Adventures in Chinese Banking: It Stinks

I’ve written about my adventures in Chinese banking before, and now I have another story. Yesterday, I took a bunch of RMB to a bank in order to exchange it for USD. I am going home in January, and would like to have some money. Or rather, I would like to have some money I can actually spend. Now, you might think it would be easy to accomplish this goal. After all, one only needs to take the cash to the bank, hand over the money for exchange, and get the dollar bills back.

The image shows some Chinese RMB that I wanted to exchange for USD in my newest Adventures in Chinese Banking.

And in a sane world and a sane system, you’d be correct. However, Chinese banking is not sane, as my adventures in it have shown. I did some research before heading to the bank because I know the system here will screw you any chance it gets. (Also, the info I found turned out not to apply to those working in China.) Sadly, I wasn’t able to find out a whole lot, but I knew that I needed a Chinese citizen with me. Thankfully, the university has a foreign liaison this semester, and she was willing to accompany me. So, we made plans to have lunch and then head to the bank.

The first bank we went to didn’t have the USD on hand because we didn’t call first. Okay, there’s something good to know: call the bank first if you want to exchange money. We then called another branch, but they also didn’t have enough USD on hand. Finally, we decided to call China National Bank: the big bank of China. It was our last hope. They had the cash on hand. We were feeling good about things.

Adventures in Chinese Banking: Even Citizens Jump Through Hoops

Well, we felt good about things, until we actually got to the bank. Unrelated, but an indication of how things would go: the parking attendant was rude to us. When we asked him how to get out of the parking garage on foot, he just shrugged and said walk around. Super helpful.

So, we get into the bank and find someone to help us. After a long discussion between my liaison and the bank worker, we ended up nowhere. See, the problem is I can’t just go in and exchange the money. I need a copy of my contract and my tax information, neither of which I have. Well, I have a copy of my contract, but I didn’t have it with me. I don’t have a copy of my tax information because my company takes care of my taxes.

The next thought was to have the liaison just exchange the cash for me. After all, she’s Chinese, so that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Again, in a sane world and sane system, you’d be right. But this is not a sane world or system. They told her that she could exchange the cash, but if she didn’t go to the US soon, she could get into trouble.

Now, I didn’t want that to happen so I told her not to worry about it, and that we’d figure something else out. As we were leaving the bank, she decided to call the first bank we visited to ask the person there if they would have the USD by Monday. I leave on Tuesday. He told her they wouldn’t but that they had the same policy. He also told her that she could always change her mind about traveling once she changed the money.

The System Almost Won

Armed with this knowledge, and her willingness to take a chance, my liaison returned to the bank and exchanged the money. My nerves were on fire as I waited in the lobby for her to completer the transaction. We’d just been in there trying to do what we were now doing. Would they let us? Was trouble in the cards for one or both of us?

After the exchange, we left the bank. I worried the security guard would stop us and take my money and send us to speak to the police. Not really, but that’s the thing about places like this. You just never know what will happen. We hadn’t broken any laws, but then that doesn’t always matter.

So, that’s the latest of my adventures in Chinese banking. Thanks for reading, and I hope you learned a little about what my life here is like.

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