Western Union vs Wise: Which is Cheaper?

Looking for better and cheaper ways to make an international money transfer? Find out which service is better, Western Union or Wise (formerly known as TransferWise).

The Important Bits

Wise (TransferWise)

Safety: Based in the UK, licensed and publicly traded

Rates: You receive the mid-market exchange rate

Fees: Percentage based fee

Speed: From a few minutes to a maximum of 2 days

Service: Phone, email, chat support + excellent online resources

Trustpilot: 134,310reviews; 4.6/5 (Excellent)

Western Union

Safety: One of the largest payment companies in the world

Rates: Vary

Fees: Fees vary depending on payment type and destination

Speed: Cash payments often instant, bank transfers take a day or two

Service: Offer online, app and in-store support

Trustpilot: 20,037 reviews; 3.1/5 (Average)

The Verdict

Safety: Western Union is one of the oldest and largest money transfer companies in the world

Rates: Wise gives the interbank rate and will always be better

Fees: Wise is clear and transparent. It's really hard to get an estimate on Western Union fees because they vary so much

Speed: Western Union is incredibly quick for services like cash pick up but are about the same as Wise for money transfers to a bank account

Service: Western Union has a huge network of physical stores making it easier to talk to someone in person. Wise has much better online support.

Western Union is still a really good option if you want someone to pick up cash. This is because of their incredibly large branch network. It's easy and quick to send cash abroad. It's just not cheap.

Wise on the other hand are a cheaper option for money transfers to a bank account. They don't allow you to send to as many countries as Western Union but they have most of the globe covered.

Learn more about Wise

Learn more about Western Union

Let's have a look at them in more detail

Western Union LogoWestern Union is one of the oldest and most popular money transfer companies in the world. Founded in 1851 and formerly known as the ‘New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company”, their operations grew rapidly and expanded internationally. The company moved into financial services and money transfers in 2009 when it acquired Canadian global payment company Custom House.

 

Wise (formerly TransferWise) logoWise is a peer to peer money transfer service that is often recognised for its fast transfers and bank-beating exchange rates and fees. The company’s headquarters is located in London and has offices in New York and Tallinn.

How Wise (TransferWise) works

Wise doesn’t have an agent network. That means there’s no need to visit a physical branch to arrange or collect your payment - everything can be arranged online or in the Wise app for convenience. All currency conversion uses the mid-market exchange rate with a low, transparent fee which you can see by modeling your payment online or in the app.

Sign up for a Wise account online or in the Wise app, by entering your personal details or using Apple, Google or Facebook for ease. There’s a verification process in place to keep your money safe - this means you’ll need to provide identification and your account may take a day or two to be activated.

Once you’re up and running, transfer money with Wise in just a couple of steps: 

  • Model your payment in the app or online to see the fee and live exchange rate
  • Enter your recipient’s details and bank account information
  • Pay in your home currency using a bank transfer, debit or credit card payment
  • Your transfer will be processed and you’ll be able to see in the app when it arrives

How Western Union works

Western Union offers a pretty impressive array of ways to make and receive international payments. The fees and exchange rates which apply to your transfer will depend on a range of factors including where you’re sending money, how much, and how you want to pay in and pay out. You can model your payment online or in the Western Union app to see the different options available for your destination country, and what they’ll cost.

Make payments with Western Union online, in the provider app, by calling the service centre or visiting a local agent. The exact process you’ll follow may vary a little based on how you choose to pay, but the basic steps will remain the same:

  • Log in and model your payment to see the fee and exchange rate options
  • Confirm how you want to pay in and pay out
  • Enter your recipient’s details 
  • Check and submit the payment - pay by cash, card or bank transfer
  • Track your payment in the app to see when it arrives

Fees

Western Union’s fee structure depends on the country, currency and the way you send money to your recipient. You can choose to send money in cash for your recipient to pick up at a Western Union branch or through a direct bank transfer.

As mentioned above, fees are the primary way Wise makes money. That’s why it’s just as important to compare fees as well as exchange rates.

To look at the different approaches of both Wise and Western Union let’s take a real life example - sending 2,000 USD to a friend in the UK. We want to pay by bank transfer, and have it delivered into the recipient’s bank account directly.

Here’s how the different options measure up:

Provider

Exchange rate

Fee

Recipient gets

Should arrive in

Wise

  • 1 USD = 0.725005 GBP
  • 12.37 USD 
  • 1,441.04 GBP
  • 7 hours

Western Union

  • 1 USD = 0.6974 GBP
  • 0 USD
  • 1,394.80 GBP
  • 0 - 5 business days

*Fees and rates correct at time of research 29th October 2022

 

The verdict:

In this example, Wise is the clear winner. Because Wise uses the real mid-market exchange rate, the recipient gets more with Wise - even though the transfer fee is actually higher. That’s a neat illustration of why you need to look at both the transfer fee and the rates being offered by different international payment providers before you choose one.

 

Exchange Rates

Like banks, money transfer providers usually make their money in two main ways: Firstly, the margin from which they purchase currency at a wholesale rate and the cost of currency sold on to customers. Secondly, an additional transaction fee.

In Western Union’s case, the exchange rate can be widely varied, depending on the currency, country, and method of payment. The company has a price estimator on its website that allows you to look up its exchange rates.

Wise sells currency to customers based on the mid-market exchange rate, which is the exchange rate bought at a wholesale price. The company makes its profit through fees instead.

Before making a decision, it is important to compare live exchange rates offered by each provider.

