How to receive international payment

In our ever-changing global economy, international payments have become an integral part of the intricate web of worldwide trade. When a business in China supplies a product to a customer in Brazil, or when a service provider from India serves a client in France, international payments connect the financial divide between them. These transactions go beyond borders, blend currencies, and facilitate global commerce. Picture them as the lifeblood of the world’s economic organism, enabling funds to move from one nation to another, ensuring the vitality and success of global trade.

Key Takeaways

  • International Payments: These transactions traverse national boundaries, serving as the backbone of global trade, personal money transfers, and investments. Relevance for South
  • Crucial Factors: Exchange rates, transaction charges, transfer durations, and security aspects are key determinants that shape the landscape of international payments in South Africa.
  • Popular Payment Methods: From traditional bank transfers to modern options like e-wallets, fintech solutions, and cryptocurrencies, a diverse range of methods exists for facilitating cross-border transactions.
  • Challenges and Solutions: Navigating regulations, managing currency volatility, and addressing transaction expenses pose significant challenges. Expert guidance, forward contracts, and comparing platforms stand as effective solutions to mitigate these obstacles.

Grasping the Concept of International Payments

Understanding International Payments What are international payments?

International payments are financial transactions that traverse national borders. While it may appear uncomplicated, the underlying processes can be intricate. This could encompass actions such as purchasing a product from a foreign website, investing in overseas stocks, sending money to a relative in another country, or settling a payment with an international supplier. Unlike local transactions where both parties deal with a single currency and banking system, international payments necessitate coordination across multiple banks, currencies, and regulatory systems.

Imagine this: A fashion retailer in Pretoria places an order for fabrics from a supplier in Mumbai. The payment must navigate through a intricate network of banking channels, undergo conversion from Rand (ZAR) to Indian Rupee (INR), adhere to the regulations of both countries, and ultimately find its way to the supplier’s bank account in Mumbai. Despite the complexity of this entire journey, it is precisely what enables the feasibility of global trade. Thanks to technological advancements, these transactions are now swifter and more transparent, often taking only minutes to days, as opposed to the weeks it took in the past.

How do international payments work?

The process of sending money across borders encompasses several stages. Initially, the payer provides instructions to their bank to transfer a specific amount to the recipient. The bank then collaborates with its correspondent bank (typically located in the recipient’s country) to facilitate the transfer. This is the juncture where SWIFT codes play a crucial role, serving as distinctive identifiers for banks on a global scale.

Once the payment details and compliance checks are successfully cleared, the funds undergo conversion into the recipient’s currency using the prevailing exchange rate. Elements such as transaction fees, intermediary banks, and currency conversion rates come into effect, influencing the final amount that the recipient ultimately obtains. It’s important to highlight that the entire transaction is fortified by rigorous security protocols and regulatory assessments, ensuring not only the security of funds but also adherence to global financial standards.

The South African Context: International Payments

Role of international payments in South Africa’s economy

South Africa showcases a vibrant and diverse economy, spanning from its abundant mineral resources to its burgeoning technology sector. As a proud member of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the country has positioned itself as a significant contender in emerging global markets. This strategic alignment has further emphasized the crucial role of international payments.

The mining sector, for instance, makes a substantial contribution to the nation’s GDP. Precious minerals such as gold, diamonds, and platinum are exported across the globe, giving rise to a flurry of international transactions. Johannesburg, renowned as the City of Gold, stands as a testament to the country’s rich mining legacy and its global market connections.

Additionally, South Africa’s tech startups are making notable strides on the international stage. From e-commerce platforms to fintech innovations, these enterprises collaborate with partners worldwide, recruit international talent, and cater to customers around the globe. Each interaction, partnership, and sale relies on streamlined international payment systems.

Regulatory landscape for international payments in South Africa

South Africa’s financial system is robust and fortified by a vigilant regulatory framework. The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) and the Financial Intelligence Centre play pivotal roles in upholding international transactions in alignment with global best practices and local regulations.

