International bank transfers are a quick way of sending and receiving money, but it’s not an instant process and can be far more complex than most realise.
To better understand how long it takes to make an international bank transfer and what might delay your payments, let’s go through how the system works.
How do bank transfers work?
Banks transfer funds electronically via a communications network called SWIFT – an online platform which allows banks to quickly and safely communicate sensitive financial details.
Bank transfers (sometimes called wire transfers) don’t involve the physical exchange of cash but rather the exchange of digitally stored information. Wire transfers allow banks to move money quickly, even if the sender and receiver are geographically disparate.
International bank transfers include two payments – one between account holders and again between the banks themselves. Once both banks have confirmed receipt of payment, correspondent banks or CLS then facilitate the transfer of currency from one branch to another. Only after both banks have concluded their end of the payment is the transaction request considered ‘settled’ and cleared for use by the account holder.
How long does a bank transfer take between different banks?
Because of the complexity of bank transfers, the time it takes for a payment to be processed, settled and cleared for use may vary. International bank transfers between different banks generally take between 1 and 4 working days. Domestic transfers between different banks can take as little as a single day.
International transfers are those initiated in one country and settled in another. This necessitates the use of SWIFT and IBAN codes (even if it’s between two branches of the same bank). Automatic Clearing Houses (ACH) closely scrutinise international transfers for any signs of money laundering or fraud.
Domestic transfers take place between two different banks in the same country. Domestic transfers only have to pass through a single domestic ACH and are usually delivered within a day.
Do bank transfers go through on weekends?
Banks will not process bank transfers on weekends as they must pass through an ACH first.
Until such a time that AI and algorithms can do what humans can do, ACHs must rely on human input and expertise to identify fraud. ACH staff work 5-day weeks, so banks cannot process weekend transfers. Workdays can vary from country to country.
For example, payments to the UAE won’t be processed on a Friday or Saturday, as that’s their weekend. Different time zones may also affect the time it takes for a transaction to be processed.
Bear in mind that any transaction which must pass through an ACH would also be subject to any national holidays in either the country of origin or the destination country.
What happens if something goes wrong?
SWIFT transfers have a very, very low rate of failure. Most, if not all, of the issues encountered are as a result of human error and incorrectly input information. SWIFT has already begun to address the issue through Payment Pre-Validation.
If your payment is delayed or rejected for any reasons, the culprit is most likely:
- Incorrect data inputs
- Sanctions and anti-money-laundering screening (AML)
- Foreign exchange controls.
For peace of mind, especially when dealing with large sums of money, you can request an MT103 as proof of payment.
An MT103 shows all details of a transaction, including any fees applied. It offers greater visibility and transparency over your international payments.
SWIFT vs IBAN – What’s the difference?
Both SWIFT and IBAN help banks and other financial institutions communicate quickly and safely. SWIFT codes specify the bank to which money should be sent. IBAN codes help identify the recipients’ accounts.
Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT)is a communications platform. Financial institutions use a unique identity code to send sensitive information and complete transactions. A SWIFT code consists of 8 to 11 characters identifying the bank, country, location, and branch to which money will be sent.
International Bank Account Numbers (IBAN) help make this process easier by assigning another unique code to international money transfers. An IBAN identifies the country, check number, bank location, and intended recipient’s account.
Not every country has adopted IBAN. Those who have may use both SWIFT and IBAN codes to transfer money or just one of the two. Even if a bank only requires an IBAN to transfer money internationally, they will still use the SWIFT platform (or Fedwire) to communicate the details to the recipient bank.
How does CurrencyTransfer make international bank transfers simpler?
The time it takes banks process an international transfer depends on:
- The location of the recipient bank
- The number of working days left in the week
- The type of transaction (domestic vs. international)
- The currency you send or receive.
International transfers can take as long as a week depending on the currency pair, the destination country’s banking infrastructure and regulations. It can take as little as a few hours with our same-day international transfers for all major currencies.
We can help make international transfers easier using our network of FCA-regulated payment providers.
We allocate our clients a Personal Currency Concierge to help you find the best solution for your transfer requirements. Save time and money for your business or personal international payments and open an account today!