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Western Union vs. bank transfers

We compare a well-known provider to your typical US bank on money transfers.

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Western Union is a familiar name in the money transfer business, and nearly everyone has a bank account. But which should you use when sending money to friends and family? Western Union is typically cheaper than a bank but is still more expensive than other money transfer providers.

Western Union logo money transfersBank of america and Citi Logos
FeesStarts from $5, no fees for first-time customersFrom $25 to $85 or more
Exchange ratesUp to 6% above the midmarket rateMore than the midmarket rate plus margin
SpeedDelivery speed varies with transfer optionsVaries by bank
Max Transfer Amount$50,000Varies by bank
Read review

How they work?

Both major US banks and Western Union can send your money next door or to the other side of the world.

Western Union

To make a transfer with Western Union, go to its site, enter how much you’re transferring and to which country, and see how much you’ll pay for the exchange. Once complete, Western Union converts and delivers your money to a bank account or for cash pickup at locations worldwide. You can also initiate a transfer by phone, through a mobile app or in person.
Read review: Western Union

Major US bank

Bank wire transfers are a quick, efficient way to move your money from one bank account holder to another through banking networks. While in the past you had to visit a bank branch to initiate a money transfer, these days most banks allow you to initiate transfers online and by phone as well. However, delivery options are typically limited to bank account deposits.

Who offers lower fees?

Western Union

For domestic transfers, Western Union typically charges $5.99 to send up to $50 for cash pickup anywhere in the US, with the transfer fee soaring to about $100 for a transfer of $1,000. For transfers to a bank account, you’ll pay lower fees: $5 for transfers up to $50 and about $45 to transfer $1,000.

For international transfers, figuring out your transfer fee can be muddied. Although most fees start at $5, they can be as much as $45 or more when paying by credit or debit card for cash pickup in certain countries. When sending money to high-traffic countries such as Mexico or India, however, some agents offer fee-free transfer options.

Major US bank

While most major US banks offer free bank-to-bank domestic transfers —or waive fees for specific account levels — they’re typically your most expensive option when sending money internationally. Banks charge higher fees — anywhere from $25 to $85 or more, depending on the details of your transfer — and a bigger variety of fees: incoming, outgoing and other fees.

On top of high fees, they offer weaker exchange rates than money transfer specialists. They also offer fewer options for your recipient, typically requiring they have a bank account in which to receive your cash.

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Winner: Western Union

For international money transfers, Western Union’s typical starting fee is lower than your average fee at a major US bank. Not to mention more ways for your friends and family to receive your cash.

Compare other transfer services

Our table lets you compare the services you can use to send money abroad. Compare services on transfer speeds and fees, then click Go to site when you're ready to send.
1 - 15 of 15
Name Product Filter Values Fastest Transfer Speed Fees (Pay by Bank Transfer)
MoneyGram
Within minutes
From $0
First online transfer is free.
MoneyGram has fast cash pick-up transfers to more than 350,000 agent locations worldwide.
Wise (TransferWise)
Within minutes
From 0.41%
Wise uses the mid-market rate and transparent fees to help you send money in 45+ currencies.
Instarem
24 hours
From 0%
New Instarem customers will get a special FX rate and zero-fees on their first transfer.
Instarem offers offers rewards on every transaction.
Cash App
Within minutes
From $0
Make payments to your friends and families easily from your phone with no transfer fees. Payments available to US bank accounts only.
Revolut
Revolut
Within minutes
From $0
Revolut offers international exchange rate for over 150+ currencies and transfers within 30 minutes.
OFX International Money Transfers (Business)
24 hours
$0
Business customers: Send safe, no-limit transfers with no fees and competitive exchange rates.
CurrencyTransfer for Business
24 hours
$0
Increase business efficiency with zero transaction fees and same-day transfers.
Xe Money Transfer for Business
24 hours
$0
Save your time and money with Xe Money Transfer for business.
Revolut
Revolut
Within minutes
From $0
Revolut offers international exchange rate for over 150+ currencies and transfers within 30 minutes.
OFX
24 hours
$0
OFX has no maximum limit transfers, with competitive exchange rates for 45+ currencies.
Currencies Direct (business)
24 hours
$0
Minimizes costs of international transactions and offers custom solutions for business clients. Currencies Direct may call you to confirm your transfer, so be prepared for a phone call shortly after initiating a transfer.
CurrencyTransfer
24 hours
$0
CurrencyTransfer lets you shop around for the best exchange rate on its online marketplace.
Revolut
Revolut
Within minutes
From $0
Revolut offers international exchange rate for over 150+ currencies and transfers within 30 minutes.
Currencies Direct
24 hours
$0
CurrenciesDirect makes transferring money abroad simple with bank-beating exchange rates. Currencies Direct may call you to confirm your transfer, so be prepared for a phone call shortly after initiating a transfer.
Xe
Within minutes
$3
Xe has fast transfers with low fees and a range of foreign currency tools.
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Who offers better exchange rates?

To understand who offers better exchange rates, you’ll need to first look at the midmarket 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.

Western Union

Depending on the country you’re sending money to, a typical exchange rate at Western Union could be up to 6% above the midmarket rate. If you’re sending a large amount overseas, this means hundreds of dollars that go straight into Western Union’s coffers.

We’ll use the example of a transfer to euros (EUR):

  • If the midmarket rate is 1 USD = 0.96 EUR
  • Western Union’s exchange rate might be 1 USD = 0.88 EUR

Major US bank

Nearly all banks skew the published exchange rate for a profit, but you could pay higher margins than even those at Western Union.

Using the example of a transfer to euros (EUR):

  • If the midmarket rate is 1 USD = 0.96 EUR
  • Your bank’s exchange rate might be 1 USD = 0.86 EUR

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Winner: Tie

Unless you’re transferring a considerable sum of money, the difference in exchange rates offered by Western Union or your bank is negligible. Though Western Union may offer rates that are slightly better, depending on where you’re sending your money.

Who’s faster?

Western Union

Delivery speed varies with transfer options. At an agent location or by phone, your transfer could be delivered in minutes — at higher cost. Your cheapest options could take five days or longer, depending on the country.

Major US bank

While delivery speeds vary by bank, your recipient would wait up to a week to receive their money.

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Winner: Western Union

Both Western Union and your typically US bank will take many days to deliver an international money transfer. However, Western Union offers expedited service that could shave that time down to minutes, depending on where you’re sending it.

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Who offers more options?

Payment MethodsMinimum and maximum transfersDelivery methodsTransfer speedsCountries and currencies
Western UnionBank account, credit or debit card, cash$1 minimum; maximum is $50,000Bank transfer, cash pickup, e-walletVaries from minutes to 5+ days200+ countries
Major US bankBank accountVaries by bankBank transferVaries from 3 to 5 business daysOften 200+ countries
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Bottom line

Depending on your transfer method and speed, Western Union could offer you lower fees and better exchange rates than your typical US bank will. It also offers your recipient ways to get your cash beyond a bank account.