7 Things You Should Know Before You Sign Up!
- Wide availability
- Flexible options
- Complex fees and no guarantee on exchange rates
- 3.5/5 on Trustpilot
Western Union may be top-of-mind for you, simply because they are everywhere and have been around for ever.
In a few minutes, you are going to find out if Western Union is right for you.
But wait there’s more 🙂
There may be alternatives that suit your needs better and can save you a bundle.
We have also scoured hundreds of user reviews (including negative ones) to uncover what’s really going on.
Let’s dive in!
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links (not for Western Union) where you might be able to save money. For more information, see our disclosures here.
- Licensed and registered service
- Wide availability
- Flexible payout methods
- Set up your transfer online, via a phone call, or at an agent office
- Offers different transfer speeds – including instant transfers (See “How Fast is Western Union?” below)
- Option to get a prepaid debit card powered by MasterCard or Visa (depending on the country)
- Dedicated business accounts
- Complex fee structure
- Can be relatively expensive (See “The Real Transfer Costs” below)
- Transfer limits by plan, user usage, and country
- When it Works and When it Doesn’t
- The Real Transfer Costs
- How to Make the Most of Your Western Union Transfers
- How Fast is Western Union?
- What Reviews Really Say (including negative reviews)
- Is Your Money Safe with Western Union?
1.1 When It Works
You can sign up for Western Union from pretty much anywhere in the world – currently they support registrations from 70 countries and transfers to 200 countries in 130 currencies. Plus, they have over 500,000 physical agent locations around the world.
Western Union has exceptional presence in the US, where transfer kiosks and agent counters are integrated into convenience stores, check cashing stores, etc.
Flexible payout methods
Western Union offers a lot of payout methods to make money transfer easy for you and your recipient.
They support bank transfers, cash payouts, bill payments, and mobile wallet transfers (may vary by location).
So if your recipient doesn’t have a bank account, you can always opt for alternative methods of payment.
Both personal and business transfers
Western Union offers dedicated accounts for both personal and business transfers. In fact, Western Union provides industry-specific payment platforms for businesses as well as risk management consulting to save money on transfers in the long term.
Essentially, you can rely on Western Union to pay your family, friends, overseas employees as well as support your favourite non-profits.
Here is a promo video from Western Union, that does give good information on how things work.
1.2 When It Doesn’t Work
You’re looking for big savings on your transfers
Western Union’s exchange rate includes a markup plus their “transfer fees” which increase according to the amount. Additional fees depend on a lot of variables like how you are paying and how the money is being received. Paying by cards and allowing for cash pick up increase the fees.
This makes it difficult to understand the total fees and make comparisons, although we do unpack this in a moment.
You might also like: Western Union VS TransferWise for amounts below $10,000 USD.
Also some other transfer services offer free international money transfers from time to time.
You need to send larger amounts
Western Union’s transfer fees tend to increase as the amount goes up, which means they’re not the best option for larger transfers ($500/£400/€450 USD and above).
They also have sending limits that vary based on the country you are sending from.
For example, you can’t send more than $2,500 USD online or $500 through mobile in the US.
Transfers from agent locations have less clear restrictions, but they are also generally more expensive.
The next video touches on a few issues, but there is more to the story.
Western Union’s fees depend on
- The target currency
- Transfer speed
- Funding method
- How you want the money to arrive (cash or bank account)
There are two main fees are:
- Currency Exchange
- Fee Shown when setting up a transfer
As a rule of thumb, transfers funded by a credit or debit card (for instant transfers) are more expensive than those funded by bank transfers or where you pay in-store.
Check out the “Money In Minute” fees by location here for the EU, which shows how fees change based on the amounts sent.
You can also use the Price Estimator which shows the exchange rate offered and adds up the other fees.
To figure out the exact fees you are paying you need to calculate the difference between the interbank rate and the rate offered.
A bigger issue
Western Union’s exchange rates are also subject to market fluctuations and may change when the transfer goes through.
Here’s what Western Union mentions on their website:
“…the exchange rates shown on the website are estimates and the actual exchange rate will be pulled during the time of the transfer.
Western Union will calculate its exchange rates on the basis of the interbank rates available in the market, plus a margin.”
This can be significant as currencies can more in either direction on a minute to minute basis. Many other money transfer companies guarantee the exchange rate at the time of transacting. When currency pairs can move 1% or 2% a day sometimes this can be very valuable.
2.1 Hidden Fees and Others?
There may be some other fees that increase the cost of transfers.
Many of these are outside the control of Western Union, but you should know about them.
Additional fees can be found in their Terms and Conditions (US) for the country you are sending from.
- Receivers who choose to receive funds through a payout method other than cash or in a currency other than the one You selected may incur additional fees to access funds.
- Certain countries and/or jurisdictions may impose a tax, fee and/or tariff on Receiver’s receipt of, or access to, transferred funds.
- Messaging and notification services may be included for additional fees.
