Expats who live and work in China will attest to the hassle banking can be. From opening an account to making deposits and  transferring money it’s not particularly foreigner friendly and frequently requires the patience of a saint. Things gets even more tricky if you get paid in Renminbi (RMB) and want to transfer some of your earnings back home. In general China is adverse to money flowing out of the country and due to the complexity of the process bank staff will often look for any excuse to deny you being able to so.

100 Yuan
Photo by David Dennis

I’ve recently completed the rather tortuous process successfully for the first time so thought I’d share how it works in the hope that others might be able to avoid disappointment -

What you will need:

  • Passport with valid Residence Visa (and sometimes Residency Permit)
  • Employment contract original copy officially stamped or ‘chopped’
  • Tax receipts for each month of your employment (depending on how much you want to transfer)
  • SWIFT code of your bank back home (e.g. BARCGB22 for Barclays UK)
  • Bank account information for both sending and receiving parties (name, address etc.)
  • Sufficient funds up to the amount you have paid tax on (duh!)

What it will cost (other banks may vary):

  • Bank of China – 150 RMB service charge, 0.1% of the total to be transferred
  • Bank of Communications - 80 RMB service charge, 0.1% of the total to be transferred
  • Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) - 150 RMB service charge, 1% of the total to be transferred

In the past only the Bank of China could make foreign transfers but this has been recently liberalised so most banks should now be able to provide telegraphic transfer services.

The process (Chinese speaker needed to help unless you are fluent yourself):

  1. Take all you documents to your bank who will take photocopies (and probably be less than cooperative)
  2. Buy the amount of foreign currency you want to transfer (usually Dollars, Euros or Pounds Sterling) – this will be placed in your account – you wont receive any cash only a receipt
  3. Fill in an application form for funds transfers (overseas). Be sure to enter your details very carefully otherwise your money could end up in someone else’s account! The bank will probably insist that the charges be “shared” between both banks
  4. Submit the form and wait a day for the transfer to complete (praying optional!)
  5. Return the next day to the bank who will give you a receipt detailing whether the transfer was successful or not.

Last but not least, avoid illegal/blackmarket/unofficial money exchangers as you will probably get ripped off or worse. If you’ve had any other experiences of currency exchange in China feel free to leave a comment below.

Comments

  1. Kevin says:

    The trickiest part is converting money to a foreign currency, especially if you didn’t know about the receipt requirements beforehand and don’t have any on hand. But it’s worth mentioning that these requirements don’t apply to Chinese citizens, so if you have a Chinese person you trust you can probably get them to help you. Put the money in their account (withdraw+deposit is faster and more convenient than transfering it), let them convert it, and then put the EUR/USD/GBP/whatever back in your own account for the relatively simple task of wiring it abroad.

    • David says:

      Thanks for the tip Kevin. That sounds like a good way to get around the tax limits. When your Chinese person has converted the RMB into a foreign currency is it easy to transfer it back to your account? I would imagine the bank might be a bit suspicious about that!

  2. jay says:

    Awaful for a country wanting to be a world leader. China needs to make this transparent and easy just as the other emerging great leader India has for a few years now

  3. Joe says:

    Hello,

    I have just had to deal with these banking problems in China.

    I am almost 100% positive 1.0%. NOT 0.1 % ! I wish it were the other way around.

    Also HSBC is the worst bank in China if anyone is wondering. (maybe not the worst, one of them)

    • David says:

      Hi Joe – thanks for the info about HSBC – sounds like they charge a higher rate than the Chinese banks. It’s a pity the process is still so hard and expensive!

    • David says:

      Thanks for the link Smith – that’s another useful resource. Agreed this method is complicated and a waste of time but in the end you don’t have much choice.

  4. feelie says:

    the link seems useful, thanks Smith, it is very hard to send some money from pingdu-shandong province, china-to Indonesia. ugh, the tellers in pingdu couldn’t speak english, they don’t have the western union service, though their banks’ names are on western union list. huff! dead end.. (0.o)

  5. Ines Waiz says:

    Is it possible to send small amounts of money (200 USD) from China abroad by Western Union or Money Gram? Can these companies operate properly? Thanks and regards, IW

  6. Jacob says:

    Cheers guys,

    Thanks for the advice, I live in Shanghai and need to send some money back home, so appreciate the advice and the comment. Luckily there are like-minded people in the land of confusion.

