How can I send money to China? This is a question that comes up frequently for travelers, business people and expats who deal with China and it’s not always an easy answer. In this guide, I’d like to walk you through what you need to know and how you can move money into and out of China.
When it comes to getting money into China, especially as an expat, I’ve found that Wise (formerly Transferwise) is the best cheap and convenient option.
You can create a free account easily, send money to your China bank or just hold one of 50+ currencies in your free Wise account.
Perhaps you need to pay your China tuition fees or you need to pay a business partner in China. Maybe you need to send money to a loved one or in some cases even get money out of China.
Whatever the case, you’re looking for the best way to send money to China without paying too much in fees.
Many of us are simply uncomfortable strapping thousands of dollars to our bodies to walk across the border (which is one way to do it). Every country limits how much you can carry and China’s regulations limit you to 10,000 RMB or the equivalent of US$5,000).
Luckily there are alternative ways for sending money overseas and this guide introduces you to a number options to send money to China or even out of the country.
**The following is a guide that is meant teach you how to send money to China, or anywhere in the world for that matter. Although I have done my best to provide the most accurate information possible, I recommend that you read the fine print first before using any option.**
STOP! Read This First: Chinese Regulations
Before I share options for transferring money to China or getting it out, it’s important to first understand the regulations that China has on the movement of its Chinese currency known as renminbi.
China, like every country around the world, has measures to curb money laundering and tax evasion.
If you’re sending money to China, the government doesn’t care how much or where it came from. However, they will require that this money be tied to your identification.
In other words, in order to bring this money into China, whether wired, transferred or in cash…
…anything over 10,000 RMB will be monitored.
I always have to show up in person at the Chinese bank with my passport in order to get access to large sums of money that has been transferred into China.
For those who want to transfer money out of China, there are quite a few more regulatory hoops you’ll need to jump through. While there is technically no limit, you will have to prove to China that you’ve paid all applicable taxes before the money can be transferred.
Even if you’ve paid all the necessary taxes, it’s common for people to run into roadblocks at the bank.
These strict Chinese regulations are the #1 reason why you’ll find most exchange platforms don’t transfer Chinese yuan to foreign currency.
Keep this in mind as you do your research.
How to Send Money to China Online
If you want to send money to China fast without leaving the comfort of your home or office, you can easily send money using your laptop computer or mobile phone.
Important to Know
Let’s start with my recommended service, Wise.
1: Send Money to China via Wise (Recommended)
Although I’m providing a lot of different options here, I’d like to start with one that is highly recommended if you want to transfer funds online without paying exorbitant fees – Wise.com (formerly known as Transferwise).
In most cases, particularly when you’re dealing with a bank wire transfer, you’re going to get hit with wire fees, intermediary bank fees and even poor exchange rates.
Over the past year I’ve used Wise multiple times and as always, it’s been amazingly simple.
In less than 10 minutes I setup the transfer from USD to CNY, input the recipient’s bank info and then fund the transfer directly from my US bank account.
It’s not just for US banks, either…it works for a whole host of countries around the world.
The thing I love about using a service like Wise is the transparency. The one aspect of bank wires I hate most is that there’s no way to track my money, so I always feel like my money has disappeared into thin air.
With Wise, I can see exactly what’s going on with my money as well as a projected date of receipt. The exchange rate is the going rate (unlike other options such as Paypal) and the fees, such as what you can see below for my US$200 transfer, were laid out plainly.
Wise guarantees your exchange rate for 24 hours and they allow you to send money via bank debit (ACH), debit card, credit card and wire transfer (although each option comes with varying fees and time).
- Wise Fees: Wise makes a small fee on the transaction, but as you can see in the screenshot above, they are very up-front about those fees. I was able to dictate exactly how much the recipient would receive while monitoring my fees.
- Time: Transfer takes 3-5 business days, depending on how long it takes to exchange the currency as well as the banks involved. Every time I send money to China, the money arrives within 2 business days, so I’ve been very happy.
- Extras: One thing Wise has going for it is their easy-to-use mobile apps. These make it easy to initiate currency transfers or check on pending transfers while on the go without having to open up your computer.
- Bottom Line: This is an excellent option for moving most major currencies and is a very transparent process (as opposed to other options below where fee structures are quite complicated).
