How to use Western Union in 6 steps

Gabriela Peratello
15.06.22
7 minute read

If you need to send money abroad, you have a number of different options.

Using a bank may mean a steep fee, and there’s a high chance your transfer will be processed using the SWIFT network, which can mean extra charges, too. Alternatively, choose an alternative provider, such as PayPal, Western Union or Wise.

If you’re thinking of making an international transfer with Western Union, here’s all you need to know.

📑 Table of Contents

How does Western Union work?

Western Union is one of the largest money transfer services in the world. You can send a payment online, in the Western Union app, or in a Western Union branch location.

You’ll also be able to select how you want your recipient to get their money, with options including direct bank deposits, and cash for collection or delivery.

The exact options you have with Western Union will depend on where you’re sending money to — but you can easily model your payment online or call into a local branch to check which services are available in your destination country.

What information do you need to send money through Western Union?

If you’re wondering how to use Western Union, the first thing you’ll need to do is register a Western Union account.

You can do this online or in a store, and depending on the transfer type you’re making you might need to also complete a verification step. This usually involves showing or uploading an ID document.

If you’re sending a payment for cash collection you’ll normally only need to enter the recipient’s full name as shown on their government issued ID document, and confirm where they will collect the payment.

If you’re sending a transfer to someone’s bank account you’ll typically need the following:

  • Recipient’s name as shown on their account

  • Recipient’s bank name and address

  • Recipient’s bank account number or IBAN

  • Recipient’s bank SWIFT/BIC code

  • Other information may be needed based on destination — a CLABE number for Mexico or a sort code for the UK for example

Can you Western Union money to yourself?

Yes. You can send a Western Union payment to yourself, which can be handy if you’re traveling somewhere without access to ATMs and don’t want to carry too much cash, for example.

This service is designed mainly for people who are traveling.

Online commentators have noted that if you’re sending a payment to yourself, and the send and receive cities are the same, the payment may not be processed smoothly.

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How to send money through Western Union: step by step

Making an international transfer with Western Union is fairly straightforward. You can go to a local location to process the transaction if you need some help and want to deal with someone face to face².

The costs and fees vary, depending on both how you pay for the transfer and how you want it to be received.

Step 1: Be wary of fraudsters and scams

Before we begin, it’s important to know that there are many scams which ask people to send money via Western Union. Make sure you’re confident that you’re sending money to the right person, and for a genuine reason.

For example, if a third party contacts you to say that a friend or family member has had an emergency and needs cash quickly, you should always verify the details directly with the person involved.

Similarly, Western Union isn’t intended for online shopping like a service such as PayPal, and so it doesn’t have the same levels of buyer or seller protection as a service specialized in this area.

This means it’s not usually a good choice for online shopping or buying products through a service like Craigslist.

Step 2: Check all the details of your transfer

Once you’re sure that the person you’re sending money to is genuine, you have to collect and verify some details to make sure the process goes smoothly.

We covered the answer to the question: what does Western Union need to send money, earlier — so scroll up for the lowdown on what’s required according to the payment type.

Step 3: Set up the transfer

Process the transfer in a Western Union branch

Now you need to decide how to process the transfer — in a branch, online, or on the phone².

If you’d rather deal with someone face to face, you can send money via a Western Union office, using cash or sometimes a debit card, depending on the location.²

Process the transfer online or with the Western Union app

If you want to process your transfer online you’ll need to first create a profile to do so.

Once you have a profile, either on the website or app, you just select Send Money and follow the steps set out.

You can pay with cash by later visiting a Western Union office, or online by using a credit or debit card, or a bank transfer².

Process the transfer on the phone

Some transfers can be carried out on the phone using a credit or debit card.

However, this option won’t be available for all transfers, so check the availability in your particular circumstances².

Whichever route you choose, you must complete a form — either online, on the phone, or in hard copy — giving the details of both the payment and recipient.

Step 4: Choose how you want to pay

You’ll be asked how you wish to pay for the transfer, and in most cases, you can choose between cash if you’re in a branch, while online you can use credit or debit card, or a bank transfer.

The charges and fees for these different payment methods vary widely. We’ll cover these in more detail below.

Step 5: Pass the details of the transfer to the recipient

When you place the transfer, you’ll get a MTCN reference number. This is used by the recipient to collect the cash³.

