Western Union is ideal for small cash remittances. But it’s expensive.
|Transfer speed:||1-3 days|
|Trustpilot score:||3 stars|
|Our score:||2 stars|
What we like
- Flexible delivery methods, such as cash pickup
- Large network of agents all over the world
- Funds were available almost instantly
What we don’t
- Low value transfer limits
- Poor reputation for customer service
Western Union basically invented money transfer and is by far the largest service of its type. For over 100 years, millions of customers have relied on it to send money to friends and family around the world.
Despite Western Union’s massive network, the landscape of international money transfer is changing quickly. As each year passes by, the service creeps closer to being disrupted by its younger and more technology-focused competitors.
To learn more about this service and see if it’s right for you, read on for our in-depth Western Union review.
Affiliate disclosure: If you sign up with a money transfer service after being referred from our website, we might earn a referral fee. Learn more.
About Western Union
What is Western Union all about? Let’s begin our Western Union review with some general information about the service.
Western Union was founded by Ezra Cornell in 1851, originally as a service for exchanging telegrams. (For you younger readers out there, telegrams were how people sent short messages across long distances before the advent of telephones). Over time, the company expanded its services to allow customers to make in-person transfers through its retail locations, and then eventually online also.
The telegram aspect of Western Union’s business was discontinued in 2006, however, money transfer services are very much a core unit of the company’s operation. Western Union is by far the largest provider of money remittance services in the world, transferring over $300 billion on behalf of its customers in 2017 alone. It is much larger than even its closest competitor, MoneyGram, who by comparison is estimated to transfer $25 million annually.
Western Union is currently lead by Hikmet Ersek as CEO. He is supported by Raj Agrawal who acts as Chief Financial Officer, and by Odilon Almeida who is President of the Global Money Transfer business unit. Sheri Rhodes oversees all technical aspect of the company as Chief Technology, while Caroline Tsai is the group’s General Counsel. Jacqueline Molnar rounds out the executive team of note, as Chief Compliance Officer.
Western Union is headquartered at the following address:
The Western Union Company
12500 East Belford Avenue
Englewood, CO 80112
Western Union has established local offices all around the world. To locate the nearest location in your country, we recommend referring to its website directly.
Supported countries and currencies
Western Union supports the transfer of funds to approximately 210 countries. To accomplish this, the service has established a network of international bank accounts using its own locally domiciled subsidiaries. This allows Western Union to facilitate many transfers without actually having to enter the currency market. It may also utilise the SWIFT network.
Western Union has a minimum transfer value of £1. There is a maximum transfer value of £50,000. Cash pickup is limited £4,000, so the service is suitable for relatively small amounts. For any values larger than this, you will need to approach a retail agent of Western Union to arrange an in-person transfer.
Western union foreign exchange rates and fees
What are Western Union fees and exchange rates? It will take a few minutes to explore the foreign exchange market, so we can properly consider this question.
How the foreign exchange market works
Let’s begin with how the foreign exchange market works. Banks and other money transfer services will buy foreign currency at a price very close to the mid-market rate. They will then sell this currency to you, the customer, for a higher rate than they bought it for, taking a margin in between – known as “the spread”.
The spread is essentially a hidden cost that is not disclosed to you during the transaction. Then, in addition to the spread, some services will charge a transaction fee on top – which is typically the fee that they quote to you. In any case, the total cost of a transfer for you, the customer, is the combination of the two; the spread + transaction fee.
Q. Do Western Union foreign exchange rates include a spread?
A. Yes, there is a spread.
Q. What about Western Union fees?
A. Yes, there is a £2.90 transaction fee.
But for the moment, don’t pay too much attention to the details. Rather, for the purpose of our Western Union review, let’s consider the overall cost.
Why focus on overall cost?
If you focus on the spread or transaction fee in isolation, it is easy to become lost in marketing gimmicks. Instead, it is more helpful to consider the overall cost when these factors are combined. For example, a typical bank will charge up to 5% of the overall transfer value in spread and transaction fee to complete a transfer on your behalf. Not great.
But what about Western Union? To determine its overall cost we need to compare a transfer with a benchmark, the mid-market rate, which in theory has no cost. Practically speaking, it is unlikely that you will ever receive the equivalent of the mid-market rate, however, your goal should be to get as close as possible.