2. Move Money to China with ECARD (US Residents Only)
Update 2021: eCard has stopped accepting new applications during the global pandemic, so this is no longer a viable option.
If you’re in China and you want to have money available to you either to pull out as cash (and then deposit into an account) or to pay for things, the ECARD is worth looking into (U.S. residents only).
I’ve already written up a closer look at how ECARD works, but what you need to know is this: having a UnionPay card allows you to pull money from any ATM in China (and throughout Asia) and gives you a better exchange rate than Visa/MasterCard.
Personally, I’ve saved hundreds of dollars in wire fees and ATM fees by loading this pre-paid ECARD from my U.S. bank account and then pulling the cash out of a Chinese ATM. I use that cash to deposit into my Chinese bank account.
It’s free to apply for the ECARD and is especially useful to those who are expats in China or perhaps you have family in China who they want to send money to regularly.
- ECARD Fees: There are no initial fees to set up the card. There is an inactivity fee ($4.99 if the card isn’t used for 180 days) and a foreign transaction fee of 1.49%. This is lower than most Visa/MC cards who charge up to 3% (1% for Visa/MC and up to 2% for the card issuer).
- Time: It usually takes 2-3 business days for a bank transfer to load onto the card. Immediate loading can be done through Greendot.
- Bottom Line: This isn’t a solution for everybody, but if you want the comfort of having a UnionPay card that is accepted everywhere in China, if you live in China or if you have a loved one in China, this is a great way to transfer money easily and cheaply.
3: Transfer Funds via Bitcoin (not recommended)
As recently as a couple years ago, China accounted for the most Bitcoin trades worldwide.
Unfortunately, in January of 2017 China banned virtual currency exchanges, which now makes it very difficult to buy and sell Bitcoin using Chinese yuan.
If you’re not aware, Bitcoin is a digital currency that can usually be purchased on online exchanges. These online exchanges act like any normal foreign currency exchange where you pay for bitcoin with government issued currency at a fluctuating market rate.
Since these exchanges are banned in China, enterprising individuals have developed a number of workarounds, including a peer-to-peer exchange (usually over a platform like WeChat).
These are risky for Chinese investors and even more so for foreigners, so I wouldn’t recommend you use this method.
Until China finds a way to regulate the sale of digital currencies, this is no longer a simple and easy way to transfer money to China or try to get it out.
- Fees: No service fees, but since the exchange rate is consistently fluctuating, in some cases you can either benefit from the rate or lose a little bit of money from it.
- Time: Once you’ve signed up for all accounts and bought the BitCoin, transfer to/from specific currencies takes 2-5 business days.
- Bottom Line: It used to be a good way to move money, but now that China has banned virtual currency exchanges, it’s very difficult to buy/sell Bitcoin in China.
4: Transfer Funds to China via PayPal
The final option for sending money online is through the PayPal service. Although not recommended due to the absurdly high fees, it’s still a viable option.
The best way to do this is if the sender and recipient both have PayPal accounts. If you’re sending to a Chinese bank account, you’ll end up using PayPal’s Xoom service.
Special Note: You will need to set up a separate China PayPal account in order to make this work. It is not possible to open a Chinese yuan currency in your current PayPal account. This will require you to log out of your current account and then visit Paypal.com/cn (scroll to the bottom to change the site language to English). It also requires a Chinese bank account to link to your Chinese Paypal account.
You can add money to your PayPal virtual wallet and then send it to the receiver using his/her email address, or phone number.
The downside here is that very few Chinese individuals and businesses have ever heard of Paypal. Although the transfer is instant, it takes a couple days to withdraw the money from your virtual wallet into your bank account.
Transfers from PayPal directly to a Chinese bank account are done through PayPal-owned Xoom. As with all of PayPal’s fees, it’s not easy to determine exactly how much it will be until you actually go through with the transfer.
- PayPal Fees: PayPal’s fees are confusing. PayPal charges a cross border fee due to extra costs involved in processing multi-currency payments. Cross border fees on international money transfers using a PayPal balance or bank account ranges from 0.5% to 2% of the payment amount. For payments made with a credit or debit card, the fee runs from 2.9% to 7.4% plus an additional fixed fee based on the country of the payment recipient. For more specific numbers you can visit this Paypal page.
- Time: Instant virtual transfer; 3-5 days to withdraw to your bank account.
