Western Union is the largest money transfer provider worldwide with more than 500,000 locations in over 200 countries and territories. Unlike many providers, Western Union offers both domestic and international transfers; the ability to send or receive cash quickly overseas is its speciality.
But Western Union has a complicated pricing structure, and its FAQs lack sufficient guidance for some key customer situations, such as canceling a transfer before it’s delivered. Also, the company has fallen short in the past in protecting consumers. It agreed to pay $586 million in a settlement in 2017 with the Department of Justice and other government agencies for failing to prevent wire fraud on its platform.
This overview of Western Union is for U.S.-based audiences sending money within the U.S. and abroad only.
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- People who need to send or receive physical cash.
- People sending to places not widely covered by other providers, such as prisons and U.S. military bases overseas.
- Fast transfers available. Cash- and debit card-funded transfers can arrive within minutes to destinations in the U.S. and abroad. The recipient would pick up the cash at a physical location, such as a supermarket or bank.
- You can send physical cash. This isn’t an option for most nonbank money transfer providers.
- Not the cheapest. Depending on the destination, you can find cheaper transfers both in terms of fees and rates. For example, with Western Union, sending $500 to Mexico using online funding from a bank account and delivering to a recipient’s bank account carries an $8 fee, while the same transfer scenario but to Germany has a $35 fee. To send money to developing countries, compare costs with Remitly and WorldRemit. For developed countries, look at what TransferWise and OFX offer.
- Difficult to compare costs because the fee and exchange rate can vary significantly by how you pay, how your recipient receives money, and other factors. Many other providers offer a single rate, regardless of how you send or deliver money.
Western Union transfer methods and options
Fees and exchange rates vary by which combination of these options you pick, and by country.
- Sending channels: Website, mobile app, by phone and in person at U.S. locations.
- Payment options: U.S. bank accounts; Visa, Mastercard and Discover credit and debit cards; and cash at in-person locations only.
- Delivery options: Bank deposits into a bank account and cash for pickup at a location such as a retail store or bank.
- Per-transfer limits: Vary by destination country.
General advice for international money transfers
1. Compare transfer costs across multiple providers.
There are two types of costs: upfront fee and exchange rate markup. Find the provider that has the cheapest combination of a low fee amount and the best exchange rate you can get. Usually online nonbank providers offer cheaper transfers than banks.
2. Know how exchange rates work (and how to find the best).
An exchange rate is the price of one currency in relation to another currency. For example, if you want to convert U.S. dollars to euros, you would check what one U.S. dollar is worth in euros. Most transfer providers won’t give you the exchange rate you’d find on a currency exchange platform like the one at Bloomberg.com (or when you Google exchange rates), but a currency platform can be a helpful starting point to know what the best rate looks like this minute. When you check the exchange rate for an international transfer with services like Western Union, focus on the foreign currency amount. The higher it is, the more money your recipient receives.
3. Avoid paying with a credit card.
It’s an option for some providers, but there might be a higher upfront fee and your credit card issuer may tack on costs such as interest and cash advance fees. If you need money delivered quickly, use a debit card instead. A transfer paid by bank account directly tends to be a much slower transfer.