WesternUnion VS TransferWise

9 Things You Need to Know – Only One Greatest!

WesternUnion and TransferWise are money transfer heavyweights.

WesternUnion V TransferWiseThis is Old VS New, like new age Muhammad Ali VS Manny Pacquiao.

WesternUnion is the original great who has evolved and TransferWise is the much younger and potentially much better service.

Or is it?

In the next few minutes, the important thing is you will know which one is best for you!

On the surface both are greats: including wide availability, fast currency transfers, and helpful extras that make managing your money transfers easier.

But that is not all. 🙂

In this article, we uncover all the important aspects of money transfers so you can see how these two services stack up in each of 9 categories.

To help, we award a winner in each of 9 important categories, so you can see what works best for you. (Look for the “Winner” in each category and don’t miss our verdict (below))

Let’s dive in.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.

Jump Links

The Big Difference

  1. Who Can Get One?
  2. Transfer Costs and Fees (+ Hidden Fees?)
  3. Currencies
  4. Cards & Fees
  5. Ways to Send Money
  6. Payout Methods
  7. Transfer Speed
  8. Customer Service and Support
  9. Reviews (inc. Negative Ones)

Verdict

In the video, they looked at XE (review) and OFX (review) which we also like but for different reasons. OFX for example is better for larger amounts and XE is multilingual and has fantastic support in the USA, Canada, UK and Australia.

The Big Difference

Both WesternUnion and TransferWise are focused on international transfers with some very useful additions like prepaid Mastercards and fast transfer options. TransferWise is focused on online, inexpensive and insanely transparent fees to banks while WesternUnion enables extreme flexibility for funding transactions and cash pickup.

You can see the total fees for TransferWise (new tab) without even signing up.

Incredibly, WesternUnion (wiki history) was established in 1851 as a telegram company, but has transformed into a modern trusted currency exchange and international money transfer company.

They are available in 70 countries and support transfers to 200 countries worldwide with a wide variety of funding and payout methods.

With WesternUnion, you can transfer money online, via an app, at an agent location, or via a phone call. These flexible options attract folks who are not comfortable (or can’t) do business online.

WesternUnion does offers some helpful extras such as their “Netspend” PrePaid Card (powered by MasterCard or Visa, depending on the country), and even bill payment.

In many ways, WesternUnion has had to evolve fast to keep up with companies like TransferWise while sticking to their strengths like physical agents.

TransferWise (review) was founded in 2010 and have quickly climbed the ranks to become a leader for very good reason.

They offer local and international money transfers with a generally far lower, transparent fee structure backed by excellent customer service which  keeps their customers coming back.

TransferWise is available in 50+ countries and offers currency transfers to 60+ countries worldwide (bank to bank transfers).

TransferWise has also designed a complementary service – TransferWise Borderless (review) – which equips users with a multi-currency account and local bank details to accept, hold and exchange major currencies like USD, CAD, GBP, EUR, AUD, and NZD. The Borderless account can be a game changer for some people making it easy to send and receive money like a local without restrictive currency conversion fees.

When you sign up for the Borderless account, you also get a MasterCard debit card that’s great to travel with.

WesternUnion Pros

TransferWise Pros

  • Licensed and registered service
  • Available in 70 countries and supports transfers to 200 countries in 130 currencies
  • Supports cash picks and mobile wallet transfers
  • Can set up a transfer at a physical location or via a phone call
  • Offers different transfer speeds – including instant transfers (See “Transfer Speed” below)
  • Offers a prepaid debit card powered by MasterCard or Visa (depending on the country)
  • Offers dedicated business accounts
  • Licensed and registered service
  • Available in 59 countries and supports transfers to 60+ countries
  • Low fees and transparent fee structure (See “Cost and fees” below)
  • Transfers at the mid-market rate
  • Many ways to fund your account (Check out “ Ways to Send Money” below”)
  • Ideal for sending small amounts
  • Easy online interface for setting up transfers
  • Multi-currency account
  • Offers business accounts
  • Mastercard debit card with TransferWise Borderless for online payments and travelling (available in UK, USA, Europe, Australia and New Zealand)

 

WesternUnion Cons

TransferWise Cons

  • Complex fee structure (See “Costs and Fees” below)
  • Lots of fees attached to the prepaid card (See “Cards and fees” below)
  • Doesn’t offer a multicurrency wallet
  • Available in fewer locations
  • Supports fewer currencies
  • Doesn’t offer instant transfers
  • Only supports bank to bank transfers
  • No cash pick up or mobile wallet transfer

 

1. Who Can Get One?

WesternUnion

TransferWise

You can sign up for WesternUnion from pretty much anywhere in the world.

Currently they support registrations from 100+ countries and let you send money to 200 countries around the world.

The quickest way to find out whether they’re available in your country is to hop over to their website, scroll down to the footer, and search for it in the drop down list.

However, availability of their prepaid card may be limited to the US, some countries in South America, and Europe.

You can register for TransferWise in 59 countries and send money to 60+ countries worldwide.

However, the Borderless card is only available in the UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and US.

