Sending money to friends or family overseas shouldn’t be difficult. But choosing the best provider for your international transfer can prove tricky. There are so many options, and the features and fees vary for each service.
This guide will walk through a comparison of two of the biggest money transfer services in the world - MoneyGram and Western Union. We’ll also touch on an alternative - Wise - as a smart choice if you’re looking to make a payment direct to a recipient’s bank account.
Western Union and MoneyGram both offer money transfer services within the US, and abroad. You can set up a money transfer online, or in person by visiting an agent. You’ll usually be able to pay by card or wire transfer if you’re arranging your payment online, or by cash if you’re making your transfer face to face.
Your recipient will be able to either have the payment delivered directly into their bank account, or collect the money in cash by visiting an agent location near to them.
In terms of reach, both MoneyGram and Western Union cover pretty much the entire globe. You’ll be able to send to over 200 countries and territories, with MoneyGram listing 70 countries as digitally enabled, and Western Union boasting over 500,000 agents worldwide.¹ ²
So, on to the crucial question. Which is best - Western Union or MoneyGram?
Of course, both companies offer online money transfers. MoneyGram is the world’s second biggest money transfer company - while Western Union comes in as the largest on the planet. Western Union is better than MoneyGram for some customers, but it’s always a good idea to compare these and other services before deciding which provider will be best for your specific transfer.
To take a more detailed look at both MoneyGram and Western Union, read on.
The amount of time it takes for your money to be received will vary according to the specific service you select, and the destination country.
If you send money for cash pickup with MoneyGram it’ll usually be available within just a few minutes.³
Western Union offers both a cash pickup service within minutes, and a next day collection option.⁴
Sending money to a bank account typically takes a little longer as the payment needs to be processed by the recipient’s bank. Western Union states that bank payments will take 2 to 5 business days, depending on the country. MoneyGram offers some payment routes which arrive in the recipient’s bank account in as little as an hour, with others taking a few hours or arriving the next working day after the transaction is processed.
Both MoneyGram and Western Union have a presence in over 200 countries and territories, so you can send money all over the world.
Western Union decides on the amount a customer can send, based on the following factors:⁵
- Where you’re sending to and from
- Your transaction history
- The type of payment you’re making
- Specific limits applied by agents or destination countries
To find out how much you can send to a given location, you’ll need to model the payment online, visit a Western Union agent, or call the service team for advice.
MoneyGram sets a limit of USD10,000 for most online transactions. However, you may be able to send more than this using an agent, as long as there aren’t limits imposed by the country you’re sending to³. For larger payments, you might need to provide more details and documentation to comply with the laws both in the US and in the country you’re sending to.
A great way to check if a money transfer service is reliable, is to look for online customer reviews and testimonials. Trustpilot gathers customer feedback and gives companies a star rating, which will vary over time as new reviews are submitted.
At the time of writing, Western Union has 3.6 stars out of 5 on TrustPilot, with over 17,500 reviews logged. MoneyGram has a slightly higher rating at 4.1 stars, although it’s worth noting that under 4,000 customer reviews have been aggregated for MoneyGram at the time of research.⁷
It’s also useful to look at the percentage split for different customer trust ratings for the companies. For example, Western Union actually has a higher proportion of customers citing an Excellent service, compared with MoneyGram (64% v 56%). MoneyGram also has a relatively large percentage of customers saying they received a bad service, at 24% compared with Western Union at 10%.
Take a look at Trustpilot’s website to see the latest reviews and to help you decide which service to use. If you’re still unsure and want to make an online transfer, check out Wise, with a 4.6 star rating, and 86% of customers stating they received an Excellent service.⁸
Both MoneyGram and Western Union are licensed and regulated in the countries they operate in. As large global businesses, with a long history of managing money transfer services, your money is well protected. There are stringent processes in place to flight money laundering and other criminal activities, and to ensure customers are kept safe.
It’s worth noting, though, that money transfers for cash collection are commonly used by fraudsters and scammers looking to take advantage of vulnerable customers. This is because the payment can not be reversed once the cash has been collected. Both MoneyGram and Western Union work to prevent fraud and raise consumer awareness - check out the resources available online to learn more.⁹ ¹⁰
It’s hard to say whether MoneyGram, Western Union, or another provider would be best for your specific transaction. The simple way to find out is to model your payment online with a few providers to see which works out cheapest. Don’t forget, you need to look at the exchange rate used as well as the upfront fee as this can make a big difference to the true cost of the payment.
