Transferring Money from China: Your Options Explained


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If you’re interested in becoming a teacher in China then you already know that it can be quite lucrative.  However, there is a significant hurdle to overcome if you want to send any of that money home to pay bills, student loans, or to contribute to a savings account. The reality is that while there are some methods available, most will eat you alive in fees and processing time.  Let’s look at some at some of the most popular methods as well as some alternatives that have been emerging to save you money.


transfer money from china banks

The process of using a bank to transfer your money is characterized by many fees and poor exchange rates. The numerous fees incurred during the transfer can add up fast. We don’t want you to get caught off guard by these practices. Therefore, we’ve broken down the full process for you below.

Charges for remittance through banks normally consists of three parts:

(1) Charges by Chinese Banks —Bank of China, ICBC, China Construction Bank etc…

Charges by Chinese Banks include a transaction fee and a fixed amount remittance fee. Transaction fee varies from 0.1% to 1% of remittance amount while remittance fee varies from 70 to 200 CNY for different banks.

(2) An intermediate fee charged by the intermediate agency

In many cases, remittance will go through an intermediate agency and charge from a few USD to 20 USD as a transaction fee.

(3) Income wire transfer fee by US banks

If remittance goes through an intermediate agency, the receiving US bank will charge a domestic incoming wire transfer fee ranging from 0 to 20 USD, otherwise, it will charge a foreign incoming wire transfer fee from 0 to 25 USD.

Therefore, the total remittance charges are:

(Your Remittance Amount *1%) + (Remittance fee) + (Intermediate fee if applicable) + (Incoming wire transfer fee) = Total expense from bank fees.

If you could follow all that, I applaud you.

This entire process takes about 3-5 business days. On top of all these fees, the exchange rates offered by banks are usually less favorable than the real-time exchange rate stated online. However, it is important to note that although using banks can leave you victim to high fees and unfair exchange rates, it could still be a good option for you if you’re remitting considerably large amounts of money at a time.

transfer money from china banks 2

Now let’s take a look at the next method you can use to transfer your money back to the US.

Western Union

The most popular remittance intermediary is Western Union, which also has high fees. It charges $5 for a money transfer of up to $50, $20 fee for $500 -$1000, and a transfer of $10,000 could cost around $30.  

Normally, its exchange rate will be better than traditional banks. However, the waiting time is 4-7 business days for each transaction and the money needs to be picked up at a branch location, which is usually not very convenient. Therefore, using Western Union is especially not recommended for people who cannot conveniently access a branch location.

Exchange with friends/strangers

Another way of exchanging CNY to USD is through your friends/strangers. In this case, there definitely will not be any transaction fees occurring and you may simply follow the market exchange rate. However, the biggest concern is that your security will not be guaranteed if you are exchanging with a stranger online – there is always the possibility of a scam, or worse, money laundering. It’s also likely that it will be quite difficult to find someone who is also willing to exchange the same amount of money you’d like to exchange.


Alipay is one of the most popular online payment platforms in China and in addition to its many financial services, you can also transfer CNY to USD. Alipay uses Citibank as the intermediary to transfer your money to your US bank account. The transaction fee is 50 CNY per transaction charged by Alipay and 8 USD charged by Citi bank.

It has transaction limit 18,000 CNY per transaction and only two transactions allowed per day. It also does not provide an accurate wait time. But normally the process should take 1-2 business days.

One should also use a Chinese credit/debit card for this transaction.


Editor’s note:

It is possible to link a Paypal account to your Chinese bank account and send CNY that way, but it’s not easy.  In order for this to work, you need to create a separate Paypal account with a new email, link it to your Chinese bank account and make sure you have the internet banking enabled (you may need to go to the bank to have them turn this on) and then approve the transfer to your primary Paypal account with your bank dongle (a credit card or USB device that provides you with the codes needed to approve transfers).

This was my main transfer method for more than a year and it was a headache, to say the least – my transfers were often rejected and having to create and log in to multiple Paypal accounts was a pain.  Still, it was possible so I thought it was worth mentioning.


Swapsy is a platform that offers peer-to-peer CNY – USD exchange, similar to an exchange with friends.  It is a marketplace where verified users exchange currencies with their own E-wallets, including PayPal, Zelle, Alipay and Wechat Pay. All users are background checked for illegal activities. Swapsy guarantees that the currencies will be received within 24 hours. At the same time, Swapsy always offer a favorable exchange rate. The transaction fee is as low as $3 for a $500 exchange.

transfer money from china banks swapsy

Editor’s note: I have been using Swapsy for the past 2 months and love it – it is by far the easiest method of sending money home from China and I have tried almost all of the options on this list!  If you want a more detailed guide, check out How to Exchange USD and CNY on Swapsy – A Walkthrough.