 

Winner: WesternUnion

WesternUnion is the oldest currency transfer company and has a wide reach. They not only have an established presence online but they’re also available in 500,000 physical locations (agent offices, pick up points, etc.) around the world.

2. Costs and Fees (+ Hidden Fees?)

WesternUnion

TransferWise

WesternUnion’s fees vary according to the funding method, transfer speed, and target currency.

Also, WesternUnion mentions the following on their website about exchange rates

“…the exchange rates shown on the website are estimates” and the actual exchange rate will be pulled during the time of the transfer.

WesternUnion will calculate its exchange rates on the basis of the interbank rates available in the market, plus a margin.”

For international transfers, expect to pay a maximum markup of 6% on the exchange rate + other fees based on how you fund the transfer, the transfer speed, and the payout method.

Your fees will also depend on the money transfer corridor.

For example, fees for sending money from US to India is much cheaper than sending money from the EEA to the US.

Typically, your transfers will be expensive if you fund the transfer with a credit and opt for the Money in Minutes plan.

Check out their fee table for instant transfers here.

TransferWise’s fees depend on the amount, target currency, and how you fund your transfer.

They charge a percentage fee and lets you transfer money at the interbank or mid-market rate (no mark up on the exchange rate)

Their fees range between 0.6-1% of the transfer amount, with the fees going down after USD 10,000 or equivalent. This makes TransferWise ideal for smaller transactions.

Plus, their rates are quite competitive compared to banks (charging 3-5% of a transfer) and other currency transfer services (0.5%-1.8%, depending on the currency and amount).

 

Winner: TransferWise

TransferWise is known for their low and transparent fee structure which you can see using their widget. You’ll know the exact amount you’ll pay and your recipient will get on the currency conversion widget on their home page.

Hidden fees

As we saw, with the margin on the exchange rate and fees varying according to transfer speed, payout method, and currency corridor, WesternUnion is rarely the cheapest option for international transfers.

Plus, if you’re funding your transfer from a bank account and the recipient opts to receive in their bank account, banks at either end may charge fees.

On TransferWise, you’ll never face these additional deductions because they have bank details in all the areas they support.

3. Currencies

WesternUnion

TransferWise

WesternUnion supports transfers in 130 currencies to 200+ currencies.

However, not all the sender countries support all 130+ currencies.

But you can always check out the currencies available for transfer on a location-specific domain of their website.

TransferWise lets you process international transfers in 20 currencies and local transfers in 30 other currencies (for example, Chinese Yen, Argentine Peso, Bangladeshi taka etc.).

Check out the full list here.

Signing up for TransferWise Borderless gives you access to a few more currencies for local and international transfers.

 

Winner: WesternUnion

Although TransferWise covers most major and some regulated currencies, WesternUnion’s supported currency base is much larger.

4. Cards and Fees

WesternUnion

TransferWise

WesternUnion offers different types of prepaid cards in different regions.

For example, their prepaid MasterCard in Brazil is a multicurrency card while the more popular WesternUnion® Netspend® Prepaid Mastercard® (available in the US) has other perks like

  • Funding local and international transfers
  • Receiving your salary
  • Receiving government benefits
  • Setting up direct debits for bill payments

But one major drawback of the card is that its riddled with fees:

  • You can pay a convenience fee per transaction on the “Pay-as-you-go” Plan or opt for a monthly fee of $9.95
  • Pay $2.50 for each ATM withdrawal at home (plus a 4% forex fee if you’re travelling)
  • Account inactivity fee of $5.95

Check out all the fees here.

The TransferWise Borderless Mastercard prepaid comes free with their Borderless Account.

The Borderless card is available in the US, UK, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

There are no minimum balance or account inactivity fees and it can be used anywhere MasterCard is accepted.

But it’s not completely fee free:

  • You can use the card to withdraw money from ATMs for free up to $250 per month (a 2% fee is applicable over that limit).
  • ATM withdrawals abroad, payments for goods and services abroad, and paying in a foreign currency online attract a small currency conversion fee (0.35%-2.85%, depending on the currency)

 

Winner: TransferWise

The TransferWise card (review) is widely available and the features are standardized for all regions.

While you can’t receive your salary directly on the card or set up direct debits, the simplicity of use makes it a nice add on for your TransferWise account (especially if you’re frequent traveller or a digital nomad).

Plus, there are no monthly fees, account inactivity fees and a slew of other charges to worry about.

5. Ways to Send Money

WesternUnion

TransferWise

WesternUnion’s funding methods depend on the sender currency and the currency corridor.

Typically, you can fund your transfer with

  • Credit card
  • Debit card
  • Bank account
  • Cash (in-store)
  • Wire transfer
Your funding method will depend on the sender country and the target currency.

TransferWise supports

  • Credit and debit cards (in most countries)
  • bank transfers (in most countries)
  • SWIFT payments
  • SOFORT
  • iDEAL.

Before setting up a transfer, it’s always a good idea to check out the very handy currency specific guides for pros and cons of each method.

 

Winner: Tie

Both WesternUnion and TransferWise offer a lot of flexibility for funding your transfer, so you can’t go wrong with either.

