Western Union stops all money transfers from Canada to Cuba

Cuban Canadians are lamenting losing the cheapest option for sending money to friends and family after Western Union halted transfers to Cuba from everywhere outside the United States.

'Everybody's complaining,' says one Cuban who's lived in Canada for 13 years

Western Union agencies like this one in Havana, Cuba, will now only provide remittance payments if they're coming from the United States. (Franklin Reyes/The Associated Press)

Julio Lopez said he sends money every month to his sister in Cuba, but as of Feb. 26, the company he's always used, Western Union, stopped allowing all transfers to Cuba.

"Everybody's talking, everybody's complaining," said the construction manager who's lived in Canada for the past 13 years. 

He said almost every Cuban-Canadian he knows has used Western Union and the money they've been able to send is an important support for their families in the communist country.

"It's the faster way and the cheaper way," Lopez said.

The company's decision hits hard for people who send money to Cuba, since their options are already limited, as some companies don't allow transfers to that country, due to a U.S. trade embargo that's been in place since 1960, and ones that do, charge considerably more money than Western Union.

Due to the unique challenges of operating remittance services from countries outside of the United States to Cuba, Western Union is unable to operate money transfer services to Cuba from countries other than the United States, effective February 26, 2020. - Margaret D. Fogarty, Western Union Corporate Communications

Western Union's exact reasons for changing its policy are unclear.

But in a statement to CBC Toronto, the company said the change was "due to the unique challenges of operating remittance services from countries outside of the United States to Cuba."

Lopez said the money he sends is crucial for his family in Cuba. 

"They're struggling every day," he said. "They need food, they need a lot of things that they don't have."  

In the past, he's used other money transfer services. Years ago, it was one called Transcard, which he says was slow and costly, charging $30 for each transfer, with the money arriving two weeks later.

He's also used another service, which he says was somewhat faster, taking several days, but just as costly.

Canadian banks also allow transfers to Cuba. A customer service agent with one of them, RBC, confirmed that its clients can transfer up to $2,500 online, with the recipient's full information, but there's a fee of $13.50, plus another fee of $20 by the international transfer agent, JP Morgan. The person receiving the money then also has to pay a fee in Cuba.

For Lopez, a bank transfer would only make sense for someone sending a large amount of money, around $1,000, not the smaller amounts he and his employees, many of whom come from Cuba, normally send.

In terms of the options he's had over the years, "Western Union is the best one ever," he said, charging $7.90 per transaction.

"You pay very, very low. I call my sister and I say to her, 'I'm going to send the money right now'...  and in 15 minutes, she has the money."

Cubans in Canada scrambling to find another option

Now, he's not sure what he'll do.

When told that transfers will still be allowed from the United States, Lopez recalled years ago, before Western Union was an option in Canada, sending money to a friend in the US, who then transferred the money to Lopez's sister.

It's unclear whether this change will be permanent. 

"We understand the impact this will have on our customers and will follow up with them directly if we are able to reactivate transactions from outside the U.S. to Cuba in the future," Western Union spokesperson Margaret D. Fogarty said in the company's statement.


Lorenda Reddekopp

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Lorenda Reddekopp is a news reporter for CBC Toronto.


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