Here are three ways to compare the rates offered by Western Union, Wise and other providers:

  1. View live rates online at Western Union or Wise
  2. Use Wise‘s currency calculator
  3. Compare exchange rates of up to 8 different providers at once with our comparison engine

Wise (TransferWise)

Pros

  • It’s really easy to open an account, and you can get one in minutes
  • They have a ton of helpful digital services, even with the free plan
  • You get a linked debit card, for easier spending
  • Money transfers are normally fast, simple, and cheap
  • They provide the “Interbank” mid-market foreign exchange rate, which is the best you can get

Cons

  • Online and mobile service only
  • Transfer fees vary by destination and payment method
  • International transfers can’t be made in cash, or for cash collection
  • Accounts are not interest bearing
  • No cryptocurrency services

Western Union

Pros

  • Large and established payment provider
  • Global network of hundreds of thousands of agents - including 50,000+ in the US
  • Send payments all over the world with a good choice of pay in and pay out methods
  • Cash payments via agents are available

Cons

  • Exchange rates include a markup
  • Fees vary by payment method and destination
  • Personal multi-currency accounts are not available
  • Services can vary by destination country

Business options

If you run a business with customers, clients or suppliers around the world a multi-currency account and business foreign currency services can help. Both Wise and Western Union have business operations which offer accounts and smart solutions to US businesses trading globally. Here are some key details:

Wise business

  • Hold 54 currencies and send payments around the world
  • Payments can be 6x cheaper than regular banks and 19x cheaper than PayPal
  • 50% of payments are instant or arrive in an hour
  • Local receiving accounts in 10 currencies
  • Batch payments and integrations with QuickBooks or Xero accounting software
  • Team member account access available

Western Union business

  • Global business payments in 130 currencies, to 200 countries and territories
  • Solutions are tailor made to your business needs
  • Industry options for travel agents, banks, legal companies, royalty based sectors and more
  • Advanced FX management tools for different business sectors
  • Time saving options like mass global payments to cut admin

Other Western Union and Wise features

Wise: 

  • Fully licensed and regulated provider
  • Personal multi-currency accounts are available, including foreign currency receiving accounts
  • Get a Wise international debit card for easy spending and withdrawals internationally

Western Union:

  • Fully licensed and regulated provider
  • Customer care options include in-person help at 50,000 agents across the country
  • Send payments within the US

Eligibility

Who can open an account with Wise or Western Union?

You can open an account with Wise as long as you’re over 18, a US resident, and agree to the account terms and conditions. You’ll also need to be at least 18 years old to send payments with Western Union.

Safety

Western Union operates through Western Union Financial Services, Inc (NMLS# 906983) and Western Union International Services, LLC (NMLS# 906985) which hold Nationwide Multistate Licensing System (NMLS) Licenses which can be verified through the NMLS Consumer Access website. Western Union is licensed as a money transmitter by the New York State Department of Financial Services. 

Wise US Inc is authorized to operate in most US states. In the other states, Wise offers services in partnership with Community Federal Savings Bank. Wise is fully regulated by local authorities everywhere it operates.

Learn more about Wise

Learn more about Western Union

How Long Does It Take To Transfer Money

The transfer speed depends on the amount and type of currency, country of transfer and turnaround time of your bank to clear payment.

Western Union offers a range of different delivery options and times:

  • Money in minutes - almost instant cash collections
  • Next day delivery - available next working day
  • Bank deposits - 2 to 5 business days
  • Bill payments - varies by billing company process
  • Mobile money transfer - almost instant

Wise transfers can arrive in just a few minutes - especially if you pay with a card.

  • Exact delivery time will depend on where you’re sending money, and your own bank’s processing speed.
  • It can on occasion take up to a day or two, most transfers are much faster, and you’ll see an estimated delivery time when you arrange your. payment.

What Currencies Can I Transfer?

For an extensive list of currencies available for transfer with Western Union and Wise, check out our reviews for each company

Min & Max Amounts

Wise

  • Transfer money abroad - individual countries may impose limits, model your payment online or in the app to check
  • Receive money - unlimited in most cases. Some users will have a 1,000,000 USD/day receiving limit

 

Western Union

  • Transfer money abroad - limits depend on a range of factors including your transaction history, the type of payment and destination country
  • Receive money - limits vary, according to destination country, pay out method and local agent or legal requirements

 

Availability

You can open a Wise account, or make a Wise international transfer from a range of countries. From the US, payments can be made to 80+ countries, and with a Wise account you can hold and manage 50+ currencies in the same place. There’s some variation in the types of payments and accounts available in different locations. Simply choose your country from the handy dropdown box on the Wise website to see what’s on offer.

Western Union payments are available through online services and agents around the world. However, services do vary a little by destination country. Not all pay in and pay out options are available in all countries, for example. Model your payment on the Western Union website or app to check the options available. 

 

Customer Support

Western Union has in app and online chat features, as well as a network of local agents you can call into. You’ll also be able to call the team on 1800 325 6000 within the US.

The easiest way to get in touch with the Wise team is through the in app chat you’ll see when you log into your account. You can also conveniently access Wise support by email or social media channels.

Wise

Service: 27/7

Phone: Phone lines available

Live In-App chat: Yes

Email: Yes

Website contact: www.wise.com

Western Union

Support: 24/7

Phone: 1800 325 6000 within the US

Live In-App Yes

Email: Yes

Website contact: www.westernunion.com

Wise vs Western Union - which one is better?

Choosing an international payment provider isn’t always simple. There are lots of different options, and different providers offer significantly different fee structures and exchange rates. Doing some research and comparing a few payment companies for your specific transfer is the best way to find one that suits your needs.

Final thoughts

Wise is a better bet for great exchange rates and a fast service on payments direct to a recipient bank account. However, if you want to either pay in or pay out in cash, Western Union is worth a look. Their expansive agent network means you might well find a convenient local option, even if it’s not the absolute cheapest way to move your money.

Learn more about Wise

Learn more about Western Union

By Justin Rampono Updated November 9th, 2021