Review: Western Union money transfers

An easy way to send cash overseas - even if the recipient doesn't have a bank account.

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Expert review

Western Union has a gigantic global network of agent locations and bank connections that makes it easy to send money to almost anywhere. You can transfer this money fast for higher fees, or a bit slower for lower fees, depending on your needs and resources. Overall I’d recommend checking Western Union for any transfer you need to make, if only to get a baseline on prices.

Given Western Union’s history of customer complaints and lawsuits, consider looking at Western Union alternatives, as many smaller competitors have a better track record and also offer better exchange rates and lower fees. Western Union will almost always be a cheaper option than your bank, especially when sending one-off transfers or to remote destinations.

Western Union's coronavirus response

If you’re used to sending money in person and can no longer access brick-and-mortar stores due to lockdown, WU has launched the Digital Location program. We understand this can be a complicated shift in your money sending routine, so please refer to the Digital Location section of this guide for more information on where to find a Digital Location and how to use it.

Why should I consider Western Union?

  • Established service

    Western Union has managed both domestic and international money transfers since 1871.

  • Huge network

    With over 500,000 agent locations around the world in more than 200 countries, Western Union is one of the world’s largest money transfer providers. There are almost 1,000 agent locations in Ireland, often located in post offices.

  • Flexible transfer options

    With a mix of online and agent location services, you can choose to pay with cash, credit, debit, bank accounts, and more. Also, Western Union’s business transfer option lets you use hedging tools to get even more flexibility.

  • Fast

    Some transfers through Western Union can be received within minutes. This is helpful when sending cash in an emergency, or just in general when you don’t want to wait a few days for your transfer to go through.

What to be aware of with Western Union

  • Weak exchange rates

    Unfavourable exchange rates will lead to less money going to your recipient, and more to Western Union. Exchange rates offered by Western Union can be as high as 20% worse than the mid-market rate, so be sure to shop around when sending large amounts of money.

  • Maximum transfer limits

    The maximum limit for an online money transfer will variy depending on the destination. For example, you can send up to €5,000 to the US but just over €2,000 to India. Agent locations typically have no limit, however, so long as you can provide adequate identification while sending.

  • High fees

    Nearly all transactions through Western Union will have a fee attached. Occasional promotions and coupons may help recover some of this fee amount, but expect to almost always pay a fee when sending money through Western Union.

Western Union fees and exchange rates explained

Western Union has different fees for nearly every country it sends to. These fees also depend on how you are paying for the transfer and how the transfer will be picked up. Agent location fees typically aren’t posted online, but Western Union’s online fees are based on:

  • Location. The fees you pay will be different when sending to different countries around the world.
  • Payment. Paying with a credit card versus a debit card or a bank account will have different fees. Additionally, if paying with a credit card you may be charged fees by your credit card provider, too.
  • Receiving method. Picking up cash is typically more expensive than having money sent straight to a bank account.
  • Variable exchange rates. Western Union applies different exchange rates to different transfer types. It also uses stronger or weaker exchange rates based on the currency you are transferring.

When sending from Ireland for cash pickup, here are the fees and exchange rates we encountered using Western Union’s price estimator tool on 17 July 2020:

Sending €1,000 toPaying withFeePercent above mid-market
India (INR)
Debit card€1.902.4%
Credit card€1.902.4%
Bank account€1.901.9%
Qatar (QAR)
Debit card€1.909.2%
Credit card€1.909.2%
Bank account€1.906.7%

Sending money to India had moderately low exchange rate markups at 2.4%, while sending from EUR to QAR had markups over 9% when we checked. Normally high markups are associated with low fees, but there may be instances where sending to country includes both high credit card fees and poor exchange rates.

Payment and receiving options

There are many ways to send money overseas with Western Union, each with its own set of limits, fees and restrictions. Western Union’s online, phone and in-store options include:

Payment options

  • Credit card
  • Debit card
  • Bank account
  • Cash (in-store)
  • bank transfer

Receiving options

  • Cash (in-store)
  • Bank account
  • Mobile wallet
  • Prepaid card
  • Pay your bills

Not all options are available for all markets.

How long does a Western Union money transfer take?

You can send your transfer a few different ways, depending on the amount of fees you want to pay and how quickly you need it to arrive.

  • Fastest option — as little as 10 minutes

    Pay for your transfer with a credit or debit card and have it sent for cash pickup. When using a credit or debit card you’ll typically pay a higher fee, but your money can arrive in as little as 10 minutes. However, your credit card may charge a cash advance fee, further increasing the cost of your total transfer.