The movement of money into and out of the country is governed by Exchange Control Regulations. Both individuals and businesses in South Africa must be mindful of these regulations when engaging in international payments. For instance, there are limits on the amount that can be transferred abroad without obtaining clearance from the SARB. These measures are designed to ensure the stability of the national economy and to curb illicit activities such as money laundering.

To facilitate lawful international transactions, South Africa has entered into Double Taxation Agreements with several countries. These agreements prevent individuals and businesses from being subjected to taxation in both South Africa and the country where the transaction takes place. This stands as a testament to South Africa’s commitment to nurturing an environment conducive to global trade.

Key Factors to Consider for International Payments in South Africa

Exchange rates

Exchange rates determine the value of one currency in relation to another. They act as the pulse of international finance, exerting influence over every cross-border monetary transaction. For South Africans, the relative worth of the Rand (ZAR) compared to other currencies frequently takes center stage when conducting international dealings.

Fluctuations in exchange rates can carry substantial ramifications. Envision a South African business agreeing to remit €100,000 to a European supplier for machinery, with an exchange rate of R18 to €1. At that juncture, the cost stands at R1.8 million. However, should the Rand weaken to R20 to €1 by the time of payment, the expense escalates to R2 million. Such deviations can impact profitability and financial strategizing.

Vigilantly observing exchange rate trends, employing hedging tactics, or collaborating with financial institutions offering advantageous rates becomes paramount in order to mitigate the perils associated with currency oscillations.

Transaction fees

Sending money internationally comes with associated costs. Banks and payment service providers impose fees for facilitating such transactions. These charges can exhibit considerable variability, contingent upon the service provider, the transaction sum, and the nations involved.

In South Africa, it’s customary for banks to adopt a tiered fee system, encompassing fixed charges for smaller transactions and a percentage of the amount for more substantial ones. Furthermore, intermediary banks (those engaged in facilitating the transfer between the sending and receiving banks) may also deduct their own fees.

For both businesses and individuals, comprehending the fee arrangement and exploring options for the most favorable rates can translate into noteworthy savings, particularly if international payments constitute a recurrent practice.

Transfer duration

Time is frequently of paramount importance in the realm of international trade. A delay in the receipt of payment has the potential to disrupt supply chains, impede project advancement, or even corrode trust between trading partners. Consequently, possessing knowledge regarding the anticipated duration of an international payment is of utmost significance.

In the context of South Africa, most international transfers, orchestrated through conventional banks, typically span from 1 to 5 business days. However, this timeline can exhibit variability contingent upon factors such as the recipient’s country, the type of currency involved, and the participating banks. Modern international payment platforms harnessing digital technology can expedite this process, often committing to same-day or next-day transfers.

Security and Fraud protection

The issue of security takes center stage when it comes to transferring money across international borders. The intricate nature of international payments, combined with the involvement of numerous intermediaries, can occasionally create opportunities for fraudulent activities or breaches of security.

South African entities are acutely cognizant of these challenges. Banks and payment service providers adopt state-of-the-art security measures, including two-factor authentication and end-to-end encryption, to fortify the protection of transactions. Consistently updating software, exercising caution against phishing attempts, and collaborating with reputable financial institutions serve as additional measures to enhance security.

» More info: How to send money abroad safely!

Overview of Popular International Payment Methods in South Africa

Bank Transfers

The most traditional approach to international payments, bank transfers involve directly sending funds from a South African bank to an overseas recipient’s bank. While reliable, this method can occasionally be slower and carry higher fees. However, for substantial sums or business transactions where established trust is paramount, bank transfers remain a favored option.


Digital wallets or e-wallets have revolutionized international payments, particularly for smaller transactions. Platforms such as PayPal, Skrill, or Payoneer empower South Africans to send and receive money from virtually anywhere across the globe. They’re swift, relatively cost-effective, and user-friendly. Numerous South African freelancers and online businesses rely on e-wallets to cater to their global customer base.

