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Cross-Border Payments: Challenges and Solutions

Cross-border payments have become increasingly popular as businesses and individuals seek to capitalize on opportunities in foreign markets. Yet, these payments can be fraught with challenges, from foreign exchange risks to compliance with local regulations. 

This blog will delve into cross-border payments, their common challenges, and possible solutions to mitigate those risks with detailed How-Tos.

What Are Cross-Border Payments?

Cross-border payments are transactions between parties located in different countries. These have become essential to the global economy, as they facilitate various activities like trade, tourism, and remittances. 

The market for cross-border payments is vast, with trillions of dollars being transferred globally each year. This massive flow of funds underscores the need for businesses and individuals to efficiently pay vendors, suppliers, and service providers across borders. 

Cross-border payments can be conducted through banks or money transfer services. Using banks, the more common method often incurs higher fees, which can vary significantly based on the bank and the transaction amount. On the other hand, money transfer services generally offer lower fees, but their availability might be limited in certain areas.

When initiating a cross-border payment, several factors need careful consideration.

  • The fluctuating foreign exchange rates can significantly impact the final amount received or paid, making currency markups a crucial thing to track. 
  • Furthermore, these transactions are subject to additional fees, varying across different financial institutions and payment services, necessitating a thorough comparison before selecting a provider. 
  • Another vital factor is compliance with local regulations, such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in the United States, which governs international financial transactions.
  • The processing time for international payments can also vary based on the method chosen, from instantaneous, as with PayPal and online transfers, to a few days, as with Bank or ACH transfers.
  • It's also important to consider if your international partner, the payee, has a preferred or required payment method.

Given the complexities and significant financial implications, having a well-thought-out international payment strategy is indispensable, especially for entities regularly engaging in cross-border transactions. Such a strategy should include foreign exchange hedging to guard against volatile exchange rates and the selection of reputable, transparent payment services that provide clear fee structures. Additionally, staying informed about and compliant with applicable international finance regulations is critical to avoid legal pitfalls and avoidable paperwork.

Looking to integrate cross-border payments into your AP function? Book a 30-min live demo to see how Nanonets can help your team implement end-to-end AP automation.

Challenges Associated with Cross-Border Payments

There are multiple challenges involved with international money transfers. However, knowing these pitfalls and the best practices for tackling them can help companies overcome them and confidently work with these payments. 

High Fees: One of the significant hurdles in international transfers is the varying fee structures. For instance, PayPal often charges a fee of about 3-5% for international transactions. This includes a fixed fee based on the currency plus a percentage of the transaction amount.

Meanwhile, banks typically charge around $15-$45 for outgoing international wire transfers and about $8-$20 for incoming ones. The fees can be higher for urgent transfers. While generally cheaper for domestic transfers, international ACH transfers (IAT) can still incur fees, though usually lower than wire transfers, averaging around $3-$5 per transaction.

Time to Clear: The processing time for international payments also varies significantly by method. You need to know the average time by payment method to account for them in your disbursements and avoid late payments and their repercussions. Wire Transfers are relatively fast, usually completed within 1-3 business days, but can be delayed due to factors like time zones, intermediary banks, or any incorrect processing information. Due to the batch processing, ACH transfers can take longer, often 2-4 business days, for international transactions. Meanwhile, PayPal offers instant transfer to another PayPal account, but transferring funds to a bank account may add 1-3 business days to the process.

Foreign Currency Markups: Exchange rate fluctuations and currency conversion markups add another layer of complexity and cost. Banks often markup the exchange rate by 1-3% over the mid-market rate. This means you could be paying significantly more than the actual exchange rate. PayPal is known for high currency conversion fees, typically adding a 3-4% markup over the base exchange rate. Online Transfer Services (like Wise) generally offer closer to mid-market rates, making them a more cost-effective option for currency conversion.

Understanding these challenges is crucial for businesses engaged in international transactions. While high fees and extended processing times can impact cash flow and overall transaction costs, currency exchange risks can lead to financial losses due to market volatility. To mitigate these issues, companies should explore various payment methods, negotiate better terms with financial institutions, and use hedging strategies to protect against currency risks. By doing so, businesses can navigate the complexities of international payments more effectively and maintain financial efficiency in their global operations.

Steps to cross-border payments

Below is a step-by-step guide to help you set up and execute your first cross-border transaction and information on typical wait times and fees. The next section gives a more detailed overview of popular cross-border payment methods, each compared on the following considerations.

Setting Up for Cross-Border Payments: Research different methods available for international transfers, such as banks, online money transfer services, or other financial institutions. Suppose you're using a new service (like an online money transfer platform), set up an account by providing necessary personal and financial information. Complete any verification processes the service provider requires to ensure your account is secure and ready for transactions.