    Have a nice day.

  7. smiyh says:

    plz can you help me out eiyh the site of which i can use in transfering money to bank of china from cc to bank account?
    you prompt reply will be duely and highly appreciated.
    Best Regards
    Smith

  8. Olivia says:

    I found this post extremely useful and you were right about needing to have the patience of a saint. I just completed the process successfully for the first time by myself today and I wanted to cry. I used the China Construction Bank, which charged me 120 RMB fee for transferring out the money, which does not include the fee that your western bank may charge. Apparently, the 100 RMB is a flat fee and there was a 20 RMB service charge. Ouch.

    I was intending to do a monthly transfer but now I might as well just wait it out and transfer a lump sum. Sigh.

    China.

    • David says:

      Glad it helped a bit Olivia – I also ended up doing quarterly transfers because of the fees. After a while the bank got used to seeing me so it became a bit smoother but still enough to tear your hair out sometimes!

  9. Vinh says:

    Thanks this has been really helpful!

    Does anyone know if it is possible to use a Chinese bank card to withdraw money from an ATM outside of China?

    • David says:

      Hi Vinh – presumably your Chinese bank card uses the “Union pay” system? If so it’ll work in many countries around Asia but unlikely anywhere else. Also check with your bank how much they charge for foreign withdrawals or you might get a nasty surprise!

      • Steve says:

        Hi,

        I’ve used my Bank of China Unionpay card at Travelex machines in London before. NatWest (another UK bank) cash machines seem to work as well. In Russia I find I can use Bank of Moscow and TransKreditBank. Not sure if you’re from either of these places, but it does show that these Unionpay things can be useful outside Asia.

        I remember there being a charge, but it wasn’t too much (Sorry, don’t know the exact figure).

        • Ketan says:

          Do you atleast remember vaguely/approx how much is the fee to transfer from one of these banks Bank of Moscow or transkredit bank in Moscow?Thanks!

  10. ushisama says:

    Thanks David for useful information.
    I need to transfer money 30K USD to Japan and UK. Is there any restriction
    depending on tax paid?

    ————————–
    Tax receipts for each month of your employment (depending on how much you want to transfer)

  11. Harsh says:

    This is a very useful string. Can someone help me understand the following:

    What is the process of transferring RMB from a Chinese bank account to a bank account in Hong Kong? Is the process very complicated?

    thanks much!

  12. Xiaohua says:

    And what about making a transfer money if I am student in China?? I have no employment contract, so how could I make a transfer?

  13. chris says:

    Great article, I will be trying this soon so fingers crossed.
    Just a few things I have found out:
    1. With western union you cannot transfer money to yourself because you need to be at the other end to collect it.
    2. HSBC operate in so many different countries so I thought this would make things easier. It doesn;t unless you have one of their special accounts (need high deposit to open or monthly fees entail) however I was lead to believe that if you were doing it often (like a business wit international transactions) then it would be a good idea. What they basically do is open up accounts for you in all the countries you operate, there are still charges and waits – and no ‘single account’ but the actual process of doing it supposedly easier.
    3. Money that has been converted (other than rmb) may not show up on your printed bank book. I had money arrive and had no idea it was there for a long time.

  14. Danny says:

    Currently (Oct 2011) foreigners can transfer only US$500(approx 300GBP/3000RMB) in one transaction. I have used a few, CCB charge 100 while SPD charge 80. Problem is the limit makes it expensive (around 3%), in addition overseas banks will charge to receive the money (about GBP7 in the UK), turning your 3000 yuan limit into 2800 per time.

    I’ve done it a few ways (that’s what she said ;). The easiest is to get a Chinese person to take their ID card and do it in their name. This removes the $500 restriction as each Chinese can transfer US$50000 a year overseas – enough for most of us!

    For those in Guangdong (and with a multi-entry visa) or who go to Hong Kong every so often, opening an HSBC account in Hong Kong is a good alternative, they will convert your RMB to your home currency (for the major currencies)and you just go online when you want to send it back (your bank at home needn’t be HSBC). To open the account you need your passport and proof of residency on the mainland. The other benefit is that the money usually in your account at home in a day or two, whereas using the cashier at a Chinese bank can mean your cash doesn’t get home for over a week. HSBC charge HK$110 for this, but be aware that your home bank may charge more for using HSBC’s express service, also some HSBC accounts have a below balance fee so you may need to keep a minimum amount in there to avoid this.

