Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. If you click through and purchase an item, I may earn a commission. See my terms of service for details.
Millions of people from developing and emerging countries relocate to developed countries to earn higher wages, for example, Latin Americans who migrate to the United States for work. Wages, low or high, in developed countries often exceed salaries in developing countries. While migrants try to find better opportunities, sending money back home is often an objective as well.
Remittance is the money immigrants send to their families residing in their native countries. Globally, migrants sent an estimated $466 billion to developing countries in 2017. The top nations to receive remittances are India, China, the Philippines, Mexico, and Nigeria. That’s a lot of money, and where billions flow, financial institutions are quick to follow.
Sending money and money transfers aren’t new. Money transfer companies like Western Union and MoneyGram have been around for decades. Some banks have been around for centuries. What is new are the many financial technology companies (FinTechs) that facilitate online money transfers at a fraction of the cost of traditional businesses. FinTechs aim to “disrupt” conventional lines of business by operating efficiently to pass savings to their customers.
While money can be sent for free or at a low cost through some FinTechs, some individuals pay ridiculous fees. For example, people can spend as much as 9 percent to remit to Sub-Saharan Africa. Paying high costs is a way of life for people who live in underdeveloped areas. However, where internet providers, mobile operators, and internet cafes exist; there are alternatives.
What Is the Difference?
Money transfer and remittance companies are similar but differ in their goals and send/receive options. PayPal is a well-known provider of online money transfer services. It enables customers to send and receive money by email and online money accounts. PayPal’s primary objective isn’t remittance, which is why it acquired Xoom. Xoom, Remitly, WorldRemit, and other remittance-focused companies target convenience, costs, and ways to pay and collect money. For instance, Remitly customers can pick up money at 15,000 locations in Mexico whereas PayPal doesn’t deal with cash pickups. Cash pickups are critical for the unbanked and underbanked, that is, people without bank accounts or small bank accounts.
When evaluating providers, exchange rates and fees are two of several items to understand and compare.
- The quoted exchange or conversion rate. The best exchange rate you can get is known as the real-time or mid-market rate. I call it the “Google rate” because Google showcases real-time rates between two currencies in its search results. Most money transfer providers quote non-real-time rates to profit from bid-ask spreads. For example, if real-time rates are 1.31/1.32, a dealer might quote 1.28/1.36. The dealer would buy at 1.28 and sell at 1.35.
- The fixed or percentage-based fee. Companies will quote a fixed or percentage-based rate to convert currencies. For example, $3.99 or 1 percent of the total amount exchanged.
- Funding methods. Funding methods may include bank transfer, debit card, credit card, in-house credit, or cash for in-person transfers.
- Ways to send money. Ways to send money might include in-person, phone, online, and app.
- Ways to receive/collect money: Ways to accept money might include bank account, online money account, and cash pickup.
- Processing times. Processing times vary depending on how a transfer is funded, sent, and received. For online transfers, the process can take minutes to a few business days.
- Transparency. Transparency refers to how transparent a company is regarding its exchange rates, fees, and processing times. For example, the company provides a transfer calculator/transaction estimator and does not force a user to create an account or submit payment before getting transaction details.
- Tracking. Tracking methods might include SMS/mobile notification, email notification, account activity/status, and customer support.
- Currencies. Currencies matter to the point that the currency or currencies you need are supported.
A few reputable companies come to mind for transferring money. Those providers support the top remittance destinations along with many other countries including Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia, Guatemala, and Colombia.
- Western Union
Azimo – Founded 2012
Azimo is the “better way” to transfer money worldwide. It’s “fast, safe, simple and you can do it all online, or on your mobile, to fit in with how we live today.” Services/products:
MoneyGram – Founded 1940
MoneyGram is a global provider of money transfer services. Whether online or through a mobile device, at a kiosk or in a local store, it “connects consumers any way that is convenient for them.”
Remitly – Founded 2011
Remitly is an international payments company that leverages digital channels to send money internationally. Its digital products are “fundamentally faster, less expensive, and far more convenient for customers to send money across borders.”
TransferWise – Founded 2011
TransferWise has financial services for everyone including people who travel, live, and work abroad. Sending money overseas with TransferWise is up to eight times cheaper than banks. It provides “the fairest, easiest way to manage your money internationally.”
Western Union – Founded 1851
Western Union offers one of the easiest ways for families, friends, and businesses to send money. Together with its agents, “we speak our consumers’ languages and live in our consumers’ neighborhoods. And we share our consumers’ cultures.”
Xoom – Founded 2001
Xoom is a leading digital money transfer provider that enables consumers to send money, pay international bills, and reload phones for family and friends around the world. Its mission “is to deliver the fastest, most transparent, and pro-consumer digital money services.”
Revolut – Founded 2015
Revolut is a digital banking alternative that offers a prepaid debit card, currency exchange, and peer-to-peer payments. It has developed a platform allowing users to transfer, exchange, and spend money with a multi-currency card. Revolut has a lot going for itself, but of the top five remittance destinations, it only supports Mexico. As it expands to other countries, it will become one of the best options to remit money since it charges no fees and transacts at real-time rates.
WorldRemit – Founded 2010
WorldRemit is a money transfer service. Unlike many of its competitors, it doesn’t provide a homepage calculator. Also, it locks users into one currency during the account setup. For example, I couldn’t switch to euros to assess different exchange scenarios. WorldRemit isn’t as user-friendly as I would like. For that reason, I have excluded it from my comparison.
Although people remit from everywhere and use different base currencies, I’ll use US dollars and euros for my comparisons. I will compare multiple providers for the top five destinations using the most cost-efficient methods, which is usually by sending money online from one bank account to another. Paying with credit cards and cash pickups typically attract higher fees. In my scenarios, the customer only has $100 (or $1,000) to send so expenses must be deducted from the amounts. All calculations were made within seconds of each other to make fair evaluations.
100 US dollars sent from the United States (The best rate is in bold)
|$100 USD||China (CNY)||India (INR)||Philippines (PHP)||Mexico (MXN)||Nigeria (NGN)|
|Azimo||Cannot send US dollars|
1,000 US dollars sent from the United States
|$1,000 USD||China (CNY)||India (INR)||Philippines (PHP)||Mexico (MXN)||Nigeria (NGN)|
100 euros sent from Spain
|€100 EUR||China (CNY)||India (INR)||Philippines (PHP)||Mexico (MXN)||Nigeria (NGN)|
|Xoom||Cannot send euros|
|Sending money to||$100||$1,000||€100|
|China (CNY)||Western Union||Western Union||MoneyGram|
|India (INR)||Western Union||Remitly||Western Union|
|The Philippines (PHP)||MoneyGram||TransferWise||Western Union|
Your money is important or at least it should be. To maximize your remittance activities, you should stay engaged and compare providers at least once a year. MoneyGram, Remitly, and Western Union are fantastic options when the United States is the country of origin. In Europe, TransferWise and Western Union are excellent options with TransferWise being the best all-around online provider.