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

March 16, 2018
Banking, Money Transfer
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Western Union

NerdWallet’s rating: 3.5 / 5.0

 

Western Union is the largest money transfer provider worldwide, covering over 200 countries and territories with more than 550,000 agent locations. The company has two main advantages: worldwide coverage and the variety of ways you can transfer money.

The bottom line

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

at Western Union

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

» Want to explore other options? Browse other money transfer providers

How Western Union rates

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 countries
Mexico
China
India
Philippines
Germany
Canada
United Kingdom

 

  • Delivery within minutes is available for each country surveyed
  • A good range of payment and delivery options available
  • Decent prices when sending to developing nations

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 costs
Speed offerings
Transfer methods and options
Customer experience
Overall

Transfer costs

Many options with a range of fees and exchange rates

3.0 / 5.0

You can send money abroad with Western Union via bank account transfer, debit or credit card, or cash, and have your recipient collect money in cash or in their bank account. Fees and exchange rates vary by which combination of these options you pick, and by country.

Bank account transfers are cheap, and cash transfers are more expensive. Transfers delivered to bank accounts, regardless of payment method, tend to be cheaper than transfers delivered as cash pickup.

Transfers to wealthy countries are expensive. 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 Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom. If you’re looking to send money to a wealthy Western nation, you might want to look for another provider.

The cost depends on the amount you send and selected country. For transfers up to $1,000, the fee ranges from $0 to $95, while the median exchange rate markup ranges roughly between 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.

 

Avoid credit card charges. If you send money via credit card, the card issuer may tack on costs such as interest and cash advance fees. Avoid those extra fees by using a debit card or bank account transfers.

Cash pickups are fast but pricey. Selecting a cash pickup is one of the more expensive options, but since money can arrive within minutes, it could be helpful in emergencies. Be sure to compare your other options.

» Want to browse costs? Compare rates and fees at other money transfer providers

Speed offerings

Same-day delivery available

4.0 / 5.0

Delivery times range from several minutes to seven business days. Speed depends on the transfer and receiving method selected. Cash pickups paid for by credit or debit card take minutes, but are often more expensive. Transfers from bank account to bank account — the cheapest method — average four to five business days and can climb up to seven.

Transfer methods and options

Multiple options for payment, delivery and sending channels

5.0 / 5.0

  • Sending channels: Send money through Western Union via their website, mobile apps or in-person agent locations in the U.S.
  • Payment options: U.S. bank accounts; Visa, Mastercard and Discover credit and debit cards; and cash at agent locations only
  • Delivery options: Choose between bank deposits and cash pickup at a location such as a retail store or bank. Other options may be available in certain countries, such as deposits to a mobile wallet account.
  • Transfer limits: Per-transfer limits vary depending on the country. Limits range from $5,000 when sending to Mexico or Canada to $50,000 to India or the United Kingdom.

Customer experience

24/7 support, live chat, government settlement this year

3.0 / 5.0

  • Get a fee and rate estimate without logging in. The website and mobile app both give you a snapshot of fees and rates you’ll likely pay.
  • 24/7 customer service via phone. Or reach them by chat, email or snail mail.
  • Highly rated mobile apps. Western Union’s mobile apps receive high marks by users, with the current iOS version getting 4.7 stars out of 5 and the Android app getting 4.5 stars out of 5.
  • Government settlement dampens rating. Western Union has fallen short on protecting consumers. The money transfer giant agreed to pay $586 million in a settlement in January 2017 with the Justice Department and other government agencies 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

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. Western Union is more competitive for transfers delivered to bank accounts in developing nations. Either way, Western Union has the broadest agent network in the world, so you’ll likely be able to send your money close to your desired destination.

If you want cheaper transfers to countries such as Germany, Canada or the U.K., you’ll probably want to consider other options.

» Not quite what you were looking for? Browse other international money transfer providers

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

Updated March 16, 2018.


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