- Transactions to Accounts: The Account provider may impose additional fees on Receiver for receiving the funds into an Account
- Card Fees
2.2 Western Union Card Fees
Western Union may issue a MasterCard or Visa prepaid debit card, depending on the location.
While not directly related to money transfers, a prepaid debit card can be very useful so it is great to know the fees involved.
For example, their WesternUnion® Netspend® Prepaid Mastercard® (which is only available in the US) has cool perks like:
- Funding international and local transfers
- Receiving government benefits
- Receiving your salary
- Direct debits features for recurring bill payments
However, this card comes many fees including
- A monthly or pay-as-you go fees
- ATM withdrawal fees ($2.50 USD per withdrawal in the US)
- Inactivity fees ($5.95 USD)
Learn more about Western Union’s prepaid card fees here.
3.1 For online transfers (website and mobile app)
Online transfers are great if you’re comfortable handling all aspects of currency transfer yourself and typically need to send a smaller amount $2,500 USD or below online and $500 for mobile. (The limits may vary depending on your country)
If you need some help before setting up a transfer, you can reach Western Union on the phone.
a. Sign up and verify your details
b. Choose your recipient’s country, transfer amount, and pay out method. Make sure you double check your recipient details – their name and personal details should match the ones on their government ID (heads up: they need to carry this ID for cash pick ups)
c. Fund the transfer with a credit card, debit card, or bank transfer
d. You’ll receive a confirmation email with a tracking number (MTCN), which you need to share with your recipient (especially important if it’s a cash pick up)
3.2 For transfers at an agent location
Western Union has over 500,000 agent locations in all their supported receiving countries, so it’s fairly easy to locate one if you’d rather speak to a human or need more hands-on support with your transfer.
Transferring from an agent location also has the added perk of no-limit transfers (in most cases). However, you may pay extra in agent fees.
A few things to keep in mind
- Double check your chosen transfer speed and sending limitations by user level, transfer speed (see below), location and transfer method to avoid unexpected transfer hold ups.Here’s a quick over view of Western Union’s sending limits:
- Phone transfers: $300 USD to $2,500 USD
- Online transfers: Up to $2,500 USD
- Bill payments: $2,500 per week to one biller
- Agent locations: Usually unlimited
- In Minutes & Three Day: $2,500 USD
- Next Day: $500 USD
- Factor in upcoming holidays to make sure your money arrives on time
- Make sure you don’t initiate a business transfer from a business account and vice versa
One great thing about Western Union is that they offer a lot of flexibility in terms of transfer speed.
You’ll be able to choose from three available options:
- In Minutes
- Three Day
- Next Day
With the “In Minutes” plan, transfers are near instant. You can fund these with a credit card and your recipient can collect their remittance in 10 minutes.
Usually, the “Three-Day” transfer plan is the most affordable option – you can fund these with a bank transfer and your recipient can either choose to pick it up at an agent location or get it transferred into their bank account.
Western Union has over 17,000 reviews on Trustpilot and is rated 3.5/5.
64% of the reviewers had an “Excellent” experience while 19% had a “Good” experience.
People love the easy availability of agent locations and the quick service.
However, 11% of the reviewers had a “Bad” experience and can be very helpful to know why.
Upon reviewing hundreds of reviews, we found that the top two reasons for dissatisfaction were;
5.1 Delayed transfers/Transfers on hold
As a licensed financial service, Western Union audits their transfers to prevent money laundering and fraudulent activities. Usually, the investigation is over in a couple of days and money’s on the way as usual. Most good money transfer companies have similar policies.
Typical triggers for on-hold transactions are unusually large amounts, business transfers sent from a personal account, and if a transfer is funded from a bank account that doesn’t match the Western Union account holder’s name.
5.2 Poor customer service
While you can walk into an agent location to try and get the low down on your transfer (keep your MTCN handy), Western Union has some very stiff competition these days with high customer service standards.
You might also like our comparison of Ria VS MoneyGram VS Western Union where Ria and MoneyGram both have higher review scores.
Established in 1851, Western Union is the oldest currency transfer company in the world. Their headquarter is in Denver, Colorado and they’re a regulated financial institution in the US.
Western Union uses advanced encryption methods to protect your money and personal data online. For offline transfers, they require you and your recipient to carry a government-issued ID and share the unique transfer code (MTCN) to make your funds reach the right person.
In the past, Western Union was in the headlines for failing to prevent money laundering and transfer scams.
In recent times they’ve adopted extra protective measures like helping to educate the world on how to avoid scams and fraud.
Western Union can be a sound option for smaller transactions because of their wide availability and support for a large number of receiving countries and currencies (both major and exotic).
If you’re in the US, Western Union agent portals are very easy to locate as they’re integrated with convenience stores, gas stations, and cash checking points.
However (as we discovered above) you do pay a premium for convenience and transfers can get relatively expensive especially if you are transacting regularly or larger amaounts.
If instant transfers and cash pay outs aren’t a priority, you might like to check out some alternatives and save a significant amount of money with and based on Trustpilot reviews, you will more likely have a much better experience.