International money transactions can be an absolute nightmare. There's the time difference. The language barriers. The currency exchange. The high costs and delays of bank wires, personal checks and mailed remittances. But now there are three services that help ease the pain of trans-oceanic transactions.
American Express' Online Global Payments Service recently launched a Web site to help small businesses initiate payments to vendors in more than 41 foreign currencies (http://www.americanexpress.com/ip). After establishing an account, simply log on and type in your name, account number, and payment and currency information. Click on `calculate,' and voilà: The amount owed is displayed on-screen in the payee's currency; American Express receives the transaction and makes the payment.
"The Internet can solve a large number of the problems small firms face when making international payments," says Steve Flett, senior vice president of American Express Foreign Exchange Services in New York City.
Western Union's Quick Cash, launched in 1996, enables businesses to send payments to overseas suppliers or employees. Using Western Union's software on their PCs, authorized individuals can send funds to Western Union locations in 160 countries. Within minutes, the funds are available in local currency for pickup by the payee. The entrepreneur pays the principal and fee through a direct bank transfer to Western Union.
To receive payments from international customers, there's also Western Union's Quick Pay. With this program, small businesses can either have funds direct-deposited into their bank accounts or have checks printed out in their offices. (Western Union gives all subscribers a free printer and modem.) "It cuts out weeks of time, problems with bank wires, and trying to match up who sent what where," says Maureen Murray of Western Union Commercial Services in Paramus, New Jersey. Funds are received in full with no deductions; to date, nearly 1,500 companies have used the free service.
Abby Ellen lives in New York City and writes the "Preludes" column for the business section of The New York Times.