Getting money out of China 2017-2018

Please contact me at . if you have any questions about this article or financial planning questions in general.  I have helped several individuals get money out of China quickly and hassle free.  This is especially the case if they have a Visa or MasterCard, but I have also managed to do it for people in other situations.  

Why do Expats and locals want to get money out of China?

One of the biggest issues expats in China face in 2017-2018 is getting money out of Mainland China.  Many expats come to China for relatively short term assignments, and few plan to stay for more than 10 years.  Even if they do, the majority do not want to contribute to a Chinese pension plan. 

Many Chinese returnees and other locals also face the same issues. With the trade war and a depreciating RMB, many local Chinese are also looking at ways to get RMB outside of China and into USD.

Indeed Bloomberg has reported on why so many people want to get money out of China, and the situation has become more and more apparent as 2018 draws to a close.

It is true that for relatively small amounts of money (less than 20,000RMB) it is possible to take it home with you without declaring it to customs on your next flight home.  Taking so much cash with you isn’t particularly safe though, and isn’t an option at all for larger amounts.

There are numerous ways you can send money out of China. This article will review some of the best options.

Is it sensible to delay with the trade war and other ongoing political issues?

With the current political climate, the RMB could fall much further.  Certainly most economist expect it to weaken further.  Besides, the banks in China give low interest rates like the rest of the world.  Leaving money in RMB in the bank is money to inflation and probably currency depreciation.

In 2018, several currencies have depreciated much more rapidly against the USD than the RMB, including in Turkey and various South American countries.  Nobody can know for sure what will happen in 2019 and the longer-term future, but a steep depreciation by the end of next year is a distinct possibility.

Already on October 31, the Chinese RMB to USD exchange rate was trading at 6.97, which is the weakest level since 2008.  If the Chinese Central Bank allows the RMB to depreciate past 7:1, a sharper depreciation may happen.  

Nobody knows the future. However, this uncertainty is probably one of the biggest reasons why the USD is strengthening in turbulent times.

Could the RMB recover?

Of course it could. It could even strengthen, but given the current situation, the overall trend seems downwards, especially against the USD.

Given that Trump’s election hopes partially ride on being `tough` on China, it is unlikely he will back down on the trade war, unless China gives considerable concessions. That seems unlikely, given rising nationalism in China.  

Getting money out of China Via Hong Kong

Some expats try to get RMB out of China through Hong Kong. However, some of the methods used to do so aren’t cost effective.  Time is also money, so taking a flight to Hong Kong from Shanghai, Shenyang or Beijing to get money out of China, doesn’t make any sense.

Even if you live in Shenzhen, going to HK will take a day.  Moreover, unless you have HKID, it isn’t always easy to open up a bank account. In which case you need to use a money changer, which doesn’t make any sense.  This is because you will be left with cash in your hand, and then you will still need to transfer the cash, and it isn’t easy or safe to change considerable amounts of money.  Assuming you are preaching the 20,000RMB allowance, you could also be stopped at customs using this method.  

Getting money out of China via Western Union

You could also send money out of China by Western Union.  One can see why this is an attractive option, because Western Union have branches even in small Chinese cities.  However, the fees and currency rates are terrible, meaning that you are often paying 7%-10% to send your money if you include the direct and indirect cost.

Western Union only charge $15-$30 for the transfer typically, but added to a bad currency rate, this a expensive option.  Companies similar to Western Union might say they are commission free, but the conversion rates are a killer.

Getting money out of China via Chinese Bank

Another way is via a bank account.  Banks in China typically have better currency rates than Western Union and their competitors in the West.   However, as a foreign-national, you often have a $500 per time limit.  This low limit, like Western Union, means it is also expensive, as even a $25 fee is 5% of the transfer, and then you have other small fees, such as the 1%-2% indirect currency charge.

If you have a close Chinese friend, they can send up to $50,000 a year to you.  By putting the money in their bank account, they can send money to you.  The ability to spend more money at once means the fees are lower.   As an example, if you send $10,000 per time, you may have a $30 one off bank fee.  Added to the 1%-2% exchange rate fee, indirectly it is costing you 1.3%-2.3%.  If you only send $2,000-$5,000, the charges could top 3%.

Ultimately, sending money to your home country isn’t always the best option and 1%-3% every time adds up.  Look at it this way.  If you are sending money home to contribute to a pension, you are paying 1%-3% before you add the fees for the investment.

Or another way to look at it is instead of investing $100,000, you may only have $97,000 to invest.  If your investments go up by 10%, that is the difference between $110,000 and $106,700!  Every year for 10 years, that really adds up – could be $50,000+ compounded.