    • Clive says:

      My understanding (and experience) is that foreigners can transfer out any amount as long at they have tax certificates to prove they paid tax on that amount. As others have said, it can be very hard to find a bank which is approved to do overseas transfers – then you have to find the specific person who is trained and authorised to go through the process, which is quite complex. Allow 2 hours the first time – and be prepared to come back the next day to complete the process with the document you forgot the first time! Some staff will try to dissuade you from doing it because it causes them a lot of work – I recently had a manager tell me that foreigners are subject to the USD50k per year limit which applies to Chinese citizens.

  15. Busra says:

    Hello!

    So how much FX a foreigner is allowed to transfer out of China, maximum?
    $500 per day or per month? A friend told me $500 in a year!!! It can not be true right?
    And is this amount limitation all same for Western Union, MoneyGram, bank accounts?

  16. peiman says:

    Thanks for this post, it was helpful. In my case I just transferred 240 USD out of china using the communication bank. The total charge was 184 RMB. They told me that if I come here with a Chinese friend to the transfer the fund in their name the charge would be lower but they did not know by how much. They also said that it may take at least one week to process.

  17. bzh says:

    Very interesting post, thanks to all participating members to share experience
    . 2 more question though :
    - if you succed to exchange your RMB to foreign currency in China, there is no limit to transfer out this foreign amount?-
    - Danny mention about HSBC HK, but means you need to carry cash in HK and exchange there right? or you can have a RMB account in HK?

    Thanks!

  18. chris says:

    I tried this yesterday and was indeed told that I needed the documentation you listed. It also seems that a lot of branches are incapable of, or too lazy, to help so it’s worth finding the branch HQ.
    I wasn’t told about any limits, somebody mentioned 3000, and I want to transfer 6000.
    Nightmare! There wasn’t any problem receiving the £16,000 that i have transferred into China n the last 3 years, but now I want to send £600 back and it’s like this! Family might not be getting Xmas prezzies this year =(

  19. Biji says:

    Hi,

    My husband has recently moved to China. Is Western Union Money Transfer good, (meaning cheap and hassle free)?

    Need your expert advise please. Also, he will be needing to transfer the amount on a monthly basis.

  20. Mike says:

    Hello!

    A Chinese person who lives in Hong Kong is moving to the UK and is buying my house.

    You literally couldn’t write the script so far, but the saga finally seems to be drawing to a close!

    I received word that the buyer transferred the money from an account in Hong Kong last Thursday (UK Thursday – not sure about time differences!).

    Does anyone have any idea how long this transfer process can take?

    Thanks for any opinions,

    Mike

  21. marjorie says:

    Just a query..my bf is in the process of moving out from China and retiring here in the Philippines. He said his lawyer transferred all his funds in a bank here in the Philippines and been waiting for a confirmation. My question is how long does it take for him to get a confirmation both from the bank here and his bank in China?
    And is it true that he will not be able to withdraw money from his bank account in China while it’s still in the process of transferring all his funds? He cancelled his work and residence permit already…that is what he told me.

    Some opinions will be very much appreciated

  22. Simon says:

    Thanks for the tips.
    Here in Thailand, I just took an extra ATM card, sent it home, and a relative can withdraw money with very little cost from Canada.

    Is it possible to do the same with a Chinese ATM?

  23. Anna says:

    And is there any way to transfer money online from China? Wouldn’t it be easier?

  24. Charlotte says:

    I appreciate this page as I am faced with the task of sending money overseas to the UK. I went to try and do this but found I didn’t have all the documents so I have to go back again.

    Something I’m confused about is what they mean by the ‘account number’ for the receiving account in the UK. Do they actually mean the 8 digit UK bank account number (surely this won’t work without a sort code?!) or the 16 digit card number or the IBAN number? Perhaps anyone who has successfully transferred to the UK could help me??!!

    Thanks in advance!

    • David says:

      Hi Charlotte – when you write down the ‘account number’ be sure to include both the 8 digit UK bank account no. and your sort code. I’m pretty sure there is a separate field where you can enter the international code for your UK bank.

  25. Sheila says:

    I have a clarification on “The Process #2″, does this mean that I also need to have a USD account, aside from the regular RMB account? Thanks.

