14 Western Union alternatives for cheap international transfers

21.02.18
11 minute read
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Need to send money abroad? It can be a stressful process, and it’s often tempting just to use a big company that you’ve heard of - Western Union, for example. Western Union is one of the most established providers for international payments, with many locations around the world and a lot of currencies on their list.

But that doesn’t mean it’s always the best option. Every provider offers a different set of fees, transfer methods and extra incentives, and many have a different focus in terms of countries and currencies that they specialize in. So, it’s a good idea to explore your options.

It’s not just the fees you need to keep an eye on, though.

You’ll need to pay attention to what exchange rate you’re being charged, because that can make a huge difference to how much money comes through to the recipient. To figure out if the exchange rate you’re offered is fair, it’s a good idea to compare it to the mid-market exchange rate. The mid-market rate is also called the spot rate, the interbank rate, the wholesale rate. Regardless, though, you can use it as a benchmark to see if the conversion rate you see is a good deal.

Here are some alternatives to Western Union for when you’re looking to move money abroad. Take a look through, and find the one that’s right for you.

1. TransferWise

Founded in 2011, TransferWise was born out of frustration with the traditional way of sending money abroad. By keeping local bank accounts in countries around the world, TransferWise cut out all the expensive international fees that came with sending money across borders. Because they cut out a huge part of the cost of sending money abroad, TransferWise could offer customers the mid-market exchange rate - the real rate, and the one you’ll find online if you’d Google it. So the exchange rate you’ll see on TransferWise contains zero margins or spreads hidden in as an extra costs to their consumers.

The only fee if you transfer money with TransferWise is one low percentage cost, always stated upfront so you know the exact value of your transfer before you hit send. And for people who frequently spend their time in different countries, TransferWise also offers a borderless multi-currency account. It’s a free account for both individuals and businesses with no monthly fees which lets you hold money in dozens of currencies, transfer money to scores of countries around the world, and gives you virtual account details for receiving money locally in the UK, the US, Europe, and Australia.

(Source 8 February 2018)

2. MoneyGram

The company now called MoneyGram International was founded in Minneapolis in 1940 as Travelers Express, but it has been called MoneyGram since 1998. Like Western Union, MoneyGram has physical locations all around the world. Traditionally, customers would go and collect their money from a nearby branch. These days you can still do that, but MoneyGram also offers ways to make a transfer online.

The fees vary for Moneygram. They depend on the amount being sent, how you pay, and where your money is going. You should be able to see an estimate of the fees before you make the transfer - however, the exchange rate shown at the time of your transfer won’t necessarily be the one applied, so you’ll need to be careful as this is a popular way for transfer providers to add in extra profits without necessarily being upfront with consumers.

Transfers with MoneyGram can be very quick if you use a debit or credit card, and their pickup locations are a convenient option if you just need to send cash somewhere and the recipient doesn’t have a local bank account. They also have a big global reach, covering an impressive number of destinations.

(Source 1 Source 2 8 February 2018)

3. Xoom

Xoom was founded in 2001 and bought by PayPal in 2015. It lets you send money from the US to dozens of different countries. You can make the transfer online, and send your money straight to a bank account, or - in certain destinations - request cash pickup or even delivery. So, in those cases, the receiver doesn’t necessarily need a local bank account, which can come in handy.

The exchange rate and fees change depending on a range of factors, and you might encounter an extra cost if you pay with a credit or debit card. But if you’re based in the US, then Xoom is certainly a popular option.

(Source 1 Source 2 8 February 2018)

4. PayPal

PayPal owns Xoom, but it also offers its own service for international transfers. If both the sender and recipient has a PayPal account, then this could well be another alternative method to use. PayPal supports many international currencies and operates in hundreds of countries.

It can be a handy option, especially for small amounts, and of course you might already have a PayPal account, so it scores high for convenience. As ever, don’t forget to check PayPal’s fees, especially if you’re sending money abroad, because they can stack up far higher than you may realize. Especially for PayPal business payments. Like with many international transfer providers, the exact cost of the transfer changes will depend on the amount, your payment method, and whether there’s any currency conversion involved.

