Western Union Review: Fees, Rates and Alternatives 2022

Western Union is one of the world’s most recognised money transfer brands, with agents in almost every country on earth. You can use Western Union to send payments in person, online and on the go through its mobile apps. Payout options are extensive - including bank transfers and cash for collection at agents around the world.

This Western Union review walks through all there is to know about Western Union, including fees, whether it’s safe to use, how fast it is, how to get set up, and more.

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Western Union: Key points

Key features:

  • One of the most established and extensive money transfer services in the world

  • Send money in person, online and using the Western Union app - pay in cash using an agent, or by bank transfer or card for electronic payments

  • Payout methods include bank transfers, cash collection and mobile money payments

  • Huge agent network, covering over 500,000 global locations

  • Business services are available 

Key stats:

  • Founded in 1861 as a telegraph company

  • Facilitated its first payment in 1871, and switched entirely to money transfer services in 2006

  • Send in 130+ currencies, to over 200 countries and territories - you can send payments to every country on earth aside from Iran and North Korea

  • 34 digital transfers a second are processed by Western Union

  • 150 million retail and digital customers around the world

Pros:

  • Probably the biggest global agent network, and the biggest reach in terms of countries and currencies of any transfer provider

  • Pay in person with cash, or online using a bank transfer or card

  • Payout in cash, to a bank or mobile money account

  • Cash payments can be available in minutes

  • Fully regulated around the world, including by FINTRAC in Canada

Cons:

  • The total cost of transfers isn’t always clear because of fees included in the exchange rates

  • Overall costs of sending money may not be the most competitive out there

  • Not all services are available in all destination countries

  • You’ll usually pay more for faster, cash based services

Overall: 

Western Union is one of the best known money transfer brands on the planet.

Having developed from an offline provider into the current hybrid of online, offline and mobile payments, Western Union has a great range of services backed up by a huge agent network. That makes them particularly attractive for anyone looking for an international payment provider with the option to pay in or pay out in cash.

Western Union may not be the cheapest option out there for electronic payments, but the range of services and the convenience of their agent network make them a contender if you're looking for a cash based transfer service.

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About Western Union

When it was founded in the US over 160 years ago, Western Union was a telegraph service, helping people get messages to loved ones[1]. A decade later, Western Union made its first pivot into money transfers, moving money via telegrams.

Over the years the services available from Western Union developed to suit consumer needs, including communications and financial products. 

Fast forward to 2006, and Western Union sent their last telegrams, and became entirely dedicated to domestic and international money transfer services. You can now send money with Western Union in person, online or using an app. Payout options vary by country, but include bank transfers, cash for collection and transfers to mobile money accounts.

With one of the strongest agent networks in the world, Western Union is particularly known for arranging payments where either the sender or the recipient wants to deal in cash. Let’s look at the full range of services on offer from Western Union:

Cash collection

You can send payments for cash collection via a huge range of Western Union agents around the world. Use the Agent Locator tool[3] to find Western Union locations convenient to you or your recipient.

As the sender you’ll be able to set up your payment online, in the app, or by visiting an agent yourself. Then you’ll simply need to give your recipient the reference number, so they can take that and their photo ID documents to an agent local to them to get the cash. 

If you choose the Money in Minutes service your payment could be available almost instantly.

Great for: getting money quickly, and in cash, to someone who may not be able to access a bank account.

Bank transfers

Set up a payment online or in the Western Union app and have it deposited in your recipient’s bank account directly. Payments usually arrive within 3 banking days. This can be a convenient option as your recipient won’t need to visit an agent to get their money. It can also be the cheapest way to arrange an international payment.

Great for: sending convenient international transfers online and in-app.

Mobile money

In some countries, Western Union can facilitate mobile money payments which are sent quickly and directly to people with mobile money accounts[4]. This service is available in select locations where Western Union works in partnership with mobile phone operators.

Great for: mobile money payments direct to digital wallets.

Business solutions

Western Union Business Solutions cover one off international payments, mass payments, and FX risk management services[5]. 