    • David says:

      Hi Sheila – no, you don’t need a USD or other foreign currency account. The converted amount is somehow stored in your existing RMB account till you transfer it.

  26. Silverado says:

    Transferred money yesterday morning from Shanghai to accounts in US and Japan.Took a bag of cash; about 60,000 RMB. Got my Chinese friend to fill in the forms, change the money to Dollar and Yen then Wired it. Hit both accounts on the same day.

    About 350 RMB in fees and $25 on the other side taken from account.

    Bit of filling in the forms, probably a good idea getting these in advance, to have them ready for the transfer. All relatively painless (in China terms) and hassle free.

  27. Bob says:

    Hi guys,

    My wife and I are looking to buy a house in Ireland and we want to transfer some funds from China. Is it totally impossible to transfer €100,000 out of China? I’m becoming more and more disillusioned with the forums I read on line.
    please help!

    Bobby

  28. Silverstar says:

    Hi Bob,

    My wife and me are in the same situation. We want to transfer 500,000€ out of China. So far, we haven’t find a solution. Let’s keep each other updated.

  29. AllanF says:

    Bob/Silverstar,

    I am in a similar situation my wife and i wish to transfer 110,000GBP from the sale of our flat in China back to the UK.

    We were told today that we could only transfer $10,000 a year!

    Is there anyway to do it in one lump sum?

    Allan

    • Joseph Lemien says:

      Yes, actually, there is. Chinese nationals are not limited by the same rules as foreigners. You need a trustworthy Chinese friend to transfer the money for you.

      I’ve also made extensive use of Western Union while I was earning RMB in China, changing it into USD and sending it to the United States. When I had larger amounts of money I would simply abide by the daily limits and visit the bank several times a week during my lunch break for this errand.

      One final way that I am aware of is to have an account with both Bank of America and China Construction Bank. I believe that then you are able to freely convert and withdraw from either end. You would do well to go to one of the banks in person and ask about it first, though, to be sure.
      More info here: http://transpacifica.net/2008/05/28/bank-of-america-and-china-construction-bank-or-no-fee-usd-withdrawls-in-china/

  30. Wendy says:

    I am selling my house to a cash buyer that lives in China. Normal escrow is 30 days. The folks in China asked for a 2 week extension because they were having issues getting their $875,000 wired to my U.S. Bank to complete the purchase. Do you think that it can possibly take a total of 45 days for them to complete a wire transfer out of China? How many days should this take? Thanks!

    • Peter says:

      It can take 4 to 6 weeks, because they probably have to go through SAFE for such a large sum. I’d just sit tight if I were you, everything should be okay.

  31. Davie Jones says:

    Hey guys,

    Has anyone ever heard that a Chinese national cannot wire transfer money from their personal account to a foreign business account? Does it have to be from a personal acc to a personal acc?

    Thanks

    • Jana Brankova says:

      Yes, for example ICBC has it written on their website, the type of the account on both sites has to be the same.

      • Jana Brankova says:

        Actually it doesn’t apply to Chinese national, but to everybody. At least in this bank.

  32. Annemarie says:

    Please help, a company in China owes us money as an order we placed was short. They acknowledge they owe us money but say they can not give it to us as it is not possible to put it into an account. Any ideas how we can get our money ???

    • shane says:

      annemarie, what is your email address? let me see if i can find a solution to your problem

  33. Jana Brankova says:

    I went with Chinese friend to the bank and did the transfer with her. Let”s see what happens. They did the transfer from mine to hers and from hers to my home country at one time. ICBC, flat charge was 150 RMB + 1% of the total amount. It took like 30 minutes (not including waiting), but with native speaker it wasn’t so painfull. I needed only my bank card, my friend’s ID and bank card.

  34. RL TEGART says:

    Planning family visit to China to visit son who teaches ESL there. Want to send money to his account Bank of China to cover our costs while touring with him. Our Canadian bank says impossible to wire money in Chinese currencyso we have to send in Canadian dollars and convert there. Does this sound right? We would rather do the conversion here so we know the correct amounts will be available.