(Source 1 Source 2 8 February 2018)

5. WorldRemit

WorldRemit was founded in 2010 and is based in London with offices internationally. It was set up as an alternative to using banks for international transactions, after founder Ismail Ahmed experienced the difficulties first-hand of sending money to his family in Africa. Customers can now send to over a hundred countries around the world, with half their transfers currently going to African countries.

Like with MoneyGram and Xoom, when sending to some countries you can choose a cash pickup, and mobile wallets and airtime top-up are also possibilities. Bank deposit is an option too, giving you a number of choices in many countries. WorldRemit is said to have competitive exchange rates and, luckily for you, they should show you their exchange rates upfront. Which means you’ll have a chance to compare the rate you’re getting to an online currency converter before you make a payment, just to make sure you’re satisfied.

(Source 1 Source 2 Source 3 8 February 2018)

6. Bitcoin

What? Yes, you read that right. You can transfer money internationally using Bitcoin. You’ll need to have some bitcoin, though. So this isn’t necessarily the quickest option unless you and the recipient are both up to speed with cryptocurrency.

That said, the actual process of transferring the money isn’t complex. You simply need to have enough Bitcoin yourself, and then you can send it to your recipient. They’ll then need to withdraw it in their local currency - or of course they can leave it in Bitcoin.

What does it cost? Well, that depends on exactly how much bitcoin is worth, both when you pay in your money and when the recipient withdraws it. So the value of the transfer depends on two different exchange rates: your currency to bitcoin, and bitcoin to the recipient’s currency. Therefore, while it’s certainly innovative, there’s a certain amount of risk involved in using Bitcoin for international transfers, in terms of the cost. It could also be complex in terms of dealing with the banks - many of which aren’t keen on working with cryptocurrency because of money laundering concerns and regulations due to the purposeful privacy aspect built in to bitcoin. In addition, once you make a transfer through bitcoin, you can’t reverse, which is unnerving for some.

But if you’re set up for it, it can be a convenient option, especially if the recipient is happy to keep the money in Bitcoin.

(Source 1 Source 2 8 February 2018)

7. Ria Money Transfer

Ria has been going since 1987 and today operates in over 140 countries worldwide. As well as transfers into the recipient’s bank account, pickup options are available, and there’s even a home delivery service in a handful of countries. They let you make online transfers from a select group of countries including the US and the UK, and you can send money using an agent location in quite a few others, especially in Europe. From these countries, you can send money to a long list of other ones.

Ria has a large number of agent locations around the world, so it can be a good option if you’re looking to send cash rather than directly to a bank account. Fees depend on various options, and exchange rates vary too.

There are different rates online and in agent locations, so it pays to do your research carefully and make sure that the exchange rate you’re being offered is a good one. Use an online rate calculator to double check before you commit. They also offer domestic money transfers within the US, which is worth knowing about if you usually make these transfers using a bank.

(Source 1 Source 2 8 February 2018)

8. XE

Best known for its online exchange rate listings, Canada-based XE also offers XE Money Transfer, through which you can transfer money from one of several countries to many others. Like with their well-known listed mid-market exchange rates, the rates they charge are updated frequently during trading hours. However, you’ll want to be aware that the rates XE offers consumers aren’t the same mid-market rates they show on their main site - XE notes that personal clients and small to medium businesses cannot access these mid-market rates.

There are personal and business options, so XE caters to a variety of different audiences. It’s a sister company of Ria - they’re both part of the larger American company Euronet Worldwide.

(Source 8 February 2018)

9. Remitly

Seattle-based Remitly takes a different approach, honing in on transfers to several countries in Asia and Central or South America. Their coverage is more limited than many other international transfer companies.

But if your route is available with Remitly, you could be in luck.

Transfers with Remitly can be very fast, and first-time users get a special rate. Normally, the cost depends on the countries between which you’re transferring, as well as the amount, and how quickly you need it done - they offer an express service for if you’re in a rush. If you’re looking to save money, Remitly notes that you get better exchange rates for slower transfers. Which means that the exchange rate varies depending on your transfer.

So, before you commit, make sure you check the exchange rate you’re offered with exchange rates online to make sure the deal you’re getting is worth it.