International Payment Services

The advent of fintech has ushered in a fresh era of international payment solutions. Companies like TransferWise (now Wise) and Revolut offer competitive exchange rates, transparent fee structures, and expedited transfer times. Essentially acting as intermediaries, they hold accounts in multiple countries, enabling them to facilitate rapid cross-border transfers.


While still in its early stages in terms of widespread adoption, cryptocurrency is emerging as a potent tool for international payments. With digital currencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum, one can bypass conventional banking systems entirely, ensuring prompt, decentralized, and often more economical transactions. However, South Africans should remain mindful of the regulatory landscape and the volatile nature of cryptocurrencies when considering them for international payments.

As South Africa continues to progress and intertwine with the global economy, these payment methods will play a pivotal role in shaping its dynamics of international trade. Whether you’re a business proprietor seeking global expansion, a freelancer serving international clientele, or simply an individual with family overseas, familiarity with these avenues can empower you to make well-informed choices.

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Challenges and Solutions for International Payments in South Africa

Regulatory Challenges

Navigating the intricate regulatory landscape is among the primary hurdles that South African entities encounter when engaging in international payments. Adhering to Exchange Control Regulations, comprehending Double Taxation Agreements, and ensuring compliance with Anti-Money Laundering (AML) protocols can present a formidable task.

Solution: Collaborating with financial advisors or institutions specializing in cross-border transactions can streamline this process. These experts stay up-to-date with the latest regulatory developments, guaranteeing payment compliance and diminishing the risk of penalties or transaction delays.

Currency Volatility

As previously discussed, the oscillating value of the Rand can exert significant influence over the ultimate transaction amount. For businesses operating within narrow margins, this unpredictability can trigger apprehension.

Solution: Engaging in forward contracts, which lock in exchange rates for forthcoming transactions, can offer a pragmatic approach. Financial institutions also extend options, granting businesses the privilege (though not the obligation) to transact at a designated rate, thereby providing a buffer against substantial fluctuations.

Transaction Delays

The complexities associated with cross-border fund transfers can occasionally result in transaction delays. Especially in situations where prompt payments are pivotal, such delays have the potential to impede operations.

Solution: Embracing fintech solutions, as previously mentioned, can expedite the transfer process. Additionally, establishing transparent communication channels with banks or payment service providers can assist in swiftly addressing any challenges that may arise during the transaction journey.

High Transaction Expenses

For smaller businesses or individuals, the cumulative impact of transaction fees can become burdensome, particularly when conducting frequent international payments.

Solution: Exploring diverse payment platforms and conducting a comparative analysis of their fee structures can yield substantial savings. Certain platforms might extend loyalty incentives or reduced fees for higher transaction volumes.


International payments represent a pivotal juncture in South Africa’s journey towards deeper integration into the global economy. As our world continues to interconnect, grasping the intricacies of cross-border transactions is becoming increasingly indispensable for both businesses and individuals. By navigating the complexities of international payments, South Africa can better harness the opportunities of a globalized marketplace.


What are international payments?

International payments refer to financial transactions that cross national borders, facilitating global trade and personal transfers.

Why are exchange rates significant in international payments?

Exchange rates play a crucial role as they determine the value of one currency in relation to another, directly impacting the final amount in a transaction.

What roles do fintech and cryptocurrencies play in international payments for South Africa?

Fintech and cryptocurrencies offer quicker, often more cost-effective, and transparent methods for cross-border transactions, revolutionizing the traditional payment landscape.

How can one mitigate the risks associated with currency fluctuations?

Mitigating currency fluctuation risks can be achieved through strategies like engaging in forward contracts or utilizing financial options to hedge against drastic currency rate changes.

What is the future of international payments in South Africa?

The future of international payments in South Africa looks promising, characterized by the rise of digital platforms, streamlined regulations, enhanced security measures, and the growing adoption of cryptocurrencies. These factors are poised to transform and shape the landscape of cross-border transactions in the country.

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