Western Union money transfer review: Fees, rates and transfer times

TransferWise
23.10.18
6 minute read

If you need to send money overseas, you’re faced with a problem as old as banking itself: how do you get value for money when you turn your cash into foreign currency? Strange though it may seem, this is often seriously difficult - with banks especially likely to take a big cut out of your transfer for themselves.

Western Union is one of the oldest solutions to this problem, having sent its first money transfer all the way back in 1871. It’s a well-known brand, and while it started in the US, it operates all around the world, including in Australia.

It’s not your only option, though. In fact, there have been many innovations in the field of international money transfers in recent years, often aided by new technology. One example is TransferWise, which uses a system of interlinked local bank accounts around the world, enabling it to always offer the mid-market exchange rate to its customers. But anyway - here’s the info you need about money transfers with Western Union.

What are the fees for an international money transfer with Western Union?

As you’d probably expect, Western Union’s fees vary. But here’s an overview of what you’re likely to be charged for - assuming you’re making a transfer from Australia, and that you’re doing it online. In a store, you might get a different deal.

Western Union feeAmount
Transfer feeA fixed fee that varies depending on:
  • Transfer amount
  • Destination country
  • Receiving method (bank account transfer or cash pickup)
  • Payment method (credit/debit card or POLi transfer)
Exchange rateMid-market rate + markup (see below for more info)

What are the currencies that Western Union supports?

Western Union boasts that you can send money “to almost anywhere in the world”, which includes over 200 countries and territories. Within that long list are all the destinations you’d expect, including India, New Zealand, the UK and the US, and of course the currencies that go along with them.

How much is your money really worth in that foreign currency, though? Don’t forget to check a currency converter to find out the real figure.

What is the Western Union exchange rate?

Read the smallprint on the Western Union website, and you’ll make an interesting discovery. “Western Union also makes money from currency exchange”, it says.

A short sentence, with big consequences. It means that Western Union’s “transfer fee” is not the full cost of your transfer. Western Union admits that it uses an exchange rate that, by being above the mid-market rate, enables it to keep a little bit of your money for itself.

Western Union isn’t unusual in doing this - most currency exchange services do. It’s why you always have to be wary if you’re offered “zero fees” or “no commission” - usually that means that the fee is simply hidden in the exchange rate. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be like this - it’s fairer to use the real mid-market rate. That way, even though exchange rates still change all the time, you can still be sure of getting the best deal available.

So, what’s the Western Union exchange rate? Not the mid-market rate, as they admit. When you get a quote from Western Union for your transfer, compare it to what a currency converter says your money is worth. You might be unpleasantly surprised.

How long can a transfer with Western Union take?

If your recipient wants to receive the money in cash from one of Western Union’s agent locations, it should be ready “in minutes”. Bank transfers may take a little longer, but could well still be there within a working day or two. The transfer time can depend on exactly where you’re sending the money, so it’s best to check directly with Western Union, with details of the exact transfer you need to make.

Transferring money internationally can take a surprisingly long time, especially if you use a bank. That’s because of the infamous SWIFT network - one reason why international bank transfers aren’t always so useful, and why companies like Western Union and TransferWise can offer competing services.

How does Western Union work?

As already mentioned, there are options to use Western Union online (or via an app), or by going into a branch in person. If you do the latter, someone will be there to talk you through, so this article will focus on making an online transfer.

What kind of transfers can you make?

You’re faced with various options at Western Union, any of which may affect how much the transfer costs.

  • Receiving method: cash or bank account. Depending on what your recipient wants, you can select for the money to be collected in cash, from one of Western Union’s agent locations, or delivered straight into a bank account. Generally you’ll have the choice between these methods, but to certain countries - Albania is one example - Western Union (currently) only offers cash pickup.
  • Payment method: credit/debit card or POLi bank transfer. This is how you choose to pay Western Union. You can use a credit or debit card, or alternatively use the online payment system POLi to make a transfer directly from your bank account. The latter method is often cheaper. However, you may find that you can only use POLi for lower-value transfers.

Does the recipient have to sign up with Western Union?

No, that shouldn’t be necessary. You’ll need to provide relevant information about the recipient, though: if you’re making a bank account transfer, you’ll need to supply their bank details. And if they’re going to collect the cash, they’ll likely need some ID.

Are there any limits to the amount you can transfer?

Yes there are. You can send between AUD 1 and AUD 5,000 per day. And as noted above, if you want to pay Western Union via POLi, you might only be able to send less than that.

Western Union also notes that particular users’ daily transaction limits might change, depending on the service you want as well as your transaction history. So, as ever, it’s worth checking in advance.

Is the service available to anyone?

So long as you successfully register with Western Union - for which you’ll need to provide basic details such as your address - you should be able to use the service.

How can you contact Western Union?

  • From within Australia, their phone number is 1800 173 833.
  • Or use the form on their website to contact them online.
  • Or, of course, you can head into one of their many branches and ask someone in person.

With such a long history of international transfers, Western Union is certainly a strong option for sending your money out of Australia. But that doesn’t mean it’s always the best option. Remember: Western Union admits that it profits from the exchange rate, so while the low “transfer fees” it offers might look attractive, that probably isn’t the full amount your transfer will cost you.

With TransferWise, you can be sure that you’ll always get the best exchange rate available - the real mid-market rate. The fee you’ll be charged will be stated - in full - before you make the transfer, so you really can see the full cost in an instant. No hidden fees - it’s a fair, simple and efficient way to do it.

If you regularly need to send money abroad - or receive it - then a borderless account from TransferWise is better still. There’s no monthly fee, but this account lets you hold money in 40+ international currencies ready for use at any time. What’s more, you get virtual bank details for accounts in Australian and US dollars, British pounds and euros - meaning that you can pay and get paid like a local in any of those currencies. A great option for anyone working or traveling around the world. You can also get a linked TTransferWise debit Mastercard, which you can use your AUD balance to pay directly for goods and services.

All sources are correct as of 22 October 2018


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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