What is Western Union?

Western Union lets you send money to more than 200 countries around the world.

It was founded in 1851 in Rochester, New York, and was named the Western Union Telegraph Company when the New York & Western Union Telegraph Company merged with the rival New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company in 1856.

It was a pioneer in transmitting telegrams and in 1871 it introduced a money transfer service through its extensive telegraph network. It stopped sending telegrams in 2006 and now offers money transfers to almost every country in the world.

Today it has 150 million retail and digital customers with its headquarters in Denver, Colorado.

Western Union Currency Transfers

You can send money online, via an app or in person through more than 500,000 agents around the world and pay for your transfer directly from your bank account online and using the app, with a credit or debit card or in cash if you visit an agent.

You can also choose how the person you’re sending the money to receives it – directly into their bank account, in cash to pick up at an agent or into their mobile wallet in some countries.

Most of its competitors, such as Wise (formerly Transferwise) and Azimo, offer money transfers online and via an app but not many offer them in person. Few can rival Western Union for the number of agent locations it has around the world.

Western Union Rates, Charges & Fees

Western Union charges a fee for transfers and also makes money from currency exchange. This is the case with most money transfer providers. One that differs is Wise, which says it charges the ‘real’ exchange rate rather than setting its own to make money.

The fee and exchange rate depend on how you want the person getting the money to receive it as well as how you pay for your transfer.

For example, if you’re sending money to be received in cash and pay with your credit or debit card you’ll get a less favourable rate than if you send the money directly to the receiver’s bank account. You’ll also pay a higher fee on top if you want them to receive the money in cash rather than into their bank account.

Fees are not particularly transparent as they can change frequently but it’s easy to get a quote for sending a particular amount to the relevant country on the Western Union website.

Western Union Currencies

You can transfer money in almost any currency with Western Union, including Indian and Pakistani rupees, US dollars, Philippine pesos, euros and Swiss francs. The only countries you can’t send money to are Iran (Iranian rials) and North Korea (North Korean won).

Its range of currencies and countries is huge and its charges compare favourably with other providers. On 26 April 2021 you would have paid £2.90 to pay by bank transfer to send £100 to the USA to be received in cash and no fee if you sent the money to their bank account.

As a comparison, you would have paid a fee of £1.11 with Wise to send the money to a bank account but the recipient would have got $1.84 more than with Western Union ($139.05 vs $137.21) because of a better exchange rate.

You should always compare charges and exchange rates on the day you’re making the transfer to get the best deal.

Western Union Cash Transfers

The recipient gets less money if they want to receive it in cash, such as because they don’t have a bank account, as Western Union sets a lower exchange rate. It also charges higher fees.

For example, on 26 April 2021 they would have got $134.71 if you sent £100 to the USA by bank transfer to be picked up in cash but $137.21 if the money was paid into their bank account, although cash can be delivered in minutes rather than on the next banking day.

Not all providers allow the recipient to be paid cash as they don’t have agent locations around the world for it to be collected from.

You also have the option to pay in cash in store, which costs more than paying by card or bank transfer.

Western Union by Bank Transfer

Sending the money by bank transfer to the recipient’s bank account is the cheapest option with Western Union but it could take up to two banking days for them to get the money so this method isn’t suitable if they need the money urgently. There’s no fee to pay by bank transfer – only the exchange rate will affect the cost.

It’s not possible to send money directly to bank accounts in some countries, however, including Afghanistan, Algeria and Mauritius, so for these countries the money will need to be received in cash.

For comparison, Wise would charge a fee of £1.45 to send money to the USA from your bank account but it wouldn’t necessarily be more expensive than with Western Union depending on the exchange rate.

Western Union Home Delivery

You can get cash delivered to your home if someone transfers money to you, which means you don’t have to visit an agent to collect it. This could be useful if you don’t live near an agent, you can’t leave your home or you don’t want to because of the pandemic.

Once you receive notification that the money has been sent you can contact the nearest agent to arrange the delivery. Western Union doesn’t charge a fee for this but the agent might.

If you choose this option, the money should arrive at your home between 24 and 48 hours of the transfer being made.

Home delivery isn’t offered by all money transfer providers. Azimo, MoneyGram, Ria and WorldRemit offer it in certain countries.

Western Union Money Transfer App

You can send money using the Western Union app as well as on its website. The app, available for both iPhone and Android handsets, lets you track your transfers in real time, see exchange rates, find agents, pay by scanning your payment card and quickly make repeat transfers to previous recipients.

Its app is rated highly by users on the Apple App Store with a rating of 4.6 out of 5 (on 23 April 2021), although not quite as highly as some of its rivals. Azimo and WorldRemit have 4.7 while MoneyGram and Wise have 4.8. Ria’s app, on the other hand, has a rating of just 2.8.

Ratings are different on the Google Play store so check the reviews relevant to your handset.

Western Union doesn’t offer a telephone service for money transfers.

Western Union Online Money Transfers

Sending money online is straightforward and clearly shows you the fees for the different options available – how the recipient wants to receive the money and how you want to pay – for the country you’re sending it to before you go ahead with the transaction.

