If you are just your average English teacher expat without 50,000 USD to put into Citibank or HSBC to open an account so that you can transfer funds online, you might find it a bit of a hassle change RMB to USD or Euros, or the currency of your choice, because of the 500 USD a day limit in banks unless you have the required tax forms from your company and can fill out the paperwork. There is also the option of having a Chinese friend just wire the money from their bank account or change the money in their name for you, if you have a friend who doesn’t mind putting a dent in their 50,000 USD yearly limit and has the time to spare. There is another option for the more adventurous expat, however. They are known as the “Golden Cows.” These are men who work for companies who have large quantities of USD or other foreign currency, who want to buy as much RMB as possible without the tax implications of legally changing the money over. In Tianjin, they hang out at the entrance to the Bank of China’s main branch on Jiefang Bei Lu. (中国银行 -解放北路与大同道 – Zhōngguó Yínháng – Jiěfàng Běi Lù yǔ Dàtóng Dào – Bank of China at the intersection of Jiefang North Road and Datong Street).
I will just share my experience, and perhaps you can try it for yourself. When I arrived at the Bank of China, I saw a few men lounging under a tree, and, probably because I looked like a lost foreigner, they walked up to me and asked what I wanted. I said, “Wǒ yào měijīn.” (I want American dollars.) And of course, the guy who could help me was there. I’ve noticed he has Euros and Russian currency in his wallet as well. I had checked the exchange rate that day, so I knew how much RMB I wanted to give him and how much USD I wanted to get back. If your Chinese isn’t good, you could just write the the amount in USD and the amount in RMB on a piece of paper and show it to him. Sometimes you have to negotiate, but just insist on whatever the exchange rate is at the time. The last time I went, the exchange rate was 6.1 RMB to 1 USD, and I gave him 6100 RMB for 1000 USD. The exchange rate is falling steadily these days. He can do very large sums of money, tens of thousands of dollars, but he’s just as ready to due small sums, too.
Once we agreed on the amount, we went into the bank together. He got a customer service number, and waited for me (not creepily near), while I pulled the money out of the ATM. Then we went to the window together, he withdrew the money, had me count it right there in front of the teller, counted the money I’d handed him, and deposited it. Even though the whole process is not exactly legal, it’s all done in the light of day at the bank. Everyone knows what is happening and no one cares. He gave me his card, and the following times, I just texted him the amounts, and asked if he was free, and we agreed on a time to meet at the bank right outside my neighborhood.
Once you have the money, you can send it back home via Western Union for a 25 USD flat fee and have a friend pick it up and deposit in your account. If you want to wire it to an account, it might be a more complicated process, probably involving a Chinese friend, and if you have to use one of those, you probably won’t be changing it to USD anyway. I think that complicates things.