Understanding and Checking Exchange Rates: Before initiating a transfer, check the current exchange rate between your and the recipient's currencies. Online currency converters or financial news websites can provide up-to-date rates. Remember that exchange rates can fluctuate, so the rate at the time of your transaction may differ slightly from what you initially checked. Account for this while making your payment.

Comparing Fees: Different services have varying fee structures for cross-border payments. These can include fixed transaction fees or a percentage of the transfer amount. Compare the total costs, including currency conversion fees, to find the most cost-effective option.

Choosing a Money Transfer Service: Consider reputable companies specializing in international transfers, as they often offer lower fees and better exchange rates than traditional banks. Look at user reviews and ratings to gauge the service's reliability and customer service quality.

Gathering Recipient Information: Obtain the recipient's bank account details, including the bank's SWIFT or IBAN code, which are essential for international wire transfers. The details should include the following: Name of Account Holder, Account Number, Bank Name and Branch, Bank SWIFT or IBAN Code, and Taxpayer Information.

Executing the Transaction:

  • Log into your chosen platform.
  • Enter the recipient's bank details.
  • Specify the amount.
  • Initiate the transfer.

Most services offer tracking options so you can monitor the progress of your transaction.

Understanding Timeframes and Additional Fees: Cross-border transactions can take 1 to 5 business days, depending on the method and countries involved. Do beware of potential additional charges, such as receiving fees from the recipient's bank or international transaction charges levied by certain governments.

By following these steps and being mindful of the key aspects like exchange rates, fees, and recipient information, you can ensure a smooth cross-border payment experience. With the right preparation and choice of service, you can send money abroad efficiently, securely, and at a reasonable cost.

Cross-Border Payment Solutions - Wire, ACH, PayPal

Wire transfers, ACH payments, and PayPal are among the most popular cross-border payment solutions, each with distinct fees, processing time, payee preference, and compliance features. Let's examine how these methods stack up against each other to help you determine the best fit for your business needs.

Wire Transfers

  • Fees: Wire transfers generally incur higher fees, especially for substantial amounts. These fees vary significantly depending on the banks involved and the amount sent.
  • Time: They are known for their speed, with transactions typically being processed within 1-2 days, making them ideal for urgent or time-sensitive payments.
  • Payee Preference: Widely accepted and preferred for large transactions due to their reliability and security.
  • Compliance: Wire transfers are heavily regulated, ensuring compliance with international financial laws and regulations.

ACH Payments

  • Fees: ACH payments are usually more cost-effective than wire transfers, offering a cheaper solution for businesses sending regular payments.
  • Time: The processing time is longer, often taking 2-4 days, as ACH payments are batch-processed.
  • Payee Preference: Suitable for regular, ongoing transactions such as payroll or supplier payments, especially within the United States.
  • Compliance: ACH payments also adhere to strict regulatory standards, although they are more commonly used for domestic transactions.


  • Fees: PayPal charges variable fees for international transactions, typically including a percentage of the transfer amount plus a fixed fee. These fees can be higher than ACH but generally lower than wire transfers for smaller amounts.
  • Time: PayPal transactions are usually quick, with funds often available almost instantly in the recipient's PayPal account.
  • Payee Preference: Popular for small to medium-sized transactions, especially for businesses and individuals already using PayPal for domestic payments.
  • Compliance: PayPal maintains rigorous compliance with international financial regulations, adding a layer of security for cross-border transactions.

Choosing the Right Solution

  • For Urgent or Large Payments: Wire transfers are preferable due to their speed and security, despite the higher costs.
  • For Regular, Smaller Transactions: ACH payments are cost-effective, particularly for U.S.-based transactions.
  • For Convenience and Smaller Payments: PayPal is an excellent choice for its ease of use and quick processing, especially for transactions not exceeding $10,000.

In conclusion, the choice between wire transfers, ACH payments, and PayPal for cross-border payments depends on various factors, including the urgency of the payment, the amount involved, and the familiarity and convenience of the method for both the payer and the payee. Businesses can select the most efficient and cost-effective method for international transactions by carefully considering these aspects.

Looking to integrate cross-border payments into your AP function? Book a 30-min live demo to see how Nanonets can help your team implement end-to-end AP automation.

Regulatory Requirements for Cross-Border Payments

As the world economy continues to globalize, the need for effective cross-border payment solutions has never been greater. Whether you're a business owner looking to make international payments or an individual sending money to family or friends overseas, it's important to understand the regulatory requirements for cross-border payments. This cross-border payment guide will discuss some key regulations impacting international money transfers.

