The CHEAPEST Way to Convert RMB to USD (and Vice Versa)

Richelle ·

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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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Introducing 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!


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……


Want to learn more about Swapsy? Check out How to Exchange USD and CNY on Swapsy - A Walkthrough.


Want to learn more about the author? Check out Adventures Around Asia.