International Payments – The 5 Most Common Payment Methods

Payments 2 December 2020
International Payments – The 5 Most Common Payment Methods

All payments carry an element of risk and uncertainty, but cross-border payments are more complex and riskier than domestic transactions. As businesses turn to e-commerce in growing numbers, and as digital and mobile technology make online shopping simple for consumers, there has been a huge increase in international commerce and thus online payments. And with Covid-19 disrupting the high street, the global online marketplace has had a further boost.

So, what are the different types of payment that can help your business handle e-commerce smoothly and securely across borders? Here are five common payment methods and their advantages and disadvantages for buyers and sellers.

1. Debit and credit cards

Card payments have increased dramatically in recent years, with technology enabling remote payments known as card not present (CNP) transactions. Cards are by the far the most popular means of payment in Europe and the Americas, and today you can buy practically anything online using debit and credit cards, stimulating the huge growth in e-commerce and now mobile commerce.

This growth means it’s essential for e-commerce businesses to accept cards online and integrate with all the major and trusted card schemes (eg, Visa and MasterCard) as well as e-commerce modules such as Magento, WooCommerce and PrestaShop. And if merchants lack fully-functioning e-commerce websites, they can use payment links that allow customers to click a one-time link and securely enter their card details. For example, Safenetpay provides this service via its portal.



  • Card payments are rising worldwide and major card schemes such as Visa and MasterCard inspire trust. Businesses with systems that accept card payments will enhance their brands and help to increase sales

  • Cards encourage impulse buying because they make it quick and simple for customers to purchase goods or services 

  • Cash flow improves because transactions are processed digitally and settled quickly

  • Many credit cards provide reward schemes, which incentivises cardholders to use cards for purchases 
  • Wider use of cards (and particularly card not present transactions) means an increased risk of fraud. Payment providers must meet rigorous standards to ensure transactions are secure and buyers and sellers are protected

  • Disputed card transactions may lead to chargebacks, whereby a seller must return a payment to the buyer because of fraudulent activity or an error. While good for buyers, it’s a disadvantage for sellers 

  • Purchases with credit cards may lead to buyer debt as interest charges mount up

2. SWIFT payments

SWIFT stands for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. A foundation of the global banking community since 1973, SWIFT is a secure messaging service which transmits payment instructions via bank identifier codes (known as BICs). SWIFT doesn’t move money itself but instead provides the standards for international payments. Using SWIFT BICs, payments can be routed securely worldwide via a network of correspondent banks.



  • SWIFT is a trusted and transparent payment system for international bank-to-bank transfers. Thanks to the correspondent banking model, the SWIFT network allows individuals and businesses to make payments even if the customer or seller uses a different bank than the payee
  • (known as SWIFT gpi) aims to transform cross-border payments

3. Cryptocurrencies

A cryptocurrency is a digital medium of exchange, an internet-based asset that is an alternative to traditional currencies. The best-known example is Bitcoin but there are now more than 2,000 cryptocurrencies. Blockchain technology is the power behind cryptocurrencies, and it ensures that a cryptocurrency is not controlled by any central authority.



  • Because they are decentralised and immutable (ie, unchanging and tamper proof), cryptocurrencies are a highly secure form of payment 

  • Cryptocurrencies don’t require middlemen, so transactions are usually simpler, faster and free of the transaction fees associated with other payment methods

  • Cryptocurrencies promote financial inclusion by bringing financial services to people without bank accounts
  • Cyptocurrencies have had a rocky ride over the last few years, and their value can fluctuate wildly. This may be good for traders but it’s risky for anyone holding cryptocurrencies 

  • Perception/reputation: cryptocurrencies have been used to facilitate illegal activities because cryptocurrency transactions are anonymous

4. Digital wallets

A digital wallet (or e-wallet) functions just like a physical wallet. It allows you to store credit cards and other forms of payment, as well as information such as ID cards and passwords, but everything is held digitally rather than physically. With a digital wallet, you can make payments quickly and easily using communication technology. For example, mobile communication enables consumers to purchase items using their smartphones. A bank account is not required to use a digital wallet, which helps those who are excluded from mainstream banking. Digital wallet brands include Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, MasterPass, and Amazon Pay.



  • Convenience and simplicity are big advantages. You don’t have to carry cash or cards, as everything you need is held digitally and you can pay for items by tapping your smartphone

  • Unlike your physical wallet, your digital wallet has security controls. Access to the wallet requires passwords, so a lost or stolen phone is not the same as the loss of a physical wallet

  • Digital wallets often come with promotions and point rewards systems 
  • Digital wallets don’t work everywhere and not every store will accept them

  • You are dependent on connectivity, and your phone must be charged

  • A digital wallet is not immune from hacking, and trust is a concern for many consumers

5. Alternative payment methods

Strictly speaking, alternative payment methods include digital wallets, cryptocurrencies and even debit card transactions. Anything that doesn’t involve cash or cards can be classified as alternative, and it’s a category that is growing all the time thanks to fintech and paytech initiatives.

Alternative payment methods should always be considered by e-commerce businesses that want to appeal to the widest number of customers and in particular accommodate local payment preferences. For example, China is a leader in alternative payment methods such as Alipay and WeChat Pay. When choosing a payment provider to support international payments, look for a partner who covers the field and can integrate with new payment methods as they emerge. With Safenetpay, you can easily accept Alipay, WeChat Pay, Paysafecash, and over 150 other card alternatives.



  • Technology is continually widening the scope for alternative payments and reducing the reliance on cash

  • Merchants who cater for alternative payments can increase their customer base
  • Emerging payment technologies take time to win the trust of users

  • As alternative payment methods are developed, Interoperability is often a hurdle

Maximising international payments

Safenetpay can help any business that trades either domestically or internationally. If you want to explore payment options for your business, including setting up a business account, see Safenetpay’s wide range of services . And if you want to know more about today’s digital payments, see our guide to online payment systems.

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