Western Union international money transfer: Your full guide

TransferWise
12.18.20
5 minute read

Understanding the costs of international transfers can be a tricky business. The fees vary depending on the type of payment you’re making, and where it’s headed.

With Western Union, there are also different charges depending on whether you fund the payment with a bank transfer, cash, credit or debit card - and how the recipient accesses the money, as well.

It can cost a lot more to send a transfer using a credit card, to a recipient wishing to collect the cash immediately in person from a Western Union, compared to a bank transfer from one account to another, for example.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Understanding the different options and costs involved in making a Western Union transfer can help you decide if it’s the best route for you. Here’s all you need to know.

How much does it cost to send money Western Union?

With Western Union, you can make a transfer to a bank account, or have the recipient collect the cash from a Western Union location somewhere convenient for them.¹ It’s possible to fund transfers using cash, bank transfer, credit or debit card.²

However, the costs can be high if you’re sending money using a credit or debit card, or if your transfer is headed abroad.

If you need to make a transfer directly to another bank account, which requires a currency conversion, you might be better off choosing a specialist in international money transfers like TransferWise.

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Western Union limits

There are some limits to how much money you can send with Western Union.

The exact amounts vary depending on your own transaction history, whether you’re sending money domestically, or overseas, and the exact payment route.¹ Some states also have their own limits which might vary from elsewhere in the US.¹

For international transfers, you might have to provide information about the transfer purpose, and fund source, to ensure compliance with anti-terrorism and money laundering regulations. Transfers to and from some countries are prohibited under US law.

Generally, you’ll find the following limits apply with Western Union:¹

  • Payments arranged online or using a smartphone
    • Sending money using In Minutes and Three Day: $2,999 per transfer
    • Next Day payments and Mobile Money transfer: $500 per transfer
    • Prepaid payment cards: limits set by the card issuer, and can vary
  • Payments arranged at agent location: usually unrestricted
  • Payments arranged on the phone: $300 - $2,500 depending on the exact transfer details

Western Union fees and charges

The fees charged by Western Union vary according to where you’re sending money, and also the payment method. Some of the steepest fees you’ll run into are from international money transfers with Western Union.

Here are the charges you need to know about:

Type of fee Amount²
International Transfer Fees Depends on how you fund the transfer and how your recipient gets the money. Eg: Sending USD 1000 to a recipient in Canada will cost between $10 and $95 depending on the payment method.
Exchange rate markup Varies per currency. Western Union confirms the markup on their Send Money Online page: Western Union also makes money from currency exchange
Inadequate funds fee Fees vary
Cancellation, query and alteration fees Fees vary

Not all payment options are available in all countries and currencies, so you’ll need to check the specific details for your transfer.

TransferWise vs Western Union: A comparison

If you choose to send money with Western Union, from the US to UK, it’s only possible to do so by having the recipient pick up the cash from a Western Union location.²

Sending money with TransferWise allows you to have the money securely transferred to a recipient’s bank account in Canada.

Here’s a comparison of what the costs will be to send USD 1000 to GBP, using both TransferWise and Western Union. In both cases, this assumes the transfer is funded by a bank account - not credit or debit card - and processed by wire transfer.

Fee* Western Union TransferWise
Sending fee $0 $8.26
Exchange rate Markup on the mid-market rate Real mid-market rate
Money received £724 £734

Data collected on 18 December, 2020

With TransferWise, you simply get £10 on your transfer, with the real exchange rate despite a higher upfront fees. This is how Western Union sneaks in hidden fees to your international transfers.

It’s worth noting that the costs could be significantly higher if you want to use a different payment method.

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Western Union international transfer fees

Western Union allows payments both at home and abroad, using a variety of methods. You can pay in cash at their pay-in store, online using a credit or debit card , or via a bank transfer.²

Your recipient can then collect their cash at a Western Union location near to them, or you can arrange to have the money sent directly to their bank account or even mobile wallet.² Not all payment and recipient options are available in all countries.

The fees for Western Union international transfers vary a lot depending on both how you want to fund the transfer, and how it’s received.

For example, if you wanted to send USD 1000 to a friend in Australia, and they needed to collect it in person, it would cost you USD 5 if funded from your bank account - but the same transaction would cost USD 34 if you pay using a credit card.²

Western Union exchange rates: A hidden fee

Here’s what Western Union say in the Send Money Online page² in the footnotes, relating to international transfers:

In addition to the transfer fee, Western Union also makes money from currency exchange. When choosing a money transmitter, carefully compare both transfer fees and exchange rates. Fees, foreign exchange rates and taxes may vary by brand, channel, and location based on a number of factors. Fees and rates subject to change without notice.

To really understand what Western Union means here, you need to understand a bit about the mid-market rate. That’s the only real exchange rate and the one that banks and financial institutions use when trading currency on the open market. You can check the mid-market rate using an online currency converter, or by googling the currency pairing you need.

And this is where customers should be wary. It is true that many foreign exchange and international money transfer services do not use the mid-market rate to complete transactions.

However, there are services out there, such as TransferWise, which believe it is fairer - and better value for customers - to use the mid-market rate and apply only a small transparent fee to each transaction.

In many cases, the spread applied by banks and foreign exchange services can add a significant cost to the customer. Using a provider who sticks as close as possible to the real exchange rate, can make a significant difference.


Sources:

1.WU Care FAQ
2.WU Send Money

All sources checked as of 18 December, 2020


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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