Profit repatriation from China to home countries is an essential topic for both companies as well as individuals. Foreign-invested companies mostly use service contracts or dividends to transfer money, e.g. to a headquarter on the other side of the world. At the same time, individuals used to the convenience of payment apps such as WeChat and Alipay are increasingly interested in using these apps for cross-border money transfers as well.
In this article, we will look into the possibilities and limitations of transferring money abroad using online payment applications for individuals and businesses.
Mobile payments: world leader China
According to ChinaDaily.com, is China the market leader in mobile payments with 538 million active users in 2018. Consequently, users also want to use these apps for financial transactions beyond China.
In China, Alipay and WeChat pay are commonly the most used online payment platforms. In the fourth quarter of 2018, these two dominant market players had a 92.7% share of the mobile payment market in China. Both mobile payment apps make it possible to send money from one account to another account. Hence this feature is an additional choice in the pool of profit repatriation methods.
This payment application is a feature of the widely used social media platform WeChat, which was developed by Tencent. WeChat Pay is currently available in 49 countries/ regions and covers 17 Currencies.
For cross-border money transfers, many restrictions can pose a problem. For instance, the default maximum amount per year as set by WeChat is 200,000 RMB (30,000 USD and the daily transaction maximum is 10,000 RMB (1500 USD). Not only WeChat has limitations, but also various banks have expenditure limitations, as is shown in the table below.
While the WeChat messaging function is available for all users, the payment function is only available for users with a Chinese bank account and bank card that is registered in their own name. Money is transferred from one WeChat Pay account to another WeChat Pay account. Therefore, both sides of the money transfer need to have a Chinese bank account. Furthermore, a verification of a valid ID connected to your personal WeChat Pay account is necessary when certain thresholds of transfer volumes are reached.
Making payments abroad using WeChat Pay
WeChat Pay uses Chinese Renminbi (RMB) as a currency and unfortunately for cross-border transfers, this is the same. Therefore, the only currency available in the WeChat wallet is Chinese Renminbi. WeChat only exchanges money when transactions abroad are made, e.g. when a user pays a vendor abroad using WeChat Pay. In this case, WeChat uses a partnered bank to buy the foreign currency at T+1 day at the price the partnered bank offers. For example, if a Chinese tourist uses WeChat to buy something in the United States, the price and payment will be in US Dollars. WeChat only uses Renminbi in their wallet, so WeChat exchanges the dollar amount to Renminbi on the Exchange rate one day after the transaction.
Transferring money from user to user
One of the features on the WeChat Pay application is the service of transferring money from your account to someone else’s account. It is a convenient way of paying a friend back or lending some money. Note that the money transfer cannot provide you with a fapiao, so if it’s an official payment, we would recommend using other payment methods.
Along with WeChat Pay, Alipay is the main market player in electronic money transfer. The payment module is controlled by Ant Financial, one of the most valuable financial tech companies in the world. Ant Financial is a subsidiary of the world largest online B2B platform Alibaba Group. Alipay currently covers 54 countries and regions, and cross-border transferring is possible between the affiliated countries/regions.
Making payments abroad with Alipay
Alipay also uses Renminbi as currency for their payment wallet, but unlike WeChat at Alipay users can also add a credit card. Inside the app, there is a feature called International transfer, where all information like the amount and address of the recipient needs to be filled in. To send money internationally from China Alipay requires a Chinese ID number, so only Chinese nationals can send money. So far foreigners cannot register with their passport to send money from China abroad
Transferring money from user to user
The maximum amount for one wire is 30,000 RMB with a maximum of 60,000 RMB per day. An amount of 50 RMB is charged per transfer and in most cases, the recipient bank will also charge a certain amount. Chinese citizens can transfer a maximum of 50,000 USD per year.
Not only individuals but also enterprises can set up a WeChat or Alipay account. Setting up a business account is a must for companies that want to offer Alipay or WeChat Pay as a payment method. Without an account, the business cannot offer this type of mobile payment.
All Companies that offer WeChat as payment option need to set up an account. Setting up a business account is quite simple; it requires four basic steps of filling in company information. Afterwards, the company account needs to be verified by WeChat. The verification process can take some time and will cost 99 US Dollar. An enterprise will only be verified if they apply with a Chinese bank card; a foreign card will not be a possibility. A business account on WeChat does not include a transfer feature. It can only be used to retrieve money from customer transactions. At the moment it is not possible for companies to use WeChat for the purpose of transferring money abroad.
Setting up a company account on Alipay has the same prerequisites as WeChat Pay. Alipay also only accepts a Chinese bank for authorization of the account. The wallet is also only in Chinese currency (RMB). If a foreign company wants to set up an Alipay account, the first step is to contact Alipay:firstname.lastname@example.org. Although still more popular in China than WeChat Pay, Alipay can also not be used for the repatriation of profits from a company perspective at this time.
Online payment applications created a unique payment ecosystem with an ever-growing “cashless” China as result. Sending money abroad with these applications as a tool has certain restrictions. Both WeChat Pay and Alipay have a maximum amount on transferring cash and need either a Chinese bank card and/or Chinese ID. For both companies as individuals, we would not recommend using the applications for this particular purpose now.
Currently limited, we expect that these applications develop further in the area of cross-border money transfers.