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 get even more tricky if you get paid in Renminbi (RMB) and want to transfer some of your earnings back home. In general, China is averse 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 do so.
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):
- Take all you documents to your bank who will take photocopies (and probably be less than cooperative)
- 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
- 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
- Submit the form and wait a day for the transfer to complete (praying optional!)
- 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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
I just googled it and Union pay cards are accepted at my bank 🙂 BNZ so perfect. thanks heaps for the heaps up.
Great information. Thanks for sharing.
This is the method i used all last year, but please note there is a maximum (50,000USD)
This is not done on a tax year or a calendar year rather a rolling year ie when you originally transferred the money.
just thought i should add that in – now i have the displeasure of going to the bank as the OP mentioned with paperwork shakespeare would be proud of and waiting on average 4 hours for getting it sorted…..
This is now difficult as there is a 10,000 usd yearly limit for overseas withdrawals.
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.
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.
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
Did you change the currency beforehand or could they do it all at the same time? and how much did you lose on the conversion rate? I want to send money fro my Bank of Communications account to my UK account and am trying to find the best way to do this.
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.
Please help me. I need to know is it possible for Japanese citizenship holder (originally Chinese) living in China to send 110000 USD overseas at once from his bank of china account. Is there any daily limit?
When you send money from China to overseas through bank of China, after completing remittance do you receive any receipt from the bank which shows the remittance was successful beside of application for funds transfers (overseas)?
Someone all of suddenly says he sent to my private bank account 110000 USD for company use 2 years ago through bank of china. I didn’t receive any money of course, and didn’t know about this. He gave me copy of application for funds transfers (overseas) without any bank sign, any signature of sender, has only name of sender, any address, any phone number. He wants me now to explain how I used these money. I gave him copy of my bank account which shows I didn’t receive a single penny from him, but people don’t believe me. How I can prove that I didn’t receive any money from him? Please Help!
[…] appears like the foreign exchange firms are happy to “stay out”. Chinese banks are reportedly quite cheap on international transfers, and many of the businesses and expatriates are using HK bank accounts […]
What about doing it through WeChat, on both ends. Or PayPal?
Any experience transferring CNY to Canada?
Other question : Can I extract from CNY Union Pay card in an Union Pay ATM in local currency ( for example if the money on the card is all RMB , can I extract Euro at ATM in a European country (if I am not from that country ? ) ) ? I am from a country where there is not Union Pay. So, the soulution for me it will be to make a trip to other European Country and extract money there. But how can I know what limit is per day to ATM ? How can I know SURE 100% if RMB can be extracted in Eruo ???
Or I need exchange the RMB I have in China Union Pay card into Euro ? My China Union Card accept foreigner currency as deposit also, Euro and USD, but I only used it for RMB, I never exchanged RMB into Euro or USD to deposit in this account.
Hope someone give me this answer and be accurate. Thank you !
For those who has any question with Union Pay card, just call 95516 customer service in China, english service . They will answer to all your questions without ask personal info or why you need know this and in a polite way .
For those who has no access in their countries to Union Pay ATM, best solution is find a country near your country ( the most nearest possible ) , a country which use Union Pay ATM, and you can extract there without any troubles. There will be a fee , but you can extract the RMB directly in local currency , the limit for normal debit card Union Pay is 10,000 RMB a day . This means around 900 Euro to say ( you can convert in your country currency to know how much is in yours ) and then you can send it from Western Union to your country from there . The most difficult is if you need extract a big amount, you will need to stay few days in a country like this, and use the same option to trasfer in your country from there or bring the allowed limit of money directly into your country. Best choice is cross border every 2-3 months ( depend of he amount you can enter with it in your country without needs to declare it and all this stuffs) in the nearest country . Extract-send or extract and carry it in your country , but do not exceed the limit they admit to carry cash !
Lucky you all who have an Union Pay ATM in your country ! ! ! ! ! Set up account in China, use it there , very easy . No questions, no documents to proof or rasism in China …
I just completed this process successfully over the last couple months. May it be helpful to you:
1. Guide on how to transfer money from China to Germany and Canada with ICBC in Dongguan
It is possible to transfer CNY from China to another country. Here is a guide on how it was done from ICBC to the Deutsche Kredit Bank in Germany and the Royal Bank of Canada in Canada. Once all the documents were available, the process worked well for both Germany and Canada, so one can assume that it works with other banks and countries similarly well.