The range of options is split down by Western Union to show how they can help different business types and industries. Mass payment services, for example, could be helpful for businesses managing international payroll or sending out royalty payments to clients internationally. Recurring transfers could help companies paying out pensions to members living overseas, and solutions to mitigate the risks of currency fluctuations can help businesses which deal in high volume international transactions like travel agents.

Great for: businesses trading or making payments internationally. 

How does Western Union work?

Western Union’s journey into payment services began some 150 years ago as an offline service offering money transfers via the telegraph network. Over the years the products and services on offer have developed and evolved - but one of the stand out factors of Western Union remains its offline options. Thanks to a huge network of agents around the world, you can send payments in person - and have them collected in cash on the other side of the globe, sometimes in just a few minutes. 

Unsurprisingly the costs of payments which involve in person services are typically higher than online transfers - but it’s a convenient way to get money quickly to someone who doesn’t have easy access to a bank account.

Western Union also offers payments online and in their app, which can be delivered direct to bank and mobile money accounts or for cash collection. That means you can often combine the pay in and pay out services you need, to get the right mix for both you and your recipient.

Send money with Western Union

Is Western Union safe?

Western Union is FINTRAC registered in Canada and regulated by official bodies all over the world, making it a safe service to use. 

Bear in mind you should only send payments to people you know and trust. Western Union warns about criminals who can try to use their services to commit consumer fraud[6]. That’s typically because cash payments can be arranged very quickly and are hard to trace once they’ve been picked up. By the time you realise you’ve been a victim the money has gone.

There’s lots of information on the Western Union website to help you learn more about staying safe when sending money.

Western Union pricing

Western Union costs can include a transfer fee and an exchange rate markup. It’s worth remembering third party fees - like credit card cash advance fees - can also apply, depending on how you pay.

The cost for your transfer will depend on several factors:

  • Destination country and currency

  • Payment amount

  • How you want to pay

  • How you want your recipient to get the money

You can start to set up your payment online or in the Western Union app, to see both the services which are available for your destination country, and the costs. You’ll be able to look at different pay in and pay out options, including the fees, exchange rates and delivery times to see which best balances cost and convenience for you.

Western Union exchange rate

Western Union exchange rates include a markup on the mid-market rate, and can vary by brand, channel and location. The rate you’re offered at an agent may not be the same as one you find online - and different agents may use differing rates, too.

How long does Western Union take?

How long it takes for your payment to be received depends on the destination and the specific service you select. 

If you send a payment for cash collection through Western Union it may be available for collection quickly. Bear in mind that time zone differences and agent opening hours may impact the speed of your payment in this case.

If you’re sending to a bank account it will usually take up to 3 working days to arrive, depending on the currency, country, and receiving bank’s processes[7].

Western Union Pros

  • Global agent network, covering 130+ currencies and almost every country on earth

  • Transact in cash via an agent or use a bank account online

  • Cash payments can be available in minutes

  • Fully regulated around the world

Western Union Cons

  • Fees and rates vary and may not be the most competitive option

  • Limited services in some destination countries

  • In person service can be more expensive than online 

How to use Western Union

If you’re sending a payment in person you’ll need to take along your valid government ID when you visit an agent location. The agent will then guide you through the process to set up your transfer and pay the amount being transferred plus fees.

To send money online or in the Western Union app:

  1. Log into the Western Union desktop site or open the app

  2. Select the country you want to send to and enter the payment amount

  3. Select the services you require, and check the fees and rates

  4. Follow the prompts to enter the required information

  5. Select payment method, confirm and fund your transfer

Funding methods

How you can send a Western Union payment varies by country and depending on the service you require. Usually you’ll be able to pay:

  • Using a bank transfer

  • By card

  • In cash at an agent location

Payout methods

Arrange a Western Union payment, and select the following payout methods:

  • Bank transfer

  • Cash pickup at an agent 

  • Mobile money account

How to create an account

You can create a Western Union account online or in the app in just a couple of steps[7]:

  • Select Register

  • Enter your name as it appears on your government ID

  • Add your personal details

  • Enter your email to get confirmations and receipts

You may be able to get started making payments right away, or you might need to upload some documents for verification.

