Wiring money to Italy

How to get bailed out of trouble in 10 minutes flat by sending some cash via Western Union or Moneygram

There are Western Union offices throughout Europe—sometimes doubleing as tobacconists, as this one in Italy.
There are Western Union offices throughout Europe—sometimes doubling as tobacconists, as this one in Sicily.
Wiring cash is a last-ditch, need-bail-money sort of thing because for every dollar your understanding uncle wires you, he flushes 10 to 35 cents down the toilet.

That's right. These famed money wiring services—Western Union and MoneyGram—charge rates that would make your local low-level Mafia loan shark proud. Even the usurious rates of a credit card cash advance are better than this.

How much does is cost to wire money?

You pay for the convenience of sending money instantly anywhere in the world in two ways.

  1. A flat fee for sending money. This varies by the method you use (in person is cheapest, online costs more, over the phone costs the most), and by the about being sent and is detailed below for each company. In brief, it costs as little as $15 to send up to $100. To send more can cost anywhere from $20 to $85. The maximum you can wire is $999.

  2. An unfavorable exchange rate. The instant-cash companies use a truly terrible exchange rate, often about 5–6% "worse" than prime Interbank rate. This means they're skimming a bit more off the top than do either credit cards (which is usually 2% below prime, plus whatever your card issuer charges on top of that), or typical cash transactions (4% below prime).

Why wire money?

Still, for when you need a big chunk of change in a big hurry wiring money can save the day. If you're a smart traveler and use your moneybelt properly, a pickpocket will only make off with a days spending money (plus, of course, the wallet itself). However, perhaps you got mugged (very rare in Italy, but not entirely unheard of), and the mugger was smart enough to get your moneybelt, too—meaning all your cash, traveler's checks, and credit cards have effectively been stolen.

Just find the nearest local office (usually a representative, could be a travel agent, change bureau, or even the corner bar) for whichever service your benefactor is going to use, bring a photo ID, and wait for the cash to come rolling in.

(Also, a little birdie told me that it’s the only way to send money to the offshore travel agents who can book you tickets and buy visas to visit Cuba, but that has nothing to do with Italy so we'll save it for another time and another Web site.)

Resources for wiring money

Western Union (www.westernunion.com) - The old standby of Western Union is a bit costlier than using MoneyGram (below), but the sender can do Western Union over the phone (800-CALL-CASH, which is 800-225-5227) or on-line (www.westernunion.com), bailing you out from the comfort of his own home and sending the quick cash to offices in any of 190 countries. If the person sending the money uses the phone or internet service, he or she can pay by Visa, MasterCard, or debit card; if he or she goes in person to a Western Union agency to send the money, payment is by cash or debit card only. Western Union fees to send up to $100: from an agent location $15; Internet $20; phone $25. Fees to send $101–$999: agent location: $22–$68, Internet $25–$81, phone $33–$85.

Travelers Express/MoneyGram (www.moneygram.com) - Money zips over the wires to offices in 155 countries worldwide in about ten minutes, for the privilege of which the sender, standing at his local MoneyGram branch office, gets to pay a fee of $11–$40 (depending on the amount sent). You may send up to $10,000 at a time in person, $899.99 if you use the Internet. You can pay in cash, Visa, or MasterCard only; if you send online you can do an ACH debit of your bank account as well. Plus the sender gets to include for free a 10-word message that arrives along with the funds, perhaps something along the lines of "When you get home I'm gonna tear you a new..."

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