A Bad Week Gone Good, Part 3: Sending Money Home

Moving along onto the third part of the trifecta of disasters that all seem to occur within a one week period, I now introduce to you the complication of sending money home.

I’ve been in Beijing for over two years now and, overall, I find it to be a good place to place. It works for me and I work for it, a relationship that we both respect. But a problem arises whenever I need to transfer money home. Now, I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now and, despite the typical language barrier issues, I’ve been able to make this work out. The bank takes their cut (100 rmb) and sends my money and it shows up in my Canadian account a day or so later, with my Canadian institution also taking their cut ($15). Over the last two years this has become a rather simple process (bring passport, bank card, contracts in English and Chinese, fill out 电汇 (dian hui, wire transfer form)) but recently China enacted some tougher banking measures, ostensibly to combat the free flow of money out of the country’s borders. So, as of December 1st, 2016, sending money got just a little bit more complicated. Now I needed just one more piece of paper to send money home: a tax bill.

I have no idea what this tax bill thing is but I sense that it has something to do with if and how much I get taxed here in China (11%, if you’re wondering). However, it’s not like you can just get this piece of paper. No, you need to go through your employer who needs to apply for it and then you have to go pick it up at some government tax office somewhere in Beijing. Let’s put it this way, when I asked my boss about it she simply asked, “Is there another way you can send money home?” The implication being that this isn’t a short process. I had never needed this before and, although the bank girl did kinda make a fuss about this last time, they still processed the transfer. It was not to be this time and in all stone-faced seriousness, she explained to me (in Chinese) that-

…Honestly, I have no clue what she said. I’m not sure whether I should be flattered or insulted that the bank teller thinks I can understand Chinese so well. After a few attempts to explain it simply she wrote down the words “tax bill” on a piece of paper and showed it to me. WTF?

So I showed her an email from my employer stating how much tax I pay. She shakes he head, “不是 / bu shi“. No.

She goes on to explain what she means (again, all in Chinese) and (again) I have no idea what she is saying. I imagine what she’s trying to tell me that, despite my handsome and good looks and great reputation amongst all my students, she simply cannot allow the transfer to go through without the proper paper work.

Well, pickle my eggs, Batman. Another complication.

I was aware of other foreigners having problems with bank transfers and the bank teller did inform me that other foreigners had this tax bill thing, I was one of the few who didn’t. That’s not completely true. Yes, there are foreigners who have this thing, but none of the foreigners I know who have been here for any length of time have even heard of this thing. At any rate, I now had to reconsider my options.

Option 1: wire transfer. Foreigners can still do wire transfers but there’s a limit to how much they can exchange per day. The daily amount of money foreigners can exchange is $500 USD, any more than that and you need this tax bill thing. That means I can exchange up to $500USD per day and then, after a few days, do a wire transfer of all that cash. I did see online in one or two places in which foreigners simply went bank to bank and withdrew and then exchanged $500USD until they reached a suitable amount to send overseas. However, I was thinking of all the exchange fees (~ 20RMB / $4 CAD) that would add up over time so I was a little reluctant to do this.

Option 2 is to use Paypal. This is an old one and apparently no longer works, but I may have to try one more method. I know this because I spent an entire Saturday morning setting up a Paypal account IN CHINESE (which required taking screenshot after screenshot and translating it using Baidu translate, which I explained in my last post, and, worst of all, trying to link all of my accounts again) and attempting to send money overseas only to have nothing go through. It was only after this morning that I met another teacher who had lived in Taiwan and other parts of China for a few years beforehand and said it used to work but they have since shut that down. The odd thing is, however, that Paypal and Unionpay (China’s Interac equivalent) recently struck a deal and their websites indicate that sending money overseas is possible. So I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong or if I just need to re-try and click the right buttons. I suspect I might have to use online banking to send money, which also requires a USB dongle in order to enter my PIN.

Option 3 is to get a friend to wire the money to your account. Chinese nationals have a higher annual limit to the amount of USD they can send (ostensibly to their princes/ses) overseas or to buy a house in Vancouver/Seattle/Toronto) so not only can they exchange more, but they can send more in one go. Their annual limit is $50,000USD. This option, however, requires me to transfer my money to their account and then hope that they actually put the transfer through so, as you can see, there is a bit more trust needed in this case. Luckily, I think I know someone who can help me with this. Now this would be fine for the short term, but sending money home on a regular basis might be a bit of a nuisance.

Option 4 is the newest one to come along and comes with another learning curve: Bitcoin. This option is a bit of a wild card because I simply don’t trust all the connections you have to go through, not to mention that many of the Bitcoin sites can up and disappear over night with no accountability. The funny thing is, however, that since China has been enacting tougher banking regulations and devaluing its currency on a steady basis, the price of Bitcoin has actually gone up quite a bit in the last few months. It is possible to buy and sell Bitcoins and send them overseas much cheaper than doing any of the above transfer. However, and this is kind of what prevented me from even learning about how to do this exchange, Bitcoin is known to fluctuate quite a bit so there’s no guarantee that by the time you buy, send, and exchange your Bitcoins that it will be worth the same amount. So there’s a big exchange risk factor when using Bitcoin and I’d rather not have that problem when simply trying to send money home.

Other options include sending money via Western Union or Moneygram but, again, foreigners are capped at exchanging $500 USD per day. Further, Western Union likes to take a hefty percentage (~10%) of the amount being sent and, what I dislike about it even more, is that you need somebody on the other side to receive the money. Yet another option is to use Alipay to make an international wire transfer but, as with all simple things for Chinese nationals, you require a Chinese ID card to link bank cards and send the money. In other words, foreigners can’t use the Alipay wire transfer option.

I eventually went with Option 3 and had a friend I know transfer the money into her account and then wire it to me. We went together to the bank and went through the steps because, not only is there a bit of trust required, but she had never done a wire transfer before. Anyway, the bank had no problem doing the transfers (why would they? They made some nice commissions.) and the money went through shortly after.

And so ended this rather challenging week. I now had a new computer hard drive, a new operating system, the ability to order stuff online, and now money in Canada. Despite it being a “bad week”, it actually wasn’t that bad at all and, what’s more, I learned a few things along the way.