Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Chase for the Almighty Dollar

No, it's not what you think: I have not suddenly turned meretricious, searching for ways to earn more... although that is something that I am currently embroiled in, right now. More on that in another post.

No, this story involves what it took to get money out of China.

This has historically been a problem for me and, judging by the wealth of articles on the internet about moving money out of China, a topic of conversation for more than one expat serving in China.

Officially, there are plenty of ways to get money out of the country: wire transfers, bank drafts, Western  Union, MoneyGram, International Postal Money Orders. One can also make e-transfers via PayPal or the Chinese system Alipay, a virtual wallet.

Now, for the fine print:

Only expats holding a D-visa, the fabled 'green card' can use Alipay's international money transfers option. Otherwise, it is limited to Chinese nationals. Ditto with Paypal, which does not offer the 'friends and family' funds transfer option in China; one must transfer funds as a business transaction, which has a waiting time of up to twenty-one days.

Two weeks ago, early in my attempt to send money out, I enlisted Gary, who had helped me send my daughter money in the past, via PayPal. This time, the money would go to my son, to help prepare for his wedding, and the amount was larger than I ever sent my daughter.

The transaction was refused, possibly because it was a larger amount.

Online banking! I've recently regained the use of my online bank account; surely I can use it to transfer money into Darrell's account... right? Wrong! My online banking only affords me the ability to transfer money to accounts within China.

Back to the 'Net, where I found this article:

It was very specific about how one can transfer money: bank transfer (too much information that I don't have is required); bank draft (possible solution); Western Union and MoneyGram (both are hard to find and even harder to use, here – as opposed to other countries); international postal money order and e-transactions.

Having tried by all means electronic to send money, I settled on postal money orders. As a former postal employee I firmly believe in supporting that institution, no matter what country I live in. The added bonus is that I would not need to know my son's banking information, along with a litany of seemingly unneeded information, such as the bank's physical address and phone number. I would only need his home address, and I had that memorized!

First stop: local branch office, who directed me to a larger office a ways away. Confidently, I sauntered into that establishment and asked the customer service rep which clerk I should address my query to: the bank side or the postal side?

China's post offices are also banks, the same as in many other countries.

“We don't have money orders.” she said, flatly, before directing me to a bank that does wire transfers.

I kind of knew this would happen. I slunk out and made it about 10 yards away before going back in. I had done my homework! Everything I've read clearly states that one can buy international money orders, and I intended to buy some! Bypassing the customer service desk, I went to the postal clerks' window.

“I'd like to buy an interntional postal money order” I said, showing her my phone, which showed the article that stated money orders are available.

“We have stamps, no money orders. You want stamps?” - the word for 'stamp' and 'draft' (as in: cash draft' is the same: piao). 

“The clerk at my local post office directed me to this office, and confirmed you had money orders!” I averred.

She told me to try the bank side, whose clerk also told me there are no such things as international postal money orders, no matter what my phone, internet articles or other postal clerks say, and I should just go to the bank and do a money transfer.

Finally admitting defeat, I left that post office, rode a bus five stops to my bank, and asked the customer service person whom I should address in order to buy a demand draft.

“We don't have them. Please go to Bank of China.” At least, she was polite and smiling while turning me away.

Time out, take a break: McDonald's is right next to my bank and their coffee is pretty good. The added bonus is free WIFI, which I used to scout other possibilities.

Lo and Behold! The Chinese postal website clearly states that money orders and demand drafts are available (here, we duly thank my ability to read Chinese). I took a screen shot, intending to go to the next post office I see and waving my phone around until somebody provides the service I need.

Or, until I get arrested.

That very real possibility was a sobering thought. Caving in to what I know is the norm – if a foreigner wants anything official done, she had better have a Chinese friend negotiate for her, I messaged Sam. I didn't tell him what I needed him for until he was seated, and I had bought him lunch and a coffee.

He got on the phone with the postal service, whose representative directed him to the branch I had spent all morning arguing at. We agreed to change tactics and he called Bank of China. He was very explicit: “I have a foreigner friend who needs to send money to America for her son's wedding, and she doesn't have his banking information or his ID number. Can we buy a demand draft (cashier's check)?”

“Of course we do demand drafts in U.S. dollars! You only need to present yourself and your foreigner at any Bank of China counter, and they will be able to help you.”

Realizing it was before 2:00PM, the customary time for officials to resume duty, we lingered at McD's, finally setting off just after 2.

“No, we don't do demand drafts.” said the customer service person.

Sam replied: “I called before coming and was told that we could get one.”

“Those are only for...”

I have no idea what was said because I walked out. Helpless, furious tears streamed down my face as Sam joined me, minutes later, and I couldn't tell you what he said because I was too enraged to listen. Angrily I stabbed my finger toward the MoneyGram sign, prominently displayed below the bank's logo, and launched into a tirade.

Apparently the clerk saw me motioning violently and came out: “We don't have that service at this branch. You have to go to another branch...”   

And then, I found this: 

In an effort to stem the flow of foreign currency out of China, all financial institutions have been inofficially restricted in performing any transactions, yet the laws and policies remain the same. Check out this article:

I can see the purpose behind these regulations: crime deterrent. No point in malfeasance if you can't move the money around, is there? But what does all of this mean for me, someone without a criminal bone in her body? And what about when I leave China? Will I be able to move my money out when I vacate?

Stay tuned...

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