We put three major providers to the test when it comes to sending cash overseas.
If you need to transfer money to friends, family or businesses outside the US, you have range of money transfer services to choose from. In truth, international money transfers are no longer a game for only tried-and-true players like Western Union and MoneyGram. Newer companies promise to undercut the competition to earn your business.Here we look at three major players in the money transfer market — MoneyGram, Western Union and digital payments giant PayPal — to see which one offers the better deal.
MoneyGram, Western Union and PayPal: How they work
MoneyGram, Western Union and PayPal each offer an easy online process to exchange and send money around the world.
MoneyGram and Western Union
So much, in fact, that we can describe them both in one shot: You go to their sites, enter how much you’re transferring and to where and see how much you’ll pay for the exchange.
With either service, you also have the option of visiting an office, calling or using a mobile app to initiate a transfer. And once complete, they convert and deliver your money to a bank account or for cash pickup at locations worldwide.
To transfer money through PayPal, you’ll need to create a free PayPal account. You then send a transfer to your recipient’s PayPal account, funding the transfer with your PayPal balance, bank account, credit or debit card or PayPal Credit. After your recipient receives the money, they can either keep the funds in their PayPal account or withdraw the money to their bank account.
Who offers better exchange rates?
To understand who offers better exchange rates, you’ll need to first look at the mid-market rate. This is the true exchange rate that averages the buying and selling rate of a global currency — and the rate banks and transfer services use when they trade among themselves.
MoneyGram skews exchange rates for a profit. Depending on where you’re sending your money, the exchange rate could be 5% or more above the mid-market rate. This means hundreds of dollars on a large transfer diverted to MoneyGram’s pockets.
Like MoneyGram, depending on the country you’re sending money to, a typical exchange rate at Western Union could be up to 6% above the mid-market rate. If you’re sending a large amount overseas, this is a lot of money straight into Western Union’s coffers.
To calculate the exchange rate it offers to customers, PayPal takes the mid-market rate and adds a 2.5% margin. The best way to find accurate exchange rates is by using PayPal’s currency exchange calculator, which you can find after you log in to your account.
For your typical overseas transfer, you’ll get a stronger exchange rate with PayPal.Back to top
The most effective way to compare MoneyGram, Western Union and PayPal is to look at a case study.
Case study: Sending $1,000 to Germany
Malcolm wants to send $1,000 to his sister, a military wife living at the Ramstein Air Base in southwestern Germany.
He’s tempted by the convenience of his local bank, despite its reputation for high fees and weak exchange rates. Before he decides, he compares how much he’ll pay to deposit the money to his sister’s bank account with MoneyGram, Western Union and PayPal.
|Exchange rate||1 USD = 0.9167 EUR||1 USD = 0.8652 EUR||1 USD = 0.9451 EUR|
|Transfer speed||4 business days||6 business days||1 business day|
|Total received||916.70 EUR||865.20 EUR||945.10 EUR|
By analyzing his options, Malcolm comes to understand how the complexity of fee structures and transfer options ultimately affects how much he’ll pay. There’s no question that PayPal offers the strongest exchange rate, affording nearly 80 more euro for his sister over the other two options. But because its transfer fee is a percentage of the total transfer amount, Malcolm will pay the highest fee by going with PayPal.
If time is not on Malcolm’s side, PayPal wins again with a delivery time up to five days sooner than MoneyGram or Western Union.
Ultimately, he’ll need to weigh which element is more important before making his transfer.
Delivery speed varies by transfer option, with cash transfers in person or by phone delivered in minutes (at higher costs). MoneyGram’s cheaper options take two to four business days for receipt.
Like MoneyGram, delivery speed with Western Union too varies by transfer option. At an agent location or by phone, your transfer could be delivered in minutes (at higher costs). Your cheapest options could take five days or longer, depending on the country.
With PayPal, transferring among existing PayPal accounts is instantaneous. Payments from your PayPal account to another bank account are delivered by the next business day.
Whichever way you send your money, it’ll get to your recipient more quickly with PayPal. For deposits to an account, up to four days sooner.
How to send money overseas through MoneyGram
Who offers more options?
|Payment methods||Minimum and maximum transfers||Delivery methods||Transfer speeds||Countries and currencies|
|MoneyGram||Bank account, credit or debit card, cash||Minimum and maximum varies by country||Bank transfer, cash pickup, other options by location||2–4 days||190+ countries and 45+ currencies|
|Western Union||Bank account, credit or debit card, cash||Minimum and maximum varies by country||Bank transfer, cash pickup, e-wallet||Varies from minutes to 5+ days||200+ countries|
|PayPal||Bank transfer, credit or debit card, PayPal credit||Minimum varies by country (about $0.02); maximum $10,000 per transfer||PayPal transfer, bank transfer||Varies from minutes to 1 day||202 countries|
That you’ll get stronger exchange rates with PayPal is clear-cut. But depending on how much you’re sending, you could pay higher transfer fees with PayPal. Then if your recipient doesn’t have a bank account, MoneyGram’s or Western Union’s cash pickup may be your best option.
Ultimately, you’ll want to compare money transfer specialists to find a provider that’s right for your situation.