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. Ricky says:

    Hi everyone,
    i’ve been working in Shenzhen for one month,,and
    Tomorrow i want to transfer my money to my parents in indonesia,
    is there any new news about this kind problem??

    please help me

    • Tony Ryan says:

      I’m in Shenzhen too and need to send money to the UK. I might try Western Union first.

  2. Jim says:

    I find that withdrawing funds that I intend to wire and handing them to a trusted Chinese friend works best. They can convert into USD or other currencies and then wire to your final destination. I just ask for the bank receipt to show what the charges and exchange rates were so that I know the final amount sent.

    For the US it is hard since a US citizen can only exchange $300 USD per day. You can spend all month in the bank doing it this way. But a chinese can exchange up to $50,000 or in that range in a year and wire it to your account.

    It is not that I am cheating anyone. I am just paying for school for the kids back home and child support but still, what a pain. I used my personal secretary for this work and the first time I went with her but it got easy enough to just transfer the money and then she can do it electronically from her bank account.

    Another note: if you have a gmail account they will not go through any longer. Get on Gmail with a VPN and then forward your gmail to another e-mail account. Then people will still be able to get you that have your old address and you will get all of your mail.

    Hope this helps.

  3. Debbie says:

    sorry for hijacking the post, but I would really like to find some expats in Shenzhen. for those of you posting in 2014, where do I go to find other expats to share some conversation? thank you

    • Andrew Athias says:

      Hello, I was an American living in Shenzhen for most of 2014. The best place I want to meet other expats was down at Coco Park in Futian. There is a nice bar/night life scene with a bunch of Americans and Europeans. There is also a GREAT restaurant/bar called Frankie’s close to the Futian Checkpoint subway station where I would go to meet other Americans and get some American food.

  4. Rose says:

    I was pay in a check by a large company based in China with he account at ICBC of China. The bank in formed me that the had to open a temporary account on order to transfer the fund by wire. This is 5 mil. It was wired I got confirmation, two days later the bank informed me that the Interpol had put a hold on the wire and stated I needed 4 clearance certificates(UN Anti Drug ,UN Anti Terrorist, IMF Money Laundry and Certificate of Origin). For 64,000.00 an attorney (bank) got them and went to Interpol to demand they lift my funds. They in turn tells
    him he needs to go to Ministry of Finance to have them all approved. When he went there she told him that I need to pay 5% tax on the value of the money which was 224,000.00 then she would lift the wire. This is the worst thing I have ever gone through in my life.

  5. Cheng says:

    Alipay supports wire RMB to overseas directly. It’s backed by some bank.

    However, you may need to use a Chinese ID card for that. I’m not sure.

  6. Hayden says:

    The BEST and most SIMPLE way for ME is:

    1. get a simple Chinese bank card from any bank. It just needs to be union pay. (pretty sure they ALL are nowadays)
    2. Write down the number on the front so you can deposit money into it.
    3. (the hardest step) Give the card to someone who you can trust that lives in the country you want to transfer money to. (friend/family)
    4. Deposit money (RMB) into your bank card (no fee, no limit)
    5. The person uses your card at an ATM to widthdraw money in your home currency (Just need to find a union pay ATM, which are worldwide now, I didnt know that at first! so many banks accept union pay)
    6. They can deposit money into your home bank etc etc.

    Risks: if someone steals your card, or the person is no longer trustworthy, just dont deposit any more money into that bank card.
    Fees: When they widthdraw money at your home ATM, the exchange rate is very very close to the actual rate and the fees are about 2% which i think is better than most of the methods above, unless you are really transferring a lot.

    I have been doing this regularly now. My home country is NZ. I setup internet banking before I gave my card so I can still check the balances etc. Its a little hassle for my family member who has to go to the ATM once a month but I think it is still the most simple way for me. Just deposit and message them.

    • Donn says:

      Hi, I am from NZ and I think this sounds the easiest way to go for me. Whats the name of the union ATM in NZ, I will need to check if there is one in my home town before I can go ahead with this good idea. Thanks.

      • Donna says:

        I just googled it and Union pay cards are accepted at my bank :) BNZ so perfect. thanks heaps for the heaps up.

  7. Paula says:

    I understand there is some Capital One banking feature that is easy to transfer money to America from China. Anyone have info on this? Right now, I travel twice a year to/from USA, get RMB changed into USD and carry $9,900. with me as I can clear customs legally with under $10,000 USD. The excess…help?
    I like the idea of giving a trusted friend the CHINESE bank card, though I’m in a small countryside area outside of Chengdu. Perhaps whilst in America I will withdraw $$$ and report back to this posting? Yes.

  8. jon says:

    Hi,

    I did this today with ICBC. I needed all the documents specified above. But fortunately the charge was only 150RMB + 0.1% of the total, compared to what is stated above. Pleasant surprise.
    I didn’t realise you have to have an account with these banks in order to make an international transfer, certainly I went to BOC as I thought it was cheaper than ICBC, but I couldn’t do it unless I opened an account.

    • Dalila says:

      Jon, I’m moving to China next month and am overwhelmed by all these possible options (easiest and cheapest) of sending money from China to the USA. Can you please review what you did? Thx

  9. clive smith says:

    My wife is Chinese, lives in UK – she has 2 properties in China she wants to sell and transfer the proceeds to the UK, What is the best/cheapest way to effect the transfer ( £350,000 approx) and what will she need to do. She has a Chinese bank account.

    • Edward West says:

      Dear Clive,

      I work for a foreign exchange broker based in London. We help clients in China to withdraw amounts greater than the set amount (50,000 USD) through the use of a peer to peer transfer.

      In effect we would find an overseas buyer/seller that wanted to take the opposite side of the trade to your wife (buying Chinese Yuan CNY) and selling GBP. We would then match off the amounts locally transferring the CNY funds from your wife to the other party, and then transferring the GBP funds from the seller to your wife outside the country.

      This is a relatively simple transaction for us- I’m not sure what the rules are on here for me to provide contact details but perhaps you could look me up on linkedin if you have further questions.

      Good luck

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