How to transfer money out of China (not just for English teacher in China)?

Your contract for teaching English in China comes to an end and you have decided to go home or simply continue your career as an ESL teacher abroad somewhere else.

As you can see from the examples of our Job Board, if you decide to teach English in China with TeachDiscoverChina you will receive a very good salary, with which you will live a very comfortable life in Sichuan or other provinces in China. The living costs in Chengdu/Sichuan are very low, not just compared to the US, UK or other similar countries; Even considered with other cities in China such as Beijing or Shanghai – see our infographic in this post from the TDC’s TEFL Blog. Most likely your new Chinese friends will have also invited you quite a lot, as Sichuan people are well known for their hospitality and openness towards foreigners. And of course, as the foreign English teacher, you are the star at your school. Even if you traveled within Sichuan province, which you definitely should, as it is one of the most amazing places on earth or China in general, a big portion of your salary will have piled up.

So now you are thinking, how to transfer your hard-earned ESL teacher money out of the country, be it home or otherwise abroad. You might have heard that there is a cap for transferring money out of the country and you start to worry. But no need, in this post, we will give you different options on how to send your money out of China.

Cap for transferring money out of China

There is a cap for the amount of money you are legally allowed to transfer out of China. For foreigners, it stands at $50k per year, RMB18k per transaction and a limit of two transactions per day. It’s possible to save up $50k in a year or two but more likely you will be under that limit. But the twice-daily cap and only RMB18k each transaction limit might come in a bit inconvenient as you might have waited till the end to think about the transfer (that’s usually how I do it). And you still don’t really know how. So, let’s jump to the option you have:

Option 1 – Cash transfer from China

If you like to flash your cash and are not concerned about bundles of cash in your pocket or suitcase, then you could use the cash option. According to the GACC (General Administration of customs PRC), foreigners and Chinese nationals alike are legally allowed to take up to $5,000 or RMB20,000 in cash out of the country, which you do not need to declare at customs. Everything from $5k (or equivalent) and above, you need a ‘Permit for Taking Foreign Currency out of the Customs Territory’ from your bank in China and you have to fill in 2 declaration forms. One will be kept by the Chinese customs and the second one will be returned to you for future reference.

If you have successfully done that and now want to try to take more than $10,000, you need a legal warrant from the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE), according to the China Internet Information Center. Honestly, I would not advise you to take more than the legally allowed $5k in cash as for everything paperwork in China, it will be a headache and takes quite some time and patience as well as good Mandarin skills. And there are way easier options. But if anyone, who reads this post, has successfully taken more than $10k in cash out of China, I beg you to let me know, as this must be a story you can tell your grandchildren.

Option 2 – Money transfer organizations

There are a few organizations offering to transfer your money out of China such as WesternUnion or TransferWise (other similar services are available). They all have different fee structures but, in our experience, there is not a huge difference when it comes to the number of fees in one way or another. I tried to compare once, which took me a day to understand and it left me no wiser as they tend not to be too clear how much they take from you unless you submit your order. For me, it looks the same. All of them have a bad exchange rate for sure, so using those services will cost you not just the fee but some loss due to the exchange rate.

If you use their services to transfer money out of China, you should try to send cash using an agent in the country. This will be much cheaper than transferring money from your Chinese bank account. There is also a risk involved using those services as the transfer might be blocked by either of the banks involved or the organization itself, for no apparent reason. International money transfer is highly regulated nowadays. It happened to me once and I can tell you it’s a pain, quite stressful (esp. when you need the money) and some work to get your money back to your account. You can google or baidu it and you will have some fun reading those desperate stories.

Option 3 – Chinese friends (with Alipay accounts)

We hope you have made some Chinese friends while teaching English in China. Ask some of them who you would trust with your money to help you to transfer the money out of China via their Alipay accounts. Only Chinese citizen (Chinese ID) are allowed to send money using Alipay. There is again a cap of RMB30,000 per transaction, twice a day and as before mentioned limited to $50,000 per year. The fee Alipay charges are RMB50 per transfer and there is an additional fee depending on the bank you are transferring to. So, making friends in China is a sure way to save money when you need to transfer abroad – but obviously so much more.

Option 4 – Bank transfer

Despite some online rumors, you are legally allowed to transfer the entirety of your hard-earned salary as an ESL teacher in China abroad. This means more than the beforementioned $50k. Provided of course, you can show proof of the taxes you paid on your income. It is recommended to go to the main branch of your Chinese bank as they most likely have more experience in international transfers and/or English-speaking staff. It never hurts to bring a Chinese speaking friend for most tasks involving foreigners, to be honest. And before you are being inconsiderate, ask yourself how many bank clerks do you know in your country who are speaking another language fluently, right?

The following documents are needed when going to your Chinese bank to transfer money abroad:

  • Your Chinese bank card
  • Passport
  • ESL teacher contract with your school
  • An authorized tax document from your local tax bureau (for this you should ask your school employer to help you with)
  • Your printed bank statement
  • All information from the bank you want to send the money to (including SWIFT code, account info, and address of your bank)

According to a post from ESL authority (good name btw), this might not be the cheapest option but probably the most straight forward and easiest one. People do trust banks for a reason (you pay them to be trustworthy with your money – except the Royal Bank of Scotland).

Conclusion

Those options are, in our opinion and experience, the main ways to transfer your salary you earned teaching English in China out of the country. Depending on the time, experience handling Chinese clerks and/or Chinese friends at hand, etc., it is actually not too complicated. You shouldn’t leave it to the last minute (what I tell myself every time). If you have all the papers, which you should, then my advice would be using the bank transfer, as this is the least hassle. But, don’t leave that to the last week before departure.

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