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5 Cheapest Ways to Get Money to China in 2021

Methods on How to Send Money to China

Moving money internationally is never easy. At this point you probably already know that. So as you research options to get money into China, it helps to know what has worked in the past and which methods are the cheapest for transferring money internationally.

5 Cheapest Ways to Get Money to China in 2021

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a broke traveler who needs money quickly or you’re trying to pay for something in China using funds stored outside of China. In both cases, it is essential to understand the cheapest and fastest ways to send money to China (or perhaps get money to you in China).

The good news is that China is full of banks at almost every street corner. That means ATM’s, quick cash and convenience.

The bad news is that it comes at a price. Whether that’s time standing in line, time waiting for a wire transfer, or bank fees, you’re going to have to pay somehow.

So based on my years of experience, here’s a quick rundown of the 5 Cheapest Ways to get money into China.

Let’s dive in!

Note: Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means that at no extra cost to you, I may be compensated if you choose to use one of the services listed. I only recommend what I’ve personally used, and I appreciate your support!

Walk the Money Across the China Border

The absolute cheapest way to get money to China is to walk it through. That means one of two things for you:

  • Risking it with a bunch of cash (not easy)
  • Using traveler’s cheques (not a good idea)

No doubt you should always have a little cash on hand (US dollars are still the easiest to convert), it’s just a matter of how much. I’ve walked through Chinese customs with a couple hundred dollars and I’ve also walked across with a couple thousand.

Both worked great, the latter was just harder on the nerves.

How Much Cash Can You Bring into China?

According to China’s customs office, a traveler can carry with them 20,000 RMB in cash or a foreign currency equivalent of US $5,000 without declaring it.

Anything over these amounts must be processed by China Customs.

A more secure, albeit antiquated option, is traveler’s checks. For decades this used to be the method of choice for international travelers. There’s no a limit to how much you can carry in traveler’s checks since they aren’t considered currency, but they’re not nearly as popular as they used to be.

Not only is it difficult to find a place to buy traveler’s checks nowadays, it’s cumbersome to cash them. In China, I’ve waiting in line for two hours just to get a check cashed!

The problem with both of these options is that although they are very cheap, getting the money converted to Chinese Renminbi is often a nightmare.

Exchange rates at the airport are horrendous and the effort to get a fair shake at a bank could cost you an entire half of your day.

MY ADVICE

Use cash walked across the border as a backup plan in case something goes wrong. Don’t use it as your primary way to get money.

Use an ATM in China to Get Cash

A majority of the ATM’s all throughout China accept Visa and MasterCard as well as UnionPay, Diner’s Club and others.

It’s incredibly convenient to use the ATM in China, which is why so many people prefer this method, but there are two distinct disadvantages:

  • Withdrawal Limits: There is a withdrawal limit, usually somewhere around 2,000-3,000RMB per day. Interestingly, this limit is often imposed by your personal bank, not by the Chinese ATM (you can withdrawal multiple times from the same ATM). One way to get around this is to use multiple accounts or, if you’re traveling with your spouse who has his/her own debit card, you can use both cards to withdrawal from the same account in a single day.
  • Bank Fees: It’s a rare bank that doesn’t charge ATM fees, so expect somewhere between US$5-10 to show up on your statement every time you use the ATM. On top of that, you’re also getting an exchange rate that isn’t as good as if you were to walk into the bank with cash.

My advice: ATM’s are a great option but when you use one to pull cash, take out the max withdrawal limit so you don’t have to do it more than once.

Tip #2: Make sure you know your debit card PIN number! We don’t often use our debit cards back home, so it’s easy to forget our PIN numbers, and yet you can’t pull money from a Chinese ATM without it.

Wire Transfer Money to China

Wire transfers may not be the most efficient way for travelers to get their money to China, but it does allow for larger sums of money to be transfered.

There are three primary ways that I’ve wired money in and out of China:

  • Best Option: Wise – One of the fastest and easiest ways to initiate a wire transfer to China is through a service like Wise (formerly Transferwise). The money is guaranteed within 82 hours (my experience has been faster) and although the fees may look slightly higher than your bank, what you may not realize is that Wise gives you a better exchange rate. The only downside? Wire transfers from services like these are capped at about US$5,000 (or 31,000 RMB in some cases) per transaction.
  • Bank Wire Transfers: Back in the US I bank with Chase. In less than 15 minutes I was able to log into my account online, set up a new “wire recipient” and then make the transfer. It cost me about $40 for each transfer regardless of the amount, but it’s hassle free. The two big issues with this method are that 1) you have to have all the information for the China bank exactly correct (and often in Chinese) in order for the wire to be accepted and 2) the whole process takes about a week. For transfers over US$5,000, this is likely your only option. If this interests you, you should consider opening a Chinese bank account for yourself.
  • Fastest: MoneyGram – There are companies like MoneyGram (for UK residents, visit MoneyGram’s UK site), however, that charge about the same fee as your bank but can have your money available in less than a day. In my experience, it works well but has been a hassle on the China end. I accessed the money quickly but had to stand in line at the bank to retrieve the money and then stand in line again to convert it to Renminbi (you can’t send Renminbi, you have to send your home currency).

