Wise Vs Western Union: A Full Comparison

Not sure whether to use Wise or Western Union for your next international payment?

Check out this full Wise Vs Western Union review to help you decide. We’ll cover all you need to know, including:

  • A full side by side feature comparison
  • Which provider is cheaper?
  • Which is faster?
  • Which is safer?
  • Which gets better customer reviews?

Summary: 

Wise (formerly known as TransferWise) is a specialist in international payments to bank accounts, with multi-currency account products for individuals and businesses. 

Western Union has a global agent network and allows payments in cash, to mobile wallets, and direct to bank accounts. In our comparison, for payments to a bank account, Wise is cheaper and more transparent, while Western Union covers more countries and currencies. 

Both Wise and Western Union hold Australian Financial Services licences (AFSL) and are fully regulated and authorised to trade in Australia.

 

Wise Vs Western Union: side by side

Wise (formerly TransferWise)

Send payments to: 80+ countries, 50+ currencies

Multi-currency accounts: Available for 54 currencies

Debit card available: Yes

Cash payout available: No

Mobile money payments available: No

Fully licensed and regulated: Yes

Business services available: Yes

Western Union

Send payments to: 200+ countries and territories

Multi-currency accounts: No

Debit card available: No

Cash payout available: Yes

Mobile money payments available: Yes

Fully licensed and regulated: Yes

Business services available: Yes

So, to summarise: 

  • Western Union  supports payouts to more countries compared to Wise 
  • Wise has a multi-currency account and card to support 50+ currencies - Western Union  does not have the foreign currency account option
  • Western Union  offers payouts for cash collection and to mobile money accounts - Wise does not
  • Both Wise and Western Union offer business solutions
  • Both providers hold AFS licenses and are fully regulated in Australia

If you’re choosing between Western Union and Wise, the way you want your payment to be received may be the deciding factor. If getting a cash payment to your recipient is crucial, Western Union may be the better option. However if you’re making a payment direct to a bank account, and Wise covers your destination country, you’ll probably find they offer lower overall fees and a better exchange rate.

 

The important bits

 

Wise

Western Union

Rates Mid-market exchange rate with no markup Exchange rates include a markup on the mid-market rate
Fees Low fees, varies by destination Fees vary by destination, pay in and pay out method
Speed 40% of payments are instant, 80% arrive in 24 hours Cash collection payments can be instant, payments to a bank account may take 5 days
Service Online, in app and by phone Online, in app and in person
Safety Fully regulated and licensed Fully regulated and licensed
Reviews (TrustPilot) Trustpilot score: 4.6/5, Excellent rating, from 140,000+ reviews Trustpilot score: 3.4, Average rating, from 21,000+ reviews

Rates: Wise uses the mid-market rate, whereas Western Union adds a markup to the exchange rates used

Fees: Both providers have variable fees which are based on the destination country. Western Union fees also change based on payout method.

Speed: Western Union cash collection payments may be ready in minutes - bank transfers depend on destination and may take up to 5 days. Wise payments can be instant, with 80% arriving in 24 hours.

Service: Both providers offer multilingual service in a range of languages, online, in-app and by phone. Western Union also has a broad agent network for in-person support.

Safety: Both providers are fully licensed and regulated. 

Reviews: Wise scores an Excellent review rating on Trustpilot, Western Union has a lower, Average rating, with fewer posted reviews.

Pros and cons

 

Wise 

Western Union 

Pros 

  • Mid-market exchange rates with no markup
  • Low, transparent fees
  • 80+ countries covered, with payments delivered directly into bank accounts for convenience
  • Multi-currency accounts available to hold 50+ currencies
  • Sent to almost every country in the world
  • Extensive global branch network
  • Cash pay in and out available, with payments to mobile wallets in some destinations
  • Instant transfers available for cash collection

Cons 

  • No branch network - online and mobile transfers only
  • No cash pay in or pay out
  • Fees vary by destination
  • Exchange rates include a markup
  • Overall cost can be on the high side
  • Not all services are available in all destinations

Wise vs Western Union: The verdict

Whether Western Union or Wise is best for you will depend on the country you’re sending to, and the pay in and pay out methods you prefer.

