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Western Union vs a bank transfer

How does Western Union stack up against making an international money transfer with a typical bank?

We compared Western Union with Singapore’s banks in a head-to-head money transfer comparison across the categories of fees, rates and speed. Find out which came out on top to make sure you get the best deal when you next send money overseas.

The fees and rates used in this comparison are accurate as of 14 February 2019.

Which has lower fees?

Western Union

Western Union’s fees vary depending on the destination and the amount you want to send. At the time of writing (22 July 2019), there’s no transfer frees when you make an online Western Union transfer to the United Kingdom.

But the fees vary for other countries and payment mode. For example, if you opt to pay in cash at an agent location, you’d need to pay a small fee of $2 for the trasnfer.

Western Union does not charge any pick-up fees, but certain delivery methods such as sending to a mobile wallet may involve third-party charges.

Bank transfer

International bank transfer fees are numerous and wildly variable compared to Western Union.

At one major Singapore bank you could feasibly pay as much as $25 in fees for a money transfer to the United Kingdom regardless of the amount sent.

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Winner: Western Union

The fees are lower for small and medium-sized transfers, and they’re overall more predictable. However, the most cost-effective option depends on where you’re sending money, and how much.

Western Union may not be more cost-effective than a bank transfer in every situation.

Let’s crunch the numbers: Sending $1,000 to the UK

Let’s look at those numbers side by side and assume you’re taking reasonable steps to get as cheap a bank transfer as possible.

Sending $500 to the UK
Western UnionBank transfer
Transfer fee$0$25
Exchange rate1 SGD = 0.562 GBP1 SGD = 0.581 GBP
Transfer speedSame day2-5 days
Total British pounds receivedGBP£281.50GBP£290.65
Sending $10,000 to the UK

The maximum transfer through Western Union is $5,000 at a time, so now you’d have to make two transfers with a $15 fee each time. The bank transfer fees are also at $12 base right now, plus the $11 receiving fee.

Western UnionBank transfer
Transfer fee$0$25
Exchange rate1 SGD = 0.562 GBP1 SGD = 0.581 GBP
Transfer speedSame day2-5 days
Total British pounds receivedGBP£5,625.30GBP£5,810.90

Even if you take all possible steps to minimise bank fees, Western Union would a little bit more cost-effective for smaller transfers, primarily because of its lower transfer fees that range between $0 to $2, while bank transfer fees are mostly fixed at $20 to $30 regardless of the amount sent.

But the tables turn when you’re sending large sums, and you’d save more by using a bank instead of Western Union for a transfer of $10,000, due to more favourable rates.

Both are very similar, and the difference all comes down to which bank you’re using, what the rates are at the exact time you make a transfer, and whether you’ve done everything you can to minimise the bank transfer fees.

Which offers a better exchange rate?

Western Union

As is typical for most money transfer services, Western Union will add a margin to the exchange rate.

For example, when sending money to the US:

  • Western Union’s exchange rate: 1 SGD = 0.68 USD
  • Mid-market exchange rate: 1 SGD = 0.73 USD

So relative to the mid-market rate at the time, Western Union charges an exchange “fee” of sorts equivalent to about 7.3% on an SGD/USD transfer.

It varies widely by currency and circumstance, though. At the time of writing it’s over 6.4% for SGD to EUR, but only about 0.3% for SGD to Indian rupees.

Bank transfer

For the same SGD to USD transfer:

  • A typical bank’s exchange rate: 1 SGD = 0.72 USD
  • Mid-market exchange rate: 1 SGD = 0.73 USD

So you’re getting one American cent less per Singapore dollar with a bank.

This is equivalent to a 1.38% markup compared to mid-market rates.

The banks also offer a much more favourable rate for euros, equivalent to 2%, but the SGD to INR exchange rates are almost 0.85% above the mid-market rate at the time of writing.

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Winner: Tie

The banks offer better rates for USD than Western Union. Western Union offers better rates for INR than the banks. The banks offer better rates for JPY than Western Union…

The winner changes depending on which currency you’re transferring. The difference can be enormous though, so it’s well worth checking rates and comparing options at the time of the transfer.

Which is faster?

