Which money transfer service is cheapest?

There are various options available

Those dear to you are far away. You have money, they don’t. How do you get some funds to them, and preferably as cheaply and as quickly as possible?

Thanks to various forms of technology, there are several options for sending money to almost any place in the world. Picture: 123RF/WAEL ALFUZAI
Thanks to various forms of technology, there are several options for sending money to almost any place in the world. Picture: 123RF/WAEL ALFUZAI

Those dear to you are far away. You have money, they don’t. How do you get some funds to them, and preferably as cheaply and as quickly as possible?

Thanks to various forms of technology, there are several options for sending money to almost any place in the world. Service providers like banks – and Shoprite – do this for a fee. They offer mobile and online options for money transfer but, if you’re less tech savvy, you can go to one of their branches to arrange a money transfer in person.

Where to access money transfer services

Most of the big banks, except Capitec, offer this service, and in most cases, you don’t need to have a bank account with them. The most common money transfer options used by the banks for those who do not have a bank account are Western Union and MoneyGram. Bidvest Bank notes that when using their service through Western Union, you can send up to R3,000 worldwide without proof of income or address. 

If you do have a bank account, your options widen, as you do not have to visit a branch in person: you could do the transaction online, or through a bank's mobile app.

With Shoprite K’nect, you need to register. This can be done in store, at the new K’nect stores they are beginning to roll out, or at the existing Money Market counters in the Usave, Shoprite, Checkers and Checkers Hyper stores that offer this service. They also have a USSD mobile option (dial *134*562#), and an online option (www.shopritefinancialservices.co.za) – or you can phone them (021 300 3838).

Where in the world?

Western Union has a vast network with over 500,000 agent locations worldwide in over 200 countries and territories, and MoneyGram too is in 200 countries, with 350,000 agent locations worldwide. Of these, 26,000 are in Africa (including Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Ghana). So chances are you can get your money where it needs to go. The banks note that they are not able to send money to sanctioned countries.

Shoprite Money Transfers serves over 100 countries, including Zimbabwe, Malawi, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana.

Get time on your side

If you have a need for speed, consider service providers that do money transfers through Western Union and MoneyGram. Queues and paperwork aside, and depending on business hours and time zones, the actual transfer of the funds can be very fast.

It is always better to buy the currency of the country being visited or where the trade is taking place.
Absa executive Omar Baig

“Western Union transfers are near instant and a beneficiary can have access to their funds within 15 minutes of the remitter sending it,” says Omar Baig, Head Transactional Banking, Everyday Banking, RBB SA, Absa Group. 

Bidvest Bank uses Western Union too. And they also offer MoneyGram, as do First National Bank and Standard Bank, and they all say the transfer can take just “10 minutes for the money to reach the recipient”. With FNB, MoneyGram can be accessed in branch, or via FNB ATMs and cellphone banking.

Through Shoprite, mobile or cash payouts can take up to two hours, while bank transfers can take up to two days.

If you use your own bank, it is sometimes possible to make it happen quickly too. “At Absa, a customer can expect a beneficiary to receive payments done on NovoFX (our international payments app) within 12 minutes, at worst same day,” says Baig. 

For Nedbank customers, “the service is instant except to countries where extra due diligence may be required due to sanctions in place,” says Anton Luttig, Nedbank Head Individual Product and Sales, Forex and Global. 

Otherwise, international transfers done through your own bank usually take at least a couple of business days.

What does the receiver have to do to get the money?

If you’ve used Western Union (through Absa or Bidvest Bank), the recipient needs to go to a Western Union agent, complete the receive form including the money transfer control number and hand this to the teller who will then hand over the money and a receipt. Obviously, they will need proof of identity, and the necessary work permits if that applies. 

With MoneyGram, it's a similar story: they find a MoneyGram agent, complete a form with the reference number you send them and hand that to the teller, as well as showing them a valid ID and proof of residence (like a municipal bill). You could also arrange for the funds to be transferred to the recipient’s bank account or digital wallet.

Using Shoprite K’nect, the money is received via bank transfer, cash pick-up or mobile money, country dependent.

At Nedbank, which services existing clients only, Luttig says, “we are currently in the process of increasing the receive network by enabling sends to all bank accounts and mobile wallets, piloting first in Nigeria and Ecocash wallet in Zimbabwe”.

How much does the service cost?

What you are charged varies according to the country the money is going to, and the amount you are sending. Nedbank’s Luttig points out that the fee excludes the 15% mandatory VAT charged on the fee – and that's across service providers. It’s tricky to compare costs from one service provider to another but check the pricing brochures for foreign exchange for each bank, which you can find online.

Shoprite Money Transfers say their service is the “guaranteed cheapest way to send money out of South Africa”. Customers can send up to R5,000 a day (up to R25,000 a month) "from 3%” of the amount sent”.

At Bidvest Bank, currently sending money through Western Union costs 3% of the total principal amount to any country in the world. For MoneyGram to Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Zimbabwe and Malawi, the cost is 5% of the principal value. All other countries are tier-based. 

FNB and Standard Bank, who also work with MoneyGram services, also point to the tiered structure. 

It is worth comparing the exchange rate offered by the various banks because every bank’s prices differ for their forex services, says Baig. 

And which currency should you use if you have the choice? The US dollar is the most liquid and accepted foreign currency, says Baig. “But it is always better to buy the currency of the country being visited or where the trade is taking place.”

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