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Money Transfer to China: Review and Tips

— Posted by SaveOnSend to Money transfer from USA to China   |   8 Comments

Are you sending money from USA to China? Want to get the most yuan for your dollars or receive most dollars in China? Not sure which provider is the best, cheapest or fastest? Should your funds be received in renminbi or dollars? YOU came to the right place! We will cover all most important topics:

  1. Current state and key trends for sending money from USA to China

  2. Yuan to dollar exchange rates and timing

  3. Top money transfer providers

  4. Receiving in renminbi or dollars

  5. Finding fastest and cheapest vs. better and best money transmitters

Please note this post is specific to China. If you are looking for general knowledge of how to best send money, please review this SaveOnSend blog post first.

falling money

1. USA-to-China Money Transfer: current state and key trends

According to Pew Research, China is the world’s #2 destination for receiving money after India. This position is due to Chinese status as #1 migrant group in the world with 35 million Chinese residing outside of China. Out of all countries from where money sent to China, USA is the largest source of remittances:

Top 5 remittance source countries for China in 2015


For money transferred from USA, China is the 2nd largest destination after Mexico. There are around 4 million people of Chinese descent in USA, with around half residing across California and New York states. 10+% live around New York City and another 5% around San Francisco.


And these numbers will continue growing. In 2013, migrants from China became #1 nationality among all arrivals, surpassing Mexico and India:

Money Transfer: USA immigration trends among new arrivals from Mexico, India, China

Money Transfer: USA immigration trends among new arrivals from Mexico, India, China

Among migrants groups, Chinese in USA tend to be better educated with about an average income:

Migrants in USA by income and education

Chinese send money from USA using digital channels (a provider’s website or mobile app) and via a cash agent. Transfers could be received either in renminbi or dollars.

Chinese senders in USA are very unique vs. other main migrant groups in one peculiar way. Their use of informal remittance channels (aka, “hawala”) might be on par or higher than sending money via legal channels. While about 50% of remittances from USA to Mexico are from “undocumented” consumers, most of Chinese in US are legal residents. So why do so many of them prefer a shady route instead of using licensed money transmitters? It is due to a combination of historical context, cultural characteristics and current trends in China

– Cultural Revolution ended only around 40 years ago, so there is still a living memory and fear of loosing everything. Trust is a big issue, and non-Chinese, even well-known companies are still perceived with a great suspicion

– There has been a strong push by Chinese government to fight corruption which creates a fearful environment. Some Chinese citizens are scared to admit that they receive funds from USA. On the other hand, a local corrupt official could ask a family for a share of remittances from abroad

– There are limits on how much money could be sent annually, and Chinese government has consolidated database of all incoming transactions

– Chinese must pay taxes on income from abroad. By not reporting income in USA, a family in China might be threatened to go to jail

– There are ongoing and widespread scams related to sending-receiving money

In our discussions with residents of Chinese communities around NYC, we also heard that a) many of them seem to work without paying taxes, b) they also seem extremely secretive of their earnings, both for safety and reputation reasons, c) they perceive a real risk of a bank or remittance provider sharing their transfer information with authorities and/or crime syndicates in USA and China.

As the result, while being three times larger than Philippines or Mexico‘s amount of received remittances, China is only #4 destination for Western Union.

If you are reading this and haven’t yet tried sending money to China via a legal channel, online or via a cash agent, you should definitely give it a shot. There are plenty of providers to choose from for sending both yuan and dollars. In USA, there are strict privacy laws about sharing customer data. With your smart phone and bank account, you can setup money transfer in few minutes without sharing your information directly with any person. Once you link your bank account, you might be surprised how easy is to send money online and how much you could save. This way, all your past transfers are available for your review any time, plus your future repeat transfers shall take less than a minute to complete since you don’t have to enter the same information again.

TW Send Money to China Nov 25 2017


WU Send Money to China Nov 25 2017



2. Yuan to dollar exchange rates and timing

Are you wondering if you shall wait for renminbi to increase in value or for a dollar to fall? Trying to time the best exchange rate is unbelievably difficult if not impossible. If anybody gives you an advise on this topic while not making millions trading on same information, it might be a sign that you shouldn’t follow such recommendation. Still not convinced? Look at the graph below for changes in the exchange rate of yuan to dollar during the last 10 years – do you see any logic in the exchange rate’s short- or long-term movements? How can anyone safely predict where it goes next?USD-CNY interbank exchange rate 2015 - Nov 25 2017

Timing the best exchange rate is also challenging due to an unpredictable nature of providers’ FX markup (the difference between a yuan-dollar exchange rate that providers get on the market vs. an exchange rate that you get from a provider). Not only each money transmitter applies a very different FX markup, it also makes daily changes to its FX markup to maximize profits. Some providers are even applying different FX markups for different sending-receiving methods. For example, for sending money from USA to China, MoneyGram has different yuan-dollar exchange rates for sending a) online, b) via cash agent.

Look at the graph below – it seems that each provider has a very steady approach for FX markup. However, once in a while, you see significant fluctuations, up-or-down, so it is always prudent to compare across multiple providers each time before sending money.