What documents you'll need

Depending on the service you want to use you may need to verify your account. If that’s required you’ll be guided to the verification process, and asked to upload images of documents which commonly include:

  • A photo ID document - passport or driving licence

  • Proof of address - utility bill, bank or credit card statement

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How long does verification take?

If your account can be verified electronically it won’t take long. If there are any problems you’ll get an email asking for more documents - or you’ll just get an email notification to say your account is active. 

If you need to make an urgent transfer you can visit a Western Union agent where you can present your ID in person to arrange a payment. 

Western Union limits 

You can send up to 999 CAD a day online. If you need to send more this may be possible at an agent location. Different agents have their own limits which may vary based on the type of transfer you’re making.

Supported currencies

Western Union supports 130+ different currencies and lets you send to over 200 different countries and territories. In fact, every country in the world aside from Iraq and North Korea is covered in some form. 

To check if there are Western Union agent locations near to you, or local to your recipient, use this Western Union agent locator tool

Western Union reviews

Western Union scores an average of 3.3 stars on Trustpilot, from a total of over 20,000 listed reviews at the time of writing. That’s an Average score[8].

Of the reviews that have been posted, 60% did give Western Union the highest possible Trustpilot rating. There’s particular praise for the ease of using the Western Union app. Here’s what a few happy customers said:

“Very good app, I haven't had any problems sending money”

“It is really easy using Western Union. I really like using the app because it saves my information and the people that I'm sending money to.”

When it comes to the less good reviews, 16% of people gave the worst available rating, with issues focused on things like high fees and complex customer verification processes.

Western Union accessibility

Use Western Union online, in the mobile app on both Apple and Android phones, or by visiting an agent location. 

Western Union customer service

You can always visit a Western Union agent to get help - or use these options instead:

Customer support channel

Western Union availability[9]

Phone support1-800-235-0000
Chat supportAvailable via the app or desktop site
Western Union mailing address

Customer Care

Western Union Financial Services (Canada) Inc.

100 Yonge Street, suite 1500

Toronto, Ontario

M5C 2W1

Western Union alternatives

  • Wise - send online and mobile payments which use the real exchange rate and low transparent fees, or open an online international account to send and hold multiple currencies. Cash payments are not available

  • Remitly  - similar range of payout options as Western Union, but fewer countries covered. Choose different delivery speeds which come with a choice of transfer fees.

  • PayPal or Xoom - send instant payments at home and abroad - convenient and quick, but not always the cheapest. With PayPal your recipient will also need to set up an account to get their money.

Conclusion

Western Union is a giant in the world of international payments, with transfers available in person, online and on the go through mobile apps. One of Western Union’s biggest strengths is its global reach. Between online services and a global network of 500,000+ agents, almost every country in the world is covered. And with cash payments available almost instantly, it's an especially good pick if you need to get money quickly to someone without a bank account.

Western Union might not be the fastest or cheapest for online and mobile transfers direct to bank accounts, but definitely worth looking at for in person and cash collection payments.

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FAQ

How much does Western Union cost?

Western Union fees depend on the country you’re sending to, the value of the payment and the specific transfer type.

How long does Western Union take to transfer funds?

Cash payments made under the Money in Minutes option can be available almost instantly. Bank transfers may take up to 3 working days to arrive.

Is Western Union safe?

Western Union is fully regulated around the world, and registered with FINTRAC in Canada.

How does Western Union apply exchange rates?

Western Union makes money from currency exchange. That means that there’s a markup - a fee - added to the exchange rate offered to customers.

Does Western Union have a mobile app?

Get the Western Union app on Apple and Android phones.

How does Western Union work?

Western Union supports transfers through its huge agent network, as well as via a desktop site and mobile app. Send payments to a recipient’s bank account, as a mobile money payment, or for cash collection.

How many currencies does it support?

Western Union supports 130+ currencies.

General advice: The information on this site is of a general nature only. It does not take your specific needs or circumstances into consideration. You should look at your own personal situation and requirements before making any financial decisions. We compare currency exchange and money transfer services in over 200 countries and territories worldwide. We only display reputable companies which we have researched and approved.

By Ileana Ionescu
Updated May 17, 2022