But, thanks to the growth of specialist foreign exchange providers, the process can be a lot cheaper than it traditionally has been.
While the banks continue to be the first port of call for many looking to wire money abroad, these alternative providers promise to undercut the traditional high street players with more competitive exchange rates. They also claim to cut what can be steep charges, and eliminate hidden fees.
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"Consumers simply don't realise that there are cheaper alternatives available and transaction fees levied by the banks," says Andrew Hagger of Moneycomms.co.uk, the financial advice specialist.
"Even though some providers claim to offer a fee-free service, the wide variation in bid-offer spreads charged in FX [foreign exchange] transactions often represents the major hidden cost to retail customers.
"As well as a variation in exchange rates to consider, for the man in the street the situation is further complicated as many of the banks charge an additional fee on top."
Surveys illustrate the gulf in money transfer costs between the banks - which continue to account for the overwhelming majority of transactions - and players such as TransferWise, Fair FX and Caxton FX.
FairFX, for instance, which allows people to send money overseas via its online service, has launched a price guarantee scheme that claims to involve competitive rates and no hidden charges.
It says that, while a consumer would pay £631.71 for a US $1000 transfer using its service, HSBC would charge £645.07, the Post Office £647.04, and Lloyds £651.53.
A separate survey by Moneycomms.co.uk looked at how much a consumer would have paid to send 1000 euros overseas on September 19 this year. While FairFX offered the cheapest option, charging £856.16 at a rate of 1.168 to £1, Santander would have charged £886.91 on a rate of 1.162 to the £1 - a difference of more than £30.
Another competitive option is TransferWise, a peer-to-peer currency exchange service. It allows people to transfer money from one account into another via its website, and pays the recipient in the required currency after carrying out the conversion.
One reader who recently used the service to transfer proceeds from a house sale after to a bereavement was said by TransferWise to have saved $1626 on the £35,000 transaction over what the bank would have levied. The fee charged by TransferWise in this case was £175.
CurrencyFair, which brings buyers and sellers together to exchange funds directly with each other, allowing them to settle their own rates, said it had saved customers £15 million in bank charges since its launch in 2010.
The peer to peer service, which is used by expatriates and people who own businesses or properties overseas, is said to allow users to get the best rates for 17 currencies by cutting out the middle man.
Chief executive Brett Meyers said CurrencyFair allowed people to "realise savings that are often hidden in bank foreign exchange rates or extortionate charges", noting 11% of its customers had "beaten the interbank rate in 2013".
There is also a money transfer option for those who do not have or do not want to use bank or credit accounts. Ukash, launched by money transfer specialist MoneyGram, allows up to £200 to be deposited online which can be collected at 328,000 in nearly 200 countries around the world.