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.


  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.

Leave a Reply

Basic HTML is allowed.