If you can achieve a total cost of less than 1% of the overall transaction value then you are on the right track. However, it really depends on what your needs are and if you are willing to pay a little bit extra for additional features, advice, or research. To find out the mid-market rate of any currency pairing, use this calculator at xe.com.
What is the cost of Western Union?
To calculate the cost of Western Union, we received three quotes to exchange British Pounds (GBP) into Australian Dollars (AUD) – for low, medium, and high values. The overall cost of each transaction was then compared against the mid-market rate and represented as a percentage of the transfer value.
Here is the calculation:
|Transfer value||Overall cost|
An average cost of 3.50% means that for every £1,000 sent, on average £35.00 will be lost in spread + fees. By using this figure, we can make a general representation of Western Union across a range of transfer values. Of course, it is not a perfect representation by any means, but it is helpful for comparative purposes.
Important note on SWIFT: You should be aware that any transfer conducted via the SWIFT network may incur additional hidden charges by correspondent banks; the exact cost depending on the amount of the transfer and the recipient bank. In our experience, these fees can be as high as £25 per transaction.
Western Union review: Market comparison
So, how does Western Union compare to other services in the market? To help you determine its relative competitiveness, we have prepared a chart. Beside the name of each service, we have listed its average cost, speed of transfer, receiving countries, and our review score – sorted from highest to lowest.
To sort this chart by column, click its respective headings. If you are reading on mobile, you may need to scroll horizontally to view all fields.
|wdt_ID||Service||Ave. cost||Speed||Countries||Our score||Review|
|1||Azimo||0.89%||1-3 days||200||2 stars||Read review|
|2||RationalFX||1.16%||1-3 days||201||3 stars||Read review|
|3||CurrencyFair||0.45%||2-4 days||157||5 stars||Read review|
|4||Currencies Direct||1.79%||2-4 days||188||3 stars||Read review|
|5||Paysera||0.97%||3-5 days||174||3 stars||Read review|
|6||OrbitRemit||0.43%||1-3 days||43||4 stars||Read review|
|7||MoneyGram||3.50%||1-3 days||194||2 stars||Read review|
|8||Remitly||0.77%||1-3 days||58||2 stars||Read review|
|9||Ria Money Transfer||3.06%||1-3 days||158||2 stars||Read review|
|10||Skrill||1.04%||1-3 days||35||1 star||Read review|
If you would like to learn more about the rationale of our Western Union review, take a look at our review methodology.
A typical transfer with Western Union takes 1-3 business days, from sending to receipt. The exact duration will depend on a few factors, including the currency pairings involved, the transfer value, as well as the particular systems of the sending and receiving bank.
Key payment features
How do payment features affect our Western Union review? Let’s take a look at its capabilities.
A spot contract consists of a single payment from one currency to another at the currently available exchange rate. If you need to send money right away, simply login to the Western Union app or website and with a couple of clicks a transfer can be arranged.
A cash pickup payment allows you to transfer money to a person in another location, whereby they can pick up the payment in cash – typically from a physical branch. It is the easiest way to send money to family or friends who need quick and flexible access to funds.
Western Union customer service
Western Union customer service can be contacted by phone or email. Here are the contact details for a few of their offices:
+61 1800 173 833 (Australia)
+44 808 234 9168 (United Kingdom)
+1 800 325 6000 (United States)
In our experience, we found Western Union customer service to be friendly and helpful. We did not have to wait too long to speak with someone on the phone, and our queries by email have been answered in a prompt and professional manner.
Is Western Union safe?
As a customer, is Western Union safe to use? Let’s take a look at some of its security measures.
Western Union is regulated by FinCEN in the United States. Its international subsidiaries are regulated by the relevant authorities in the jurisdiction of their operations, such as Financial Markets Authority in Europe and ASIC in Australia
Customer funds are held in trust
In accordance with the standards imposed by government regulators, the funds of Western Union customers are held in segregated accounts and are kept apart from the company’s own operating accounts. This ensures the security of customer funds, should Western Union encounter financial difficulty.
Website is securely protected
The Western Union website is protected with TLS encryption, which prevents sensitive data from being intercepted during your visit. You can confirm that this is in place by recognising a green padlock next to the website’s URL on your browser.
