Western Union Vs TransferWise
Trying to decide between Western Union and TransferWise for your next international payment? This guide is here to help. We’ll cover:
- A full Western Union Vs TransferWise feature comparison
- Which provider is cheaper?
- Which is faster?
- Which is safer?
- Which gets better customer reviews?
Summary: Western Union offers the option to pay in or pay out in cash, and covers more countries and currencies than TransferWise (now known as Wise). However, when sending payments to a bank account Wise has cheaper, more transparent fees and a better exchange rate. Both providers are licensed by the FCA.
Western Union Vs Wise: side by side
|Send payments to||200 countries and territories, 130 currencies|
80+ countries, 50+ currencies
|Send direct to a bank account||Y||Y|
|Send for cash collection or delivery||Y||N|
|Send to a mobile money account||Y||N|
|Multi-currency accounts||N||Available for 54 currencies|
|Debit card available||N||Y|
|Fully licensed and regulated||Y||Y|
So, to summarise:
- Western Union supports more countries and currencies than Wise
- Both Western Union and Wise offer payments direct to recipient bank accounts
- Western Union allows transfers to mobile money accounts, for cash collection or delivery - Wise does not
- Wise has a multi-currency account to support 50+ currencies, while Western Union does not
- Wise has a debit card on offer for customers - Western Union does not have that option
- Both providers are fully regulated, and offer both personal and business services
Western Union supports more countries and pay out options than Wise. But if both support your payment route, choosing between these providers may simply depend on how you want your recipient to get the money in the end. For online and in-app payments to a bank account, Wise has a better rate and lower, more transparent fees. For convenient cash based transactions, Western Union’s vast global agent network makes it a strong option to consider.
The important bits
|Rates||Rate includes a markup and may vary by brand, channel and location||Mid-market exchange rate with no markup|
|Fees||Varies by destination, brand, channel and location||Low fees, varies by destination|
|Speed||Cash collection and mobile money payments can be instant. Bank transfers can take 2 days||40% of payments are instant, 80% arrive in 24 hours|
|Service||Online, in app, in person at a branch location and by phone||Online, in app and by phone|
|Safety||Fully regulated and licensed||Fully regulated and licensed|
3.4 star, Average, 21,000+ reviews
|4.6 star, Excellent, 134,000+ reviews|
Rates: Wise uses the mid-market rate, whereas Western Union adds a markup which may change depending on the payment type
Fees: Both providers have variable fees which are based on the destination country. Western Union fees can also vary by pay in and pay out method, and whether you arrange your payment online or in person
Speed: Western Union cash and mobile money payments can be instant - bank transfers take a day or two. Wise payments can be instant, most arrive within 24 hours
Service: Both providers offer multilingual service in a range of languages, online, in-app and by phone. Western Union also offers an extensive branch network.
Safety: Both providers are fully licensed and regulated
Reviews: Wise has an Excellent review rating on Trustpilot - Western Union’s rating is Average
Pros and cons
Western Union Vs Wise: The verdict
Whether Western Union or Wise win for you will depend on the specific services you need.
Western Union services cover almost every country on earth, with an extensive range of pay in and pay out options, and a strong agent network. However, the fees and exchange rates available vary between payment types and may not be the very best on the market.
Wise is a specialist in transfers direct to bank accounts, and offers the mid-market exchange rate with low, transparent fees. Wise also offers a multi-currency account with a linked international debit card.
Wise international transfers to bank accounts come with better rates and lower overall costs compared to Western Union. If Wise supports payments to the country you’re sending to, and you want your transfer to be delivered to a bank account, that’ll probably be the cheaper way to move your money.
About Western Union and Wise
Western Union was founded in 1861, and has an agent network of 500,000+ locations across almost every country on the planet. As well as in-person payments, Western Union processes an average of 34 digital transactions every second. You can send payments in 130+ currencies with Western Union.
Wise was launched as TransferWise back in 2011 as a low-cost international payment provider. These days, Wise has upwards of 10 million customers, and also offers personal and business accounts to hold and manage currencies, accept payments and spend using a linked debit card.
With Wise you can send payments to 80+ countries, in 50+ currencies.
How do they work?
You can send a Western Union payment in person by visiting an agent location. You’ll need to take along a government issued ID, and can usually only pay in cash.
Or, you can send money online or in the Western Union app:
- Log into the Western Union desktop site or open the app
- Select the country you want to send to and enter the payment amount
- Select the services you require, and check the fees and rates
- Follow the prompts to enter the required information
- Select payment method, confirm and fund your transfer
To use Wise you’ll need to create an account, and depending on the type of payment you want to make you might need to provide some ID for verification.
Once your account is up and running make payments online and in the Wise app:
- Log into your account
- Type in how much you want to transfer, or how much you need the recipient to get
- Enter the recipient’s details - bank account number or email
- Check over the details
- Fund your payment using a card or bank transfer
- Confirm and your money will be on the move
Wise transfers are made through Wise’s network of local bank accounts, so they arrive quickly and don’t incur intermediary fees. When you want to pay for your transfer in pounds you’ll send the money to Wise’s local UK account. Then Wise will make a payment of the equivalent amount in your preferred currency, from their account in the destination country. No money actually moves across borders, so it’s faster and cheaper than traditional international payments.
