Banking in China (1 letter off from baking, and much less pleasant)

Being a Canadian abroad fully intending on returning to Canada in the future (read: planning to pay taxes), from about November, I started preparing to wire some money to my Canadian bank account. I will try to be informative by listing out the complete requirements at the end. [See bottom.] People say you don’t necessarily need all that stuff if you just ask a Chinese national to do it for you, if you can find one that you trust with a big sum of money. It’s not technically ‘legal’ given that there are personal yearly limits specified, and it isn’t really illegal since the lines are blurry if you just give the money to a friend to transfer for you, but I want to do this right! I’m not trying to evade taxes, and I see that I will be fully within my transfer limits as a foreigner. This is who I am: I diligently build and maintain my credit rating – both generously using and fully paying off my credit card. I will do this too, even if it means I need to obtain some official documents. With this in mind I research precisely what I need to do according to Chinese law and bank rules, looking online and asking my bank representative.
  1. November. I walk into the bank and am served by a young man who appears to know little English. He one-fingers each letter of the bank address etc. onto the form, with frequent spelling mistakes. (Wince.) He takes so long that the Foreign Transfers Counter announces their closure by the time I have the form printed. The single Foreign Transfers Counter (out of 20+ counters at this big branch) is only open 9:00-12:00 and 14:00-17:00. Each customer sits (yes, there is a chair… hint hint) at the counter for an average of 45 minutes before the business is done. The wait? No less than 30 minutes.
  2. December, the next time I have the leisure to go to the bank. I get to the foreign transfers counter after much waiting, but am told that I am missing a 9-digit CC Code. After some strained yelling across the clear plastic barrier, I obtain that this code is Institution Number + Branch number.
    “All I have is 8 digits with those numbers put together… can’t you use a SWIFT code? Isn’t that an international banking standard?”
    “ICBC cannot. You could try HSBC or Bank of China.”
    “You mean I can just take money there and do it?”
    “No, you would need to open a bank account with them.”
    “You’re telling me to take my money to another bank and open an account with them?”

    • In Which I Call TD Canada Trust Long Distance and a Helpful But Confused Representative Tells Me There is No 9-digit “CC Code” in Existence
    • In Which I Feel Vindicated but Trapped and Shed Some Hot Tears
  3. January… The young man who doesn’t know much English can recognise me now (and maybe inwardly curses the fact that I am at the bank once again), but introduces me to a Foreign Currency Expert. She says, “Oh… for Canada we usually just add a “0” in front of your Institution and Branch Number to make the 9-digit CC Code.” I had found this suggestion online already, but needed confirmation from them as the sources weren’t specific to China and weren’t fully official. We’re cutting it close to closing time but I miraculously get to sit down at the counter when a loud lady leans in between me and the counter and yells that she’s in a huge rush so the Foreign Transfers Counter guy decides to help her instead. “Excuse me?” “Come back after lunch.” I am flabbergasted and dislike his face, but get up and leave the bank quietly upset. He is, after all, the sole guardian of the counter and I cannot argue. I can’t just come back later though – I have school activities to tend to.
  4. February! I almost lose hope that there are too many people ahead of me in the queue, but the couple who are just before me seem to be having trouble with the Foreign Transfers Counter guy. He keeps yelling “CC Code” and they keep yelling, “Isn’t this the code?” (They have a SWIFT code, apparently from the alphabetical letters on their form they wave at him.) I smile sympathetically behind them and think, “Aha, my suffering will be useful!” At first they think I’m trying to cut the line or complain that they’re going to take too long (fair suspicion, given my own preceding experience), and then they see my form and that I’m also trying to wire to Canada, and begin to trust what I have to say, being that I know each of their frustrations and confusions. The Foreign Transfers Counter guy doesn’t even trust me at first, but once I speak loud enough to show my knowledge and show him my correct “CC Code” he grants that I know what I’m talking about. They give up as they realise that they don’t know the branch number and can’t find out immediately. I sit down at the counter at long last! How long does it take to complete my transaction, minus the 30 minute waiting time? 1 hour. Good heavens.
    Tired Foreign Currency Transfer guy: “You know, you should just ask a Chinese national to do this for you. It’s much less of a hassle. You don’t need all this paperwork.”
Alright, what is wrong with Chinese administration? There’s so much red tape that rebelling against an organisation is what the organisation’s representative tells you you should do. (Open an account with another bank; skip the paperwork by taking the dodgy shortcut.)
This motley of administrative traffic jams and encouragements to cut corners is precisely the kind of culture in China that means that the owner of a factory dropping heavy pollutants into a river can suffer a tiny bit of bad press, close down, and then reopen on a different river. On the other hand, you have the all too familiar, ‘Food item X is reported to have been faked with chemical Y which can cause health problems Z, T, U. Things like this make me sad and ashamed to be Chinese. These are the things we are known for in the world, not wonderful literature or innovative practices. We are a nation of ancient glories and modern iniquities.
Yes, today I am getting down on ‘my people’ and perhaps a bit too harshly, but maybe if it made more sense to play fair in China, she wouldn’t have such levels of pollution in nature and society.
——————– How to remit money from China as a foreigner ——————–
Tips for wire transfers! [See above for other details. Below is just a list of supporting documents needed.]
UPDATE: It worked! 14 February 2014, TD Canada Trust indicates that it received my amount, less handling fees. That’s pretty fast! It got there the next day. Wonders. (I had to pay fees to my Chinese bank and to my Canadian bank. 177 RMB and 32.5 CAD respectively, though I’m sure this changes from time to time.  Rather hefty at 65 bucks per wire, so don’t wire minuscule amounts!)
Officially, a foreigner can remit / wire up to 50,000 USD abroad per year. That’s plenty. You need the following items to transfer money abroad from China as a foreigner.
Before going to the bank, gather these:
  • Pay stubs enough to cover the amount you wish to remit (stamped with the official company chop from your employer) – 工资清单
  • A tax receipt obtained from the local tax office 地税局 (stamped with company chop) – 个人完税证明
    • Fun fact: The bottom of your tax receipt reads, “Thank you for your contribution to China’s flourishing and prosperity!” 感谢您为祖国繁荣昌盛做出的贡献!
  • Original work contract  (stamped with company chop)

At the bank, find and fill out these forms:

  • Before you get to the counter: Application for Funds Transfers (Overseas) – 境外汇款申请书
  • Before the counter: write a ‘letter’ of application (I, _______, apply at bank X to purchase Y amount of currency Z and to remit this amount to [insert country here] for [whatever purposes]. ID/passport number, date, signature.)
  • At the counter: 因私购汇申请书 – no English name, but it’s another application form
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