The only thing you will need is time. The first time I spent 2 hours at the ICBC branch to check documents and find out what is still missing. The second time I also spent 2 hours and a transaction to Germany was done. The third time took still 1 ½ hours for a transfer to Canada. Subsequent transfers took also between 1 ½ and 2 hours. It is only possible on Mon-Fri 9:00-18:00 at ICBC.
1.2 Up to the equivalent of 50’000 USD
Bank Card of account with the money to be exchanged and transferred (and of course the Pin for the card)
Valid Residence Permit / Visa inside the passport
Original employment contract signed and with company chop
Copy of employment contract with original company chop on front, back and over the side of all pages
Pay slip(s) issued by the Company with the company chop covering the amount to be exchanged
Tax receipt(s) issued by Tax Bureau covering the amount to be exchanged
Those documents are needed for every exchange every time. So for example, you need to bring a new copy of the employment contract with original company chops every time.
1.3 Above the equivalent of 50’000 USD
All of above
Certification letter from the local tax bureau
After unsuccessfully trying to obtain this certificate, I went back to ICBC to check how much I could still transfer and was allowed to transfer more than the annual limit. Naturally, I did not question this. Therefore I was able to transfer with the same documents as mentioned above, each time up to the equivalent of 50’000 USD.
Recommendation: Since this is a grey area, I suggest transferring money regularly out of China, not only at the end of your stay.
1.4 Process Description
Below I will summarize how the process went for me at ICBC in Dongguan. The staff at the Currency Exchange counter spoke English, so I could do it by myself.
The process is actually two processes. One is the exchange from CNY to a foreign currency. The second is the transfer.
Every time you want to exchange CNY to a foreign currency, an audit record need to be created at the bank, which requires all the documents listed. This is also why all the documents are needed again each time.
However, once you have converted the currency, the transfer itself is quite simple. So if you plan to make several transfers over time, it could be useful to convert a large sum first and later transfer the amount bit by bit.
1.4.1 Exchange CNY to foreign currency
1. Bring all the documents as mentioned above
2. Now you have time while the staff will look at all the documents and make copies and scans, recalculate all the figures, etc.
3. Confirm the amount you would like to transfer from CNY to another currency
4. Enter your pin for the account
5. Sign for the exchange
6. The bank staff will make the exchange and you now have foreign currency in your account
1.4.2 Transfer foreign currency from your Chinese bank account to bank account in Germany or Canada
As I always transferred all the money immediately, I am not sure if it can be done with the bank card only, or if you also need to bring a passport.
1. Provide the receiver bank information
a. German bank
• Name of receiver
• Address of receiver
• Name of bank
• Address of bank
• Account number
b. Canadian bank
• Name of receiver
• Address of receiver
• Name of bank
• Address of bank
• Account number
• Sort code of bank
150 RMB + 0.1% transaction fee of exchange amount in RMB
Receiving bank in Germany (DKB): 20 EUR flat
Receiving bank in Canada (RBC): 10 CAD flat
i went to the ICBC bank with all the documents and tax information required and they said i could still only transfer 500 U.S. dollars per day to my Canadian account. So what’s up with that?
They lied. They try this with me almost every time. Another ploy is to say “It’s too expensive.” or “Use Western Union.”
If you do not have the documents for salary and tax you can exchange up to $500 per day but you can do it every day up to 70% of your salary per month. Just leave it in your account. Yearly limit is $50,000.
As long as you send dollars you can send up to $50,000 at a time. The problem is exchanging it. When wiring large amounts they may require proof of salary and tax paid and some other documents. If you have a teacher’s expert certificate or some other types of working permit you may exchange more than $500 per day. The no limit except the 70% rule.
Is it possible to send directly Renminbi (CNY) to Europe through correspondent account between Chinese and European bank? That means no euro/dollar are leaving China, just renminbi?
I recently moved to China and have to send money to the UK too!
Soon I will be going to Vietnam for holiday and was wondering,
could I not withdraw money in Vietnam using my Chinese Bank
card and send to the UK by western union for example?
Hello.I have a bank account with BOC, how much do you think this will cost? is it easier transferring money via western Union? where is the western union in Weihai, Shandong?