If you are new to China, you are bound to ask this question. How do I get my money home? The answer isn't as simple as that in developed countries.
China is protecting its currency and is not making it easy. But firstly it pays to understand that it is two questions.
How do I exchange my RMB for another currency?
Then you transfer the foreign currency to where you want it to be.
It's important to note that you can’t transfer RMB overseas. However once you have your money in a 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) If 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 (so this isn't legal advice!) and you do need to trust your friend. Perhaps limit this to your Chinese spouse. Still, possibly the easiest in many situations where the amount is $20-$100,000 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. But do you really want to risk it? Money smuggling has become a serious offence. Best stick to 20,000 RMB.
You can of course declare but the results may vary depending on the mood of your customs official. In Hong Kong exchange it at Hong Kong 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 foolish.
d) 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.
For example, once you sell your property in China, as a foreigner, SAFE will allow you to move the full property sale value out. Your bank can help facilitate. You'll need to show you've paid the appropriate taxes of course. We've done this one and thanks to a good banker, it wasn't too painful. It required only a single trip to SAFE in Lujiazui to get some documents chopped. .
e) Exchange $500 per person per day.
As a foreigner you can exchange $500 per day, no questions asked, with just a passport. It sounds slow and annoying so we have never bothered to try, but it’s pretty straightforward. We’ve heard rumors 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 relatively small sum and a plane to catch.
How to move money with tax receipts.
Firstly, the above and following is a summary of information that WILL change. When it will change? No idea, but it will. It can also vary bank to bank.
So get a local 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.
Tax Receipts (un-used).
Alien Work Permit.
Contract (or a copy of it).
Recent Pay slip (within 3 months).
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.