Innovations and Payment Systems

5 money-saving mobile remittance apps


New smartphone apps can be used to quickly send money abroad at a lower cost than traditional methods

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5 money-saving mobile remittance apps

Want to send money to friends and family abroad without paying through the nose? All you need is your smartphone and a bank account.

Traditional methods of sending funds abroad – such as wire transfers and the post office – can be costly and slow. What’s more, the money transfer market has become flooded with new products and services, creating confusion for consumers.

“For participants in money transfers, finding the best way to send or receive money is becoming an increasingly complicated ordeal,” said Jonathan Santos, managing director of human analytics for RemitRadar, which allows users to compare prices and fees of various remittance providers.

A crop of developers hopes to break through the clutter with smartphone apps that can be used to quickly to send money abroad at little or no cost. Widespread use of these apps could mean big savings for U.S. consumers, who sent $133 billion abroad in 2015, according to the World Bank. Remittances from the U.S. to Mexico alone totaled $24 billion – a flow of money President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to impound to compel Mexico to pay for his proposed border wall.

Sending money abroad usually comes with fees that can exceed 10 percent of the amount transferred. Data from the World Bank show banks charge an average of 11 percent of the remittance amount. The U.S. Postal Service and money transfer operators charge a little over 6 percent. Mobile operators tack on 4 percent of the amount transferred, and prepaid card issuers charge almost 2 percent.

Apps such as Circle and Abra offer free money transfers. Others, including Pangea, TransferWise and Remitly, allow remittances for as low as $3 or charge at or below 1 percent based on how much you’re sending. (See chart below.)

Time is of the essence when sending money abroad, particularly if someone you know has an emergency in an unfamiliar land. Money transfer operators such as Western Union and MoneyGram boast that they can get your funds overseas within minutes or an hour – but it’s not always the case. For example, Western Union says on its website that funds can be delayed based on the amount sent, the destination, currency availability and several other factors. Meanwhile, wire transfers through banks typically take one or two days – not ideal when the person you’re sending money to is in a real pinch.

Not all the new apps on the market can outrun those heavyweights. Circle, for instance, has a turnaround time of one to four days. Pangea, on the other hand, promises money transfers to a handful of Latin American countries in less than a minute. Abra users can deliver funds to another person within 10 minutes if they use “tellers” – people who help users add or withdraw cash in the app – instead of their banks.

More remittances should be sent over technology. It’s more efficient, less costly and there will be more people able to electronically send money.

\u2014 Carlo Corazza
World Bank

Mobile remittance apps can also give people better options to send funds to others who live in far-flung parts of the globe. The World Bank said in a recent brief that many bank accounts opened by money transfer operators have been closed due to concerns over possible fraudulent activity and risky activities. This often makes it difficult to send funds to people abroad, particularly those who live in rural or remote regions. Senders sometimes resort to using less reputable channels when faced with no other practical options.

“Money is like water – it finds a way out,” said Carlo Corazza, senior payment systems and remittances specialist for the World Bank’s payment systems development group. “This means migrants that have to send money home will find ways to send it. Illegal and unregulated traders can do the same with the costs being higher.”

The world is catching up, despite the digital divide
Mobile payments are becoming increasingly common in the U.S., but sending money internationally via cellphone is relatively rare. In First Annapolis Consulting’s August 2016 Study of Mobile Bank and Payments,74 percent of respondents said they made a mobile payment within the past 12 months. Only 2 percent used a mobile phone to send money internationally.

Corazza believes the digital divide may be behind the slow switch to mobile. After all, there are still many people around the world who have little or no access to smartphones, much less ones that can support slick payment apps.

“It has started to be more common for migrants to send money electronically, but on the receiving side, most people use cash,” Corazza said.

Fortunately for app developers and the money senders they want to serve, the world is getting more connected. Ericsson said in its June 2015 Mobility Report 70 percent of the world’s population will have a smartphone by 2020.

“More remittances should be sent over technology,” Corazza said. “It’s more efficient, less costly and there will be more people able to electronically send money. More people are included in the financial sector.”

Mobile remittance apps at a glance
Here’s a closer look at five apps that enable international money transfers. All of them are available for free to iOS and Android users.


Fees to send moneyNone
Fees to receive moneyNone
AcceptsU.S., UK and some European Visa and MasterCard debit cards.
Available countriesSee full list
How do people receive fundsBank account
LimitsNo limits to send, receive or cash out of your Circle account, but you can only add $300 per week from your card or bank account. (You can request an increase to $3,000.)
Things to note
  • You can send money in U.S. dollars, British pounds and Bitcoin.
  • If a balance is held in U.S. dollars, the funds will never fluctuate.
  • If receiving funds, you will receive them in U.S. dollars. For Bitcoin transfers, Circle will auto-convert the payment. U.S. dollar deposits are protected by FDIC insurance and bitcoins are protected from theft by Circle’s insurance.



Fees to send money$4.95 when you use a debit card, $5.99 when you pay with cash
Fees to receive moneyNone
AcceptsDebit cards and cash
Available countriesMexico, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic
How do people receive fundsReceive cash from over 14,000 retail locations; you can send money directly into a bank account or debit card for recipients in Mexico
Limits$2,999 per day if sending money to a bank account (minimum $20); $99 if sending money to a location; $300 per day if paying with cash
Things to note
  • There is a limited number of states from which you can send money; cash payments only available in Illinois
  • If sending more than $999 on your first transfer, Pangea will ask questions about the transfer.
  • The website is available in English and Spanish.



Fees to send moneyFree to send money, but there is a small fee to add money into account from a teller \u2014 usually a percentage of the funds added
Fees to receive moneyRecipients in the Philippines may incur fees to withdraw funds from their banks or Abra tellers; U.S. banks do not charge fees to receive funds from an Abra wallet
AcceptsCash at an Abra Teller or a bank account
Available countriesU.S. and the Philippines
How do people receive fundsFrom an Abra teller or straight to a bank account
Things to note
  • You can send money to multiple people at once.
  • It was officially launched this year, so more countries will be added later.
  • There are no Abra tellers located in the U.S. at present.



Fees to send money1 percent up to $5,000; 0.7 percent on anything over $5,000; minimum fee is $3.
Fees to receive moneyNone
AcceptsBank account
Available countriesSee full list
How do people receive fundsBank account
Limits$49,999 per day; $200,000 per year
Things to note
  • Some countries might require a SWIFT transfer. SWIFT, or Society of Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, is a network where financial institutions send and receive funds using accounts that institutions have with each other.



Fees to send moneyFees vary depending on the recipient’s home country and desired speed of delivery
Fees to receive moneyNone, but Colombia imposes a tax on certain transfer amounts
AcceptsU.S. bank account, debit or credit card
Available countriesIndia, Philippines, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru
How do people receive fundsCash pickup, bank deposit or direct to phone delivery for pesos
Limits$999 within a 24-hour period and up to $18,000 every 180 days when you first register; limits can be increased to as much as $10,000 in a 24-hour period and $60,000 every 180 days
Things to note
  • When extending limits, Remitly will require more information to verify your identity.
  • There’s a 3 percent charge for credit card transactions

See related: How to build credit when you’re not a US resident, Accepting international payments with Square, How to choose a P2P payment service

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