- Bottom Line: The process can be done from your computer, but the cross border fees can be expensive for sending large amounts.
Note: Before doing any online banking in China, particularly if you’re on a public wifi, we suggest that you consider securing your activities from hackers using one of these VPNs.
How to Send Money to China in Person
Don’t be ashamed if you’re one of those people who prefers to avoid the insecurities of online banking!
Sending money in person can be very easy and in many cases is one of the only ways to transfer money out of China from Chinese yuan into foreign currencies.
1: Wire Money to China from Your Bank
If you are more old fashioned or simply want an opportunity to improve your Chinese, you can of course wire money abroad directly from your bank.
Overall, wiring money from your bank is a pretty straightforward process. But this process does have its downsides.
First, if you’re in China, know that many Chinese bank employees are not entirely familiar with wire transfers process or assisting foreign customers. I recommend visiting your bank’s main branch in town to oversee the wire transfer.
Secondly, to control large capital outflows, foreigners are restricted to only sending a measly 500USD per day without tons of paperwork proving that taxes have been paid on all the money. Chinese nationals can send up to 50,000USD per year.
It works best when you can find a trustworthy Chinese friend to assist you in transferring the amount in his/her own name.
Finally, you must be an account holder with whatever bank you want to facilitate the wire transfer. So if your Chinese friend only has an account with Bank of China, you must do the transfer there.
Wire transfers at banks require the following information: your passport, the receiver’s name, address, and account number, the name and address of the bank along with the bank’s international bank account number (IBAN), and its society for worldwide interbank financial telecommunication (SWIFT) code or bank identifier code (BIC).
I personally recommend Bank of Communications for wire transfers. Total fees for wires amount to no more than 170RMB making it much cheaper than their competitors.
I haven’t been charged any wire fees using BoC.
- Fees: Both the foreign and Chinese bank may charge a wire fee. Check with each bank individually to learn more.
- Time: Once the transaction has been completed, it takes anywhere from one to five days for the money to transfer to the overseas account.
- Bottom Line: This may be your only option to transfer larger amounts of money out of China. The key is to find the right bank and/or the right Chinese friend to help.
2: Sending Money via MoneyGram
MoneyGram is another interesting option in China for sending money overseas. MoneyGram has operations in over 200 countries around the world and here in China, they usually have a representative in almost every Bank of China.
Their large presence speaks convenience and their process for sending money is pretty straightforward.
Unlike other options that take 3 to 5 days to complete the transfer, money sent through MoneyGram (click here for MoneyGram UK) is immediately available, making it a great option if you are in a hurry.
Using MoneyGram is simple:
- Bring the sum of money you want to send in cash to an agent;
- Present your passport
- Complete the money form;
- List whoever will pickup the money in the recipient country.
- The agent then provides you with a tracking number (MTCN), which the designated recipient uses to collect the cash.
While the service is relatively easy, I have had a number of problems with it in the past. One thing to remember is that you must list the recipient’s entire name as listed on their identification card (i.e. their passport or ID card).
I made a mistake once where I left out my sister’s middle name on the money form. Because my sister’s middle name is listed on her driver’s license, the omission of her name from the form compelled the agent to withhold the funds.
So be sure to list all the information of your designee as listed on their identification.
Another problem with MoneyGram is that locations not attached to a bank do not have a lot of cash on hand.
A number of times I have sent amounts of around 5000USD to the United States and my family member had to call many branches before finding an agent with enough cash to complete the service.
If sending amounts over US$500, I recommend having your recipient request money order when making the pickup through MoneyGram. Also, if sending through the UK, you’ll want to check out the MoneyGram UK site.
- Fees: Anywhere between US$15-$40, depending on the amount being sent.
- Time: Immediate
- Bottom Line: If you need to send money overseas and have it available instantly, MoneyGram is the way to go.
Final Thoughts | Sending Money to China
As you can see, there is no “one size fits all” solution to send money to China.
China has gone out of its way to make sure that sending money out of the country is as frustrating as possible. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to give a gift or your transferring money to pay taxes as an expat.
Still, it’s relatively easy to use a service like Wise to move money into China and you can always visit a bank or use Moneygram to move money out of China.
What do you think?
Do you have experience with any of these services you’d like to share? Or perhaps there is a service not listed here that you think deserves a mention? Please leave a comment below!