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Updated on Thursday, May 23, 2019
Western Union has been a consistent leader in the money transfer business. The company has come a long way from its founding in 1851, when it was begun as a telegram service. The first Western Union money transfer wasn’t introduced until twenty years later in 1871. In 2000, the company entered the digital age, offering online money transfers to its customers. It added on its Mobile Money Transfer Service seven years later, further expanding into the digital payments space.
Today, Western Union operates in over 200 countries and territories. In 2018, it moved more than $300 billion in principal globally, handling transactions in 130 currencies.
Although you can’t send a Western Union telegram anymore — the last one was sent back in 2006 — you can take advantage of its wide range of financial services. Let’s take a look at the ways you can send and receive money through Western Union.
Western Union key features
- Flexible transfer limits: Your transfer limits depend on factors that include your location, the recipient’s location and payment method. Limits are variable based on the service you choose and agent location.
- Multiple payment options: When sending money online, you can choose to make your payment through a debit card, credit card, bank account or wire transfer. You can also indicate whether your recipient wants to receive cash or a bank account transfer. If your recipient wants to receive cash, you can also initiate a transaction online and visit your nearest Western Union location to make the payment.
- Widespread global access: If you need to visit a physical location, there are over 550,000 agent locations in more than 200 countries and territories.
- Track your transfers: Whether you’re the sender or the recipient, you can track your transfer both on the website and WU app.
- Online bill pay: Western Union allows you to pay thousands of billers so you can easily make payments for your mortgage, utilities, credit cards and more, in one place. This service is available online, in the app, over the phone and at WU locations.
- Western Union app: Available on both Android and Apple products, the WU app allows you to send money and keep track of your transfers anywhere and at any time.
- Western Union membership program: My WU® is a membership rewards program that earns points on the fees you pay to send money. You can redeem the points for service discounts and other rewards.
Sending a money transfer with Western Union
Anyone can send and receive money with Western Union, as long as you’re at least 18 years old. You must also have your recipient’s information ready to make a transfer, including their name as it appears on their government-issued ID, street address and, if applicable, bank account information.
- How long does a transfer take? Some transfers take only a few minutes. This includes Mobile Money Transfer and the Money in Minutes service for pickup at a location. Other transfer methods like Next Day service, Direct to Bank and Bill Payment can take one to five business days.
- Where can you send money? You can send money to recipients in over 200 countries and territories.
- How much can you send? Your transfer limit depends on a few factors, namely your recipient’s location and method of transfer. For example, if you’re in the U.S. and want to send money to someone in the U.S., you’re allowed up to $5,000 USD per online or app transaction. If you want to send money to someone in the Philippines, your limit increases to $19,000 USD.
Send money online with Western Union
To send money online or with the WU app, you’ll need to have a Western Union account. You can easily create one when you make your first transfer, with your name, date of birth, email and residential address. Creating an account allows you to save payment methods and recipients for further ease in the future.
Once you’re ready to send money online, you can select the destination and enter the amount and currency of your transfer. Then you choose whether your recipient will get the money through a cash pickup, bank transfer or a Mobile Money Transfer. Next, select how you would like to pay, whether by credit or debit card, bank account or with cash at a WU location. Note that you cannot pay in store if you’re sending money to a recipient’s bank account.
Send money in person at a Western Union location
You can visit a Western Union office to send money with cash or a debit card, where accepted. Western Union also allows you to start a money transfer online or on your app, then pay in cash at a location.
Send money over the phone with Western Union
If you’re sending money from the U.S. to a recipient in the U.S., you also have the option of making a transfer by calling the Telephone Money Transfer hotline at 1-800-CALL-CASH.
Western Union fees and fine print
Your fees will vary according to your payment selections, like whether you’re sending money with cash or through a bank account, or whether your recipient is collecting cash or getting a bank transfer. The amount transferred will also determine the fees charged; generally, the higher the amount, the higher the fees. Western Union has a price estimator to help you figure out the cost of your money transfer before you commit.
Let’s take a look at the different fees you could pay if you were sending $400 from the U.S. to a recipient in the U.S., depending on how your recipient is receiving the money — cash pickup or bank account transfer — and your method of payment — debit card, credit card or bank account.
Pay in store
Note that while you can use a credit card to send money, your credit card issuer will consider this a cash advance. Cash advances typically trigger an extra fee on your credit card and a higher interest rate. They also tend to begin accruing interest immediately, rather than waiting for the next pay period.
Is Western Union a good money transfer service to use?
Western Union money orders and other services
In addition to its vast money transfer capabilities, Western Union also offers some other handy financial services.
- Money orders: Money orders are alternatives to checks or cold cash. You can get a money order at any Western Union location in Canada or the U.S.
- Prepaid debit card: The Western Union® Netspend® Prepaid Mastercard® allows you to store and spend your money without needing a checking account. There’s no credit check either, so you can open a card even with bad credit or banking history. You can access the card online and on the WU app to make transfers, deposit checks and pay your bills. The card even earns cash back and offers the chance to get your paycheck up to two days early with direct deposit.When you open the card, it’s automatically enrolled in the Pay-As-You-Go Plan, which charges $1 per signature purchase and $2 per PIN purchase in lieu of a static monthly fee. You can switch to either a Monthly Plan or Reduced Monthly Plan, however, which cost $9.95 and $5 per month, respectively, instead of per transaction.
- Bill payments: Western Union allows you to pay your bills, including mortgage, auto, credit card, insurance, utility and government payments, as long as the biller is a participating entity. You can pay your bills on WU.com, on the WU app, in person and over the phone with Telephone Money Transfer. No matter how you pay, you’ll need the biller’s name, account number and amount.Paying your bills through Western Union will cost a fee, depending on how much you send and the company to which you’re sending.
Alternative money transfer options
MoneyGram and TransferWise are international money transfer companies providing similar services to Western Union.
TransferWise commits to keeping fees and exchange rates low, charging only what it costs to send the transfer itself. It’s also transparent about the fees it does charge when you enter your payment amount, recipient country and origin country in its pricing calculator. On the whole, the more money you send, the higher the fees will be, since TransferWise charges a percentage of the amount you’re sending, unless you send a small amount of money, which will cost a small set fee.
- How long does a transfer take? Transfers can take as long as a few minutes to a few days. It will depend on your method of payment, the country you’re sending to and from and other factors. TransferWise’s tool can also give you an estimation of when your payment should arrive.
- Where can you send money? You can send money between Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe. Note that TransferWise is entirely digital; you cannot visit a location to send money with cash or checks.
- How much can you send? You can send a maximum of $50,000 per day and $250,000 per year.
If you still need access to a physical location, MoneyGram can be a good alternative. It has thousands of locations and reaches just about as many as countries and territories as Western Union so you can send or pick up money just about anywhere. The exact fees for sending money via MoneyGram depend on how much you’re sending and the method of sending. You can use MoneyGram’s Estimate Fees tool so you can determine the true cost of sending money before you make the transaction.
- How long does a transfer take? If you’re sending money to be picked up as cash, the funds can usually be picked up within minutes, subject to location hours, destination country and availability. If you’re sending money to a bank account, it can take as little as an hour to the next day, depending on a few factors, including the country you’re sending to.
- Where can you send money? MoneyGram maintains over 350,000 locations in over 200 countries and territories. There are over 30,000 locations in the U.S. and you can often send money at convenient locations like CVS Pharmacy or Walmart. You can also send money online and through the MoneyGram app.
- How much can you send? You can typically send up to $10,000 per online transfer and up to $10,000 every 30 calendar days.