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Western Union Money Transfer Review: Fast or Cheap but Not Both

Banking, Money Transfer
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Western Union
NerdWallet’s rating: 3.5 / 5.0

3.5 stars out of 5

WU logo
  • Unmatched network in more than 200 countries
  • Wide range of payment and delivery options
  • Costs tend to be higher than average
Learn more at Western Union

Western Union is the largest money transfer provider worldwide, covering over 200 countries and territories with more than 500,000 agent locations. The company plays to its two main advantages: breadth of countries served and transfer options to those countries.

This network lets you send money that can be picked up as cash within minutes worldwide or choose cheaper options for slower delivery to bank accounts abroad. Western Union’s costs tend to be competitive in developing countries, but costs for transfers to wealthier Western countries generally are higher.

>>MORE: Compare money transfers

The bottom line

We rated Western Union 3.5 out of 5 stars based on its transfers from the U.S. to seven benchmark countries.

Where Western Union shines: cheap transfers delivered to bank accounts in Mexico, China, India and the Philippines. The company can deliver cash for pickup within minutes to areas worldwide where other providers aren’t available.
Where it falls short: transfers to Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Country overall ratings
Average rating for all countries3.5 stars out of 5
Mexico★ ★ ★ ★
China★ ★ ★ ★ ½
India★ ★ ★ ★
Philippines★ ★ ★ ½
Germany★ ★ ★
Canada★ ★ ★ ½
United Kingdom★ ★ ★ ½
  • Same-day delivery is available
  • It has multiple payment and delivery options
  • Delivery in Canada is limited to cash pickup

Overview

For each country, we analyzed Western Union’s money transfers based on four categories: transfer costs, speed offerings, transfer methods and customer experience. We took the average of all countries’ category ratings to get Western Union’s overall ratings:

Overall Ratings
Transfer costs2.5 stars out of 5
Speed offerings4.0 stars out of 5
Transfer methods and options5.0 stars out of 5
Customer experience3.0 stars out of 5
Overall3.5 stars out of 5

Transfer costs

Many options with a range of fees and exchange rates
2.5 stars out of 5
2.5 / 5.0

Western Union generally offers up to 10 options for sending money to a country, and fees and exchange rates vary by factors such as delivery option.

There’s a clear trend. As with other providers in the industry, transfers delivered to bank accounts, regardless of payment method, tend to be cheaper than transfers delivered as cash pickup.

However, Western Union transfers to four developing countries — Mexico, India, China and the Philippines — tend to have lower fees and better exchange rates across the board than transfers to wealthier countries such as Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The spread of costs varies a lot. For transfers up to $1,000, the fee ranges from $0 to $95, while the median exchange rate markup is between nearly 0% to 10%.


The mid-market rate, also called the interbank rate, is the exchange rate that big banks use to swap currencies among one another. Most providers give customers an exchange rate that’s the mid-market rate plus an additional percentage, or markup, to make profit on the transfer.

Example: If the mid-market rate for U.S. dollars to Mexican pesos is 20 pesos per dollar, then a 2% markup means the provider is giving you 19.6 pesos per dollar. For a $500 transfer, that’s the difference between 10,000 pesos from the first rate and 9,800 pesos from the second. And the higher the markup, the less your recipient gets in their currency.

While Western Union doesn’t charge more if you pay with a credit card rather than a debit card, your credit card issuer sometimes tacks on additional costs such as interest and cash advance fees.

Beyond digital transfers, you can send money from Western Union agent locations in the U.S. to ones abroad if your recipient needs to pick up cash. This is one of the more expensive options, but money can arrive within minutes and be helpful in emergencies. But MoneyGram, Western Union’s main competitor in this space, often offers cheaper transfers for this service in the benchmark countries.

Speed offerings

Same-day delivery available
4.0 stars out of 5
4.0 / 5.0

Western Union’s speeds range from minutes to over two weeks, depending on the transfer you select. Transfers paid for with credit or debit card and delivered to a cash pickup location take minutes, but are often more expensive. The cheapest option, transfers with bank accounts on the sending and receiving ends, can take four to five business days on average.

Transfer methods and options

Multiple options for payment, delivery and sending channels
5.0 stars out of 5
5.0 / 5.0

  • Sending channels: Western Union’s website, mobile app and agent locations in the U.S., and by phone for transfers to some countries
  • Payment options: U.S. bank accounts; Visa, MasterCard and Discover credit and debit cards; and cash
  • Delivery options: Bank deposit at the recipient’s bank and cash pickup at a location such as a post office, retail store or bank. Other options may be available in certain countries, such as deposits to a mobile wallet account.
  • Transfer limits: $5,000 per transfer is the maximum you can send online or on the mobile app, and there’s no minimum. Details of the limits on transfers sent from agent locations were not disclosed by the company.

Customer experience

24/7 support, live chat, government settlement this year
3.0 stars out of 5
3.0 / 5.0

Western Union’s website has a price estimator as well as FAQs under a “customer care” section. You can email or call customer service representatives 24/7 or use a live chat feature to message someone for help during extended business hours on weekdays and weekends.

Its mobile app gets 4.5 stars out of 5 for the current version on the iOS app store and 4.4 stars on the Android app.

But Western Union has fallen short on protecting consumers. The money transfer giant agreed to pay $586 million in a settlement with the Justice Department and other government agencies this year for failing to prevent wire fraud that took place over its network and “willfully failing to maintain an effective anti-money-laundering program.”

Cheap or fast transfers but rarely both

Western Union
Learn more
at Western Union
With Western Union, you can choose between paying more for transfers that arrive in minutes or paying less for transfers that take several business days. Although cash pickup is one of Western Union’s specialties, the provider is more competitive for transfers delivered to bank accounts in developing countries. Either way, Western Union has the broadest agent network in the world, so you should be able to get your money sent near to where you want.

But if you want cheaper transfers to countries such as Germany, Canada or the U.K., you’d want to consider other options.

Spencer Tierney is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: spencer@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @SpencerNerd.

Updated March 17, 2017.


Ratings Methodology

We analyzed 11 top money transfer providers that work in the U.S., including major players and smaller, innovative companies in the international money transfer industry, based on market research, experts, cost analysis and U.S. internet traffic.Providers considered: MoneyGram, OFX, Placid Express, Remitly, Ria, Transfast, TransferWise, Western Union, World First, WorldRemit and Xoom (owned by PayPal).

What the ratings mean:

5 stars out of 5 — Excellent
4 stars out of 5 — Above average
3 stars out of 5 — Average
2 stars out of 5 — Below average
1 star out of 5 — Poor

How we rate money transfer providers