Western Union vs PayPal money transfers

We compare a popular service with a digital giant to see which is better for overseas transfers.

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Western Union is nearly synonymous with international money transfers. And then there’s electronic payment giant, which also allows you to send money overseas. Which is cheaper and faster for sending funds to friends, family and businesses outside the UK?

The fees and rates used in this comparison are accurate as of 18 February 2019.

Which has lower fees?

Western Union

Western Union’s fees for sending money from the UK start from £2, but in some cases can run up to £15 or higher.

The fee varies a lot by situation – your destination country, chosen currency, amount transferred and payment method will all affect the total fee. There is typically an additional charge for credit card payments.

PayPal

PayPal charges a flat fee of £2.99, but you’ll be charged an extra fee if you’re paying by card (how much depends on the currency you’re sending to).

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Winner: PayPal

There are certain situations where PayPal fees will be higher than Western Union’s for the same transfer, but these tend to be very specific situations.

In most cases it’s likely to cost less in fees to send money from the UK with PayPal than Western Union. To find the actual cheaper option, though, you’ll also need to factor in exchange rates.

Case study: Sending £1,000 to Germany

Kendra wants to send £1,000 to her friend in Munich ahead of Oktoberfest. With so many locations worldwide, she thought she’d give Western Union a try. Then her friend suggested she look into PayPal.

Here’s what it’d look like to send a £1,000 bank-to-bank transfer with Western Union and PayPal.

Western UnionPayPal
Transfer fee£0£20 (2.0%)
Exchange rate1 GBP = 1.097 EUR1 GBP = 1.057 EUR
Transfer speed2 business daysInstantly
Total received1,097 EUR1,056 EUR

Kendra won’t pay any fees to transfer her money with Western Union, and with the stronger exchange rate it offers, it will allow her to send about 40 more euros to her friend. That’s a few more steins of bier to enjoy.

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Which offers better exchange rates?

Western Union

Western Union’s currency exchange margins vary widely depending on the currency and the situation. In general, the margin added onto the exchange rate can vary from 2% to 6%. If you’re sending a large amount overseas, this means hundreds of dollars that goes straight into Western Union’s coffers.

PayPal

PayPal’s margin, like Western Union, depends on what currency you’re sending to. In general:

  • To USD or CAD: 3.5% added to the exchange rate
  • To other currencies: 4% added to the exchange rate

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Winner: Tie

There are no clear winners here. It all depends on the situation and either can be cheaper or more expensive than the other.

Which is faster?

Western Union

The speed of your transfer is mostly dependent on the transfer method. Cash pick-up or mobile money app deposits can be available in just a few minutes, while bank account transfers might take several days.

PayPal

PayPal money transfers might take a week or more end-to-end, depending on circumstance and destination.

If you don’t already have funds in your PayPal account it might take several days to top it up, and after that it might take another few days to finish the transfer.

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Winner: Western Union

Western Union offers payments within minutes, although it costs extra and won’t necessarily be suitable for every situation. Its bank transfers will typically take several business days to clear. PayPal’s bank transfer speeds are similar, with the added burden of needing to top up or link your bank account first.

If you want to get verified and send money as fast as possible, Western Union has a clear advantage over PayPal.

General features

Payment methodsReceiving optionsMaximum and minimum transfersTransfer speedsCurrencies
Western UnionBank transfer, cash, credit and debit cardBank account, cash pick-up, mobile money appMinimum: £1

Maximum: £5,000

Same day95+
PayPalPayPal account, bank transfer, credit and debit cardPayPal account, bank transferMinimum: £1

Maximum: £10,000

1 day20+

Western Union

With Western Union, you go to its site, enter how much you’re transferring and confirm how you’re sending it and how it should be received. You also have the option of visiting or calling an agent.

Once you’ve approved the exchange rate and fees you’ll pay, Western Union converts and delivers your money to your recipient’s bank account or for cash-pickups at locations worldwide.

PayPal

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.

Bottom line

The most cost-effective and convenient option will depend on the circumstance. If you’re paying by card, it’s worth being aware of the additional fees this incurs at both PayPal and Western Union.

Similarly, it’s worth checking the exchange rates for your currency ahead of a transfer. While PayPal’s rates are fixed at a set amount above mid-market, Western Union’s will vary widely from currency to currency.

Looking for more options?

Table: sorted by a combination of service offering and the amount your recipient will receive

Use our calculator below to compare fees, exchange rates and transfer speeds of other international money transfer services. Just enter the details in the calculator to see what fees and exchange rates you would get.

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
GBP 2,000 1 day GBP 0.00 1.123 EUR
5,613
TorFX guarantee to beat any competitor's exchange rate for a transaction (conditions apply)
(Conditions apply)
Go to site Show details
GBP 5,000 Same day GBP 0.00 1.129 EUR
5,647
Universal Partners FX offers competitive exchange rates and same-day transfers for 100+ currencies. Go to site Show details
GBP 3,000 1 day GBP 0.00 1.123 EUR
5,613
Get no fees as a Finder customer when you transfer your money overseas with Global Reach. Go to site Show details
GBP 1 1 - 2 days GBP 0.00 1.129 EUR
5,647
Whatever amount you transfer, XE will not charge you a fee for using their service. Go to site Show details
GBP 2,000 1 day GBP 0.00 1.123 EUR
5,613
Make transferring money abroad as simple and safe as possible with bank-beating exchange rates - online, via the app or over the phone. Go to site Show details
GBP 2,500 1 day GBP 0.00 1.123 EUR
5,613
With 17 years of foreign exchange expertise, OFX know the money transfers business very well, offering facilities for one-off and recurring transfers. Go to site Show details
GBP 5,000 Same day GBP 0.00 1.123 EUR
5,613
Clear Capital specialises in sending over 150 currencies abroad for both individuals and businesses. Expect to receive a dedicated account manager and same-day transfers. Go to site Show details
GBP 2,500 Same day GBP 0.00 1.123 EUR
5,613
Central FX’s dedicated private client team will guide you through the money transfer process from first call to final payment. Go to site Show details
GBP 5,000 1 day GBP 0.00 1.128 EUR
5,638
Take advantage of fee lock-ins and live bookable rates, helping you save up to 85% in hidden bank fees. Go to site Show details
GBP 1,000 1 - 2 days GBP 0.00 1.123 EUR
5,613
Better exchange rates for Finder customers.
Send 60+ currencies at competitive rates and no fees. If you find a better eligible quote, WorldFirst will beat it.
Go to site Show details
GBP 1 1 - 2 days GBP 1.99 1.119 EUR
5,594
Special offers like free transfers and better exchange rates available for new customers.
Quick, affordable transfers around the world with both express and economy options.
Go to site Show details
GBP 5 2 days EUR 3.00 1.128 EUR
5,641
Special offer: Zero fees on your first 10 transfers.
Get bank-beating exchange rates and fast transfer times on 15+ popular currencies.
Go to site Show details
GBP 50 Same day GBP 2.99 1.129 EUR
5,640
Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Conditions apply.
An online money transfer service with cash pick-up, bank account to bank account and airtime transfers available.
Go to site Show details

Compare up to 4 providers

Disclaimer: Exchange rates change often. Confirm the total cost with the provider before transferring money.

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