Western Union vs Wise

Wise undercuts Western Union, but can't yet match feature and network coverage.

Western Union is one of the oldest and most established money transfer services available, while Wise is the relatively new kid on the block looking to shake things up. Wise (formerly TransferWise) has made a name for itself as a fast, easy, bank-beating service. But how does this stack up against the might of Western Union?

Western Union and Wise at a glance

Western UnionWise (TransferWise)
Overall rating★★★★★★★★★★
Arrange transfers online
Arrange transfers through app
Arrange transfers by phone
BasedDenver, USLondon, UK
FCA reference436869900507
LinkGo to site

Which is cheaper: Western Union or Wise?

1 - 3 of 3
Name Product Fastest transfer Fee Key benefits Amount received
Western Union bank transfer (pay online by transfer)
Within minutes
Western Union cash pick-up (pay online by transfer)
Within minutes
Wise (TransferWise)
4 hours
From £0.20
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Compare up to 4 providers

Please note: You should always refer to quotes you receive from transfer services themselves directly for exact amounts as they may vary from our estimates.

Which charges lower fees?

It’s hard to pinpoint what Western Union’s fees are as it differs for nearly every country it sends to. Fees can start as low as £2, but they can easily be tens or even hundreds of pounds when paying by credit or debit card for cash pick-up in certain countries.

Wise charges a flat fee AND a percentage-based fee, so it doesn’t come across that well in comparison. But fees don’t tell the whole story. The exchange rate you’re offered is a major part of the cost of your transfer, and this is where using Wise makes a difference.

Trophy iconWinner: Western Union

Which offers better exchange rates?

Wise offers the “mid-market” or “interbank” rate, which is generally the best rate available. Typically, you only see money transfer services offering the mid-market rate alongside a transfer fee. And with Wise you have to deal with two transfer fees – it’s how it makes its money.

Western Union uses stronger or weaker exchange rates based on the currency you’re transferring. So whether or not you get a decent rate can depend on where you’re sending funds to. For most currencies we checked, with one or two notable exceptions, Western Union’s exchange rate wasn’t especially competitive.

Ultimately it’s a good idea to get quotes from both services for your transfer and compare them side by side, something you can do using the calculator we’ve built.

Trophy iconWinner: Wise

Example: Sending £500 to Malaysia

Western UnionWise
Transfer fee£0£4.53
Exchange rate1 GBP = 5.0316 MYR1 GBP = 5.1726 MYR
Transfer speedReal timeIn seconds
Total receivedRM2,515.80RM2,562.87

In this example (which does not use live exchange rates), despite charging the higher fee of the two services, Wise offers a much better exchange rate which means the recipient gets about RM50 more. Note that for the Western Union figure we chose an international bank transfer to the recipient, paid for by domestic bank transfer, since this was the most comparable to Wise’s service.

Coverage and payout

Western UnionWise (TransferWise)
Coverage rating★★★★★★★★★★
Number of available currencies145
(including: EUR, USD, CNY, INR, PHP, PKR, ZAR)
(including: EUR, USD, CNY, INR, PHP, PKR, ZAR)
Number of supported countries210222
Cash pick-up facility
Speed rating★★★★★★★★★★
Fastest transfer speed24 hours4 hours
LinkGo to site

Thanks to its established global network, Western Union is way out in front when it comes to the number of currencies available to send and the destination countries.

Which is faster?

For overseas transfers, Wise holds the edge in terms of speed. But it’s hard to compete with Western Union’s extensive network, which can see a transfer for cash pickup ready within minutes.

Trophy iconWinner: Tie

Payment methods

Western UnionWise (TransferWise)
Bank transfer
Debit card
Credit card
LinkGo to site

Wise and Western Union are pretty evenly matched when it comes to payment methods. However, Western Union has the edge as it does have the option to pay for your transfer in cash at a Western Union location – something which Wise doesn’t offer.

Trophy iconWinner: Western Union

Forex features

Western UnionWise (TransferWise)
Facilities rating★★★★★★★★★★
Recurring transfer facility
Forward contracts facility
Limit orders facility
Stop loss orders facility
Customer servicePhone, EmailPhone, Email
Personal account manager
Price matching facility
LinkGo to site

It’s pretty slim pickings when it comes to Forex features from either Western Union or Wise. The only thing you can expect is a recurring transfer facility. So if you are after a provider that can lock in exchange rates for the future or set rate targets, you will need to look elsewhere.

Trophy iconWinner: Tie

The verdict: Which is better: Western Union or Wise?

Both are established and reputable services that are likely to beat your bank when it comes to international transfer costs. We found that Wise worked out consistently cheaper overall with its transparent fee structure and mid-market rate. But when it came to coverage and payment methods, Western Union’s huge network is hard to beat as it gives options that a smaller transfer service just can’t provide.

Trophy iconOverall winner: Western Union for cash… Wise for almost all other situations.

We show offers we can track - that's not every product on the market...yet. Unless we've said otherwise, products are in no particular order. The terms "best", "top", "cheap" (and variations of these) aren't ratings, though we always explain what's great about a product when we highlight it. This is subject to our terms of use. When you make major financial decisions, consider getting independent financial advice. Always consider your own circumstances when you compare products so you get what's right for you.

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