(Source 1 Source 2 8 February 2018)

10. Skrill

Skrill is a London-based company that’s been going since 2001. It doesn’t just do international transfers, Skrill also offers a way of making digital payments, so you might have used it when buying something online.

It offers fast transfers of money between Skrill’s system of ‘mobile wallets’, so the receiver might need to sign up for Skrill to get hold of their money. It’s difficult to be precise about the cost because there are numerous possible fees at different stages of the process. It might cost to upload money into a Skrill account, to send the money, to convert the money into a new currency, and to withdraw the money out of a Skrill account. But for ease of use, and if you have an email address but no bank details for your payee, this could be a useful option.

One thing to be a little more cautious about, though. Skrill does advertise no-fee international transfers. But before you get too excited, make sure to check their exchange rate against the exchange rate you’ll find on Google to see if the deal you’re getting is really as good as it seems.

(Source 1 Source 2 8 February 2018)

11. OFX

Australian company OFX - previously known as OzForex, founded in 1998 - lets you transfer money from numerous countries, including most of the European and English-speaking ones, to a great many countries around the world. As well as offering international transfers straight to consumers, it also gives its services to some other international transfer providers, including MoneyGram and banks like ING in Australia. Like many providers, they do show great exchange rates on their website, but note that the rates you get on your transfers could be different. Always make sure you know what rate you’re being offered before you decide to use them.

OFX lets users do useful things like schedule recurring payments, and wait for beneficial changes in the exchange rate. With a minimum transfer amount of GBP 100, it isn’t intended for small-scale transfers. But if what you need is to send larger amounts of money or to make business transfers, it’s a serious player.

(Source 1 Source 2 Source 3 8 February 2018)

12. Transfast

Based in New York, Transfast is another popular option, with which you can transfer US or Canadian dollars to countries and currencies around the world. Both bank transfers and cash pickups are possible, and you can choose between a normal transfer and a fast one if you’re an active, verified user.

Unlike with some providers, Transfast shows you the exchange rate it will give you before you make the transfer, so you shouldn’t get any nasty surprises. Rates are different depending on whether you make the transfer online or use an agent location. If you’re transferring out of the US or Canada, it could be worth a look - just make sure to double check exchange rates online before you commit.

(Source 8 February 2018)

13. Payoneer

Payoneer, another New York-headquartered company, targets businesses and professionals. Their aim is to make international transactions - traditionally, slow and costly - easier to deal with. As well as sending payments abroad, Payoneer offers its customers local account details in various currencies, making it easier to receive payments from one country when you’re based somewhere else.

It might not be right for you if you’re sending to family or friends, but if you have international business concerns, a Payoneer account might be something to consider, enabling you to treat international transactions more like domestic ones. Because of the different service they provide, fees work slightly differently from most of those listed here, but they’re often a percentage cut of the transfer or a markup on the mid-market rate. So make sure you double check their exchange rate before you make your transfer.

(Source 1 Source 2 8 February 2018)

14. Azimo

UK-based Azimo was founded in 2012 and offers a way to get money from one of several dozen countries, mainly in Europe, to a large number of others around the world. It’s an online service, and to some destinations it also offers a way to transfer money using a phone number, which could be handy if you have a limited amount of information about your recipient.

Fees depend on where the transfer goes to and from, and how you make it. When you set your transfer up, you should see the exact amount that will be received, including the fee and the exchange rate they’ll use. That’s a useful service, and it gives you the opportunity to check their exchange rate against the mid-market rate, which you should do to make sure you’re really getting a good deal.

(Source 1 Source 2 Source 3 12 February 2018)

That’s 14 different options for you, if you’re looking for a different way to make your international transfer, other than Western Union. Whether you’re making a business payment or sending money to family back home, there should be something on the list for you, and there are also options for both cash pickup and direct payments into foreign bank accounts.

So, the choice is yours. Good luck in choosing between all the providers. And always remember to keep an eye on the total costs they charge - which doesn’t just include the fixed fees, but also the exchange rate. Look at the amount you’ll be getting in the end to really understand all the costs involved.

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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