Ever since I have lived in China, I have been looking for an "easy" way to transfer money from China to the US. I also have been looking for a way to do this without paying excessive transfer fees, conversion fees, or withdrawal fees. This month, I found out how. Not only am I not paying fees, but I ended up having about $600 MORE just by transferring the money.
- Buy Bitcoin in the country you would like to transfer from when the market is at least about 1.5% lower than in the Bitcoin market you want to transfer to.
- Transfer your Bitcoin from the market where you purchased it to your destination market.
- Sell your Bitcoin and deposit it into the bank.
OK. If that does not make much sense or if you would like to read a detailed explanation and see an actual transaction that I made, please keep reading.
Note:While I am giving examples for specific banks (ICBC and Capital One), countries (China to US), and Bitcoin markets (BTCChina and Coinbase), the principles are the same with other countries, markets, and banks, and can be used in variation.
First things first. The mandatory Bitcoin warning. If you don't know what Bitcoin is, you should do some research before you attempt any of what I am about to tell you. You can read up on it from their official webpage, or from its Wikipedia article.
Here is the warning: Bitcoin is new and not FDIC insured and the price fluctuates like crazy. If you buy Bitcoin, you are taking a risk. I will show you how to limit and almost eliminate all risk, but there is still risk involved. If you cannot risk losing any money, this is probably not the best option for you. Also; transferring money using this method depends on specific factors. These factors may not happen all the time (or ever) so if you need to make an immediate transfer and cannot afford to lose any money, again; you may want to look elsewhere.
Now for the fun part.
Step 1 - Fund your BTCChina account with Chinese RMB
The reason for doing this is not because you will buy Bitcoin right away, but so that money is in the account so that you CAN buy Bitcoin immediately when the market conditions are right.
BTCChina is one of the largest Bitcoin markets in China and in the world. There are a few other options but I would recommend this one as they provide a simple way of funding the account and they have an English version of their website.
UPDATE (2015-07-09): BTCChina has been charging fees, so I have started using OKcoin instead.
UPDATE (2015-07-09): BTCChina has been charging fees, so I have started using OKcoin instead.
Visit their website here.
They provide many ways to fund CNY but I suggest using their "Yi Jing Dong" method. (If you do use this method, make sure the "Exchange username" is the exact same username (not email) that you use for BTCChina and that the "Mobile phone number" is also the one you have on the BTCChina account.)
Step 2 (optional) - Buy Bitcoin and Transfer to Coinbase to enable you to make instant transfers in the future
I will get into this step in more detail later on, but basically, if you want to make instant transfers and assure yourself that you won't lose any money (on that specific transfer), you must already have some Bitcoin in your account. After you have purchased your Bitcoin, you will need to transfer this to your Coinbase account (again, more details below).
Step 3 - Provide yourself with the necessary tools to check market conditions
To make money transferring Bitcoin, you must buy when the Chinese BTCChina market is lower than the US Coinbase market. You can do this by going to their websites and checking the markets constantly, or you can set up your phone to do the same thing.
On my Android smartphone, I installed the widget Bitcoin Checker. I like this widget because it allows me to check the BTCChina market and the Coinbase market together. As you can see in the screenshot above, the Coinbase market is going up while the BTCChina market is going down. This is good. This is what I want. This means I can buy low and sell high. Sadly, the Bitcoin Checker app does not convert RMB to USD so I had to install an additional widget called Bitcoin Price Index Widget. This widget is nice because it converts the BTCChina RMB to USD for me.
As you can see from my screenshot, the current USD price for Coinbase is $594.24 while the BTCChina price in USD is $575.50. This means that if I were to buy at BTCChina and sell at Coinbase, I would make almost $20. Obviously it is not that simple. Both BTCChina and Coinbase has (very small) transaction fees. Coinbase also has a 1% for converting your money before you deposit it in your bank. That means if you don't want to lose money, the Coinbase market price must be at least 1% higher than the BTCChina market price.
When the screenshot was taken, the conditions were just right for making the transaction; so I did. (Note: by time I had actually made the transaction, the market had shifted a bit. The Bitcoin market is constantly changing so the higher above 1% the better).
Step 4 - Buy Bitcoin at BTCChina
I took screenshots of the whole process so you can see exactly what I did. I also kept a spreadsheet of all my transactions so that I could later verify that I did not lose money.
Step 5 - Sell the Bitcoins at Coinbase (if you completed Step 2)
Coinbase is a US Bitcoin wallet. Coinbase allows you to sell your Bitcoin and deposit it into a US bank. Before you make any Bitcoin purchases or transactions, you will want to make sure that you have your bank account information setup in Coinbase.
Before you sell your Bitcoin, you will want to make sure that you are actually making more money than you spent. If it is not, the conditions were probably not right for you to purchase... no worries though, if you have faith that the market will go up, you can hold onto your Bitcoin and sell it when you will make more profit (likewise, Bitcoin could crash and burn and you could lose your money).
