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Western Union vs a bank transfer

How does Western Union stack up against making an international money transfer with a typical bank?

We compared Western Union with Australia's banks in a head-to-head money transfer comparison across the categories of fees, rates and speed. We discovered that Western Union is cheaper than a bank for small transfers but is still more expensive than other money transfer providers.

The fees and rates used in this comparison are accurate as of 14 February 2021.

Name Product Filter Values Fastest Transfer Speed Fees (Pay by Bank Transfer)
Western Union
Within minutes
From $0
Western Union sends money online to friends and family in 200+ countries around the world.
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Which has lower fees?

Western Union

Western Union's fees vary depending on the payment method, destination and the amount you're sending. Also, Western Union is not very transparent when it comes to fees which makes it more challenging to calculate the cost. Their online calculator appears to exclude transfer fees as they are typically waived for first-time customers.

For an online Western Union transfer to the UK, you'll pay between $2 and $15 depending on how much you're sending. But the fees are higher for other countries, for example it'll cost anywhere from $5 to $30 in fee's to send money to the United States. Western Union does not charge any pick-up fees, but certain delivery methods such as sending to a mobile wallet may involve third-party charges.

Bank transfer

International bank transfer fees are numerous and vary wildly compared to Western Union.

At one major Australian bank you could feasibly pay as much as $96 in fees for a money transfer to the United Kingdom regardless of the amount sent, while the lowest possible cost for a transfer of under $1,000 at the same bank would be $17.

Trophy icon
Winner: Western Union

The fees are lower for small and medium-sized transfers, and they're overall more predictable. However, the most cost-effective option depends on where you're sending money, and how much.

Western Union may not be more cost-effective than a bank transfer in every situation.

Let's crunch the numbers: Sending $1,000 and $10,000 to the UK

Let's look at those numbers side by side and assume you're taking reasonable steps to get as cheap a bank transfer as possible.

Sending $1,000 to the UK
Western UnionBank transfer
Transfer fee$10.00$17.00
Exchange rate1 AUD = 0.5253 GBP1 AUD = 0.5234 GBP
Transfer speedSame day2-5 days
Total British pounds receivedGBP£520.05GBP£514.50
Sending $10,000 to the UK

The maximum transfer through Western Union is $5,000 at a time, so now you'd have to make two transfers with a $15 fee each time. The bank transfer fees are also at $12 base right now, plus the $11 receiving fee.

Western UnionBank transfer
Transfer fee$30.00$23.00
Exchange rate1 AUD = 0.5253 GBP1 AUD = 0.5234 GBP
Transfer speedSame day2-5 days
Total British pounds receivedGBP£5,214.31GBP£5,221.96

Even if you take all possible steps to minimise bank fees, Western Union is a little bit more cost-effective for smaller transfers, primarily because its fees scale with the amount sent, while bank transfer fees are mostly fixed regardless of the amount sent.

But the tables turn when you're sending large sums, and you'd save a small amount by using a bank instead of Western Union for a transfer of $10,000, due to the slightly more favourable rates.

Both are very similar, and the difference all comes down to which bank you're using, what the rates are at the exact time you make a transfer, and whether you've done everything you can to minimise the bank transfer fees.

Which offers a better exchange rate?

Western Union

As is typical for most money transfer services, Western Union will add a margin to the exchange rate.

For example, when sending money to the US:

  • Western Union's exchange rate: 1 AUD = 0.68 USD
  • Mid-market exchange rate: 1 AUD = 0.71 USD

So relative to the mid-market rate at the time, Western Union charges an exchange "fee" of sorts equivalent to about 4.2% on an AUD/USD transfer.

It varies widely by currency and circumstance, though. At the time of writing it's over 9% for AUD to EUR, but only about 1.6% for AUD to Indian rupees.

Bank transfer

For the same AUD to USD transfer:

  • A typical bank's exchange rate: 1 AUD = 0.67 USD
  • Mid-market exchange rate: 1 AUD = 0.71 USD

So you're getting one American cent less per Australian dollar with a bank than with Western Union.

This is equivalent to a 5.6% markup compared to mid-market rates.

The banks offer a slightly more favourable rate for euros, equivalent to 5.3%, but the AUD to INR exchange rates are almost 4% above the mid-market rate at the time of writing.