6. Payout Methods

WesternUnion

TransferWise

WesternUnion supports a lot of payout methods:

  • Bank transfers
  • Cash pick ups (at 500,000 WesternUnion agent locations across the world)
  • Bill payments
  • Mobile Wallet Payments
  • Prepaid cards
TransferWise only supports bank to bank or card to bank transfers.

 

Winner: WesternUnion

TransferWise is a great option if your recipient has a bank account.

However, if your recipient doesn’t have a local bank account (for example, if they are an expat or a frequent traveller), WesternUnion can save the day.

7. Transfer Speed

WesternUnion

TransferWise

WesternUnion offers a lot of flexibility to choose how fast you want your funds to go through:

  • In Minutes
  • Three Day
  • Next Day

The fastest option is “In Minutes” with near instant transfers. You can fund these with a credit card and your recipient has the option to collect it from a WesternUnion agent location within 10 minutes.

But these transfers are typically more expensive since your credit card company may charge a cash advance fee and the agent can also charge a convenience fee for receiving cash.

The most affordable option is to fund your transfer from a bank account. But this usually takes 3-5 days as WesternUnion first verifies that the account is indeed registered in your name.

Also note that each transfer speed has a sending limit per transfer:

In Minutes & Three Day – $2,500

Next Day – $500

TransferWise tries to process all their transfers within the same day.

The reality of money transfers bank to bank is that the banks at either end account for most of the time taken.

TransferWise however does have a trick up its sleeve and allows you to speed things up through funding the transfer with a card.

This (like WesternUnion) does speed things up quite significantly as the funds arrive at TransferWise practically instantaneously.

Like WesternUnion this additional speed comes at a cost, although this cost is lower with TransferWise.

 

Winner: WesternUnion

WesternUnion offers a lot of options to choose a transfer speed, depending on your specific needs.

In case of an emergency, you can always send money to friends and family in minutes. The premium for that is well worth it.

But if you can wait a couple of days and your recipient doesn’t necessarily need cash pick up, we recommend opting for TransferWise instead of a bank transfer through WesternUnion.

8. Customer Support

WesternUnion

TransferWise

You can contact WesternUnion via email, on the phone, or at a physical location for multilingual support.

This is great for folks who are wary of handling all aspects of money transfer online.

WesternUnion has also launched country-specific digital locations (in Austria, Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Oman) to help users set up transfers from home with phone and video call assistance.

TransferWise’s customer support team can be reached via email, phone, and live chat (this depends on their workload).

They also have a comprehensive “Help” section with country-specific guides and responses to other common questions users may have about their service.

 

Winner: Tie

WesternUnion is known for being super helpful if you need support while setting up a transfer.

However, they can be a little hard to reach on the phone if there’s a transfer hold up with your transfer. In such cases, you can always walk into your nearby agent office for clarifications (keep your tracking number handy).

While TransferWise doesn’t have agent offices in physical locations, they have an extensive FAQs section. Plus, their customer service team is super helpful if you’re ever in a jam.

9. Review (Incl. Negative Reviews)

WesternUnion

TransferWise

WesternUnion is rated 4.1/5 on Trustpilot with over 17,000 reviews.

65% of their users had an “Excellent” experience and 19% had a “Good” experience. Most of their users love their quick service and the support when setting up transfers.

However, 10% of the users had a “Bad” experience with WesternUnion, which had us concerned.

On digging deep, we found that the top causes of dissatisfaction were delayed transfers, paused transfers, and poor customer service.

First, transfer delays can be avoided by choosing the right transfer speed when you set it up.

Second, some transfers were put on hold because WesternUnion regularly audits transfers to prevent scams, money laundering, and other illegal activities.

In most cases, the funds were released as soon as the investigation was over. In others, WesternUnion asked the users to share additional documentation to support the transfer.

TransferWise is rated 4.6/5 on Trustpilot with over 86,000 reviews.

86% of TransferWise users had an “excellent” experience and 8% had a “good” experience with them.

Users their transparent fee structure and easy-to-use interface.

But 3% of users had a “Bad” experience with the service, which we narrowed down to transfer delays and unexpected account suspensions.

Like WesternUnion, TransferWise is also required to regularly audit their transfers as a licensed and registered service provider.

But the good news is most issues were quickly resolved by their customer service team.

Check out our full reviews of TransferWise and TransferWise Borderless.

 

Winner: TransferWise

With 10% of users having a bad experience on WesternUnion and 3% for TransferWise we have to give this to TransferWise.

Verdict

TransferWise if it can do what you want.

With 3 wins for WesternUnion, 3 wins for TransferWise, and 3 ties, it’s safe to say that both WesternUnion and TransferWise have their advantages.

If cash pickups and instant transfers are not a requirement, you stand to save big on fees and have a great experience with TransferWise.

However WesternUnion with it’s large base of sender and receiver countries, super flexible funding and payout methods (above) may make them the right choice for you. If you’re OK with paying a premium for all that, you can’t go wrong with WesternUnion.

However if low costs and cash pickup are needed, you may also want to check out WorldRemit (review) which is a combination of TransferWise smarts and WesterUnion flexibility.

So which service is best for you? It ultimately comes down to your unique needs and preferences.

Happy Transfers!

Speak Your Mind