What is a Wire Transfer?

A wire transfer is a secure way to send funds to other people or companies in the U.S. and abroad. Whether you’re sending money or receiving it, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of how wire transfers work and what to look out for. 

Keep reading to learn more about how fast funds are transferred, how much wire transfers cost on both ends, and how to avoid losing your money to scammers. When used correctly, wire transfers can be a fast and secure way to send large amounts of money without a lot of hassle.

Wire Transfers Explained

When a wire transfer is initiated, funds are electronically transferred from one account to another between different financial institutions, including banks and credit unions. It’s a safe way to send and receive money both domestically and internationally. 

Wire transfers aren’t normally used for simple transactions like sending money to your friends. Instead, common scenarios for using wire transfers include sending funds for a real estate transaction, gifting a large sum of money to a family member, or paying for something overseas (like a vacation, property, or tuition for studying abroad).

How does the process actually work?

It’s nearly the same whether you want to send money in the U.S. or to another country. To send funds via wire transfer, you’ll need the recipient’s name, their bank account number, and bank routing number. For an international wire transfer, you may also need either a BIC or SWIFT code, which helps to identify international banks.  

You’ll need to contact your bank from which you want to send funds. Many larger financial institutions, however, allow you to complete the process online.

When to Expect Transferred Funds 

Wire transfers are a favored form of bank-to-bank payment because the processing time is extremely fast, especially when compared to other types of alternative methods. When sending funds domestically, the money could arrive in the recipient’s account as fast as the same day. At worst, you may have to wait up to 24 hours of initiating the wire transfer. 

Most banks have a daily cut off time for processing wire transfers. They’re typically only sent on business days and must be submitted before 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. depending on your bank’s schedule.

The process is slower when sending funds internationally and could take up to five business days. In some cases, that timeframe could be faster depending on the banks and the countries involved. 

Another factor in how fast wire transfer funds arrive is the processing time. The money must be cleared by the receiving bank so you may not immediately see the funds in your account. The money is transferred quickly, but it’s up to the receiving bank in how quickly they’ll process those funds. In most cases, you don’t need to wait more than a few hours to access your money from another bank in the U.S.

How It Works

There are two different ways you can send a wire transfer. The first is to send it from the bank where you have account funds you’d like to use. Ask for wire instructions or see if you can submit a request form online. 

Another option for sending a wire transfer is using a third-party service such as Western Union. You don’t need a bank account for this type of transaction; instead, you’ll need to bring cash. It’s now also possible to send funds online using a debit or credit card. 


One of the biggest downsides to a wire transfer is that it can’t be canceled. Once the funds are sent, there’s no way to get them back. As the sender, it’s crucial that you supply your bank with the recipient’s accurate information. If you’re the recipient, make sure you double-check your account number and routing number so you truly receive the funds. While it’s possible to have a mistaken wire transfer reversed, it’s a complicated process that includes a bank investigation and fees.

Wire Transfer Costs

Because of the speed and convenience of wire transfers, the cost to send one is higher than most other methods. Expect to pay somewhere around $25, give or take. The exact rate depends on your bank. It also costs money to receive a wire transfer, which is usually less expensive in the $15 range. Again, the exact fee is determined by the recipient’s bank.

International transfers are more expensive to send and can cost around $45. Recipients pay the same amount as they would if receiving a domestic wire transfer.

You may be able to waive these fees if you have a certain type of account with your bank, such as a money market account or other high-interest savings account. You may also be able to receive a discount if you initiate a wire transfer online rather than in person at your bank’s local branch. 

Safety and Security

Wire transfers are a safe form of payment. The most important way to stay secure is to confirm the recipient’s account. If you’re the sender and mistakenly send the transfer to the wrong account, you have little recourse for getting your funds returned to you. Always confirm and never agree to send money if you’re not sure who you’re sending to.

There are scammers, for example, who pose as credible sources that require payment. Be careful of red flags when you’re executing a transaction with someone you’ve never met. If you found an amazing apartment on Craigslist to rent and the “landlord” wants you to wire funds to secure the place before you even take a tour, it’s probably a scam.

If you’re buying a house, you may be targeted by fraudsters who masquerade as your title company. Instead of wiring your down payment and closing costs to the actual company, your fund could be sent to a completely unknown individual. Be wary of phishing attempts and make sure you’re really sending your money to the right person. 

As a recipient, the wire transfer process is secure because the sender can’t take back the funds once they’ve reached your account. Although it’s an electronic transfer, it’s still a transfer of cash funds. If you’re concerned about the validity of a wire transfer, confirm with your bank to make sure the sender didn’t use a reversible payment method instead.

Wire Transfer Alternatives

Wire transfers come with a lot of advantages, particularly when it comes to the speed of the transaction. But if you’re looking for other options before making a decision, consider one of these alternatives.

ACH Transfers

An ACH transfer is less expensive than a wire transfer but takes longer. The clearinghouse only processes transactions a few times a day so it can take anywhere between three and five days. You also can’t send and receive money from overseas. One of the most popular uses for ACH transfers is for employee direct deposit checks.

P2P Apps and Online Platforms 

Payment services like PayPal, Cash App and Venmo are easy for initiating online vendor payments over your phone or computer. They’re secure for purchases because you don’t have to enter your credit card information and many platforms offer buyer protection services. You can also use these apps to pay friends and family, often with no fee at all. The funds are usually available to withdrawal as soon as the transaction is executed, but it may take a couple of business days to clear in the recipient’s bank account.

Cashier’s Checks

Banks issue cashier’s checks as a way to certify the funds. Unlike personal checks, they won’t bounce because the bank has already debited the funds from your account and vouched for the transfer once the cashier’s check is cashed by the recipient. You do need a bank account to use this service. For recipients, there’s no processing time once the check is deposited. Typically the first $5,000 is made available immediately and any amount above that is usually cleared in a day or two. The fee for a cashier’s check is usually less than $10. 

Money Order

A money order operates similarly to a cashier’s check in the sense that the funds are certified and there’s no risk that the check will bounce. The difference is that you don’t need a bank account to get a money order. Instead, you can use cash to fund the money order, which can be purchased at the post office or certain retailers.

The Bottom Line

A wire transfer stands out among payment options as fast and secure, despite its above-average cost. Particularly useful when sending large amounts of money, wire transfers can also be used for transactions both in the U.S. and abroad. If the dollar amount warrants the price tag, you can utilize a wire transfer for a number of uses involving individuals and companies. You can also rest easy knowing that it’s safe to be on the receiving end of wire transfers as well.