How to Pay International Contractors

The number of remote workers worldwide is increasing, which means a larger candidate pool for US-based companies that are looking to hire abroad. What are the best ways to pay international contractors?

Photographer in sunglasses holding a fan of hundred American dollar bills

Pilot Team

Published on May 7, 2021

According to a 2020 report from McKinsey, there could be as much as a three- to four-fold increase in the number of remote workers worldwide after the COVID-19 pandemic ends, compared to pre-pandemic times. What does this mean for companies in the US? US companies interested in hiring remotely will have a larger number of potential candidates to choose from not just within the US but internationally as well. Choosing to hire remote employees or contractors is a great way to increase both the size and diversity of your candidate pool. Once you’ve found your hire, though, you'll need to find the best ways to pay them internationally. We’ve explored ways to pay contractors in Brazil and the Philippines, but what about in other countries?Here are common methods to pay international contractors worldwide, with pros and cons for each:

1. Bank transfers using SWIFT 🏦

A SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications) transfer enables you to securely transfer funds from your company’s bank account to your contractor’s bank account. SWIFT is a network used by financial institutions around the world, and it is commonly used for international payments.
  • Pros: SWIFT is secure and widely used by banks.
  • Cons: SWIFT can be expensive for both your company and your contractors. SWIFT payments are typically routed through multiple banks before they reach the contractor’s bank, and each bank can deduct a fee from the funds being transferred, reducing the total amount transferred by as much as $20 to $40 USD per payment, and sometimes even more. The deductions are often random and arbitrary; the same payment can go through the same banks, yet be charged different fee amounts each time, so that it’s difficult for employers to plan ahead for them. If the contractor is receiving the payment at their local bank, then the bank may charge an additional markup fee for the conversion from USD to the local currency. In addition to the conversion markup fee, sometimes banks will charge an extra fee for receiving a SWIFT payment.

2. Online money transfer companies 💻

You can use an online money transfer company to pay your contractors. Popular companies include Remitly, Xoom (owned by PayPal), and Wise (formerly Transferwise).
  • Pros: Money transfer companies generally provide much better markups on exchange rates than banks do. Also, because their services are available online, it's typically pretty straightforward for you to send payments, with no need to go to a physical location.
  • Cons: Though their markups are better than those of banks, money transfer companies often do still charge percent-based fees or add markup fees for currency exchange, with the fees varying by country. In addition, some transfers may require your contractors to withdraw money from the service (which includes a withdrawal fee) or to use the service’s debit card in order to access the funds. When a debit card is required, contractors typically need to pay transaction fees when using the card.

3. Traditional money transfer companies 🏛

"Traditional" money transfer companies such as MoneyGram and Western Union have both online services and brick-and-mortar locations in the US and in select countries around the world.
  • Pros: In addition to online services, these companies have physical locations in the US and agent locations in select countries, where your contractor can optionally receive their payment in person. Traditional money transfer companies can also provide better markups on exchange rates than banks do.
  • Cons: Similar to online money transfer companies, traditional ones typically do still charge percent-based fees or add markup fees for currency exchange.

4. Cryptocurrencies 🤑

The use of cryptocurrencies is growing quickly around the world. You may be able to avoid having to work with USD-to-local-currency exchange rates in general by paying your contractors in Bitcoin, Dogecoin, Ethereum, or other cryptocurrencies.
  • Pros: No need to deal with exchange rates and fees, at least in terms of transactions that use only fiat money.
  • Cons: You need to be set up for sending cryptocurrencies and work with a contractor who is set up to receive them. If they would like the cryptocurrency to be converted into their local currency, you will still need to deal with exchange rates and possible fees. In addition, cryptocurrency tax compliance laws vary by location, and you’ll need to be sure you’re following the latest regulations correctly.

As you can see, there are many options for sending payments to international contractors, with varying pros and cons. The good news is that Pilot offers an alternative solution, in which your contractors can get paid more 🎉.

Legal Disclaimer:

The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter.

Pilot manages international payroll, compliance, and benefits for US-based companies. Pilot’s own team is fully distributed around the world, and we understand what companies are looking for. Our platform enables you to pay contractors using local currency payments and local bank transfers in over 70 countries, and we don't mark up exchange rates.In addition, Pilot does not require contractors to use an e-wallet or debit card--the funds go straight to their bank accounts.  We don't charge companies to send payments, and we don't charge contractors for receiving them--so our clients and contractors love us.

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