Western Union has an impressive network of around 600,000 agents worldwide, allowing for fast and convenient payments in cash. However, when it comes to transfers to bank accounts the overall costs can be higher and less transparent compared to competitors because a variable markup will be added to the exchange rate available.

Wise is a specialist in transfers direct to bank accounts, and offers a multi-currency account with a linked international debit card. Wise international transfers 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, they may be your best bet. 

 

About Wise and 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. 

Western Union has been in business since 1861 and operates through a network of some 600,000+ agents around the world[8]. You can also make online and in-app payments 24/7. 150 million personal and business customers trust Western Union to make international payments to bank and mobile money accounts, and for cash collection.

Western Union allows transfers to almost every country in the world, with the exception of Iran and North Korea.

 

How do they work?

Wise international transfers are made through Wise’s network of local bank accounts. That’s cheap and efficient because no money actually moves across borders.

Here’s how it works. When you want to pay for your transfer in AUD you’ll use a card or bank transfer to get the money to Wise’s local Australian account. Wise will then make a payment of the equivalent amount in your preferred currency, from their account in the destination country. 

Here’s how to make payments easily online and in the Wise app:

  1. Log into your account
  2. Type in how much you want to transfer, or how much you need the recipient to get
  3. Enter the recipient’s details - bank account number or email
  4. Check over the details
  5. Fund your payment using a card or bank transfer
  6. Confirm and your money will be on the move

The easiest, and usually cheapest way to send a payment using Western Union is to select the Direct to Bank Account service online or in the mobile app. You’ll just need to follow the onscreen prompts to add the amount you want to send and the recipient’s details. Exactly what details you need will vary depending on the country you’re sending to, but usually include[9]:

  • Your receiver’s bank name and code
  • Their account name and number

You can also arrange payments at an agent location. There you’ll be guided through the process in person. 

If you’re sending a payment through Western Union to a bank account the delivery time will depend on the destination country and the recipient’s own bank’s processes. If you’re making a payment for cash collection, Western Union will instruct your chosen agent in the destination country immediately once the payment has been processed, so they can release the cash once the recipient visits to collect it.

 

Wise vs Western Union Fees

Wise uses the mid-market exchange rate with no hidden costs. Instead, the amount you pay for a Wise international transfer will depend on the value of your payment and the way you pay for it. Wise uses a variable fee which depends on the value of your transfer, and which is clearly shown when you calculate your payment. You may also pay a small fee based on the way you fund your transfer - again this is shown when you arrange your payment.

Western Union fees can include an exchange rate markup and a charge based on the way you fund the transfer. Typically paying by bank transfer is cheapest, while paying by credit card is the most expensive. Exchange rate markups vary according to the currencies involved, and can be the most expensive fee you pay - even though they’re not always obvious. 

You’ll always see the transfer fee before you confirm your Western Union payment. You’ll also be shown the exchange rate you’ll get - but to see the markup that’s added here you’d need to compare it to the mid-market rate yourself.

Wise vs Western Union: which is cheaper?

International payment providers are usually cheaper than using a traditional bank for your crossborder payment. However, the overall costs, and the exchange rates you can access do vary from one service to the next, so it’s still worth shopping around. 

Here are a few examples so you can see how Wise and Western Union payments measure up. Here we’re assuming you’re making a transfer from your bank account, direct to a bank account overseas, in USD and EUR. The table shows the cost in AUD to fund several different payment values:

 

Amount & Currency

Wise

Western Union 

Winner?

AUD>1000 USD 1,399.52 AUD 1,405.09 AUD Wise
AUD>5000 USD 6.994.44 AUD 7025.44 AUD Wise
AUD>1000 EUR 1,589.62 AUD 1,593.83 AUD Wise
AUD> 5000 EUR 7,946.01 AUD 7,969.14 AUD Wise

*Rates and fees correct at time of research - 8th January 2022

 

As you can see, in this comparison, Wise came out on top every time. 