Step 6 - Verify transaction information
Steps 5,6 and 7 can be interchanged or combined depending on how cautious you want to be on the transaction. I generally input everything into a spreadsheet as I am doing things so I can make sure that I will make money on the transaction. This whole process only takes me about 1-3 minutes.
Both BTCChina and Coinbase show detailed history of transactions. I use this information to see exactly how much money I spent and how much Bitcoin I actually bought and have after all the transaction fees have been included. I input all this information in a spreadsheet.
In the screenshot above you can see my transaction history in BTCChina. In the screenshot below you can see the transaction for Coinbase.
Finally, after I have made my sell finalized, I like to check and verify the actual amount.
Step 7 - Transfer Bitcoin from BTCChina to Coinbase
(Just as a reminder, Steps 5,6 and 7 can all be interchanged depending on your school of thought)
At some point we need to transfer our Bitcoin from BTCChina to Coinbase. If you already have Bitcoin in your Coinbase account (Step 2) you can transfer before or after you sell on Coinbase (up to the amount of Bitcoin you already have in your Coinbase account). If you did not complete step 2, then you will want to transfer the Bitcoin immediately after you have purchased it. I find that it usually takes 30 minutes to two hours for the transfer to be complete. To transfer your Bitcoin in BTCChina, you will select the "Withdraw" option and input your Coinbase wallet address. Keep in mind that when you transfer, BTCChina has a fee of .0001 Bitcoin, so you cannot transfer ALL your Bitcoin (you can transfer almost all of it though).
Keeping Accurate Records
You might have your own method for keeping track of all your transactions. I prefer to use a spreadsheet. Everything that involves numbers (RMB, USD, Bitcoin, etc) I keep track of in my spreadsheet. I even have a conversion rate for RMB to USD so I am make sure that I will be making money on my transactions.
On the screenshot below, I have pointed out the actual amount of money in RMB I spent on the Bitcoin.
The screenshot below shows the actual amount of money that was deposited into my US bank account.
I must admit that when I bought my first Bitcoin I was rather nervous. I was even more nervous when the price promptly dropped a couple hundred dollars per Bitcoin. I endured however and have tried to be as smart and careful as possible and happy that the market did eventually climb back up and that I was able to make transactions when the market was good.
If you look at the screenshot in step 6, you will notice that I spent 6987.5 RMB. A simple Google search (above) shows that the conversion for that comes out to be about 1135 USD. From the Coinbase transaction that I made (in step 6) you can see that I deposited about 1175 USD in my back. Simple math would say that I ended up with $40 more than I started with. Forty dollars may not seem like a lot for a thousand dollar transaction, but if you consider the fact that you would normally pay 3-5% for a similar transaction using another method, I would say it is pretty amazing.
Some Final Thoughts: Schools of Thought
I have come to realize there are a few different schools of thought when transferring money using Bitcoin. I will mention these briefly.
Long Term Transfers - High risk/High reward
This would be buying Bitcoin when the market is low and sitting on it while you wait for the market to go up significantly. This would be like a long term investment expecting Bitcoin to continue to go up in price.
- Pro - This has the potential to make you a LOT of money (if Bitcoin continues to go up in price).
- Con - This has the potential of you losing a lot (or all) of your money.
Hour Long Transfers - Low risk/Must wait for right conditions
This would be where you buy from BTCChina when the conditions are good; immediately transfer your Bitcoin to Coinbase, then sell it as soon as it arrives.
- Pro - This does not require you to already have Bitcoin in your Coinbase account. If the conditions are good, you can make decent money. If the market goes up in the 30 minutes to 2 hours while the Bitcoin is transferring, you can potentially make even more money.
- Con - While the risk is low, it is still there. If the market goes down immediately after you purchase Bitcoin, you will stand to lose money when you sell it at Coinbase. This also requires you to sit at your computer for a couple hours, waiting for your Bitcoin to transfer.
Immediate Transfers - No Risk/Requires you to already have Bitcoin
This is the transaction I focussed on in this post. This is the most common transaction I made. This type of transaction requires an initial Long term transfer (investment in Bitcoin). For this transaction, you will buy from BTCChina (the amount of Bitcoin you already have in Coinbase) when the market diffence is good and immediately sell it in Coinbase after you have purchased it. You will then transfer the Bitcoin after selling, thus replenishing your supply and continuing with the same amount of Bitcoin you started with.
- Pro - If you wait for the right conditions using this method, you can guarantee yourself to make money on a transaction basis.
- Con - This method requires an initial purchase of Bitcoin. It also offers no risk/no reward, besides the current difference in BTCChina and Coinbase markets.
Which school of thought is best?
I think a combination of these types of transfers is the best. It really depends on what you are going for (breaking even or making serious money). I have been able to work it out where I transfer just the right amount of money to break even, then leave the remaining Bitcoin in my account. I am now to the point where I almost have 1 Bitcoin that is leftover from previous transactions. That means I can make future transactions and guarantee that I will NEVER lose more money than I spent on Bitcoin. Pretty cool stuff.