My Advice: Check with your bank to see what they charge. If you need to make transfers regularly it’s just too convenient not to use something like Wise. If it’s a one-time deal consider a service like MoneyGram.

Write an Old Fashioned Check

Believe it or not, writing yourself a check from your home bank is a perfectly viable way to get money into a China bank account. Your China bank will probably charge you an insignificant fee (around US$15) and your home bank will charge you nothing.

There is a BIG catch, though.

The check takes anywhere between 30-60 days to clear. YIKES! I don’t like waiting that long, so I’ve never personally used this method, but I have one friend who did.

My Advice: if you can plan far enough ahead, writing a check to yourself might not be a bad option.

Use an International Credit Card

This is a newer option that works well for purchases within China if you’re a high-end traveler (not an option for transferring money, though). In bigger Chinese cities you can use a credit card to pay for your hotel stays and some restaurants.

There are some credit cards that boast no fees for international purchases. You have to check how they calculate exchange rates, but usually this can be a pretty good deal.

The only down side is that anything less than a major department store or 5-star hotel will not accept Visa/MasterCard credit cards. It is possible to get a pre-paid UnionPay card like ECARD (free to use and top up with a US bank account).

UnionPay is accepted everywhere in China, unlike Visa and MasterCard, and can be used to avoid high fees when pulling cash at an ATM.

What’s the best way to send money to China?

Online money transfer providers typically offer the strongest exchange rates and lowest fees on money transfers to China. Some offer transfers straight to Chinese bank accounts, while others allow the money to be picked up in Chinese yuan in person. Banks, PayPal and other options are available but come with high fees, weak rates and longer turnaround times.

Digital money transfer services

Companies like InstaRem and CurrencyTransfer specialise in foreign currencies, making them some of the most cost-effective transfers. Most offer transfers directly to your recipient’s Chinese bank account, often in as little as a day or two.

Cash transfers

Services like MoneyGram allow you to transfer cash for pickup at a local branch in China— often in 15 minutes. While it’s a fast way to send money, compare these options to digital services like WorldRemit or Wise when possible.

Banks

Every Hong Kong bank has CNY/RMB and might even has branches in China. Although your local bank can convert your HK dollars into Chinese yuan, beware of high fees and wide margins on the exchange rate compared to digital and other options. Some banks might offer fee free transfer if you send it to a bank account from the same bank in mainland China. However, for transfers to an account not from a different bank, it might be treated as an international transfer.

Mobile payment tools

If you’re a resident in Hong Kong, most likely you know the most common payment tools: Alipay and WeChat Pay. They are somewhat the Chinese version of PayPal. You fund your account with bank transfer or card, and you can send money to another user. Fees are a lot lower than the bank and for some transactions, it is fee free. Alipay exists on both desktop and mobile app but WeChat Pay only has a mobile app.

How to get the most out of your money transfer to China

Weigh costs and fees against convenience, and learn how to compare money transfer providers that send to China to meet your needs:

  • Exchange rates. The HKD-CNY remains relatively stable, with occasional shifts on a larger scale. Exchanging currency ahead of time, or locking in prices, can help you prepare for these shifts.
  • Transfer fees. Transferring money overseas nearly always requires fees, but they might be hidden in the exchange rate. When sending large amounts, it may be cheaper to pay a flat fee to secure a stronger exchange rate.
  • Transfer limits. How much you can send varies by company, and different amounts can attract higher or lower fees. Shop around for the best deal on the amount of Chinese yuan you’re sending.
  • Turnaround. Transferring money through a local bank can take a business week or longer. If you need the funds delivered quickly, seek out a digital specialist that offers instant transfers to China.
  • Maximum limits. When exchange rates are favorable, sending more money can save you money in the future. If you plan to send large amounts of money to China, be sure to pick a provider that won’t limit you.
  • Transfer methods. Whether you want money sent to a Chinese bank account or picked up as cash at a local agent, narrow down a company that matches your preferred delivery method.

Final Thoughts: Get Money to China

There are two things you need to consider when planning to transfer money into China:

  1. How much money do you need to transfer?
  2. How fast do you need the money?

For anything under US $5,000, the option that I use most often and has the lowest fees is to wire to a Chinese bank account using a service like Wise.

Anything above $5,000 and visiting your local bank is really your only option.

If speed is of importance, MoneyGram can get the money overseas within a couple hours. All other options take anywhere from a couple days to more than a week.

 

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