It’s worth remembering that these payments are funded from a bank account, and delivered to your recipient’s bank account directly. That’s Wise’s key service - and one where they often beat the market. However, Western Union also offers a good range of alternative pay in and pay out services, including cash and mobile money payments. If that’s what you’re looking for, Western Union can still be a strong contender. 

 

Wise Vs Western Union: which is faster?

Wise payments can arrive in seconds on some currency routes, and most transfers arrive within a day. You’ll see the estimated delivery time when you set up your transfer, and can always track it online or in the Wise app.

Western Union also provides an estimated delivery time when you set up your payment. If you’re sending money for cash collection or to a mobile money account it’ll often be available instantly. If you want to send a payment to a bank account this can take around 24 hours on major routes, and up to 5 days to other destination countries.

 

Safety

Wise is fully regulated by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), and also holds the required licenses in other countries it operates in. In Australia, Wise holds an Australian Financial Services licence (AFSL) and is authorised by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA). 

Like Wise, Western Union also holds an AFSL, and is fully regulated in all regions in which it operates. 

It is recommended to make payments to people you know and trust. Services like Western Union, which offer cash collection services, can be targeted by fraudsters who prey on vulnerable people, asking for cash. Once a payment is made it can usually be collected instantly, meaning that by the time you discover you’ve been a victim of fraud it may be too late. Western Union provides a range of resources, including information about known scams, online, to keep customers safe

Ease of use

  • Creating an account: Wise accounts are opened and operated online or using the Wise app.  Western Union accounts can be set up online, in the app, or by visiting an agent location. 
  • Making a transfer:  Wise international payments can be made online or in the Wise app.  Western Union payments can be made online, in the app, or by visiting an agent location. 
  • Ways to send money:  Wise transfers can be funded by bank transfer, credit or debit card.  Western Union transfers can be funded by bank transfer, credit or debit card, or cash at agent locations.
  • Languages:  Wise offers global support in a range of languages, online, using the app, and by phone. Western Union has phone and online support - as well as an agent network of 600,000+ locations to offer help when needed.
  • Minimum & maximum amounts:  Wise limits depend on which currencies you send to and from, and how you pay. However, you can make several smaller transfers if your ideal transfer amount exceeds the limit for the specific payment.  Western Union usually has a limit of the currency equivalent of 50,000 USD/EUR for payments to bank accounts. Different limits may apply in some destination countries.

 

Supported currencies

With Wise you can send money to 80 countries and hold and convert 54 currencies in your Wise account. 

Western Union transfers can be made to almost every country in the world with the exception of Iran and North Korea, where sanctions prevent payments being made.

Conclusion

While Wise and Western Union have some overlapping services, they probably suit different customer needs. Wise is a specialist in international bank transfers, and also offers multi-currency accounts. Western Union’s stand out factor is its agent network which gives it a truly global reach.

If you want to make a low cost bank transfer, and Wise covers your destination country, that’s probably your best bet. However, Western Union has a broader range of countries covered, and also offers cash pay in and pay out services, which Wise can not. If what you’re looking for is a fast transfer to cash the Western Union global agent network may well make this the right service for you.

Frequently asked questions - Wise vs Western Union

Is Wise or Western Union cheaper?
In our comparisons, Wise was cheaper for international payments to bank accounts. However, Western Union also offers cash pay in and pay out services, which are not provided by Wise. These are typically more expensive than transfers to and from bank accounts, but can arrive instantly.

 

Is Wise or Western Union faster?
Wise payments can arrive instantly, with most being delivered within 24 hours. Western Union cash collection payments are usually instant, bank transfers can take up to 5 days for some destinations.

How many currencies do Wise and Western Union support? 
Wise customers can send payments to 80+ countries, and hold and manage 50+ currencies in their Wise accounts. Western Union allows customers to send payments to 200+ countries and territories - all around the world with the exception of Iran and North Korea.

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By Ileana Ionescu Updated January 28th, 2022