Trophy icon
Winner: Tie

Western Union offers better rates for USD than the banks. The banks offer better rates for EUR than Western Union. Western Union offers better rates for INR than the banks. The banks offer better rates for JPY than Western Union.

The winner changes depending on which currency you're transferring. The difference can be enormous though, so it's well worth checking rates and comparing options at the time of the transfer.

Which is faster?

Western Union

Western Union can offer same-day transfers around the world, seven days a week, with a range of delivery options including in-person cash pick-up, bank deposit or transfer to a mobile money app.

Bank transfer

How long a bank transfer takes depends on which bank you're using and where you're sending money.

A typical international bank transfer can take 2-5 business days to process, often won't be moving on weekends or public holidays and can only be deposited directly into a bank account.

Trophy icon
Winner: Western Union

Western Union is faster and more flexible than a typical bank transfer.

General features

Payment methodsLimitsTransfer timesCurrencies
Western Union
  • Bank transfer
  • Cash
  • Credit card
  • Debit card
Minimum: $1

Maximum: $50,000

Within minutes138 currencies
  • Bank account
  • Cash pickup location
Straight from a bank account, or in person at a branchMinimum: Anything above the fee

Maximum: No limit

2-5 business daysVaries by bank

Western Union

Western Union works through thousands of offices and third parties in more than 200 countries around the world.

It sends money by ensuring that it has enough funds on hand at every location to handle most transfers. After the sender makes a deposit, the recipient receives the funds from the Western Union office in that country.

This is how it can send money almost anywhere in the world in just minutes.

Bank transfer

Banks conduct international transfers through the SWIFT network – an interbank communication network. When you send money overseas through a bank, it will leapfrog from bank to bank until it arrives at its destination. This is known as a correspondent banking system.

The reason bank transfers are typically slower and more expensive than other options is that there are so many correspondents involved, and each needs to process your payment as it passes through.

Bottom line

Depending on the situation, Western Union might typically be a quicker, more cost-effective and more convenient way of sending money overseas.

But even though Western Union beats the banks, it doesn't beat all other money transfer services. Check out some of the other options in the table below.

Looking for more options?

Our table below lets you compare services you can use to send money abroad. Compare fees, exchange rates and discounts from different money transfer services, and when you have made your choice, click Go to site.
Name Product Filter Values Fastest Transfer Speed Fees (Pay by Bank Transfer)
TorFX
24 hours
$0
TorFX sends money overseas in 40+ currencies, with competitive rates for transfer amounts over $2,000.
Xe Large Transfers
24 hours
$0
Xe has fast transfers with low fees and a range of foreign currency tools.
OFX
24 hours
$0
OFX has no maximum limit transfers, with competitive exchange rates for 50+ currencies.
Send Payments
24 hours
$0

Send provides fee-free transfers via its 24/7 multi-currency payments platform with real-time quotes.
Revolut
Within minutes
$0
Sign up and get a AUD$15 top-up. For new customers only. T&Cs apply.
Send money with great rates and low fees in 30+ currencies.
Xe Money Transfers
Within minutes
$0
Xe has fast transfers with low fees and a range of foreign currency tools.
Instarem
Within minutes
From 0%
50% off first transaction fee from any country in APAC (outside India).
Minimum transfer of $250 and max transfer of $500,000
Wise (TransferWise)
Within minutes
From 0.43%
Wise uses the mid-market rate and transparent fees to help you send money in 50+ currencies.
TorFX
24 hours
$0
TorFX sends money overseas in 40+ currencies, with competitive rates for transfer amounts over $2,000.
Remitly
Within minutes
From $0
Remitly has quick, affordable transfers around the world, with both express and economy options.
Rocket Remit
Within minutes
From $0 to $5
Send money instantly to friends and family in over 45 countries using just your mobile number.
MoneyGram
Within minutes
From $1.99
MoneyGram has fast cash pick-up transfers to more than 350,000 agent locations worldwide.
SingX
Within minutes
From 0.5%
SingX offers the real exchange rate every time you make a transfer and can help you send money across the world.
CurrencyFair
Within minutes
€3
CurrencyFair has bank-beating exchange rates and fast transfer times on 15+ popular currencies.
OFX
24 hours
$0
OFX has no maximum limit transfers, with competitive exchange rates for 50+ currencies.
Send Payments
Send Payments
24 hours
$0
Send provides fee-free transfers via its 24/7 multi-currency payments platform with real-time quotes.
MasterRemit
Within minutes
From $0
Get your 1st and 2nd money transfer for free with promo codes FIRSTFREE and MASTERFINDER!.
Send money in minutes at competitive exchange rates to the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.
Western Union
Within minutes
From $0
Western Union sends money online to friends and family in 200+ countries around the world.
Qantas Business Money
Within minutes
$0
Earn 1 Qantas Point per AUD$1 equivalent you convert into foreign currencies. Conversion limits and T&Cs apply.
Set up accounts in 11 different currencies and get rewarded for global business payments by earning Qantas Points.
TorFX Business Transfers
24 hours
$0
TorFX guarantees to match any competitor's exchange rate. Conditions apply.
TorFX sends money overseas in 30+ currencies, with competitive rates for transfer amounts over $2,000.
OFX Business Transfers
24 hours
$0
OFX has no maximum limit transfers, with competitive exchange rates for 45+ currencies.
WorldFirst
24 hours
From $0
Open bank accounts in Australia, the UK, US, Canada, Japan and Europe. Send and receive funds with zero fees for large sums, including same-currency supplier payments.
Send business
24 hours
$0

