FOR many Hong Kong residents with family, property or businesses overseas, sending money abroad is a frequent necessity. But for the inexperienced or unsuspecting, the process of remitting money is plagued with pitfalls. Depending on how you send the money, the currency you are sending and where you are sending it, costs can vary greatly. In some cases, charges multiply along the way, eating a hefty chunk out of the money you send. Roland Teixeira, who manages a real-estate company in Taipei, found that when he sent US$5,000 from Hong Kong to Taiwan, he lost US$413 on currency conversions and was charged nearly US$20 in fees. 'I was amazed,' he said. By converting from US dollars to Hong Kong dollars and then to Taiwanese dollars, he was charged for two conversions, both at rates worse than those stated as the official rates for the day. 'In hindsight, I wouldn't have done it that way,' he said. Cabling money is the simplest, quickest and most confidential method. The cash can be in the hands of the recipient within 15 minutes of it being cabled from Hong Kong, but it is not always cheap. Western Union has a sliding scale of charges, based on the amount being sent. For less than US$50, it charges 30 per cent. This gradually falls, so that when you are sending US$500, the charge is 8 per cent. Eventually, it drops as low as 3 per cent. Sending money from Hong Kong to the Philippines probably is the cheapest remittance in the SAR. With such intense competition for the remittances of the legion of overseas contract workers in Hong Kong, charges are as low as HK$25, and special door-to-door delivery offers are common. At BPI (Bank of the Philippines) Remittance Centre, for example, Family Money was quoted charges of HK$25 for door-to-door delivery within the Metro Manila area, a service taking about three to four days. Western Union has special rates to the Philippines from Hong Kong. It charges US$10 for up to US$300, US$20 for US$300-US$600 and US$30 for US$600-US$900. Unfortunately, such rates exist only between Hong Kong and the Philippines, where the competition is tough. For remittances to other countries, the service may be more expensive or may not be offered at all. Banks can offer remittance services to most countries through the international networks available to them. Hong Kong banks charge about HK$150-$200 as a fee for the remittance service. The fee may be lower for those with priority banking services or higher for those who do not hold an account with the bank. Standard Chartered, for example, charges its Relationship Banking Customers HK$80, those with an ordinary account HK$160 and those with no account HK$300. Charges may be added for dealing with a second bank. At Hongkong Bank, for example, there is no extra charge levied when remitting to an overseas branch of the bank, but 0.25 per cent of the value (up to HK$7,500) is added as commission on remittances to the bank's 'correspondent banks', that is, those with which it has a special relationship. The recipient banks also add their own charges to the bill - and it may not be clear in advance how much they will charge. One bank said correspondent banks typically charged about US$10, while non-corespondent banks could charge up to US$50 per remittance. The money usually is subtracted from the remitted sum, but in some cases, the sender can choose to pay the charges in advance. At Standard Chartered, the sender can elect to pay HK$200 in advance to cover the recipient banks charges, up to HK$500. Beyond HK$500, the sender will have to pay the full amount. 'You're completely at the mercy of what the other banks want to charge,' a spokesman for the Hong Kong Association of Banks (HKAB) said. 'Sometimes, the charges aren't entirely apparent.' In addition to the service charges, remitters also can expect to pay heavily for any currency conversions which are part of the remittance. The banks do not use the 'bank note' currency rates usually quoted outside foreign exchange bureaux, but use a 'TT' (telegraphic transfer) rate which will be slightly less advantageous than the bank-note rate, and will vary throughout the day. When a third currency is involved, as in Mr Teixeira's case, conversion becomes even more costly, because the money will be converted first into Hong Kong dollars and then into New Taiwan dollars. At a time when published rates were quoting NT$32.70-$32.74 to the US dollar, the sum Mr Teixeira sent was converted at NT$30. The HKAB spokesman said he was not surprised by the conversion rate. In fact, with certain currencies, including the Taiwan dollar, banks are not at liberty to set the rates themselves, but take their rate from the Taiwanese banks. 'It's not an internationally traded currency,' the banks told us. Using the banks also could take you an uncertain amount of time. After the sending bank has sent the money, it is up to the recipient bank to decide when it wishes to credit it to the new account. Some may hold the funds for a day or two, investing the transfer on the money markets, before crediting the recipient. It adds up to a pretty expensive process.