**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 we have done our best to provide the most accurate information possible, we recommend that you read the fine print first before using any option.**
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 5,000USD). 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.
How to Send Money Abroad Online
If you want to send money abroad fast without going out your door, you can easily send money using your laptop computer or mobile phone. Important: many of these options require you to have opened a Chinese bank account. If you already have one, be sure to request from your bank in China to enable online money transfers; otherwise you will be unable to use these services.
Option 1: Transfer Funds via HiFX (Recommended)
- Although we’re 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 – HiFX (for readers in the UK, visit the HiFX U.K. site). 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.
Unlike banks, transfers via HiFX can be tracked online 24 hours a day. This is the one thing I hate most about doing a wire transfer with my bank – there’s no way to track my money so I always feel like my money has disappeared into thin air.
HiFX acts more like a currency broker between parties than any type of financial institution. Their rates are transparent and they even allow you to “order” an exchange rate, meaning you tell them the rate you want and once the exchange rate hits that mark they will make the trade for you.
- Fees: HiFX makes its money through the exchange rate, so there is no additional “fee” per se. There is a minimum $50 payment minimum to make it worth their while, but based on my research it seems that their exchange rates are very competitive.
- Time: Transfer takes 3-5 business days, depending on your banks. Initial setup may take a bit of time as they require proof of identity before you start.
- **Special Note: It seems that China makes it difficult to trade in CNY, so if you’re wanting to trade from USD you’ll be fine, but you might have trouble with CNY.
- Bottom Line: This is an excellent option for moving large amounts of money and is a very transparent process (as opposed to other options below where fee structures are quite complicated).
Option 2: Transfer Funds 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. The catch is 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 is well worth calling your 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, 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 image guide 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 days.
- Bottom Line: If you have a trusty Chinese friend who can help you with the transfer, this is a really easy option you can do with a mobile phone.
Option 3: Transfer Funds via Bitcoin
If you lack Chinese friends or do not trust someone sending your money for you with Alipay, you can send money online on your own through the purchase of Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a digital currency that can 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. To purchase bitcoin in China, I recommend purchasing from BTCC.
Once you have purchased bitcoins from an exchange, you need to store them in a virtual wallet, which allows you to either store your bitcoins or spend them on goods and services. There are loads of companies offering digital wallets and you can read up on a number of them on Bitcoin’s website, but one I personally recommend is the Circle app.
After signing up with Circle, you can link your bank account to their service and sell the bitcoin in your digital wallet. After the sale is complete, money is deposited into your bank account. While it sounds like there is much to do with buying and selling bitcoin, the biggest benefit is that you can do it from home and with Circle there are no fees to move money and no limits on how much you send or receive.
Other than having to sign up for an account on both an exchange and a digital wallet, the only major downside of buying bitcoin since you have to monitor two exchanges rates (the rate you buy it at and sell it at). The exchange rate is also consistently fluctuating whereby in some cases you can really benefit from the rate or lose a little bit of money from it.
- 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 takes 2-5 business days.
- Bottom Line: Great way to send money overseas from the comfort of your computer without incurring service fees.
Option 4: Transfer Funds via PayPal
The final option I recommend for sending money online is through the PayPal service. To get started, simply create an account and link your Chinese bankcard to your account. Afterwards you can add money to your PayPal virtual wallet and then send it to the receiver using his/her email address, or phone number. Although the transfer is instant, it takes a couple days to withdraw the money from your virtual wallet into your bank account.
In terms of exchange rates, which are determined twice daily, PayPal allows you to see the current exchange rate, when you log into your PayPal account. To do this click PayPal Balance, then Manage Currencies, where you can then enter your information and click Calculate.
- Fees: 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
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. Chinese nationals however, can send up to 50,000USD per year. So like with Alipay, 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. They currently have a promotion extending to the end of 2016 where all telecommunication fees are waived. Total fees for wires also amount to no more than 170RMB making it much cheaper than their competitors. To take advantage of this promotion, simply visit any Bank of Communications branch and inquire about the UnionPay card you see here.
- 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: If you are old fashioned and do not prefer sending money online, wiring money at a bank is relatively easy but can incur higher fees than using Alipay or buying bitcoin.
Option 2: Western Union
Western Union is among the top options among my friends in China for sending money overseas. Western Union has operations in over 200 countries around the world and here in China, they usually have a representative in almost every major bank. 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 Western Union is immediately available making it a great option if you are in a hurry.
The service I primarily use with Western Union is sending money to a person overseas. How this service works is 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 Western Union 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 sister 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 at Western Union.
- 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, Western Union is the way to go.
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!