Send provides fee-free transfers via its 24/7 multi-currency payments platform with real-time quotes.
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10 Responses

    Default Gravatar
    AntonyJuly 23, 2019

    If I want to transfer a large amount of money to buy a house or a car, can I do that through Western Uion? Thankyou.

      AvatarFinder
      JeniJuly 23, 2019Finder

      Hi Anthony,

      Thank you for getting in touch with Finder.

      Yes, you may do that. Typically there are no limits on the amount you can send from a Western Union agent location.

      I hope this helps.

      Thank you and have a wonderful day!

      Cheers,
      Jeni

    Default Gravatar
    MonAugust 23, 2017

    How can I send money overseas to Indonesia without the person having a bank account?

    Regards,

      AvatarFinder
      MayAugust 23, 2017Finder

      Hi Mon,

      Thank you for your inquiry.

      I would highly recommend you read more on how to send money to Indonesia. You will learn how to accomplish this even when your recipient doesn’t have a bank account.

      Hope that can help.

      Cheers,
      May

    Default Gravatar
    LynnFebruary 18, 2017

    Hi, I have 2 questions:
    1)when doing international money transfer through providers such as Western Union, can the fund stay as the original currency, i.e., if i plan to send US dollars to Canada, can it stay US dollars?
    2) if i open up an account with international money transfer provider such as Western Union, and someone transfers money from overseas to me in Australia, how long can the fund stay in the account? I may need to transfer the fund out after months or a year, do they have some sort of deposit function, and possibly earn some interest?
    Thanks

      AvatarFinder
      DeeFebruary 20, 2017Finder

      Hi Lynn,

      Thanks for reaching out.

      Generally, if you use a money transfer provider to send money to Canada from the US, the recipient will receive the proceeds in their local currency. However, if the receiving bank account is a USD account, then it could stay as USD.

      In connection with this, you may check our international money transfers guide to see banks that allow the same currency transfer.

      In regards to money transfer for pick-up, the length of time that the recipient may not claim the money depends on the provider, but generally, you won’t earn interest on it. You can directly call the provider to get more details on this.

      Cheers,
      Anndy

    Default Gravatar
    ManojSeptember 13, 2016

    is western union is better than banks?

      AvatarFinder
      ClarizzaSeptember 14, 2016Finder

      Hi Manoj,

      Thanks for your question.

      The answer will depend on a number of things such as how fast you want your money transferred, the method, fees and exchange rate. On this page, you can find a comparison between Western Union and Banks on the areas mentioned. For example the exchange rate offered by Western Union is stronger than banks which means your money will be worth more once converted. Also Western Union charges a flat $20 fee transfer fee whether it is online or in person, whereas with the bank we’ve listed as an example, the fee will depend on the method of transfer.

      We recommend weighing up your options based on your goal. Please note, we are a comparison site and can provide general advice only.

      Regards,
      Clarizza

    Default Gravatar
    AltonMarch 21, 2016

    which is the safest way to send money internationally from the Bahamas to Japan

      AvatarFinder
      ShirleyMarch 22, 2016Finder

      Hi Alton,

      Thanks for your question.

      Using an international money transfer service that is regulated by a Government body in your local country could be a safe option.

      Alternatively, bank transfers are generally considered safe too.

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