As with the app you can also track your transfers using the tracking number, as can the person receiving the money. You get similar functionality when you transfer online versus using the app but the app will make it easier to make a transfer on your smartphone.

Western Union’s online service is comparable with the service offered by other providers but makes it easier to see how choosing different options affects the cost of the transfer than some of its rivals.

Western Unions Near You

Western Union has 5,400 branches in the UK among its more than 500,000 globally. You can find a branch local to you or anywhere else on the ‘Find locations’ page on its website by entering the postcode or city and what you are trying to do – send money in person or pick up money for example.

There are more than 1,500 branches within 50km of London and 60 branches within 50km of Edinburgh.

You may want to visit a branch rather than make the transfer online or using the app if you don’t have access to a computer or smartphone, you want to pay in cash, you want a more personal service or it’s more convenient.

Western Union Euro Exchange Rate

If you sent £100 to France on 26 April 2021, with the money going into the recipient’s bank account and paying by credit or debit card, they would have received €114.59 at an exchange rate of €1.1459 euros to the pound. You would have paid a fee of £1.90 on top.

As a comparison, with MoneyGram the recipient would have got €112.69 at a rate of 1.1269 with no fee, with Ria they would have got €113.30 at a rate of 1.133 with a fee of £4.50 and   with Wise they would have got €115.01 at a rate of 1.1502 with a fee of 85p.

Western Union US Dollar Exchange Rate

If you wanted to send £100 to the United States with Western Union on 26 April 2021, the recipient would get $137.07 if the money was paid into their bank account and you paid by credit or debit card at an exchange rate of $1.3707 to the pound. There would also be a fee of £1.90 to pay.

With MoneyGram the recipient would get $135.19 at a rate of 1.3519 with a fee of £1.99, with Ria they would get $137 at a rate of 1.37 with a fee of £1.50 and with Wise they would get $139 at a rate of 1.39 with a fee of £1.41.

Western Union Indian Rupee Exchange Rate

If you were sending money to India on 26 April 2021 the exchange rate you would have got with Western Union would have been similar to those offered by MoneyGram and Wise but you would have got a lot less with Ria.

The recipient would have received 10,350.48 rupees with Western Union (103.5048 rate, £1.90 fee), 10,361.95 with MoneyGram (103.6195 rate, no fee, although there was a transfer limit of £96.51 in place at the time) and 10,391 with Wise (103.915 rate, £1.04 fee).

In contrast, Ria would have paid out just 7,456 rupees at a rate of 74.56 with a £2 fee.

Western Union Security & Regulation

Western Union is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK. This means it has to follow certain rules, including to keep your money safe. Your money has to be kept separate from the company’s own funds, which means you should be able to get your money back if it goes bust while it has your money.

However, there is no guarantee as, unlike with savings accounts, money transfer companies are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). If it is possible to get your money back it could also take a long time as there are no set timescales as with the FSCS.

Western Union Pros

  • Western Union has a huge number of agents around the world so if you want to send or pick up money in person you should be able to find a branch wherever you are.
  • You can send money to almost any country in almost any currency.
  • If you prefer to use an established brand, Western Union has a long history of sending money around the world as it’s been around since 1851.
  • Its app is well rated and lets you easily send money from your smartphone as well as track your transfer and make repeat transfers.
  • The fees Western Union charges and its exchange rates are often lower than those offered by other providers but it’s important to check this on the day you make the transfer.

Western Union Cons

  • Other money transfer services may offer better exchange rates so you should compare providers before choosing to send money with Western Union.
  • You’ll pay higher fees and get a less favourable exchange rate if the person you’re sending the money to wants to receive it in cash.

Western Union Alternatives

In terms of its huge network of branches around the world, its main competitors are MoneyGram and Ria. All three make it easy to send and receive money in person.

Wise is an alternative provider that has a different business model – it matches payments sent from one country to another with payments sent in the opposite direction to keep costs down – but although it can be a cheaper way to send money Western Union stands out because it lets you receive cash in person at one of its 500,000+ branches.

Western Union is a good option if you prefer to send money in person or if your recipient wants to receive cash rather than having the money paid into their bank account. It’s also one to choose if the recipient needs the money urgently as cash can be delivered in minutes.

Western Union Money Transfer FAQs:

It’s regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK so must keep your money separate from its own to safeguard it should it go bust. However, it’s not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme so there’s a small risk that you wouldn’t get your money back.
Exchange rates can change frequently so it’s possible that the recipient could receive less money than they would have done the day before. You should compare exchange rates offered by different providers, as well as fees, on the day you want to make the transfer.
You can send money online, via its app or in person at one of its more than 500,000 branches around the world. Payment options include credit or debit card, bank transfer and cash.
If the recipient chooses to receive the money in cash it could take just minutes. Transfers into a bank account can take up to two banking days depending on the time of day the transfer was made.
There are usually no fees for paying the money into a bank account by bank transfer but you could pay £1.90 if you pay by credit or debit card depending on the country. It could cost £1.90 or £2.90 to send money to be received in cash if you pay by bank transfer and up to £4.90 if you pay by credit or debit card..
Western Union isn’t owned by any other company but there were rumours in 2015 that it was going to merge with MoneyGram. Its CEO is Hikmet Ersek.

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