What is a Wire Transfer? Fees, Duration and How to Make One [CA]
If you need to send a payment to someone - particularly internationally - you may have been asked to send a wire transfer, or to simply wire them some money. But what exactly is a wire transfer, and what does it mean to wire money?
A wire transfer is an electronic transfer of funds from one bank account to another, either domestically here in Canada, or internationally. Wire transfers are usually processed instantly and so are commonly used for high value or international payments.
While wire transfers have some great features, they can be slow and pricey to set up. This guide covers all you need to know - plus some international money transfer alternatives that can be much cheaper, faster, and easier to use like Wise, OFX, and Western Union.
Wire transfer comparison
Before getting started, let’s compare the costs and delivery times to send a wire transfer with a few Canadian banks compared to specialist providers.
To paint a picture we’ll look at an example payment of 1,000 CAD to a friend in the US, to be deposited into their bank account in US dollars:
|Provider||Transfer fee||Amount recipient gets (1,000 CAD to USD)||Delivery time|
|Wise||9.06 CAD||743.25 USD||50%+ of payments are instant, 90% arrive in 24 hours|
|TD Bank||0 CAD||737.73 USD|
SWIFT payments may take 3 - 5 days
|Scotiabank||1.99 CAD||730.04 USD|
SWIFT payments may take 3 - 5 days
|RBC||10 CAD||729.35 USD|
SWIFT payments may take 3 - 5 days
|OFX||15 CAD||727.90 USD|
1 - 2 days
|PayPal||2.99 CAD||715.39 USD||Deposited into recipient’s PayPal account instantly|
Fees and rates correct at time of research, 24th November 2022
As you can see in this worked example, the amount your recipient gets in the end can vary pretty widely - with specialist service Wise coming out ahead of traditional banks. Often the main fee you pay when sending money overseas is actually rolled into the exchange rate used to convert your funds to the currency you need - which means you’ll need to compare both the transfer fees and exchange rates available to be able to see exactly how much your transfer will cost in the end.
What is a wire transfer?
A wire transfer is an electronic transfer of funds from one bank account to another. It’s different to some other payment methods in that it’ll usually start to be processed by your bank instantly when you initiate it. That can mean it’s more suitable for higher value and time critical payments.
Wire transfers in general terms are electronic transfers of money from one account to another. When you make a payment like this you’ll need to have the recipient’s banking information including their account number, which is then used to move your money to the receiving institution safely. Depending on where your money is headed and how the banks and service providers involved process the payment, there may be several intermediaries involved in getting your payment where it needs to be.
What are the types of wire transfer?
There are two main types of wire transfers you’re likely to come across:
domestic payments made to Canadian bank accounts in CAD
international transfers which can be processed in a range of currencies to most countries around the world
1. Domestic wire transfers in Canada
If you’re sending a payment from your Canada bank to someone else in Canada and you need to get the money moving fast, you may be able to send a domestic wire transfer. These payments are usually deposited on the same day they’re sent. To make this type of payment you’ll need the recipient’s local banking details, including their name, account number, branch transit number and financial institution number.
2. International money transfers
If you need to send money overseas you’ll probably be directed by your bank to use an international wire transfer. International wires are normally processed through the SWIFT network - so when you send your payment you’ll need the recipient’s banking information, plus a SWIFT/BIC code which is a unique identifier used by banks around the world to make sure international transfers land in the right place in the end.
Other types of wire transfer
There are other types of electronic fund transfers (EFTs) you may come across when you’re arranging a payment. Here are a couple of other common options in Canada:
Bill Payments and EFTs
If you need to send payments within Canada you’ll have a few different options, which may be called different things by your bank. You’ll usually see all the options open to you by logging into your online banking system, which can include domestic EFTs and specific bill payment service options for one off or recurring transfers.
If you’re making a payment to someone in the US you may also be offered the option to send an international ACH (IAT). Not all banks offer this service, and the chances are that it’ll take longer to arrive than a wire would. Double check the details for your specific bank.
Peer to Peer transfers
To send a fast local payment you don’t necessarily need a bank - you might also choose an alternative like PayPal for a peer to peer transfer. This type of payment is sent from your provider account to another account from the same provider (PayPal to PayPal for example), and can be fast and cheap if you’re not sending money internationally. However, fees vary by platform, and can be pretty steep if any currency conversion is needed.
Are wire transfers safe?
Electronic transfer of funds (wire transfers) are generally considered to be safe. You’ll need to take common sense precautions to avoid problems and fraud - but as transfer service providers are regulated globally they’ll usually have to follow strict safety guidelines and rules. Make sure you’re sending with a recognised and regulated service and consider these further pointers to avoid issues, fraud and scams:
Check and double check you have the correct banking information for the recipient - you may not be able to reverse or cancel a payment once it’s on its way
If you’re asked to make a payment you don’t understand or recognise, ask for more information or just say no
Be wary about clicking through on links embedded into emails or messages, in case they take you to fraudulent payment sites
If something sounds too good to be true it probably is - keep up to date with common scams so you’re not a victim
If you’re unlucky enough to be a victim of financial crime you’ll need to report it to the provider or bank, and the police, as soon as possible.
Wire transfer fees
An international money transfer can be one of the more expensive ways to send money, especially through regular banks. As well as the bank’s upfront transfer fees you may run into a few other costs - here’s what you may end up paying:
Your own bank’s transfer fee
An exchange rate markup
Third party costs paid to intermediaries
Bank wire transfer fees do vary widely, and usually include a charge added to the exchange rate applied in the form of a markup. Using an exchange rate markup is extremely common, but it makes it hard to pick apart the real costs of your payment, and pushes up the price overall.
