**The following is a guide that is meant teach you how to send money to and from 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.**
If you are someone like me, your time in China has resulted in the need to move a significant amount of cash, either into or out of the country. Perhaps you’re doing business in the country or maybe you’ve just been saving up your salary.
While many of us are simply uncomfortable strapping thousands of dollars to our bodies to walk across the border, every country limits how much you can carry (Chinese 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 of them to get your money out of China quickly and easily.
Important Note: Chinese Regulations
Before I share options for transferring money into or out of China, it’s important to first understand the regulations that China has on these types of transfers. Every country around the world has measures to curb money laundering and tax evasion.
If you’re sending money into 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 bank with my passport in order to get access to large sums of money I transfer into China.
For those who want to transfer money out of China, there are 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. This proof happens at the bank branch level, so if you’re having trouble you might need to work with a larger branch in the city.
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: many of these options require the recipient to have opened a Chinese bank account. As with any Chinese bank account, be sure they are set up for online banking, which requires a specific setup (it’s not automatic). Otherwise, you will be unable to use these services.
Option 1: Transfer Funds via Transferwise (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 – 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.
In the past two weeks I’ve used Transferwise twice 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 funded 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 Transferwise is the transparency. The one thing I hate most about doing a wire transfer with my bank is that there’s no way to track my money so I always feel like my money has disappeared into thin air.
With Transferwise, 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.
Transferwise 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).
- Fees: Transferwise 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. In my experience, the money arrive within 2 business days, so I was very happy.
- Extras: One thing Transferwise 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).
Option 2: Transfer Funds out of China via Alipay
Alibaba’s Alipay, or “zhi fu bao” in Chinese, a multi-function cellphone app similar to Apple Pay, has changed the way Chinese people pay for items both online or at the store. Thankfully, it has a built-in function for sending money overseas.
Here’s the catch: only Chinese nationals or foreigners with a Chinese green card can send money abroad with the app.
However, you could always take advantage of the loophole of having a Chinese friend send money for you. Considering the time and pain Alipay can save you, this option may be well worth calling your (very trusted) friend for a favor.
The process is similar to wiring money from a bank; only in this case you are the banker. You will need the receiver’s full name as printed on their identification document, the country they are in, their address in that country, the name and address of their bank, and the bank’s SWIFT code. You can reference this handy Alipay visual tutorial that translates the icons into English and lays out the steps to make the transfer.
- Fees: For transfers up to 100,000 RMB, you will be charged anywhere from 70-120RMB. Users transferring amounts over 100,001 RMB can expect fees between 140-260RMB.
- Time: After the transaction goes through, the balance will show up in the overseas account anywhere from 3-5 business days.
- Bottom Line: If you have a trusted Chinese friend who doesn’t mind helping you with the transfer, this is one possible way to transfer money out of China without visiting a bank.
Option 3: Transfer Funds via Bitcoin (not recommended)
As recently as two years ago, the most Bitcoin trades worldwide were in Chinese yuan. 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/from China.
- 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.
Option 4: Transfer Funds 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. To get started, simply create a China account and link your Chinese bankcard to that account.
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.
- 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 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.
Option 1: Wiring Money from the Bank
If you are more old fashioned or simply want an opportunity to improve your Chinese, you can of course wire money abroad through banks in China. Overall, wiring money from your bank account in China is a pretty straightforward process. But this process does have its downsides.
First is that many Chinese bank employees are not entirely familiar with wire transfers process or assisting foreign customers. If you’re in China, 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. Chinese nationals however, can send up to 50,000USD per year.
So like with Alipay (above), 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. Personally, 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.
Option 2: 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: you bring the sum of money you want to send in cash to an agent, present your passport, complete the money form, and 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.
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 500USD, 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.
Conclusion | Sending Money to/from China
As you can see, there is no “one size fits all” solution for sending money to/from China. China has gone out of its way to make sure that sending money out of the country is as frustrating as possible.
Still, it’s relatively easy to use a service like Transferwise 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!