The exchange rate matters because many providers add a markup to the rate they use. This is an extra fee, but adding it into the exchange rate makes it tricky to calculate what you’re really paying for the service you need.
Let’s look at an example - imagine you want to send USD1,000 to a friend in Mexico. Here’s how it’ll work with Western Union, and again with Wise.
|Provider||You pay||Exchange rate||Fee||Recipient gets|
|Western Union||USD1,000||22.1238||No fee||MXN22,124.00|
*Fees and exchange rates correct at time of research - 17 July 2020
As you can see, Western Union will not charge an upfront fee for this transfer. Which sounds great, except that there is still a cost - it has simply been wrapped up in the exchange rate instead.
Wise on the other hand uses a transparent upfront fee and gives customers the real exchange rate with no markup added.
In the end, you’ll pay the same for both of these transfers - but your recipient will get more if you use Wise.
With both MoneyGram and Western Union, when you arrange a payment online you’ll model your transfer before you confirm it, which gives you the chance to see the fees and exchange rates involved. If you choose to set up your payment in an agent location, the agent will walk through your options and give you a quote before you hand over your cash.
The costs and even the exchange rates will vary according to various factors, including:
- The country you’re sending to
- The amount you’re sending
- The method used to fund your payment
- How your recipient wants to collect the payment
Typically, it is more expensive to make a payment using a credit card, with debit card payments slightly cheaper, and wire transfers the most cost effective option. However, bank transfers often take longer than paying with a card, so you might sacrifice speed to get the lower fee.
The fees may also vary according to how your recipient wants to get the money. Cash collection is usually more expensive than sending money directly to a bank account. Because the costs can vary quite widely, it’s well worth taking some time to look at the calculations - including the exchange rates offered - for different combinations, to make sure you get the best option for you.
Let’s take a look at the exchange rates offered by MoneyGram and Western Union, as compared to the mid-market exchange rate you’ll find on Google.
|Currency||Mid market exchange rate||Western Union exchange rate||MoneyGram exchange rate|
|Mexican peso||1USD =22.4119MXN||1USD =22.1238MXN||1USD =22,3034MXN|
|Euro||1USD =0.87658EUR||1USD =0.8729EUR||1USD =0.8479EUR|
|Chinese yuan||1USD =6.99855CNY||1USD =6.9134CNY||1USD =6.9547CNY|
|British pounds||1USD =0.79648GBP||1USD =0.7888GBP||1USD =0.7509GBP|
|Philippine peso||1USD =49.4276PHP||1USD =48.9355PHP||1USD =48.2430PHP|
*Exchange rates correct at time of research 17 July 2020¹¹
You’ll notice that the rates are different for each provider - and usually not as good as the mid-market rate which you’ll get using a currency converter or online search. This is because a markup or margin has been added to some of the exchange rates used - an extra fee for the customer, and a bit more profit for the provider.
Here’s what Western Union says about their exchange rates:
‘Western Union also makes money from currency exchange. When choosing a money transmitter, carefully compare both transfer fees and exchange rates.’¹²
MoneyGram also highlights the fact that they or their agents may profit from the exchange rates used, in their terms and conditions:
“Any difference in the Exchange Rate disclosed to you and the exchange rate received by MoneyGram will be kept by MoneyGram (and/or its Agents in some cases) in addition to any Transfer Fee.”¹³
Adding a margin to the exchange rate used for retail customers is very common. However, it can make it confusing to work out the overall cost of your international payment, and push up the price, too.
If you’re looking for a money transfer service which offers the mid-market exchange rate and charges simple, transparent fees, check out Wise. Cross border payments with Wise are often cheaper and faster than other providers. Join over 8 million happy customers and save, by using Wise today.
- WU - About Us
- MoneyGram - About page
- Moneygram - FAQ - Sending Money
- WU - When will my receiver get the money?
- WU - How much money can I send with Western Union
- Trustpilot - Western Union reviews
- Trustpilot - Moneygram U.S. reviews
- Trustpilot - Wise reviews
- Moneygram - Fraud Prevention
- WU - Fraud Awareness
- XE - US Dollar rates, news, and tools
- Article Detail - What are the foreign exchange rates for sending money?
- Moneygram - Terms and Conditions
All sources checked 17 July 2020
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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