  • Cheapest option — up to 5 business days

    Using a bank account to pay for your transfer is typically the cheapest way to send money, but is also almost always the slowest. Depending on verification needs you may have to wait longer while Western Union confirms you own the registered bank account.

How much money can I send with Western Union?

Your limits will vary based on your transaction history, the recipient’s country, your location, and the service you choose.

ONLINE: When sending online your limits are typically as follows. When sending using a smartphone, the same limits apply, although not all the same services are offered on mobile.

ServiceLimit per transfer
In Minutes and Three Day€5,000 but limits vary depending on destination
Next DayLimits vary
Mobile Money Transferlimits vary
Bill Payments/Quick CollectLimits vary
Prepaid ServicesLimits vary by card issuer
Online FX International Payments€5,000

AT AGENT LOCATION: There’s usually no restriction on the amount of money you may send at an agent location. However, some countries set limits on how much can be received. If you need to send or receive more than €15,000, then additional documents or information may be required. If you have questions about a specific amount you’re sending or a specific country, you can call Customer Care to inquire.

ON THE PHONE: The money transfer limit ranges will vary depending on the Western Union location and transfer destination.

Note: Limits may vary based on sending and receiving location, so always best to check with Western Union itself before sending.

How do I use Western Union?

Western Union offers several ways for you to send money. As a minimum you’ll need:

  • A Western Union account. It’s easy to set up a free account as part of your transfer.
  • Valid payment method. You can pay by debit card for Western Union’s fastest and cheapest transfer or use a credit card or bank account. You can also pay in cash at an agent location.
  • Recipient’s contact information. If sending to a bank account, you’ll need the bank name and account number. If you’re sending a prepaid card for home delivery, you’ll need the address and phone number.
  • Your contact and payment information. The card number or account number and other bank details for the account you’re transferring from.

If your recipient is picking up cash in person, let them know to bring along a valid ID that matches the name you are transferring to.

The registration and transfer process

You’ll need to create a Western Union online profile before you can send funds online. It’s free and relatively quick to register. If you don’t want to register online, you can contact Western Union by phone and provide the necessary information that way.

If you prefer the security of a face-to-face transactions, visit one of Western Union’s 900+ locations in Ireland to transfer funds using cash, a credit or debit card.

Steps to send a Western Union transfer online

Signing up and sending money through Western Union can be done online, in person or through the mobile app.

  1. Create your free account using your name and contact information.
  2. Verify your account through the email and phone number provided.
  3. Provide the required identification, if asked.
  4. Start your transfer by clicking Send money.
  5. Fill in your transfer details, select payment methods and click send.
  6. Refer to your receipt for tracking details.

Western Union lawsuits and customer complaints explained

Large numbers of customer complaints is fairly standard for companies as massive and far-reaching as Western Union, but that doesn’t mean it can’t improve.

Online seller fraud and money transfer scams

This is the most common type of complaint by users online, and there is little that Western Union can do besides educate its customers to help them avoid these situations. Typical scams through Western Union include:

  • Payment requests. Someone online offers to sell you something and asks that you pay through Western Union. They pick up the cash that you sent to a Western Union agent location and you never hear from them again.
  • Overpayment scam. You receive a cheque that appears to be valid for a new job, a service or a product you are offering. The cheque amount is more than you earned, so the sender requests you return the extra amount by money transfer. After sending the money transfer you’ll learn that the cheque bounced, and there is no way to reverse the money transfer.
  • Tax scam. You are contacted by someone claiming to be from a government agency, stating that you owe taxes and they must be paid immediately. They will claim the fastest way to send money and avoid penalties is through a money transfer.

To combat these types of scams, Western Union has started providing clear warnings on its website before a user sends a money transfer. This popup warning requires users to click Accept before sending their transfer. Also, Western Union has a specific Twitter account dedicated to fraud awareness that tweets about the newest and most relevant scams while they are popping up. Western Union also now operates 24/7 phone lines for customer support all over the world.

Lawsuits against Western Union

After a long investigation, in January 2017 Western Union agreed to forfeit more than US$550 million and enter into anti-fraud agreements with many US state and federal agencies. These lawsuits focused on Western Union’s aiding and abetting of wire fraud by failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program.

The outcome of the lawsuits lead Western Union to agree to:

  • Providing clear fraud warnings.
  • Increase its websites and telephone numbers to handle customer fraud.
  • Block any and all money transfers sent to a person who is the subject of a fraud report until it is cleared up.
  • Refund a money transfer if Western Union fails to comply with its anti-fraud procedures and the sender is the target of fraud.

Fraud can be reported to your local Garda station.
More on money transfer scams and how to avoid them

Can I trust Western Union?

