We don't know if you noticed but China really does not like money flowing out of the country. Like you, we've read the advice you find online. ...And it's mostly out of bounds. Asking a "Chinese friend". Illegal! Alipay. Illegal! Paypal. Illegal! Taking large amounts in cash? Illegal!
Will you end up in prison for the rest of your life if you use any of these channels? Probably not. But let's make clear: China has a perfectly workable system for you to take that money out of the country. All they want is proof you've paid tax on it. Anything else is tax evasion.
For this article we spoke to Camille Xu, an english speaking lawer at one of China's largest law firms Yingke to find out about the legal ways to get your money out of China, both smaller amounts from personal income and larger amounts, coming from property sales or company dividents.
The Way the Government Wants: Prove It, Then Wire It
Basically, you need to prove that you earned the money legally and that you have paid tax on it. That means you need to bring your tax statements and a few other documents to the bank and tell them you want to transfer the money abroad. Be prepared that this usually means spending a few hours at the bank, and you really really need to have all these documents with you. Make sure that all the passport numbers match (e.g. if you've changed your passport since you signed the labor contract you also need to bring your old passport). It's an annoying process, a single number mismatch on any of the documents (e.g. a small difference between tax records and salary receipts) and you've wasted a few hours sitting in a bank. As with anything banking related in China, smaller banks (China Merchents, Shanghai Pudong Development Bank ..) are usually easier to deal with and more likely to let you go away with a missing documents.
And unfortunately you have to do it in person, yourself.
Here's what you need to bring:
- Your work contract (劳务合同)
- Yearly income tax statement (个人所得税年度申报表)
- Your salary receipt (工资收入证明)
- A copy of the business licence of your company (公司营业执照复印件)
- Your work permit card (外国人工作许可证)
You will also need your bank card, your passport and your foreign account details, including the SWIFT code of your bank. The amount of money that you plan to transfer cannot exceed the amount that the tax office document covers.
The bank teller will absolutely love it if you forget one of these things, so be diligent and make sure you go in prepared.
If you have paid tax on your income and done everything above board, you can send the full amount of your yearly net income abroad without any limitations. If you are using the same bank in both China and abroad (like HSBC), the transfer may even be instant.
Withdraw Cash from an ATM Abroad
You can also send a chinese UnionPay bank card overseas and withdraw cash from an ATM that's connected to the UnionPay system. Lots of them are. This is a popular but time intensive option with limitions: UnionPay itself has a withdraw limit of 10,000 RMB per day and some foreign banks have even lower limits. As for the yearly limit, the UnionPay website says there is a limit of 100k RMB per year.
The transaction fees vary from bank to bank but are usually around 5 Euro on a 1,000-Euro withdraw, so that's around 0.5%, and the exchange rates are along what we've seen when exchanging money in China.
Other then withdrawing money from an ATM, you can also actually use your UnionPay card at many shops and restaurants overseas and those transactions have very minimal transaction fees.
Take Cash on the Plane
Then there is cash-in-the-bag. The rules here are clear. Both Chinese and non-Chinese citizens are allowed to take up to USD 5,000 or the equivalent in foreign currency out of China each time they leave. Unless you leave twice within 15 days, triggering a new limit of just USD 1,000 or foreign currency equivalent. Any more, and it's got to be declared at customs.
So, to recap. If you want to get money out of mainland China, you've got to prove how you earned it and show you've paid tax on it. Anything else is considered tax evasion and is illegal.
Larger Amounts: Transferring Proceeds from Selling Real Estate
Transfer of proceeds from selling Chinese real estate would follow the same rules as income from personal income tax: You may transfer the full sales amount, as long as you've paid taxes on it and you can prove it. You will need to keep a clear track record of the real estate transaction and provide a complete "chain of evidence" including: the property ownership certificate before and after the transaction, the real estate transaction agreement, the track record of cash-flow and the tax clearance certificates. This can often be tricky and you have to do proper planing in advance. Don't rush into selling your real estate and always get an advice from real estate lawyer such as Camille Xu who's helped hundredes of foreigners with real estate transactions.
One issue that frequently comes up is who's name is on the property title. Often foreigners don't purchase a property on their own but with their Chinese spouse. It is very important to note that the authorities will only consider the name registered on the property title as the owner of the real estate. For example, if yours and your spouse's names are both on the property title, you are considered owning 50% each on the property and can only transfer 50% of the sales price; if only your spouse's name is on the property title, it is deemed 100% owned by them and you can't transfer any of it.
There are ways of adding your name to the property title even long after you've bought the apartment but it's a difficult process and you've need help from a real estate lawyer.
Transferring Funds as Shareholder in a Company
If you are entrepreneur and act as shareholder in a Chinese company, you may also remit your income as a shareholder overseas under the same rules. In this case, the annual audit report and accounting documents would be the evidences of source of funds. In addition, both yourself and your company must provide papers showing that you have duly paid up all the taxes.
We would like to mention that expatriates might be eligible to benefit from exemption on individual income tax on the dividend (20% of the dividend to be remitted). Consult your lawyer to get advice on tax optimization options.
Special Arrangements for Naturalized People
Chinese citizens are under strict foreign exchange restrictions, however, if they emigrate to a foreign county and become naturalized citizens, they have an option to get all their RMB funds exchanged and remitted overseas in one shot.
In this case, you must provide documents on the deregistration of your Chinese nationality and Hukou. Those who have naturalized but want to maintain Pekinese / Shanghainese Hukou wouldn't be able to benefit from such arrangement.
In practice, you will need to apply to foreign exchange bureau and provide documents on the naturalization. There will also be an examination on the source of funds but it is not as complicated as it is for expats. If approved, you can get 50% of the total funds remitted in the first year, the 25% in the second year and the remaining 25% in the third year.
This article was created in collaboration with:
Camille Xu & Associates
Camille Xu & Associates is a team of English speaking lawyers, operating as a specialist branch of one of China’s most reputable law firms, Yingke Law Firm. Camille Xu is a foreign trained multi-disciplinary lawyer who's well established in Shanghai’s international community for providing legal services to both individuals and SMEs in...