Wise and Western Union may seem pretty similar on the surface. After all, both services let you send money overseas to a wide variety of destination countries.
But here’s the deal: They are not the same.
We uncover some important differences that will affect which is better for you.
In the next 5 minutes, you’ll not only learn how to avoid hidden fees on your overseas transfers but also which service is most likely to provide a smooth transfer experience.
Here is the good, the bad and even the ugly, so that you can decide.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and savings on transfers if you use some of the links! For more information, see my disclosures here.
Quick Comparison: The Lowdown on Differences
Wise is certainly the new kid on the block, but it has quickly become one of the most important money transfer services in the world. Wise is known for their transparent and affordable fees for international bank-to-bank transfers backed up by excellent customer service.
Meanwhile Western Union has been working hard to stay relevant and for some people they are still a better option (like if you need to send cash). Western Union can send money to an incredible number of countries and has fast cash transfers overseas (as well as other kinds of transfers).
Meanwhile we believe Wise is the best for inexpensive smaller (below $7000 USD) bank to bank transfers where fast and efficient online transfers are easily done.Check the latest rates and fees through the Wise calculator (opens new tab).
For larger transfers, over $7000 USD we recommend money transfer services designed for larger amounts.
If you want cash to arrive, Western Union has has a lot more competion in recent years and you might like Remitly Vs Western Union.
- Our top choice for transfers below $7000 USD
- Affordable fees
- Super transparent fee structure
- Easy to use online platform and app
- Rates guarantee (2-72 hours)
- Available for personal and business
- Extra features (e.g. multi-currency account)
- Bank-to-bank and card-to-bank transfers only (no cash)
Western Union Likes:
- Our top choice for fast cash transfers
- Wide coverage
- Online and offline (cash) transfers
- Available for personal and business
Western Union Dislikes:
- Expensive – fees not transparent
- Customer service is hard to reach
1. Real Fees & Hidden Costs
- Transparent fee structure
- Transfers at the mid-market or interbank rate
- No margin on the exchange rate
- Fixed fee usually between 0.5-1.5% of the amount, which is very low
- Eliminates sending and receiving bank charges with local bank accounts
- Transfers funded by credit or debit cards can be expensive
- Fees depend on transfer service, speed, currency pair, funding method, payout method
- Fee structure is not as transparent
- The markup on the exchange rate is on the higher side (often around 6%)
- Offline cash transfers and card-funded transfers are more expensive
Wise has a transparent fee structure where you can see the exact amount your receiver will get. They offer rate guarantees for up to 72 hours. With transfers at the mid-market rate, no margin on the exchange rate, and local bank accounts to keep costs down, bank-to-bank transfers with Wise for small amounts below $7000 USD can be very inexpensive.
Western Union on the other hand doesn’t offer a rate guarantee, which means the exchange rate can shift between the rate you check out and the time when you initiate the transfer. Moreover, it’s difficult to figure out the margin on the exchange rate or their exact fees.
But although Western Union is more expensive than Wise, we do recommend them for their cash transfer service. This is because they’ve been doing it for a long time and can guarantee transfers within 10 minutes (Money in Minutes service) to 200+ locations around the world.
2. Which is Safer? – Equally Safe in Most Cases
- Wise is regulated by, authorities such as Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (USA), the UK Financial Conduct Authority (UK), National Bank of Belgium (Europe) as an Authorised Payment Institution, the Australia Securities and Investments Commission (Australia), Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre (Canada) and Financial Customs and Excise Department (Hong Kong). It is also regulated in India, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the UAE.
- Customer funds are held separately from operating funds in banks like JP Morgan or Barclays (depending on your location)
- They use industry-leading tech like SSL certificates and two-factor authentication to keep your money and personal information safe
- WesternUnion is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (UK), Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (USA) Financial Market Authority (Europe). They’re also regulated in many other countries they operate in.
- One of the oldest money transfer services in the world and they have a physical presence (500,000+ agent locations worldwide)
- They safeguard your information and money with TLS (Transport Layer Security) on their website as well as strong anti-fraud and anti-phishing policies
Both Wise and Western Union are licensed and heavily regulated services. This should mean they have in place many safeguards but the also have some pretty impressive reputations to protect.
Quick note: Cash transfers are a favourite target for scammers.
You might like: 7 Common Money Transfer Scams
3. Ease of Use – Both are Easy to Use
- Everything is online with Wise – from checking rates to setting up transfers
- Very transparent fee structure
- Extensive FAQs section
- Helpful customer service (email, phone, and chat)
- Both online and offline services (agent kiosks)
- Fee structure is complicated
- Country-specific FAQs section
- Country-specific phone support
Wise’s easy-to-use online interface and transparent rates and policies make the transfer process smooth and easy for small bank-to-bank transfers below $7000 USD/£4000 GBP/€4500 EU/$9500 CAD/AUD. Their customer service is also easy-to-reach via chat and email, and they have a reputation for resolving customer issues efficiently.