That isn’t to mention there are certain ramifications of sending too much money home.  In the UK, as an example, you can only `​earn` 3,000 Sterling from gifts every year.  If you are using a Chinese friend to send money on your behalf, this may be considered a gift.  Even though they are essentially using your money, as you are just using them as a gateway to funnel your own money into the country, their name will appear as the sender.

Many banks automatically inform HMRC about any payments above 5,000 Sterling or any potential suspicious payments.  Even if you haven’t done anything wrong, too many payments from overseas gets flagged.  You may therefore need to prove you are really an expat, to avoid tax on the money.  Australians, Canadians and other expats face similar issues.

Sending money out of China via Bitcoin

It is possible to send money out of China using Bitcoin.  Needless to say, however, the highly volatile nature of bitcoin, which can fluctuate by 25% in a day, means that it shouldn’t be used to transfer money overseas.

Moreover, the Chinese Government is cracking down on Bitcoin payments.  In 2017, they banned Bitcoin exchanges, meaning it is difficult to buy and sell Bitcoin in RMB.

After the ban, some people have stated some peer-to-peer exchanges to get around the ban.The process isn’t easy, however, and the coins are still too volatile to use to exchange money.

Sending money out of China via PayPal 

PayPal is one of the oldest methods for sending money out of China. It is a viable option, but the fees are once again the big issue. There are also many processes involved here, like setting up a separate Chinese PayPal account.

This PayPal account should be linked to your Chinese bank account. You can then send money from your Chinese PayPal to your UK or US PayPal, although there are several steps you need to take to make this happen.

The total fees can be high because you are paying for the international transfer (typically 0.5%-2%) plus the currency conversion.

Sending money out via investing 

A better option is to invest overseas in USD, Euros or Pounds when you are living offshore.  In the same way that ISAs were originally designed for UK nationals living in the UK to save and invest in a tax efficient way, the UK overseas territories like the Isle of Man were originally designed to allow expats to invest whilst they live overseas.

Expats living overseas have options available to them from locations such as Hong Kong and the Isle of Man, which are much cheaper than other options they have, and especially cheaper than incurring the costs of sending money home via one of the aforementioned vehicles.

This is particularly a great option for expats who have Visa and other international cards, because often the premiums can be taken out from RMB and converted to USD or GBP. 

Another advantage of this option is speed. I have helped clients set up accounts in 48-72 hours, and all the documents can be done online.  

Property as a vehicle for getting money out of China 

Many Chinese and expats living in Mainland China are interested in property overseas property in the US, UK and many other countries.  

There are a few currency companies I am aware of that have excellent currency exchange rates, for people who are looking to send money out of China in a lump sum.

Given the fees involved, however, this option is only good for people who have 40,000GBP (about $55,000) or more to send as a lump sum. Using a currency company for monthly investments isn’t a viable option.

I have seen several people buy a property using this method to pay for a deposit on a house.

Getting money out of China for Chinese 

For returnee Chinese with foreign passports, it is often easy to get money out of the country.  Ultimately, China doesn’t allow joint passports.  So returnee Chinese with foreign passports are legally expats, even though they were born in China.

For local Chinese, as mentioned previously, it is possible to send $50,000 worth out of China in a lump sum mechanism.  All such accounts can be done online or via physical application forms, with some of the larger institutions that are available through brokers .

For Chinese people who want to invest more than $50,000, one of the most effective ways is to invest a further $500-$700 a month through a regular savings plan.

The reason why this is effective, is that the money is taken out of RMB and put into a USD account.  Therefore, it seems more like a bill payment, rather than an investment.  It is only when premiums become much higher, than the banks start asking questions and/or the credit or debit card limit has been reached.

With that being said, it is via easier to send money outside of China using Visa or MasterCard, than UnionPay.

The majority of Chinese sending money outside of China are middle-class consumers who have access to these international credit and debit cards.  

Some Chinese people are worried about their information automatically being shared with the Chinese tax authorities, and then rules being applied retrospectively.  In other words, in 2020 the laws are changed to only allow Chinese people to spend $40,000 overseas, and the Chinese authorities apply a retrospective tax to people who used the previously $50,000 allowance.  This is unlikely to be an issue, and some offshore US territories do not share tax information.  

As a final comment, I would say that the situation is different for businesses.  Companies that want to repatriate their capital outside of China can do it using various ways.  It also isn’t simple, but more options exist compared to those options available to individuals. 


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