Western Union Vs Wise Fees
Western Union fees and exchange rates vary by brand, channel and location. That means you may be quoted a different fee and rate if you pay online or in the app, compared to at an agent - and one agent may charge you more or less than another.
Fees with Western Union can include:
- Transfer fee
- Exchange rate markup
- Third party charges - if you pay with a credit card for example
In general, transfers where there’s a cost of labour will be more expensive than digital payments. Sending a payment in person at an agent, or having the money collected or delivered in cash will probably mean more fees and a less favourable exchange rate compared to sending online to a bank account.
Wise doesn’t use an exchange rate markup, but instead has a couple of different transparent costs:
- Fixed fee: covering the fixed costs associated with the transaction. For major currencies this can be in the region of £0.20 - £0.40
- Variable fee: covering the cost of the currency exchange. For major currencies this can be in the region of 0.35% to 0.45% of the transfer value
Western Union Vs Wise: which is cheaper?
Choosing an international payment specialist is almost certainly cheaper than sending money using your bank. However, as fees and rates do vary, it still pays to compare a few providers before you pick.
Let’s look at how a few different payments from Western Union and Wise work out. This table looks at how much in GBP it’ll cost you to send a payment to a friend in USD or EUR, paying online and having the money deposited into the recipient bank account:
|Amount & Currency||Western Union||Wise||Winner?|
|GBP>1000 USD||756.48 GBP||749.58 GBP||Wise|
|GBP>5000 USD||3,782.42 GBP||3,736.11 GBP||Wise|
|GBP>1000 EUR||850.64 GBP||843.19 GBP||Wise|
|GBP> 5000 EUR||4,253.22 GBP||4,215.42 GBP||Wise|
*Fees and exchange rates correct at time of research - 22th November 2021
As you can see, on all our comparisons, Wise worked out cheaper. However, bear in mind that these costs are for payments to a bank account, funded by a bank transfer.
Western Union uses different fees when paying in cash or by card - or if you’re sending money for cash payout. Often cash transfers can end up more expensive, but they can still be a good option if you need to get money quickly to someone who doesn’t have easy access to a bank account.
If you’re sending a cash collection payment, speed and convenience are usually the most important factors. Western Union may not always offer the cheapest fees out there, but their 500,000+ agent network makes them one of the most easy to use cash transfer providers available.
Western Union Vs Wise: which is faster?
Western Union cash collection and mobile money payments can arrive in minutes if you pay with cash or a card. Transfers to a bank account may take longer - up to 2 days. You’ll see an estimated delivery time when you set up your payment online or in the Western Union app.
40% of Wise payments get to their destination instantly, and 80% arrive in 24 hours. However, the exact delivery time will depend on where you’re sending money to, and how you want to pay. You’ll see an estimated arrival time when you set up your payment.
Both Western Union and Wise are fully licensed and regulated, and use both smart technology and thorough verification processes to keep customer money safe.
Western Union is regulated by the FCA in the UK.
Wise is regulated by the FCA in the UK, FinCEN in the US, and other global regulatory bodies around the world.
Ease of use
- Creating an account: Create your account online or in app with both Western Union and Wise
- Making a transfer: Western Union payment options vary by destination country but usually include cash, bank transfer, credit or debit card and Klarna. Wise typically allows bank transfers, card payments and Apple Pay payments.
- Ways to send money: Send payments to your recipient’s bank account directly with both Western Union and Wise. Western Union also offers payments for cash collection or home delivery, and to mobile money accounts.
- Languages: Western Union services are available through local agents around the world, with multilingual customer support online and by phone. Wise offers 15 languages, plus multi-lingual support services.
- Minimum & maximum amounts: Sending limits can vary by destination country, and based on your account type.
Western Union supports 130 currencies on major payment routes which cover over 200 countries and territories. Wise supports 50+ currencies, and lets you send payments to over 80 countries.
Both Western Union and Wise have some interesting features which will suit different customer needs.
Western Union has an impressive agent network to allow customers to pay in and collect in cash. You can also send money to bank and mobile money accounts.
Wise is a specialist in international transfers delivered to bank accounts, and offers a multi-currency account and card which aren’t available from Western Union.
Payments direct to bank accounts is where Western Union and Wise services overlap. Western Union has more countries and currencies covered - but Wise wins overall on the exchange rates and fees available for the currency routes they serve.
For payments to bank accounts, Wise is cheaper, as it offers the real exchange rate with no markup, and low transfer fees.
Western Union also offers alternative pay out options which are not available through Wise. Fees may be higher, but Western Union is still a market leader thanks to its impressive global coverage.
Western Union cash collection and mobile money payments can arrive instantly if you pay by cash or card. Western Union bank transfers may take a couple of days, while Wise transfers to bank accounts can arrive instantly.
Western Union supports 130 currencies and Wise supports 50+ currencies.