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Transferring Money Home From China

September 5th, 2021

If you work in China sooner or later you’re going to want to transfer some of your salary back home. After a few initial failures and now three straight successes I thought I’d document the process here in the hope that it avoids frustration for others.

The main problem is China’s currency controls. You can’t just wire RMB outside the country and have it automatically converted into your home currency like can for say, USD to GBP. You first need to convert RMB to a freely convertible currency inside China, and then wire transfer that money out. That means you need a foreign currency account with your Chinese bank in addition to the normal bank account where you get paid.

Don’t think you can just walk into the bank and do this though. First you need to collect a lot of paperwork. You’ll need:

  • Your bank card.
  • Your passport, and any previous passports if another document references the old passport number.
  • Your work permit.
  • A signed copy of your employment contract.
  • The name, address, SWIFT code, and IBAN of your home bank account.
  • 完税证明, a certificate that shows tax paid (see below).
  • Physical payslips for each month shown on the tax certificate. If you only have electronic payslips you need to print them out and get your company to stamp them.

The tax certificate is most troublesome. To get it you need to visit the local tax office (税务总局) and say you want to 开完税证明 kāiwánshuìzhèngmíng. In Shanghai at least they have a special counter for foreigner tax services. You have to tell them the date range you want the certificate to cover: the certificate needs to show income after tax of at least the amount you want to transfer. It might also be possible to get this online if you have an account on the 个人所得税 app (the one you’re supposed to use for tax returns), although I’ve not done this myself.

At last you can go to the bank. Every bank I’ve been to only handles currency conversion Monday-Friday, and only before 3pm. So I suggest you go in the morning and leave a lot of time. Tell them you want to 换外币 huànwàibì or something to that effect and they’ll give you a ticket. Wait for your turn and then tell them how much you want to exchange and into what currency. Give them all the documents and get ready for a lot more waiting.

As I mentioned earlier the first step is to open a foreign currency account. You can either ask for this explicitly or just act confused and hope they do it for you (worked for me). As part of this they’ll ask you to sign some scary looking legal agreements about money laundering and so on. Whatever, just sign them. You only have to do this the first time.

Then you can actually do the currency exchange. With luck this won’t require much interaction, just wait while they check and photocopy the documentation and finally you’ll have to enter your PIN and sign something to confirm.

They’ll stamp the tax certificate with how much you transferred and the date. Make sure you keep this for your next trip or things will get confusing.

The last step is to wire transfer the money back home. The first time I did this I had to go to a different counter to input my bank’s details. It seems like it’s easy to make a mistake here but I suspect all that matters is the name, SWIFT code, and account number are correct. Subsequent times the account information was saved so I could just do the wire transfer from the bank’s app which was super convenient. The fees are a bit steep though: expect to pay 300 RMB or so plus any fee on the receiving side, so it’s best to only transfer large amounts. Every time I’ve transferred to the UK its arrived on the same day.

Get Vaccinated Win An iPhone

July 25th, 2021

Throughout June and July the Shanghai local government has been trying a new tactic to convince people to take the coronavirus vaccine: bribes. At many vaccination centres you can be entered into a draw to win a phone or receive some other free gift. It’s clearly working as apparently 70% of adults have now been vaccinated. I’ve collected a few examples below that I either saw myself or were shared around on WeChat.

I passed this one on the way to work. The text says “get the coronavirus vaccination here and receive five litres of cooking oil”.

This district is clearly lacking imagination: the sign says “take the vaccine and receive 300 RMB cash after the second injection”.

A sign at Shanghai International Tourism Resort. It says “take the vaccine inside the resort and receive a free entrance ticket”.

This one says if you take the vaccine here, you’ll be entered into a prize draw. The top prize is an iPhone 12 and the second one is a Macbook, although the seventh prize is just some eggs.

This lady won a phone at another location after getting her vaccination. There’s a maximum of one per day but if you don’t win anything you still get five litres of cooking oil.

Carefully Slide

May 28th, 2018

Here’s an interesting machine translation fail I’ve seen a few times recently.

Actually “carefully slide” is a valid translation of 小心地滑, but presumably the sign writer meant something like “careful, slippery floor”.

小心 means “careful” and 滑 is either a verb meaning “to slide” or an adjective meaning “slippery” depending on the context. The problem is the character 地 in the middle, which if pronounced like is a noun meaning “ground”, but if pronounced like de is a special grammatical particle that connects adverbs to verbs (it’s a bit like -ly in English). So you can either read it like careful-ground-slippery or careful-ly-slide.

Interestingly I tried just now and Baidu gave me “Caution! Wet Floor!” and Google gave me “Caution: Slippery”, so I guess technology has improved a bit.

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What’s the difference between 收到, 受到, and 得到?

September 30th, 2017

One of the things I find a bit frustrating about learning Chinese is that there are a lot of words that seem to have very similar meanings. If you look up 收到, 受到, and 得到 in the dictionary they all apparently mean “get, receive, obtain”, which is not very helpful. Also 收到 and 受到 sound very similar which is extra confusing. Actually there are some subtle differences so I thought I’d share my researches here.


This one means to receive something concrete or a physical object. E.g. 收到一个礼物 “receive a present”, 收到一封信 “get a letter”. One person I asked also said there’s some sense that the thing being received either originally belonged to you or should rightfully belong to you. By itself 收 also has the simple meaning of “to get a thing”.


This means to receive something more abstract or emotional like love or concern or punishment. It also has some sense of being “passively” received. E.g. 受到指责 “receive criticism”, 受到关心 “receive the concern of others”. I try to remember this by thinking the character 受 looks a lot like 爱 “love” and so should have something to do with emotions (probably not etymologically accurate). By itself 受 also means to passively receive something, e.g. in 受欢迎 “be well-received or popular”.


This one is also more abstract than 收到. It means to receive something that was deserved or earned in some way. E.g. 因为他赢了,他得到了金牌 “because he won, he received the gold medal”, 因为他工作得很努力,他得到了表彰 “because he worked hard he received a commendation”. It can also be used a negative sense, like receiving punishment or criticism that was deserved.

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New Character

February 15th, 2015

Dear China,

The character 蛋 for “egg” is confusing and illogical! I have recently invented a vastly superior character which I wish to offer royalty-free. If 鸟 “bird” + 山 “mountain” = 岛 “island” then obviously 鸟 + 生 “grow/birth” = “egg” (or perhaps “chick”). I have drawn below: please include in all fonts immediately. kthxbye.