Sorry, dad, can you send cash and quick

What's the best way to transfer money overseas when your son or daughter rings home? Clifford German reports
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The Independent Online
Credit cards and cash dispensers have made it easier for worldwide travellers to renew their cash reserves whenever they run short. But for every traveller who simply tops up at the local bank or cash dispenser there will be another one who runs short of cash and needs to call for help from home.

Some of them are someone's sons or daughters working their way round the world on a shoestring who run out of cash, or worse, lose their possessions through theft or accident. Others are immigrants working or settled permanently in the UK who remit money to relatives overseas. For them, too, transferring cash across frontiers is still a vital operation.

Western Union offers one of the fastest money-transfer systems. It does not depend on recipients having a bank account, but it does require them to collect the money in person. The sender can telephone Western Union's freephone number 0800-866866 and transfer up to pounds 500 by credit card to a Western Union agent in 125 countries.

The details come up on a screen and the recipient can collect local currency in cash on production of satisfactory ID. The process can take as little as an hour once the transaction has been approved.

Alternatively, senders can call in to any one of Western Union's 1,500 agencies, which may be bureaux de change, travel agencies or newsagents around the UK, pay in the money either in cash or by banker's draft or credit card (but not by personal cheque) and the named individual can pick up the cash at any Western Union agent.

The system works in reverse too. Travellers abroad can also ring the local freephone number and establish where the nearest agency is. Next a reversed charges call to ask a friend or relative in the UK for help and as soon as they have paid in the cash at the UK end the money can be collected by the recipient, if necessary after answering an identification question if he or she has lost all forms of ID.

Western Union is fast but it is not specially cheap. The minimum charge is pounds 8. It costs pounds 14 to transfer between pounds 50 and pounds 100, pounds 42 for amounts between pounds 500 and pounds 750 and pounds 47 up to pounds 1,000. Charges taper for larger sums but money sent by credit card costs pounds 5 more than the standard charges.

MoneyGram offers a similar service on behalf of American Express, Thomas Cook and the Post Office. It has 20,000 outlets in around 80 countries. Amex card holders can send cash by card, but anyone can take cash into a Thomas Cook office or a main post office, pay the fee, fill in a form and be given a reference number. They notify the recipient, who can collect the cash within an hour or two on presentation of the number and suitable ID. The minimum charge is pounds 12 for up to pounds 120, rising in stages to pounds 30 for amounts between pounds 480 and pounds 620 and a maximum of pounds 40 for upwards of pounds 720.

MoneyGram also uses the US dollar as the unit for transmitting money which means the sums received at the other end will usually have gone through two exchange rate conversions, which add significantly to the quoted cost of the service.

Banks offer a slower and less flexible service but they are significantly cheaper for most cases. The money usually has to go from a bank account in the UK to an account abroad. All the clearing banks, including First Direct, the telephone banking service of Midland Bank, operate roughly similar systems.

Midland Bank's Priority Payment works through the Swift telegraphic transfer system and takes one or two working days to transfer money from a UK bank account to a named account abroad. The charge is 0.3 per cent with a minimum of pounds 17 and a maximum of pounds 35. Midland's WorldPay system will transfer up to pounds 2,000 from one account to another at a fixed charge of pounds 9 but it is slower and more limited, taking three to six days and operates in only 20 countries.

Lloyds Bank has a standard service costing 0.25 per cent with a minimum pounds 13 and maximum of pounds 40 that takes three to five days according to destination. The express service costs an extra pounds 6 and takes two to three days. The economy service costs pounds 9 inclusive of agents' charges and takes about six days to reach a limited range of destinations. TSB charges 0.3 per cent with a minimum of pounds 12 and a maximum of pounds 40 and takes anything from four to five days to Europe and the US, 12 to 14 days elsewhere. Natwest charges a flat pounds 14 for up to pounds 10,000 on its standard service, which takes up to four days. The urgent service costs a flat pounds 20 and takes one or two days, and there is a low-cost system called Relay which takes four to six days and costs a flat pounds 9 including agents fees. Over at Barclays Bank the standard service costs pounds 20 to any country in the world, which takes "several days" but there is a Priority international payments for amounts up to pounds 5,000 which costs a flat fee of pounds 35 and takes about two days in a westward direction or four days to go east. Within Europe sums up to pounds 2,000 can be transferred by direct debit for a flat fee of pounds 10.

Banks will also issue payments drafts in sterling charged at the same rate as the Priority payments, which can then be sent by post to the recipients, who can pay them into an account or cash them. In most cases however the funds will not be released until the funds have been cleared by the receiving bank.

Alternatively banks can issue international banker's drafts drawn on overseas banks in foreign currency amounts, which senders then also post out to the recipients who can cash them straight away for local currency. At Midland Bank they cost pounds 7 for amounts up to pounds 100 and 0.5 per cent of the total on larger sums with a minimum charge of pounds 12 and a maximum of pounds 35.

Don't forget in all cases to allow for the effect of exchange rate costs on the sums you send.

Finally it is possible to send a sterling cheque drawn on a UK bank by post, but this is the slowest, most cumbersome option.

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