money from bank to bank. For international wire transfers, you’ll need the SWIFT or business identifier (BIC) code, and for certain destinations (like Europe) you may need the international bank account number (IBAN).
An international wire transfer will need to clear a domestic automated clearing house (ACH) as well as an international equivalent. That means they can take two days or longer. Keep in mind that banks set their currency conversion rates. The recipient may lose some funds in currency conversion. Some banks also charge a fee for receiving international wire transfers, which will be deducted from the incoming funds.
If you need to move funds faster, there are now wire transfer alternatives like Western Union and peer-to-peer transfer services, including Venmo, PayPal, and Wise, that let you make international wire transfers instantly.
What type of information do you need for a wire transfer?
While exact information will vary by wire transfer destination, you’ll need certain common information to initiate a wire transfer. Plan to have ready:
- Personal information of the recipient. This includes their legal name on the bank account, address, and contact number. You may also be asked for an email address or ID number.
- Bank information. You’ll need the recipient’s bank name, account number, and branch number. You’ll also need the bank address.
- Institution codes. You’ll need the receiving bank’s routing number or SWIFT code. If you want to receive an international wire transfer, you’ll need to find out whether your bank has a SWIFT code or uses an intermediary bank.
- Explanation of transfer. You may be asked to provide a reason for the transfer. Banks are increasingly cautious to protect their customers against fraudulent wire transfers, so your bank may ask for confirmation that you know and trust the recipient.
How to send a wire transfer
If you’re ready to send a wire transfer, it only takes a few steps and can be initiated in 15 minutes or less. Here’s how to do a bank wire transfer:
Step 1: Find a provider
You can send a wire transfer either through a bank or a nonbank. If you use your bank, you may be able to initiate a wire transfer online, by phone, or at a bank branch. If you choose a nonbank, you may be able to send a wire transfer online or at a physical outlet. In either case, you’ll be asked for all the information listed above as well as proof of your identity.
For international wire transfers, your bank will probably ask how you know the recipient. With an increase in scams that involve international wire transfers, banks are increasingly warning consumers to be cautious. Once you initiate a wire transfer, the recipient should receive the funds within 24 hours to three to four business days, depending on the final destination of the funds.
If you need an instant transfer of funds, Western Union or Wise lets you send funds in minutes to many international destinations.
Step 2: Gather the information
You’ll need to gather and prepare all the information for sending the funds. Be sure to verify everything as even a single number wrong can mean the funds don’t reach the intended destination. In the best case, the funds will be returned to your bank account in case of a mistake. But they can also be delivered to the incorrect destination, and you won’t be able to get them back. Check and double-check everything. If in doubt about the required information, you can always ask your bank for help with a bank transfer how-to guide.
Step 3: Confirm the costs
Both domestic and international wire transfers usually have associated fees. For international transfers, there may be extra costs. You’ll also usually have extra costs for currency conversion on international transfers. Don’t expect the currency conversion rate you find on the internet.
Banks build in extra fees and currency conversion rates. Be sure to ask for the exact costs. If you need the recipient to receive a specific amount in the destination currency, confirm with your bank how much you need to send with all fees.
Step 4: Double-check your forms
Yes, it’s important enough to be an additional step: Double-check all your information. At best, your transfer will be delayed. At worst, you’ll lose the funds or they could be delayed for weeks. Prevent unnecessary delays or loss of funds by confirming all information with the recipient, and then double-checking all forms.
Keep in mind that your wire transfer could be flagged or face additional delays if:
- You’re trying to make an international transfer to a safe-haven country
- The transfer is in the name of someone other than the account holder
- You’re making regular transfers without a clear acceptable reason (like supporting family members)
- You receive incoming and outgoing wire transfers of the same dollar amount
- You try to wire large amounts by a cash businesses
Step 5: Keep the receipt
After the transfer is initiated, you’ll receive confirmation from the sending bank or wire transfer service. Keep this as a receipt in case there are any problems with the transfer. Many banks and online transfer services allow you to track the transfer and provide an estimated delivery time, along with confirmation of deposit when the funds arrive in the destination bank.
Step 6: Verify with your recipient
Once the wire transfer is initiated, let the recipient know to keep an eye on their bank account and confirm with you when the funds arrive. You can also ask them to let you know when they receive the funds. When the recipient confirms the money has arrived in their account the wire transfer is complete. Congratulations!
Other ways to transfer money
While wiring money from bank to bank is a relatively secure, reliable way to transfer money, it is no longer the only secure alternative. Beyond traditional bank-to-bank wire transfers, you can consider mobile banking, peer-to-peer apps, or a check.
Peer-to-peer payment apps
Peer-to-peer payment apps like PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Cash App, and others allow you to transfer funds directly to the recipient. Wise also uses a variation of peer-to-peer payment technology, although with lower fees and better currency conversion rates. Peer-to-peer payment apps generally allow you to transfer funds instantly, although some may have a delay of one to three days if the recipient then wants to move the funds from the app to their bank account.
Mobile banking is another way to transfer funds from one bank to another. This is generally done directly and may have lower fees than a wire transfer. Mobile banking may use the ACH network to clear domestic bank transfers, or they may use some version of peer-to-peer transfer technology. Some mobile banking transfers may be instant, while others can take one to three business days to clear.
Cash or checks
Of course, cash or checks are always an option to transfer funds from one person to another. You can write a check that the recipient can deposit into their bank account immediately. The funds could be available in their account by the next business day. At a minimum, most banks will make the first $225 available the next business day, and the remainder of the funds will be available within two business days.
With cash, the recipient has immediate access to the funds. However, it’s not safe to mail cash so you can only transfer with cash if you’ll be able to give the funds to the recipient in person. And of course, cash carries additional risks of being lost or stolen. You may also have limits on how much cash you can deduct from your account each day, making it an impractical solution to transfer large amounts.
Final thoughts on how to do a bank wire transfer
How to do a bank wire transfer is simple. The pros of wire transfers are reliability, speed, and universal application worldwide. The cons are the high fees and currency conversion rates, the delay of days when you need an instant transfer, and the wire transfer limits at some banks.
While wire transfers are still a reliable way to move large sums of money both domestically and internationally, there are rising peer-to-peer competitors and online banking options. If you don’t know the recipient, services that allow you to request a refund are a better choice, as you won’t be able to get a wire transfer back once it’s sent.
If you don’t mind waiting a couple of days and paying a fee, wire transfers remain a good option to move large sums of money relatively quickly and securely, provided you know and trust the recipient.
How much money is needed for a wire transfer?
Usually, no minimum is required for a wire transfer, although they come with fees ranging from $0 to $50, so wire transfers are usually used for sending large amounts of money. You can wire money from bank to bank to pay invoices, send money to family members, or transfer funds for a real estate transaction.
Is a wire transfer the same as a bank transfer?
Yes, a wire transfer is the same as a bank transfer. The only difference is that in wiring money from bank to bank, the money is sent directly from one bank to another. In a wire transfer, the sender’s bank first sends information about the transfer to the receiver’s bank before the money is moved.
What are the risks of a bank wire transfer?
The biggest risk of wiring money from bank to bank is sending money to strangers. You cannot get money back after it’s been wired to another bank. That means if you’re asked to wire money, be sure you know the recipient. There is also the risk of hacking or fraudulent transfers, especially when banks allow people to initiate wire transfers online.