Between 2004 and 2010, Western Union was accused of allowing fraudulent transactions and received more than 550,000 complaints about fraud. Since then, Western Union has paid over US$586 million in fines to settle this issue — as explained above. Being extra cautious by only sending or receiving money from people you know is a necessary extra step for your safety.

Western Union is headquartered in Denver, Colorado, in the US, and has been in business since 1851. The company originated as a telegram service, and moved onto offering standardised time services, stock tickers and eventually money transfers. In 1871, Western Union launched its money transfer service and has been growing it ever since through bank transfers, money orders and money transfers in general to over 200 countries.

Independent research of any brand is always a great idea before using it. We’ve done some of the footwork for you and compiled reviews from around the internet. These reviews are accurate as of 17 July 2020.

What Western Union’s reviews look like

Trustpilot3.6 out of 5, based on 17,543 customer reviews
CompareRemit2.1 out of 5, based on 207 customer reviews
Monito7.9 out of 10, staff reviewed
NerdWallet4.5 out of 5, staff reviewed
ConsumerAffairs3.6 out of 5, based on 2,314 customer reviews

Does Western Union have an app?

Screenshot of the Western Union app

Yes, Western Union has an app on both Google Play and the App Store. Features the app has includes:

  • Scan your card. Use your phone’s camera to quickly scan your credit card, debit card and photo ID to save time and prevent mistakes.
  • Biometric logins. Both face and fingerprint recognition can be used to log in by using Touch ID.
  • Check currency exchange rates on the go. Current currency exchange rates and fees can be found in the app instead of having to use your phone’s browser.
  • Create an order in the app then pay in cash. To speed up the time spent at an agent location, start your money transfer on the app then pay at an agent location to complete it.
  • Find an agent location using GPS. Use the in-app map to find agent locations based on your GPS or search anywhere around the world.
Google Play Store4.4 out of 5, based on 167,381 customer reviews
Apple App Store4.8 out of 5, based on 296,515 customer reviews

More on the best money transfer apps

Bottom line

Western Union offers plenty of useful transfer and cash pickup options when you need to send money overseas. Before you commit to sending your hard-earned money, though, be sure to compare other available options to find the best deal. Although Western Union is often one of the most convenient options, it is always worth checking to see if there are additional companies with lower fees and stronger exchange rates for you to benefit from.

Frequently asked questions

Does Western Union offer any forex tools?

Yes, but only for businesses. You can read more about this in the Western Union Business Solutions review.

How safe is a money transfer through Western Union?

Your funds are safely tracked until in the hands of your recipient. International money services typically use encryption systems and may often be authorised by a country’s financial authority.

How do I track a Western Union transfer?

You have a few options: track online, through an agent or by telephone. All options require the same information, which is your MTCN. If you don’t have the MTCN, you can track transfers using:

  • Sender’s phone number OR Sender and receiver names
  • Receiver’s country and amount sent
  • Date of transfer

Additional information may be needed, which is why tracking with the MTCN is the easiest option.

What is an MTCN (Money Transfer Control Number)?

The MTCN, or Money Transfer Control Number, is Western Union’s unique tracking number assigned to your money transfer. Your receiver will need this number when picking up money at an agent location. The number can be found on your receipt.

What is a Digital Location and how do I use it?

A Digital Location is Western Union’s way of bringing agent location services to the digital world. This service is first launching in a few markets, but Western Union has plans to expand the program.

Where can I use a Digital Location?

The launch of the program includes support for only a handful of countries:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Italy
  • Portugal
  • Oman

What can I do at a Western Union Digital Location?

Users connecting to a Digital Location can expect the same level of customer service they’d get from a regular agent location, but digitally. Customers can expect:

  • Multiple language support.
  • Video or phone chat with a Western Union money transfer personal-service assistant.
  • All the perks of visiting a Western Union agent location without having to leave your home.
How do I use a Western Union Digital Location?

For customers located in one of the supported countries, visit the Western Union website on your phone or computer and follow the onscreen prompts. For customers who aren’t in one of the supported countries and want to send money digitally, be sure to compare your options to save money on your next transfer.

How does Western Union compare to other services?

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Minimum Transfer Transfer Time Transfer Fee
Azimo - Ireland
GBP 10
Instant
Varies
TransferWise - Ireland
EUR 1
1-2 days
Varies
Remitly - Ireland
EUR 0
1-5 days
EUR 2.99
Skrill - Ireland
EUR 50
1 day
None
XE Money Transfers - Ireland
EUR 1
Same day
EUR 0
WorldRemit - Ireland
EUR 1
Same day
Varies
CurrencyFair - Ireland
EUR 5
1-2 days
Varies
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