  35. a says:

    There is an easier way: Go to the official, mint appointed Gold dealer “China Gold Coin” . There are shops in Shanghai and Beijing.
    Buy 1 ounce Gold Pandas for approx USD 1800 a piece (don’t go for commerorative coins, but bullion only). Make sure you keep the receipts, so that you can demonstrate the legitimate origin of the coins.
    Take the gold coins into your wallet and fly out to destinations such as Hong Kong or Singapore, where there is no import duty on gold. Sell them at Hang Seng Bank in Hong Kong or at one of the dealers at Lucky Plaza in Singapore.
    Or even better: Given the current economic situation, simply hold on to your gold (check the regulations in your destination country). It will be the best preservation of wealth given the relentless money printing that is going on in all major currencies.

  36. Jonathan says:

    Time consuming, but cheap!

    I use my bank of Communications and it is definitely around the 0.1% mark, as it costs almost nothing. I actuallybefore used a money changer in China – who charged 1% – and carried USD cash back to england only to face being COMPETELY screwed by my HSBC bank on exchange rate to GBP. They wanted over 10% commission in fixed exchange rates!!! I carried the cash back to China and did it the official way, which is time consuming but cheap. compared to HSBC rate I could have bought a free flight to London.

    If you earned it in China and paid tax on it, then you can send it home. Sounds very fair!

  37. Roy says:

    Just a heads up, for those of you in the city of Zhuhai, not one single bank will allow you to transfer funds out of China if you’re a foreigner. Trust me, they won’t flex on this one inch! I had to cross the border to Macau, open a bank account which originally the bank didn’t want to do since I don’t work in Macau so I don’t have a “blue card”, and then deposit RMB which is then turned into HKD and then MOP and then USD to transfer to the UK.

  38. Rod says:

    Western Union only accepts US $ in China. I tried this morning to send some cash to UK but I am forced to change to Dollar (losing money in the conversion) then change to pounds again.

  39. Arn says:

    i use to transfer to philippines when encounter large amount, because its so hassle to transfer in small amount and have to do many times also they have limit in china. and i always have someone to arrange for me when large amount. and only have to paid small fee. but atleast safe.

  40. Mags says:

    Hello
    Do You know what amount of money can I legally take with me when I go back Home (EU)?

  41. Andy says:

    Hello, Recently i went to Suzhou for an interview and i have to buy my airticket and get the prospective employer to reimbursement me for the amount. However, after i went back to singapore, they said it is troublesome for them to wire money out of china to a personal account in singapore. How true can this be?

  42. NoMa says:

    Hi,
    Very useful article!
    I would like to know where do you get these rules from? And where can you find the SAFE rules? I couldn’t find it on their website…
    I think it woud be very convenient for everyone if they could actually check the regulations and requirement by themselves, in order to find an answer to their questions.

    • David says:

      That’s the problem – you wont find the rules written down anywhere and even if you did they would be slightly different from region to region and bank to bank.

  43. michael says:

    I have sold my house in Shanghai and try to wire transfer the lump sun of RMB 3 million back home to Australia, but I’ve been told that there was no way I could do that through a legal way in China, it is really pain in the ass!!! need your help, fellows !! thanks a lot!!!

  44. Lawrence says:

    Hi guys,

    Any latest news on this topic of transfering money out from China? Buying Bullion gold is a good idea for people having big sum of money to transfer. Does DBS bank in China helps?

    Cheers

  45. Kathi says:

    My son recently died and had an account with the Bank of China that I need to access. I do have his bank account number but nothing else. Any suggestions?

    Thanks.l

  46. Marc says:

    You can transfer small amounts of money through PayPal. Info can be found on this forum: http://www.gochengdoo.com/en/forums/thread/1846/how_to_transfer_money_to_bank_accounts_outside_of_china

    One person has posted the following info on that forum:

    I sent money home today and I didn’t even leave my apartment.
    You need a chinese bank account that can do online transactions.
    A chinese paypal account and a UK/US paypal account.
    First connect your bank account (I used ICBC) to your chinese paypal account.
    Then send money to your UK/US bank account.
    Login to your UK/US paypal and select ‘withdraw’ (which is free of charge.)
    My money was in my Lloyds TSB 5 minutes later and ready to spend.
    Transfers are 3%.
    Easy!

  47. Daisy says:

    Urgh…so bad you go china to earn money for family but in the end headache for transferring money.me no more food to put on my plate because of waiting of this transfering drama.maybe i should take a ticket to go there and pick up cash personaly :(

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