Let’s say you want to convert 3500 CNY into USD: (all the data are collected on 19th Oct 2018)

USD to CNY 6.93
Bank of China transaction fee 0.10%

Exchange Rate Transaction Fee (¥) Telecom Fee (¥) Remittance Fee (¥) USD to be received($) Time Require (business days)
Bank of China 0.144 3.50 150.00 110.88 465.93 3 – 5
Western Union 0.145 138.60 0.00 0.00 487.40 4 – 7
Offline exchange with friend/strangers 0.144 0.00 0.00 0.00 504.00 It depends
Alipay 0.14 50.00 55.44 0.00 475.24 1 – 2
Swapsy 0.144 20.79 0.00 0.00 501.01 1

As you can see, an exchange with friends will yield the most USD for your CNY. However, it will likely be difficult to find a partner willing to exchange the amount you’d like. Also, if you find a stranger willing to exchange online you run the risk of getting scammed or unintentionally being involved in money laundering activities, which could get you in unwanted trouble.

Swapsy does the work of finding a match willing to exchange with you and guaranteeing the safety of your transaction. This truly revolutionary way to exchange currency provides the best value for transferring money back to the US. Swapsy is able to provide so much value because they cut out the banks and free you from their high fees and unfair practices.

This post was written by Sandi from Swapsy. Swapsy is run by a group of expats and former international students who, after being victimized by the banks, decided to disrupt the stagnant currency exchange market.


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17 Responses

  1. Hi – Alipay for International Transfers is only available for Chinese citizens right? Or holders of a 身份证?

  2. Most people will use Swapsy to swap Alipay into Paypal. However what they don’t tell you is that Swapsy prejudices international customers and favours american customers by making the person who’s non american to pick up the cross border transfer fee (Paypal accounts are region based, you have to have one per country you use them in and there’s a fee even when its the same currency but different country). Not as efficient as it appears.

  3. I have been using Swapsy for the past few months. Most recently I paid about 3.3% in fees to transfer CNY to USD. Overall it has been reliable, but it usually takes much longer than 24 hours. Allow at least a few days or so before you count on the funds to arrive.

  4. For a 500 USD transfer to my Spanish bank account, paid 15 USD to Swapsy, 23 to paypal for the conversion and another 10 USD to paypal for some other charg. This means it costs me 10% of every 500!! I can only send 500 at time. WHAT A RIP OFF!!!

  5. If you have a Paypal account created in China, the sending to friends and family is no longer an option – you can only use payment for goods and services. Typically 4.40% + 0.30c – If you use swapsy, you need to factor this in or the recipient won’t get the agreed amount.

  6. Hi I just want to know if I can use Swapsy to transfer money from China to Philippines US bank account? I have tried it a while ago, but unfortunately, it asked for Us address.. 🙁 Do you have any idea if it can be use by non-US residents or citizens?

  7. You can open another bank account here in China, get a debit card, send it to you family (I left it there when i went there), and if there are atms for Union pay cards (now we do in Spain cause of Chinese tourists I guess) your family can withdraw money from the money you send to that account.

    The exchange rate is really close to the real one it seems, like the one you get when buying with mastercard in another currency, and the banks in Spain don’t charge more than 7 euros per at least 1000e that i was able to withdraw. My family take that, go to their bank atm, put the money in their account, and transfer to my personal account.

  8. Hi sorry if this has been asked before.

    Can swapsy be used by a foreigner in China(student) to recieve money from family in the USA? I wasn’t sure because it seems many people use it to transfer money to their own bank accounts abroad.

    1. I think this is possible but it would be hard as Swapsy doesn’t allow you to choose who you pair with to swap funds – you’d have to be able to find your family on the platform to make sure their money got to you, and even then you’d need to send RMB back in return as it’s not designed to work with just receiving or sending.

      1. Could you please explain what you mean by an offline exchange between friends and how it works? I have a friend in China coming to the US and she wants to have $5,000 USD. I don’t want her to carry that much cash. We don’t want to pay up to 10% fees. My bank receives wire transfers for free. Can I be the friend in the offline exchange?

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