  • One of the most important regulatory requirements for cross-border payments is the anti-money laundering (AML) compliance. All businesses that facilitate cross-border payments must comply with AML regulations, which are designed to prevent the illicit use of financial systems. When you make a cross-border payment, your financial institution will need to verify your identity and collect information about the recipient of the funds.
  • Regulations govern foreign currency exchange, ensuring that the payment transferred is truly equivalent in both currencies. When you make a cross-border payment in a foreign currency, your financial institution must convert the funds into the local currency at the applicable exchange rate. Before making a foreign currency payment, it's important to understand the exchange rate and any fees associated with the transaction.
  • Finally, there are also regulations regarding cross-border payments that are designed to combat terrorism. These regulations require financial institutions to screen customers and transactions for potential links to terrorist activity. Your transaction will undergo additional scrutiny if you're making a cross-border payment to a country on the U.S. Treasury Department's list of sanctioned nations.

Understanding the regulatory requirements for cross-border payments can seem daunting, but knowing the rules before transferring is important. Working with a reputable financial institution ensures your transaction complies with all applicable regulations.

Security Considerations for Cross-Border Payments

While the benefits of cross-border payments are significant, it's important to be aware of the potential security risks involved. This guide will outline some key security considerations when making cross-border payments.

  • One of the most important security considerations when making cross-border payments is to ensure the payment is sent through a secure channel. There are several ways to do this, but one of the most effective is to use a secure payment gateway. Payment gateways encrypt payment information and help to ensure that payments are transmitted securely.
  • Another key consideration is to ensure that the payment recipient is legitimate. This can be done by verifying the recipient's identity and ensuring their bank account information is accurate. It's also important to confirm that the recipient can receive payments in the country where they are located.
  • Finally, it's important to keep track of all cross-border payments. This includes recording the date, amount, and purpose of each payment. This information can be extremely helpful in the event of a dispute or if there are questions about the legitimacy of a payment.

Considering these security considerations, you can help ensure your cross-border payments are safe and secure.

How to Save Money with Cross-Border Payments

Making cost-effective cross-border payments is achievable with a little know-how. First, comparing the fees charged by different service providers is important. These fees can range significantly so that a thorough comparison can lead to substantial savings. Using a provider that offers a foreign currency account can help you avoid currency conversion fees, which can add up over time.

For regular payments, consider providers that offer discounts for scheduled transactions. This can lead to savings in the long run. Wire transfers might be a more economical choice for larger payments as they often have lower fees than other methods. 

Some banks and credit card issuers also offer special programs for international payments, including discounts on foreign currency conversion fees. These routes can help business owners save money and achieve efficient financial operations.

Simplifying and Automating Cross-Border Payment Processes

Although it may seem daunting, there are ways to simplify and automate your cross-border payment processes. Following a few best practices can streamline your payments and keep your business running smoothly.

Know your payee.

Before you can pay, you need to know who you're paying. That seems like a no-brainer, but having all the necessary information about your counterparties before initiating a payment is important.

Make sure you have the following information for each company or individual you do business with:

  • Company name and address
  • Contact name and title
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Bank name and address
  • Bank account number
  • SWIFT/BIC code

Understand the requirements: Every country has different requirements for cross-border payments. It's important to understand the requirements of the countries you're doing business with before you make a payment.

  • Documentation: Each country has different documentation requirements. Make sure you have all the required documents before initiating a payment.
  • Compliance: You must know compliance regulations, such as anti-money laundering (AML) laws. Ensure you understand the compliance regulations of the countries you work with.
  • Currency: Not all countries use the same currency. You may need to convert your currency into the local currency before paying.

There are many different cross-border payment solutions available. It's essential to find the right solution for your business. Consider your chosen payment method's costs, speed, ease of use, and whether these fit your business goals.

Automate your payments:

Automating your payments is one of the best ways to simplify your cross-border payment process. By automating your payments, you can save time and ensure that your payments are made on time, every time. There are many software solutions available that can automate your payments. Choose software that is easy to use and integrates with your existing systems. You can also ensure your banking partner offers an automated payment solution that meets your needs. Automate as many processes as possible, including invoicing, payments, and reconciliation.

Flow by Nanonets

Automation software like Flow Nanonets can handle the end-to-end accounts payable process and help you 10x your efficiency. You can automate your invoices, approval, and payment process. Sync data in real-time with your ERP like Quickbooks for reconciliation, monitoring, and performing analytics on your AP process.

Make international payments with Stripe, Wise, Revolut, or ACH in-app, simplifying your entire payment flow in one step.

Schedule a demo with Flow by Nanonets today:

Keep good records:

Good record-keeping is essential for any business but especially important for cross-border payments. Make sure you keep accurate records of all your payments.

By following these best practices, you can simplify and automate your cross-border payment processes. Doing so can save time and ensure that your payments are made on time, every time.

Cross-Border Payment Guide: Conclusion

As global connectivity continues to grow, so does the importance of efficient cross-border payments. Various methods exist for these transactions, each with its pros and cons. Bank transfers are common but can be slower and more expensive, whereas online payment processors can offer faster and more affordable solutions.

When selecting a method, consider speed, cost, security, reliability, and the sender's and recipient's preferences. Understanding these options ensures you can choose the most suitable method for your cross-border payment needs.