Western Union

Western Union can offer same-day transfers around the world, seven days a week, with a range of delivery options including in-person cash pick-up, bank deposit or transfer to a mobile money app.

Bank transfer

How long a bank transfer takes depends on which bank you’re using and where you’re sending money.

A typical international bank transfer can take 2-5 business days to process, often won’t be moving on weekends or public holidays and can only be deposited directly into a bank account.

Trophy icon
Winner: Western Union

Western Union is faster and more flexible than a typical bank transfer.

General features

Payment methodsLimitsTransfer timesCurrencies
Western UnionCredit/debit card, bank transferMinimum: $1

Maximum: $5,000

Same day100+ currencies
Bank transferStraight from a bank account, or in person at a branchMinimum: Anything above the fee

Maximum: No limit

2-5 business daysVaries by bank

Western Union

Western Union works through thousands of offices and third parties in more than 200 countries around the world.

It sends money by ensuring that it has enough funds on hand at every location to handle most transfers. After the sender makes a deposit, the recipient receives the funds from the Western Union office in that country.

This is how it can send money almost anywhere in the world in just minutes.

Bank transfer

Banks conduct international transfers through the SWIFT network – an interbank communication network. When you send money overseas through a bank, it will leapfrog from bank to bank until it arrives at its destination. This is known as a correspondent banking system.

The reason bank transfers are typically slower and more expensive than other options is that there are so many correspondents involved, and each needs to process your payment as it passes through.

Bottom line

Depending on the situation, Western Union might typically be a quicker, more cost-effective and more convenient way of sending money overseas.

But even though Western Union beats the banks, it doesn’t beat all other money transfer services. Check out some of the other options in the table below.

Looking for more options?

Use our comparison calculator below to weigh up the fees, exchange rates and other details of some specialist money transfer providers.

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
SGD 0 Same day SGD 4.99 0.731 USD
Special offers like free transfers and better exchange rates available for new customers.
Remitly has quick, affordable transfers around the world, with both express and economy options.
Go to site Show details
SGD 250 1 day SGD 0.00 0.736 USD
Exclusive offer: Discounted exchange rates for your first and ongoing transactions. $0 transfer fee.
OFX has no maximum limit transfers, with competitive exchange rates for 45+ currencies.
Go to site Show details
SGD 2,000 1 day SGD 0.00 0.736 USD
TorFX guarantee to beat any competitor's exchange rate for a transaction. Conditions apply.
TorFX sends money overseas in 30+ currencies, with competitive rates for transfer amounts over $2,000.
Go to site Show details
SGD 1 Same day SGD 3.99 0.736 USD
Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Conditions apply.
WorldRemit sends money to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposits, cash pick-ups or mobile top-ups.
Go to site Show details
SGD 250 1 day SGD 0.00 0.736 USD
Send guarantees to match any competitor's exchange rate. T&Cs apply.
Send has fee-free transfers in 30+ currencies to over 200 countries.
Go to site Show details
SGD 1 1 - 2 days SGD 45.00 0.739 USD
Wise uses the mid-market rate and transparent fees to help you send money in 45+ currencies. Go to site Show details
SGD 5 1 - 2 days SGD 3.00 0.735 USD
Special offer: Zero fees on your first 10 transfers.
CurrencyFair has bank-beating exchange rates and fast transfer times on 15+ popular currencies.
Go to site Show details
SGD 1 1 day SGD 43.00 0.739 USD
Pay no fees on your first two transfers, up to S$3000.
SingX offers the real exchange rate every time you make a transfer and can help you send money across the world.
Go to site Show details
SGD 200 2 days SGD 50.00 0.733 USD
Exclusive: Use code FINDER10 to receive US$10 off your first transaction.
InstaReM offers simple transfers with a flat 0.5% transfer fee for most transfers.
Go to site Show details

Compare up to 4 providers

The “Rate” and “Amount Received” displayed are indicative rates that have been supplied by each brand or gathered by Finder.

Exchange rates are volatile and change often. As a result, the exchange rate listed on Finder may differ from the actual exchange rate quoted by the brand. Please confirm the actual exchange rate and mention “Finder” before you commit to a brand.

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