Exchange rate markups vary by provider and currency, but can often be around 3%. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but it does quickly mount up. Here’s how a 3% markup would add up over a few different transfer values:
Sending 1,000 CAD - the exchange rate markup adds 30 CAD to the total
Sending 5,000 CAD - the exchange rate markup adds 150 CAD to the total
Sending 50,000 CAD - the exchange rate markup adds 1,500 CAD to the total
Of the providers we looked at earlier only one - Wise - used the mid-market exchange rate. All of the other featured providers used a charge added into the exchange rate applied. Here’s how that worked out on our example transfer -
Sending 1,000 CAD to USD - amount the recipient gets, split out by provider:
Wise - 743.25 USD
TD Bank - 737.73 USD
Scotiabank - 730.04 USD
RBC - 729.35 USD
OFX - 727.90 USD
PayPal - 715.39 USD
Advantages and Disadvantages of Wire Transfers
Although wire transfers offer a convenient way to send money and pay bills, they might incur high fees and take a considerable amount of time to settle, especially when sending money to other countries. Here are some of the pros and cons to consider if you’re not sure if a wire transfer will work for your payment:
Wire transfers pros
Can often be arranged online or by phone with your regular bank or a specialist service
Depending on the destination and provider wires may arrive very quickly
Wires can be sent globally in pretty much any currency
Wire transfer cons
Overall fees are often high, and may involve third party fees paid to intermediaries
Exchange rates can include a markup which makes fees difficult to calculate
Alternatives to wire transfers
Wire transfers along with other forms of EFT are convenient and safe when compared to the old school options of sending a cheque or handing over cash when you had a bill to pay. However, wire transfers with banks can be pricey and may still take a few days to be deposited.
To solve this problem, modern digital services have emerged which let you send money at home and abroad online or from your phone. Providers such as Wise, OFX and Western Union support payments to a broad range of currencies and countries which may have more flexibility and lower fees compared to your normal bank:
Wise - uses the mid-market exchange rate for all payments, which can beat banks and alternative providers
OFX - no transfer fees apply to most payments, and exchange rate markups are smaller than those often used by banks
Western Union - send money to almost every country in the world with a range of different payout options
How to send a wire transfer
If you’re sending a wire with your normal bank you may be able to do so using the online or mobile banking service, by phone, or by visiting a branch. Online and digital specialist services offer local and international transfers you can make from your phone or other smart device, or by logging into your laptop.
If you’re setting up your payment digitally the typical steps include:
Log into your online banking
Navigate to the payments section
Follow the prompts to add the currency and amount you want to send
Check the rates and fees
Enter your recipient’s details
Confirm and your payment will be on its way
What information do you need to make a wire transfer?
Exactly what you need will depend on your bank and where you’re sending money to - usually it’ll include:
The recipient’s full name and address
The recipient’s bank name and address
The recipient’s bank account number or International Bank Account Number (IBAN)
For local payments you’ll need your bank’s transit and financial institution numbers, and for international transfers a SWIFT/BIC code
How long does a wire transfer take
Domestic wires in Canada will usually arrive on the same day they’re sent. For international wires the delivery time can be a bit more varied, depending on your provider’s processes, the destination country, and how the recipient’s own bank handles the transfer. Specialist services can usually give you a delivery estimate before you confirm the transfer - and can also often offer a fast delivery time. Payments may even be instant.
Bank payments which pass through the SWIFT network are likely to take 3 - 5 days for some destination countries.
Here’s a reminder of the anticipated delivery times for wire payments made with a few of the providers we looked at earlier:
Wise - 50%+ of payments are instant, 90% arrive in 24 hours
OFX - 1 - 2 days
TD Bank and other traditional banks - SWIFT payments may take 3 - 5 days
Wire transfer limits
Banks and specialist providers set their own limits for wire transfers, which can include caps on the amount you can send per transaction, per day, per week or per month for example. You’ll need to double check the applicable limits with your preferred bank or provider before you get started to make sure there are no surprises once you initiate the transfer.
It’s also worth noting that banks and financial service providers in Canada and around the world do need to check and verify payments from time to time to comply with anti money laundering legislation, and to ensure accounts are not fraudulently or illegally used. As a result of this, higher value payments in particular may mean showing your provider or bank more documentation to verify the source of the income and where the money is headed.
Can you cancel a wire transfer?
A wire transfer generally can't be cancelled once it's been received, so you’ll want to double check all the details are correct and make sure you know the person you’re sending money to before you confirm your transfer.
Wire transfers are available through banks and specialist providers, both domestically and internationally. If you need to send money to someone you may think your bank is the natural place to turn. However, banks may have relatively slow processing times and higher fees compared to some specialist services.
Alternative providers like Wise for example offer better exchange rates and more transparent fees compared to banks, while services like Western Union can provide fast transfers to bank accounts, for cash collection, and a range of alternative payout options. Compare a few different options before you set up your payment to make sure you get the best deal.
A wire transfer is an electronic transfer of funds from one bank account to another, locally in Canada or internationally.
Domestic wire transfers can arrive on the same day when sent with regular banks - international transfers may take 3 -5 days, although specialist services can often get your money moving faster than this.
Set up a wire through your normal bank online, by phone or in a branch - or choose a specialist alternative which lets you arrange your payment online or in an app for convenience, often with a lower overall fee than a bank.