After living in China for five years, I’d like to think I’ve become an expert on how to convert RMB to USD and vice versa. I’ve literally tried every trick in the book, to find affordable ways to get my USD into China, and my RMB out of China.
I switched American banks for free ATM withdrawals while I studied abroad. I brought stacks of cash with me on the airplane. I tried and failed with Alipay, had Chinese friends send money for me, and requested so many tax sheets, my old company probably hates me.
I looked into making two Paypal accounts, Transferwise, and anything else that would save me money on transfers. But China works REALLY hard to make sure that expats can’t send money out of China without proving they’ve paid tax.
How I Used to Get Money Into China
Before I studied abroad in China, I switched banks from Wells Fargo to Bank of America, only because Bank of America has a partnership with China Construction Bank, that gives you free ATM withdrawals. But let’s be honest, opening up a new bank account is never fun, especially when you have a really good deal on your old one.
The entire time I studied abroad, I’d transfer money from one bank account to another, then withdraw it from the ATM for no fees. However, I know I was paying a bit on every ATM withdrawal, due to poor ATM currency conversions.
Just be aware that while this partnership works one way, it DOES NOT work the other way. Do not expect to withdraw USD out of a Bank of America ATM with your China Construction Bankcard. I learned this one the hard way. Apparently, only special gold member accounts are given this deal.
How I Used to Get Money OUT of China
Getting money out of China is extremely difficult. Western Union is super expensive, Transferwise and Paypal don’t have RMB, and Alipay doesn’t allow foreign transfers if you’re not Chinese.
After years of trial and error, I eventually discovered three ways to send money out of China.
International Bank Transfer
My go-to method of choice, international bank transfers offer the least fees for those of us who want to legally transfer money. In order to send more than just a few hundred dollars, you’ll need to get your company or school to provide you with a form proving that you’ve paid taxes on your income. Then you can bring this form to the bank, and transfer as much as you want! (As long as it matches up with your tax payments)
This whole process costs around $15 from the Chinese bank’s side (plus probably another $10 from your own bank), however, the exchange rates they give you are actually accurate.
Bringing a Fat Stack of Cash Home
When I went home for Christmas, I brought a giant stack of RMB home with me, hoping to exchange it to RMB. However, US banks DO NOT give favorable rates for RMB, and I was set to lose almost $100 on the exchange! So… I brought the money back with me.
If you do want to bring cash home with you, transfer the RMB to USD while you’re in China, and then bring it with you on the plane. Just be sure you’re not bringing more than $10,000 USD on the plane.
Get a Chinese Friend to Help You
Chinese people have a much higher limit on foreign transactions, so if you’re not working legally or can’t get a tax form, many of my friends have asked a Chinese friend to transfer money for them. What they do is give their Chinese friend cash, and then the Chinese friend transfers it internationally using Alipay.
However, this is technically not legal, so my friends always had to be a bit careful. They would use cash to be less obvious and typically use a few different friends so it wasn’t always the same person. A Chinese person can legally send $2,000 per day or $50,000 per year, but obviously, they’re not supposed to do it for people other than themselves.
Why So Complicated?
I’m sure most of you are a bit overwhelmed at this point. Why is remitting money home so hard? Do we have to pay so many fees? Why can’t we just use Transferwise or Paypal???
Trust me, I was a bit fed up with it too. After five years, I had just resigned myself to fees and hassle forever. That’s until I heard about Swapsy.
Swapsy is a brand new secure and simple platform for exchanging USD to RMB and RMB to USD using e-Wallets! Transfer money from Paypal to Wechat, or Alipay to Zelle with no fees- it’s that simple!
Swapsy is a true P2P platform (peer to peer), meaning that unlike Venmo, the money is never stored on Swapsy’s platform. It’s simply transferred from one account to another.
A Microfinance startup based in Southern Californa, Swapsy was created by “foreign exchange fee victims” that were sick and tired of paying giant fees every time they wanted to transfer money. A group of expats and former exchange students, the creators of Swapsy are just like us: travelers, expats, and students who are sick and tired of the current exchange system.
Convert RMB to USD or USD to RMB whenever you want!
UPDATE August 2019:
Swapsy now allows you to transfer GDP and CAD! This is amazing news for anyone from the UK and Canada!!
How Does Swapsy Work?
First, all users must verify their account, and then upload their e-wallets. You’ll need at least one US e-wallet (either Paypal or Zelle), and one Chinese e-wallet (Wechat or Alipay).
For those of you who don’t know what Zelle is (cough me cough), they’re actually partnered with every major US bank as an online wallet! This is a great way to get money straight into your bank account rather than going through Paypal.
Next, you’ll select how much of a particular currency you need. Swapsy will give you the current exchange rate, so you’re fully aware of how much money you’ll be sending and receiving.
Once you send out a request, you’ll need to wait for a match. Swapsy will match you with someone else who has the opposite currency need. For example, if you need RMB and they need USD, you’d be matched together!
If for some reason the match is taking too long, or you decide to go another route, you can cancel your swap and receive your money back at any time.
How is This Safe and Verified?
Once you’ve been matched, you are able to send the money to the other user’s verified account. You have 24 hours to initiate the transaction, and once the money has been sent, the other user will receive a code that they can use to verify they have received your money
Once you receive your money, you will also get a code. In order for the transaction to be completed, you both need to enter in the money received codes, otherwise, the transaction won’t go through and you’ll get your money back. This makes it impossible for anyone to take off with your money without sending money in return!
Still confused? Swapsy has an entire walkthrough here!
How Much Does This Cost Me?
I was shocked to discover how cheap Swapsy actually is! Unlike banks which charge $10-20 per foreign transaction (on BOTH sides), or systems like Paypal that take a huge cut, Swapsy is virtually free because they don’t actually move the money out of the country. This means there are no issues with taxes and limits.
As of now, Swapsy will let you make currency swaps of either $100 or $500 USD. In order to cover some of their costs, Swapsy has a points system. Every new user gets 100 points to spend, and if you refer a friend, you get another 500 points. 100 points = $100 transfer, 200 points = $500 transfer.
If you want to keep transferring money but you run out of points, you can purchase 500 points for $5. That means, for just $5 you can transfer over $1,000. THAT’S IT.
If you want 2,000 points, it’ll cost you $17. That’s $5,000 you can transfer for just $17!
Let’s be real. Swapsy is basically free. You can transfer $1,000 for free to start, and another $1,000 for every friend you refer? If you run out of points it’s only FIVE DOLLARS. I can’t think of anything else that’s this cheap.
*If both parties are using Paypal, the points are a bit higher due to Paypal fees
The More Swapsy Users, the Better!
Obviously, a platform like Swapsy needs a ton of users in order to work effectively. The last thing you want is for your money to be in limbo! There are already tons of Chinese international students using the platform, and I think it’s time for us expats and travelers to get on board too!
The more people using Swapsy, the easier it will be to transfer large (or small) sums of money without any major fees. It’s a win-win for all of us!
Seriously… I have a solid $6,000 USD in my Chinese bank account right now that I would really like to exchange for USD……..
What Do You Think?
Are you hopping on the Swapsy train, because I sure am! Be sure to let me know what you think about Swapsy in a comment below. If you have any major questions or concerns about remitting money or using Swapsy, definitely leave me a comment and I’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP!
No matter how old the post is, I’m always checking back for new comments, so be sure to let me know what you think!
Quick thanks to Swapsy for bringing you this post. I’m so excited to use their platform and finally get all that money out of China without paying hundreds of dollars in fees!