Western Union vs. TransferWise

We compare a well-known name with a newer online service to find which is better for sending money overseas.

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Western Union is a familiar brand for money transfers, providing services for more than a century. It’s not the cheapest or fastest, but with an online, mobile and physical presence through its network of 500,000 agent locations worldwide, it’s the most visible option out there.

Established in 2011, TransferWise uses peer-to-peer technology to match users looking to send money in one currency with customers in other countries looking to receive the same money. So if you need to get euros to someone in Spain, TransferWise will find someone in Spain looking to send dollars to the US, essentially swapping your funds.

Western Union logo TransferWise Logo
Fees Fees start at $5 A percent fee of the transfer amount, plus a small fixed fee
Exchange rates Up to 6% above the mid-market rate Mid-market rate
Speed Minutes up to 5 days or more 1–4 days
Max Transfer Amount Varies by country Private individual – $49,999 per day and $199,999 per year
Business – $199,999 per day and $1,000,000 per year
Read review Read review

How they work?

Western Union and TransferWise both offer ways to transfer your money online, but they do have some key differences in the way they work.

Western Union

To make an online transfer using Western Union, you 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 will convert and deliver your money to a bank account or for cash pickup at locations worldwide. You may also initiate a transfer by phone, through a mobile app or in person.

Read review: Western Union

TransferWise

With TransferWise, you’ll need to create a free account, but it’s easy to set one up at the same time of your transfer. You also have the option of signing in with your existing Google+, Facebook or PayPal account.

To send money, you go to its site, select the currencies you are exchanging and indicate how much you want to send. After reviewing your rate and fee, money is pulled from your bank account and then sent to a TransferWise bank in the country to which you’re transferring money using mid-market exchange rate.

Read review: TransferWise

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Who offers lower fees?

Western Union

Figuring out your transfer fee with Western Union can be muddied. Although most fees start at $5, they can soar to up to $45 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.

TransferWise

Fees depend on where and how you’re sending money, but most clock in at $9,90. TransferWise charges a fixed fee, plus a percentage of each transfer which ranges from 0.5% to 2.35% of your transaction depending on the currency you’re transferring to. To send $1,000 to China, you’ll pay the currency fixed fee plus 1.1% of your transaction (or $18.79); to the Philippines, the fee drops to 0.75% plus the currency fixed fee ($10.92). You can easily find out what you’ll pay by visiting its “How much does TransferWise cost?” page.

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Winner: Tie

Western Union’s typical starting transfer fee is lower than the average fee with TransferWise, but TransferWise offers a more uniform, transparent platform for paying for your international money exchange.

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Compare other transfer services

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
USD 0 1 - 2 days USD 0.00 0.896 EUR 4,478 Offering no maximum and no minimum limit transfers with $0 fees. Go to site Show details
USD 1 1 - 2 days USD 40.00 0.899 EUR
4,460
Enjoy high maximum transfers into more than 20 currencies while saving up to 90% over local banks. Go to site Show details
EUR 1,000 1 - 2 days USD 10.00 0.89 EUR 4,442 Use TransferMate to help you send money to almost any country around the world for a small fee. Go to site Show details
USD 1 Within an hour USD 3.99 0.895 EUR 4,474 Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Send to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposit, cash pickup or mobile top-up. Go to site Show details
GBP 1,000 1 - 2 days USD 0.00 0.89 EUR 4,451 Exclusive: Minimum transfer of $1,000 for Finder readers (normally $5,000).
For larger transfers, get no transaction fees and no maximum send limits.
Go to site Show details
USD 1,000 1 day USD 0.00 0.89 EUR 4,451 No-maximum limit transfers with competitive exchange rates for 100+ currencies. Go to site Show details
USD 5,000 1 day USD 0.00 0.89 EUR 4,451 Venstar will support you through the entire process of your international transactions, from start to finish. Go to site Show details

Compare up to 4 providers

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.

Let’s look at the rates that Western Union and TransferWise offer compared to the mid-market rate.

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 mid-market rate. If you’re sending a large amount overseas, this means hundreds of dollars that goes straight into Western Union’s pocket.

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

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

TransferWise

One of the biggest things that sets TransferWise apart from many other money transfer services is that it guarantees exchange rates that exactly match the mid-market rate, based on the minute that you initiate a transfer. As long as you send your money to them within 24 hours, you are guaranteed the same mid-market rate as when you started your transfer.

In other words, if you’re sending euros to Spain and the mid-market rate is 1 USD = 0.82 EUR, that’s the rate you’re going to get.

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Winner: TransferWise

Its mid-market exchange rates make TransferWise the clear winner. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a stronger exchange rate elsewhere.

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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 costs). Your cheapest options could take five days or longer, depending on the country.

TransferWise

With TransferWise, all transfers from U.S. dollars are received within one business day.

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Winner: TransferWise

Western Union does a bigger variety of transfer methods than TransferWise. But TransferWise’s one-day delivery guarantee is hard to beat.

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Who offers more options?

Payment Methods Minimum and maximum transfers Delivery methods Transfer speeds Countries and currencies
Western Union Bank account, credit or debit card, cash $1 minimum; maximum varies by method and payment Bank transfer, cash pickup, e-wallet Varies from minutes to 5+ days 200+ countries
TransferWise Bank account, credit or debit card $1 minimum; no maximum Bank transfer 1 business day 30+ countries
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Case tudy: Sending $1,000 to the UK

Imagine that you want to send $1,000 to your son who is studying in London. Here’s what you’d pay for an online bank transfer with Western Union and TransferWise.

Western Union TransferWise
Transfer fee $2.99 $7.21
Exchange rate 1 USD = 0.76 GBP 1 USD = 0.81 GBP
Transfer speed 4 –5 business days 1 business day
Total received 760.10 GBP 804.15 GBP
    

Although TransferWise’s fee is a little more, your son can get more than 44 more pounds and get it much faster using this service over Western Union.

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Bottom line

Depending on your transfer method and speed, Western Union could offer lower transfer fees. But the couple extra bucks is well worth TransferWise’s unbeatable exchange rates and quick service.

Ultimately, you’ll want to compare your options to find the service that best fits your individual needs.

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