What is a wire transfer?

Australia By Sharad Sonami May 27, 2022

Article summary

Wherever you are in the world, you can stay connected to your loved ones with a wire transfer. With these reliable electronic payments, you can help your family with the bills or send a gift for a friend’s birthday – even if you can’t be there in person.

But what actually is a wire transfer – and how does it work? In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know.


In this article


What is a wire transfer and how does it work?

Wire transfers are electronic money transfers between two bank accounts or financial service providers. They are administered by networks such as the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) or Fedwire. These types of money transfers help people send funds all over the world quickly.

The name ‘wire transfer’ is a historical term that stuck. In 1871, Western Union used its continent-spanning telegraph network to launch the world’s first money transfers between Boston, New York, and Chicago1.

Back then, telegraph offices sent payment instructions by ‘wire’ between the cities. This meant someone could deposit cash in Boston for someone else to collect a thousand miles away in Chicago.

Today, the process is similar in principle – but the technology is far more advanced.

How do wire transfers work?

In short, a sender deposits money at a financial institution and provides their recipient’s name, address and banking details. The financial institution then contacts the receiver’s bank, who make the money available at their end from their own reserves. The two banks then settle the money later1.

This is the key difference between wire transfers and other money transfers. In a wire transfer, the two financial institutions don’t send money to one another – they simply deliver payment instructions. It means wire transfers are faster than other transfer methods, as the money isn’t slowed down by bank holds.


Different types of wire transfer

International wire transfers

An international wire transfer is deposited in one country and collected in another. In an increasingly globalised economy, these transfers help people across the world send money home and overseas to support friends and family.

International wire transfers can often take longer to clear, as foreign and domestic clearing agencies2 both need to process the funds. While there are generally no bank holds on an international wire transfer, you may have to account for differences in time zones and bank opening hours.

Domestic wire transfers

Domestic wire transfers are usually faster – often arriving on the same day. However, transferring money between different banks can slow the process down.

With Western Union, you can transfer for collection at agent locations all over the world – and your money could arrive in minutes3.


How to wire money with Western Union

You can send a wire transfer with Western Union online, through our app or at your local agent location. Here’s how to wire money:

  1. Visit our website or download the Western Union® app and get started.
  2. Create and verify your free online profile. All you need is a valid passport or Australian government-issued driver’s license.
  3. Log in to your profile and click send now.
  4. Choose a destination and enter your amount. You can send money to Western Union® agent locations or bank accounts around the world. You can also send money to accounts and agent locations across Australia.
  5. Enter your receiver’s details. Have your receiver’s name and address to hand, as well as their preferred pickup location or bank account details.
  6. Pay for your transfer via debit/credit4card or bank transfer (POLi). Or with Apple Pay via the app. You can also pay in cash – but you’ll need to head to your nearest Western Union® agent location to finish the transfer.

To wire money in person, there are a few different steps:

  1. Find your nearest agent location.
  2. Take your ID and receiver information with you.
  3. When you arrive, you’ll be asked to fill out a money transfer form.
  4. Enter your receiver’s details – including their name, address and bank/agent location details.
  5. Check the wire transfer details and pay in cash or by card.

In both cases, you’ll receive a receipt with a unique tracking number (MTCN). Share the MTCN with your receiver, so they can track the transfer and see when it arrives in their account or is ready for cash pickup.


FAQs and guides

Can my bank do a wire transfer?

You can normally make a wire transfer through your bank online or in person.

You’ll need to show:

  • A government-issued ID
  • Proof of your address
  • The purpose of your transfer
  • Proof that your bank account or debit card belongs to you

You’ll need some receiver information too. Including your receiver’s:

  • Banking SWIFT code
  • Full name
  • Bank details

How much does a wire transfer cost?

Costs can vary depending on your transfer method, the current exchange rates, transfer fees5 and other factors. With Western Union, you can get a no obligation idea of your fees before you transfer money by using our free calculator.

How long does a wire transfer take?

If you wire money online, through the app or in person to a Western Union agent location, your funds can arrive in minutes3.

A direct to international bank account transfer can often take between one to five working days. This is due to time zones, branch hours and other factors – including your payment method and destination country. Domestic transfers can be far quicker.

What do I need to send a wire transfer?

There are a few key things you need to wire money:

Government-issued ID

Whether you’re paying online or in person, you’ll need government-issued ID. We accept:

  • All passports (Australian and overseas)
  • Australian-issued driver’s license

Receiver details

We’ll also need information on the person, location and bank account where the money is sent to verify your receiver details.

You’ll need to provide your receiver’s:

  • Name, street address and city
  • Bank name, bank city and account number
  • Preferred agent location – if you’re sending for cash pickup

Transfer fees5

To make a transfer, you’ll need money to pay any relevant fees. You can check our fees5 and exchange rates on our price calculator. This also provides an estimate on how long your transfer will take.

MTCN number

When your transfer is confirmed, you’ll receive a unique tracking number (MTCN). Your receiver will need this code to collect their funds – but make sure not to share it with anyone else.

What is SWIFT?

SWIFT is the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. It connects 10,000 financial institutions around the world – and facilitates transfers between them through intermediaries. SWIFT issues identifier codes to participating financial institutions. 

Read more here.

1 /blog/6-fascinating-things-about-western-unions-history/

2 https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/other/wire-transfer/

3 Funds may be delayed or services unavailable based on certain transaction conditions, including amount sent, destination country, currency availability, regulatory issues, identification requirements, Agent location hours, differences in time zones, or selection of delayed options. For mobile transactions funds will be paid to receiver’s mWallet account provider for credit to account tied to receiver’s mobile number. Additional third-party charges may apply, including SMS and account over-limit and cash-out fees. See the transfer form for restrictions.

4 If you’re using a credit card, a card-issuer cash advance fee and associated interest charges may apply. To avoid these fees or for reduced fees, use a debit card or check other payment methods.

5 Western Union also makes money from currency exchange. When choosing a money transmitter, carefully compare both transfer fees and exchange rates. Fees, foreign exchange rates, and taxes may vary by brand, channel, and location based on a number of factors. Fees and rates subject to change without notice.