FX margins comparison across providers - remittances from USA to China till July 7 2017


3. Top money transfer providers

Due to cumbersome regulations, only few providers are serving Chinese market. Transfast stopped transfers to China in January 2016, Vianex – December 2016. Other Fintech startups are not even trying to deal with China due to “regulatory constraints” as expressed by Azimo.

As you see in the above graph, Western Union and MoneyGram used to apply almost no FX markup, but not anymore. Western Union is also by far the world’s largest money transmitter and the top provider of remittances from USA to China. Among all providers, Western Union has the most pick-up location in China.


MoneyGram, the world’s 2nd largest remittance provider is also actively offering its services both via digital channels and cash agents. Another company to consider is TransferWise – it is the largest and fastest growing cross-border money transfer startup. Other active providers include digital-only players like Xoom and WorldRemit – consumers can only use them by sending money via a linked bank account or with a debit card.

4. Receiving in renminbi vs. dollars

Review the two tables below that compare margins across providers. They are for sending the same amount, $1,000, from a linked bank account in USA to a bank account in China, first table is for receiving renminbi, second is for dollars:


Comparison of providers: money transfers from USA to China, USD-to-CNY, $1,000, bank-to-bank, October 12, 2016

Top providers for sending money from USA to China: $1000, bank-to-bank in USD, November 26, 2015

Top providers for sending money from USA to China: $1000, bank-to-bank in USD, November 26, 2015

As you could see, it is hard to decide which option is better because a) not all providers offer both options, b) the cheapest options is not always the fastest. If you try SaveOnSend app for other send-receive options, you will notice a similar inconsistency. Therefore, don’t worry whether to send USD or RMB – just choose whichever currency your receiving party prefers the most.

5. Finding fastest and cheapest vs. better and best money transmitters

So how do we find the best provider for sending money from USA to China? There is no single provider which is “best” for all of us since we have our unique preferences among cost, speed, convenience, and customer service – no one provider clearly leads among all these factors.

However, there is one simple rule. Compare the top row in the table below (best option for sending money from USA to China in renminbi) with other rows. Notice that rows for money transferred from card-to-bank are 2-3 times more expensive than when sending from bank-to-bank? Therefore, you could save 50+% by linking a bank account instead of using a debit card:

Top providers for sending money from USA to China: $1000, card-to-bank in renminbi, November 26, 2015

Top providers for sending money from USA to China: $1000, card-to-bank in renminbi, November 26, 2015

Receiving money in China into a bank account or via cash pick-up doesn’t make such big difference (check with SaveOnSend app), so choose the option that is most convenient for you.

To summarize, here are the leaders among providers that send money from USA to China:

Fastest: Xoom

Cheapest: 1) renminbi – Western Union, 2) dollars – TransFast

– Availability of cash pick-up locations: Western Union, MoneyGram

After you send money, please describe your experience on SaveOnSend, so others could learn from you.



Hopefully, you found this overview helpful and feel more confident in how to find the best approach for YOU when sending money from USA to China. If we missed anything, please leave a comment.

We will be keeping this post regularly updated, so come back soon!

  • NunYaBuziness

    What about conversion fees once the money hits the other side? All I am seeing are fees for the sending of money. Some of the info seems a bit sketchy because I am not sure I get what is meant when I am presented with an option like sending money in USD to a country that will receive it in USD. Or do I send it as RMB so it gets there in RMB? What exactly are the options? I mean, can I say to send my money as RMB when it is in my bank as USD? Somewhere along the line, there has to be a conversion fee, right? I think there are limitations as to how we send because unless I already have my money in the form of RMB, it is still a USD and if the recipient needs to have RMB to spend it in their country, somewhere along the line a conversion fee will apply. I just cannot see that information within any of the examples being presented. I guess most of the article shows a broad overview with examples when sending a specific amount of money and the different costs among service providers. I did see the fee for sending is not quite as high when linking bank accounts but h? How does this work when you send via Western Union? I am to link my bank to Western Union? And the recipient is also to do the same? Or is the idea of linking to a bank account so we can send directly from our bank to the bank of the recipient? Again, alot of information with alot “fill in the blank” type of questions not clearly being answered. I tell you what, my bank is actually here in the USA and also has a branch in china and yet the cost for me to have money deposited here and made available in the branch located in china is so ridiculous. I am not a fan of how banks exploit their greed when they tell us just how much they want for some of the services they offer. ATM machines were supposed to make it so a human did not have to deal directly with alot of customers walking into a bank to get cash. But yet banks, who do absolutely nothing except let the ATM take transaction fees by way of hardly any CPU processing power, can count on billions of yearly revenue added to the bottom line just so their executives can line their pockets with money they take from hard working people who are being charged a fee to take what is already theirs? It’s my money. They have it in their bank to increase their investing capital. Yet they do not want to say thank you to us for helping them earn profit on investments. Instead, they smack us in the face by charging us even MORE each time we take OUR money from their bank via ATM. How many ways do they want to make money? They screw us big time by charging us for such nonsense. Those ATMs take the place of several cashiers and save them tons. And our money helps earn them big investment returns. And we have to pay just to take some of our own money when we need it? Sorry but that doesn’t jive with some of us. In fact, anyone who thinks this is fair is probably a bank executive benfitting from it all.

