How to move money overseas

on Wednesday, 10 October 2012. Posted in ,

is-sending-money-online-a-good-payment-options_1If you are new to China, you are bound to ask this question. How do I get my money home?

China is protecting its currency and is not making it easy.  But firstly it pays to understand that it is two questions.  Firstly, how do I exchange my RMB for another currency and secondly, then transfer the foreign currency to where you want it to be.

Firstly, you can’t transfer RMB overseas.  Secondly, once you have foreign currency its a simple wire transaction to your home bank account.

Yes, we know, there is RMB in Hong Kong, but that is ‘offshore’ RMB.  Movement of RMB between Hong Kong and China is so restricted to banks its best ignored for our purposes.

So if you have money in RMB, and want to move it home, what are your options?

1. If you have tax receipts,

a) Exchange it at theIf you have been paid RMB by your employer and they paid tax then will have tax receipts. We’ll explain the full process further down in the post.

2. If you don’t have tax receipts:

a) Ask a Chinese friend/colleague to exchange RMB to USD for you at the the bank.
They can exchange $50,000 USD per person per calendar year limit, without tax receipts.  So you can do a transfer say this month with said friend, and then again in January.  Probably also illegal and you do need to trust your friend, but possibly also the easiest in many situations where the amount is $30-$200,000 USD.

b) When overseas use an ATM to withdraw money.

The limit then isn’t so much $500 per day but more likely your ATM or card limit, so that could be $1,000 per day or more.  This may also change if SAFE gets its currency control software system integrated with the ATM network, although we doubt this is their highest priority.  Probably the easiest if you have a bit of RMB left over when you leave and couldn’t be bothered.

c) Carry 20,000 RMB on the plane per person* and exchanging in Hong Kong.

We have heard of people carrying more but not declaring it.  That is illegal although we haven’t heard of convictions in this area.  You can of course declare but the results may vary depending on the mood of your customs official.  In Hong Kong exchange it at the Airport since there are no limits (yes we asked) and better exchange rates too.  Only worthwhile if you travel to Hong Kong regularly on business since hiding 1 million RMB in your pants is easy to spot, even for Chinese customs.

d) Use a black market guy hanging around outside the bank.

The huangniu will be the one with the fanny pack (bum bag if you are Aussie) and loitering about a bank branch doing nothing.  Ask the security guard if you can’t identify them.  We have actually seen the black market dealer wander into the back office of a Bank of China branch like he worked there.  We have, surprisingly in 8 years, never actually used them.  But we have seen and heard of many friends who have done so, and been happy.  We must warn that doing large amounts of exchange this way is probably worth avoiding since it is of course illegal.  There is also the chance of dodgy notes.  The exchange rates however, we have heard, aren’t too bad at all.

e) Apply to SAFE to move the money overseas.

You will need to show them where this money came from and why you need to move it overseas.  You’ll also need advice from a friendly bank manager.  There are reasons to send money (paying overseas school fees, or perhaps buying a property) but you will have to find the magic excuse by listening to advice.  Probably the best method if you have a large amount of money and a real reason to move money overseas.

f) Transfer $500 per person per day.

It sounds slow and annoying so we have never bothered to try, but it’s pretty straightforward.  We’ve heard rumours that you can visit a few different banks on the same day, but that STILL sounds slow and annoying to us.  Lining up in four different banks on the same day!?  Not for us!  Only do this if you enjoy reading books like Catch 22 or have only a small sum and a plane to catch.

Options a, b and c are probably enough for most people on most occasions.

How to move money with tax receipts?

Firstly, the following is a summary of information that will change.  When it will change, we don’t know, but it will.  It can also vary bank to bank.  So get a friend/assistant to call your bank and ask

  • which branch is best equipped to handle foreign exchange transactions
  • what their exact document requirements are
  • who you should ask for when you arrive.

The goal is to succeed first try and not waste time.  Before you call however, get these things together since there is a good chance you’ll need them.

Here is what is normally required.

a) Tax Receipts (un-used).

b) Passport.

c) Alien Work Permit.

d) Contract (or a copy of it).

e) Recent Pay slip (within 3 months).

f) Blood of your first born (only joking).

How long are tax receipts valid?

We’ve heard stories of rejections by banks if the tax receipts are over 12 months old.  This tends to be Chinese banks in our experience.  We have been told by several foreign bank employees that it is not a government rule, but a bank rule.  So if one bank rejects your receipts from 3 years ago, try another bank.  The foreign ones do indeed have better service in this regard in our experience.

*Thanks to the commentators of ShanghaiExpat who corrected our previous statement of 10,000 RMB.

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