Users appreciate the flexibility Western Union offers with both online and offline transfer services, especially when they need to send cash. The country-specific FAQs and phone service also make the process seamless.
Note: Although both can handle larger transfers, if you need to transfer amounts greater than $7000 USD we recommend money transfer services specifically designed for larger amounts.
4. Reviews (inc. Negative Ones) — What Others Are Saying
Wise is rated 4.6/5 on Trustpilot with over 130,000 reviews, which is considered “Excellent.”
- Transparent and affordable fees
- Fast transfers
- Easy-to-use platform
- Great customer service
“Always excellent service. . . best rates and so fast”– Jack on Trustpilot
“Best prices, fastest, friendliest – I transfer currency regularly to various countries (euros, pln, usd etc) and have found these to be the absolute best prices, with the fastest processing speeds and ease of use of the whole interface. Win, win, win.”– Richard on Trustpilot
“Still offer a phone number for a human available to help resolve issues! A rarity. Thank you.”– Micah on Trustpilot
- Frozen accounts
Some users were worried when their accounts and funds were unexpectedly held up.
The good news is Wise’s customer service stepped in to resolve these issues fast.
As a licensed money transfer service, Wise is legally bound to audit their transfers to prevent theft and fraud. And unexpected holds up can happen when:
- You send a personal transfer from a business account (or vice versa)
- Fund your transfer from a bank account (or card) you don’t own
- Go over country-specific transfer limits
- Send money to a bank account that has been previously been flagged by authorities for being fraudulent
Western Union is rated 3.3/5 on Trustpilot with over 20,000 reviews, which is considered “Average.”
- Easy-to-use interface
- Good customer service
“Great service and portal is easy to use.”– Juan Quema on Trustpilot
“The associates provide excellent customer service. They go beyond meeting customers’ basic needs. They understand that it involves much more than providing support in a timely and pleasant manner.”– Martin Olmos on Trustpilot
- Too much paperwork
Some users were dissatisfied WesternUnion’s requirements for additional verifications to process a transfer.
Over the years, Western Union has tightened their security and audit processes to prevent misuse of their service (such as theft and money laundering).
That’s why, as a licensed service provider, they frequently audit transfers and ask for additional documentation.
When it comes to transferring small amounts below $7000 USD/£4000 GBP/€4500 EU/$9500 CAD/AUD, we recommend Wise if you can use bank accounts. Their transparent process and affordable fees make it super easy to send money abroad.
Western Union is recommend for international cash transfers , especially if their outlets are convenient.
Note: Ria (review) is another great option for cash and has better customer service.
5. Transfer Speeds – Equally Fast in Most Cases
- Transfers with popular currencies (like USD, GBP, EUR, AUD, CAD, NZD, SGD) are completed in 1-2 days.
- Exotic currencies take longer (3-4 days)
- Transfers funded with a credit or debit card can be near-instant (but more expensive)
- Guaranteed cash transfer in minutes with their Money in Minutes service (most expensive)
- “Next Day” and “Three Day” (most affordable) transfer speeds are also available
Winner: Western Union
Both Wise and Western are fast for their part. The challenge for Wise is that they need to use 3rd party banks which generally make bank-to-bank transfers slower although they have found ways to make it happen in hours for many countries.
However, Western Union wins this round with their flexible transfer options and guaranteed cash transfer service (in minutes).
6. Customer Service and Support – Both Are Excellent But in Different Ways
- Everything is online but you can speak to a real-human on the phone to troubleshoot
- Customer service can also be reached via email or live chat
- Both online and offline transfer options
- Customer service can be reached via country-specific phone number or at a near by agent kiosk.
Both services are set up to serve different needs.
Wise is ideal for those who want to send small amounts affordably and are comfortable doing everything online.
Western Union is great if you need a bit more support with your transfers or want to send cash and are happy to pay a premium price.
With two wins for Wise, one for Western Union, and 3 ties, it was a close call.
However, Wise is usually the better option for transfers below $7000 USD/£4000 GBP/€4500 EU/$9500 CAD/AUD if you can use a bank account at both ends.
With Wises’s low rates, great customer service, easy to use interface, and fast transfer speeds you can understand why they are growing so fast. They also offer awesome extras like a Multi Currency Account (review) which enables you to hold and exchange different currencies easily and a handy MasterCard debit card (review) which makes payments easy (available for both individuals and businesses).
Western Union with its large base of sender and receiver countries, super flexible funding and payout methods may make them the right choice for you. If you’re OK with paying a premium for that, Western Union is a trusted choice.
Ultimately, the best service for you comes down to your needs.