For someone who is new to moving money across borders, it can seem like a challenge at first. International transactions encompass many complexities which local transactions don’t. Cross-border transactions usually require two or more financial institutions with different systems and procedures to communicate. All of them charge some sort of fees, which the initiator of the transfer must pay. Currency conversion is almost always required, which creates the need to know the prevailing exchange rates. Intermediaries and even your trusted bank may at times seem like they are trying to rip you off on the exchange rate or the fees. However, sending money abroad need not feel like a minefield. Addressing a few simple criteria can make your transfers almost effortless.

The goals and the means

People don’t usually initiate money transfers frivolously. You would have a very good reason to send money abroad. Depending on the reason, you would know how much you must send and how soon. Like most other actions an international transfer is initiated with the end goal in mind. For example, if the requirement is to pay for the higher education of a young family member you would have a specific amount (the semester fee) and a specific timeline (the cutoff date) as your goal. Based on the exchange rate you would calculate the amount you need in your local currency. You would then add the amount which your bank or other services would charge, and arrive at a total. Find how long the transfer will take (say, four days). Count backwards from there and you’ll have your send date. Easy!

The cost of convenience

The common online channels for international transfers are banks, card payments, and independent money transfer services. There usually are multiple channels for average and regular transfers, each with some pros and cons. Fewer channels are available for very large or urgent transfers. The choice of the channel depends largely on the requirement. For example, assume you live abroad and send money to pay a mortgage on a property back home. In this situation, your payments are likely to be regular (usually monthly) and identical in size. For such a requirement it is ideal to set up automatic debits from your bank account. That way you’ll never miss a payment. You’ll also have complete documentation for tax accounting by way of your bank statements. You may need to fill some forms to set it up, although your initial inconvenience can be offset by long term comfort.

However, if you send money for bill payments or to support your family, the amounts likely vary each time. You must be able to manually select the amount for each transfer. In this case, you may need a different strategy, especially if you prefer to avoid the in-person visits, forms, formalities, and delays that characterize conventional bank transfers. For this situation, you may choose a nimble money transfer service that guarantees convenience, as well as the best exchange rates. One service called Ria lets you make international money transfers from your smartphone using their app. Repeat transfers using this app are as easy as a swipe.

Not all channels are created equal

As a conscious and discerning customer, you may want to ensure the most value for your money. However, researching exchange rates and fees across various channels before each transfer is both time-consuming and inconvenient. Moreover, every time you use a new service they need to verify your information, which takes additional time. Every single bank and financial service is mandated to do this in order to protect the world from money laundering and terror funding. If you send money abroad regularly as most expats do, you may prefer to stick with one reliable and consistently cost-optimal service provider.

It is notable that certain money transfer services are persistently more reliable and efficient than others, and for good reasons. Banks and legacy institutions are usually the most inefficient owing to their dated manual systems. Credit card companies feature among the most expensive for international money transfers, primarily because of their business model. Independent service providers are often faster due to their minimal manual processing. A number of them specialize in moving money between specific regions of the world. While they may not be the best picks for the rest of the world, they typically offer the best exchange rates and transfer speeds between the regions of their specialization.