    • Hello, thank you for asking questions and sharing your perspective. Some of our users have recipients who are ok with receiving dollars, but you are right, somewhere down the line conversion happens, it is just not a consideration for our users in that case. When using Western Union, you can link your bank account, which is usually the cheapest send method. In such case, a bank would make a few cents in USA and maybe couple dollars in China. You can read more about what is happening behind the scene here:
      You can also send money directly via a bank, but it is usually more expensive, read more here:

  • NunYaBuziness

    yah ok. So Western Union doesn’t charge any fee? No margin at all? Who let that slip by and get posted? Not only is that false, but what about the chart showing the lowest margin and how all other services except Western Union are using Credit/Debit Card as source and a Bank as the destination. Whoever put this article together might just be trying to get people to hit the Western Union website without taking the time to thoroughly evaluate some of these other BETTER options. Western Union charge $8 for a bank to bank transfer from USA to China and it is 4-8 days which is WORTHLESS if you ask me.

    If anyone think Western Union is worth paying $8 for that wait as opposed to a service like XOOM who charges $8.88 for a 1 hour transfer is pretty much clueless. I think people should strongly consider looking into any other option before using Western Union. Why is this article listing the data on these charts as if Western Union has no margin when using a bank to bank transfer method? It’s not free no matter what option I tried. In fact, if I choose to upgrade to transfer the money faster, the cost nearly triples making other services way better choices. really stand behind my first post when I said this article creates so many unanswered questions and I have to add it might cause alot of confusion. It also looks as if Western Union is getting an unfair advantage without any real world justification to back it up

    • Hello, thank you for reading our article. Sorry for causing confusion. Each comparison table has a date associated with it. Hopefully, you agree that we can’t update those every day (SaveOnSend is non-for-profit). The table you referring to was accurate in early February when, for few weeks, Western Union was not charging ANY fee or FX markup. Then it started charging FX markup again – please see the updated table in the article. You can also find all the information in our comparison tool at
      With regards to speed vs. price, you personally is obviously willing to pay a little to get money faster. You might be surprised, but many of users don’t mind waiting even a week to minimize the margin. Typically, it is consumers who send money to their own account back home.
      Please let us know if you have any follow-up questions.

      • NunYaBuziness

        Boy I am a grumpy old man. I finally got things to work out. I really do not know how much better it can get, but XOOM was so so simple for me. But if instant availability is needed outside of normal business hours you have to wait until 7am the next day. But, $8.88 is really fair and if done within normal business hours in china, 7am-10pm according to XOOM, the transfer is in minutes even at the $8.88 rate

        • With Xoom, their fees are usually pretty good, but that provider tends to be one of the most expensive due to a relatively high FX markup – see the enclosed chart.

          • NunYaBuziness

            Now this what I meant in my first post. Having unanswered questions because I cannot even see how a lot of information applies when I see none of these specifics being relevant for when I am using or choosing a company to transfer money. I only need to see how much I am sending + the cost to do so and the total cost on my end and of course any fees once it gets to the destination.
            This chart and the term FX markup have gone so far over my head and I do not see how it applies to just the average person making a transfer if the bottom line is only $8.88 and no landing fee and no fees for the recipient. It was $8.88 end of story. One thing I totally hate about Western Union is their website and the steps to fill in info to do a transfer. It’s just not a comfortable environment and I almost feel like I’m in a bad neighborhood. Not sure why.. Plus, their $8 takes 4 days when Xoom is a minute and worst case if it’s after 10pm in China, it’s there 7am. XOOM by far had the simplest and most comfortable web design I liked. Being a PayPal owned company, I was glad to see this better price but it got me to thinking. Because I was sending to China via paypal using the To Friends/Family option. When it’s to someone with a PayPal account, in the USA, it’s free. But since this was abroad, they charged 2.5% on initiating the send and then the recipient had to pay a $35 flat fee just to get the money. Some of that was currency conversion supposedly. Now that is highway robbery for a $50 transfer just to borrow a millisecond of processing time on a computer system. Gezuz, give me a calculator and & I will advertise currency conversion calculations for 50 cents each. I’ll be a trillionaire. So it only made sense for the recipient to wait until I can send maybe $500 to make it worth paying something like $35 to get it. I am just surprised that since I keep money in a PayPal account, much like a bank, and they treat me like that and then offer a service that only charges $8.88 for every Tom Dick & Harry out there. I almost think that’s like telling your investors they have to pay more than those who are just passing through. I actually hate that
            So I guess I want to know what this FX markup is and why does it matter to me?

          • FX markup is what a provider like Xoom earns when offering you a worse conversion rate than they are able to obtain. For example, if Xoom is charging you $8.88 to send $1,000, then they make 0.88% on you. But if their FX markup is another 1.5% like in the chart included before, it means they make 2.38% on your in total (but for a very quick service). Compare that with Western Union – you don’t like their website and their take too long to transfer your funds, but their total margin is lower. The great thing is you have options. Find provider that you like the most here:

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