Does Western Union scam? A look at its reputation
Are there any Western Union customer service complaints – or is Western Union legit? Let’s take a look at its reputation.
As of publication, Western Union has received over 17,000 reviews on Trustpilot with an average rating of 3 out of 5 stars; representing a positive experience in 83 percent of interactions with its customers.
Here are our observations of the feedback posted:
- Convenient delivery methods
- Funds are received quickly
- Retail stores are helpful
- Accounts suspended or banned without explanation
- High overall cost for using the service
- Using the online platform is frustrating and inconsistent
Western Union has decided not to provide feedback to its customers on Trustpilot. We can’t help but think this is an indication of their general attitude to customer service. Not a good sign, if you ask us.
Upon viewing the Facebook and Twitter feeds of Western Union, we can see a range of interactions between the service and its customers. Because Western Union is a popular service, it receives a lot of messages on these platforms. Unlike its Trustpilot account, the responses on Facebook and Twitter appear to be prompt and helpful.
Western Union has quite an active presence on social media. It posts a variety of general cultural news to engage with its customers.
The mainstream media reporting of Western Union is sparse but positive. Although much of the service is focused on retail business, media reporting seems to highlight Western Union’s expansion into new markets, new partnerships, and acquisitions.
Western Union is the gorilla of money transfers, handling close to $1 in every $5 that is wired around the world.The Economist
Western Union Empire Moves Migrant Cash Home.New York Times
Western Union built its business on refugees and immigrants. Can it survive the political backlash against them?Bloomberg Businessweek
Western Union online FX review and experience
How does product design affect our Western Union review? Let’s take a look at its user experience.
Western Union online transfer
The Western Union website has been designed thoughtfully, with special attention being paid to user experience and simplicity. As it is a global brand, its platform is available in many languages.
Western Union app review
A Western Union app has been developed for both Apple and Android devices. By using the Western Union app you can access your account at any time and use its core features; such as initiating new payments or tracking the status of in-progress transfers.
The registration process takes around 10 minutes and is relatively straight-forward. You begin by entering your name, date of birth, email and a password. Then you must enter additional personal information such as your address.
Before you can commence transferring funds with Western Union, you will first need to verify your identity. This will typically require providing two types of documents:
- Photo identification, such as a passport or drivers licence
- Proof of address, such as a bank or utility statement
How does Western Union work?
As a part of our Western Union review, we will take you through an example transaction. If you would like some guidance in navigating your own account, you can follow along below.
Step 1 – Sign up and login
Visit westernunion.com, signup and login. To begin a transfer, click Start New Transfer.
Step 2 – Select receiving country
First, select the country of your recipient and the value of your transfer. You will also need to select way in which you wish for the funds to be recevied, and your intended payment method. Click Continue.
Step 3 – Enter recipient details
Enter the personal information of your recipient, including their bank details if that is the delivery method chosen. Click Continue.
Step 4 – Enter payment details
Enter your payment details and click Continue. If you selected bank deposit in a previous screen, now is the time to transfer your funds into the local bank account of Western Union.
Step 5 – Confirm transaction
The terms of the quote are presented, and a reason for the payment is requested. Once you are happy to proceed, click Accept.
Step 6 – Western Union tracking
When your funds are received by Western Union, it will complete the final leg of the transfer. You can track its status online or with the Western Union app. You will also receive email updates throughout the process.
Finally, once the transfer is complete its status will be updated accordingly. The funds should arrive in your recipient’s bank account shortly.
In our experience, the Western Union platform was simple to use and we were satisfied with the instructions provided along the way. The entire process took 2 business days, and the funds arrived into our recipient’s account as requested.
Western Union review: Final thoughts
Western Union is the largest money transfer service in the world, but it is in no way the best. While it certainly does have large payment network, this comes at a great cost. The rates offered by the service are poor, and essentially amount to a tax on customers that don’t know any better.
That said, if you need to deliver cash quickly, Western Union gets the job done. However, there are smaller and more nimble alternatives to consider, such as WorldRemit and TransferGo. Or, if you’re more tech-savvy, take a look at TransferWise or CurrencyFair.
If you have any questions or feedback about our Western Union review, let us know in the comments below.