You’ll need to give the MTCN number to the recipient if they’re planning on visiting a local Western Union outlet to collect their cash³.

Optional step: Trace the transfer

The MTCN (Money Transfer Control Number) is a tracking number given when you place your transfer and can be used if you need to trace the payment³.

You can do this online, or by visiting a branch for help³.

Step 6: Recipient collects the payment once processed

Processing time can vary from a few minutes to several days, depending on the payment method and whether the recipient is collecting in person or not.

The estimated processing time is shown at the point you place your transfer, and you can then track the progress of your transfer using your reference number if you need to.

Once the transfer is processed your recipient can collect it in a Western Union office, or draw it directly from their bank account if you opted for a bank transfer instead.

How does Western Union work to receive money?

If you’re receiving a Western Union payment to your bank account you won’t need to take any action at all.

The funds will simply be deposited into your account once the payment has been processed.

However, if you’ve agreed on a payment for cash collection, you’ll need to head to a Western Union agent near you with your government issued ID and the MTCN that the sender has given you.

Show your ID and confirm the MTCN to receive your payment in cash from the agent.

Western Union fees and exchange rate

The costs to make a transfer will vary, depending on where you’re sending money, how the payment is funded, and how the recipient receives the money.

Let’s take a look at an example of the fees you might see, sending 600 USD to a friend in the UK:

Payment typeWestern Union fees
Bank account/transfer
  • Recipient collects cash: 4.99 USD transfer fee

  • Recipient gets money into bank account: 0.99 USD transfer fee

Debit card
  • Recipient collects cash: 6.99 USD transfer fee

  • Recipient gets money into bank account: 14.94 USD transfer fee

Credit card
  • Recipient collects cash: 23.99 USD transfer fee

  • Recipient gets money into bank account: 29.94 USD transfer fee

Arrange online, pay cash in store
  • Recipient collects cash: 8 USD transfer fee

  • Recipient gets money into bank account: 8 USD transfer fee

Not sure Western Union is the best option for you? Check out how Wise compares and make a fast, cheap and secure international transfer:

When you’re calculating the costs of a transfer on the Western Union website, you’ll find the following disclaimer in the footnotes:

“Western Union also makes money from currency exchange. When choosing a money transmitter, carefully compare both transfer fees and exchange rates. Fees, foreign exchange rates and taxes may vary by brand, channel, and location based on a number of factors.” ¹

So how do you compare the exchange rates used by different money exchange and transfer services?

Firstly, find the mid-market rate for your currency online. That’s the rate used by banks and financial institutions on the open market — however, it’s not often passed on to customers.

Instead, services roll up their profit into the exchange rate they apply. This isn’t transparent and can mean that customers pay more than they need to.

Some services like Wise use the mid-market rate, and apply only a small transparent fee to each transaction. That makes it much easier for customers to understand and compare the true cost of the transfer — and can be much cheaper, too.

🚀 Get a Wise Account

Western Union conversion rate vs bank

The exchange rates used by both Western Union and traditional banks typically include a markup on the real exchange rate. However, the amount of this markup varies depending on the currency pairing involved.

That means that a good way to check which is the best value is to call into your bank to get their rates and then compare them online with the rate for your currency pairing offered on Western Union.

Don’t forget to compare both rates with the mid-market rate, too. And if you don’t think they offer a fair deal, try a different provider entirely, like Wise.

WU payment methods and limits

You can choose to make a payment in cash, by visiting a branch in person — or using a credit or debit card, or bank transfer.

The fees applied vary depending on the payment method, with credit or debit card payments usually costing more than a bank transfer, for example.

You can check WU limits below⁴:

Payment typeLimits
Send from an unverified account
  • Up to 3,000 USD

Send from a verified account
  • Up to 50,000 USD


Making an international transfer with Western Union isn’t too complicated. Just a few simple steps and you’ll be on your way. However, before you start, it’s well worth checking out other methods of making the transfer to see if there’s a cheaper way to transfer your money.

You might find that using an alternative provider which offers the real exchange rate and specializes in international money transfers, such as Wise, might be a better option.

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Sources:

  1. Western Union
  2. Western Union FAQ - send money online
  3. Western Union FAQ - MTCN
  4. Western Union FAQ - limits

Sources checked on 06.15.2022


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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