Money Changers for Beijing and Shanghai

Published: 2008-08-21

Private-run money changers catering for individual needs will finally be allowed in Beijing and Shanghai soon.

China's State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) announced the move on its website on Wednesday (Aug 20), saying the trial program would allow non-financial institutions to provide foreign exchange services to individuals, both locals and foreigners, in the two major cities.

Previously, foreign exchanges were under tight control and could only be handled by banks. The latest move was introduced to meet the increasing demand from individuals and to improve the standard of services, said SAFE in the notice.

China's impressive economic growth in recent years have also led to a fast expanding middle class, who source for foreign currencies to meet various purposes, including to pay for overseas leisure trips and studies abroad.

Increasing number of foreign tourists arrival also created more demand. For instance, in the run-up to the Beijing Olympic Games, SAFE published a list of banks nearby Olympic venues, those were the only places where foreigners could change currencies upon producing their passports.

"When I first arrived in China, I was looking high and low for money changers and realized there was none. I ended up spending two hours queueing in the bank just to change 200 dollars," said one traveller who visited Beijing last April.

Under the latest ruling, local residents would be able to sell or buy foreign currencies through authorised money changers, but the existing annual qouta applied - each person may change a maximum of 50,000 dollars in a year.

The limit set for foreigners would be 500 dollars per person per day; however, at checkpoints, such as at the airports, the daily qouta would be 1,000 dollars per person.

SAFE would issue license to authorised money changers, who would be permitted to operate under their own brand name, or to act as agents for banks. Money changers would have the right to decide on what currencies to offer but they should refer to the official exchange rates.

The regulator, however, did not specify the date to kick start the trial run. But the first batch of companies to receive the operating license were announced as Travelex SMI Technology (Beijing) Company and Shanghai Zhangjiang ICE Foreign Exchange Company.

Though Travelex SMI Technology is a locally registered company, the brand name Travelex is a worldwide retail foreign exchange operator, its group head office in Washington, with network globally and outlets mainly at airports, hotels and duty free shops.

Shanghai Zhangjiang ICE Foreign Exchange is a joint venture between Zhangjiang Group and International Currency Exchange (Europe) Plc, a UK-based private foreign exchange agency.

To Bai Bai, a local Chinese from Tianjin who enjoyed backpacking in foreign countries, the imminent opening of money changers would not have much of an impact.

"It is perhaps more convenient for foreign travellers, just like when I was travelling abroad, I would look up for money changers.

"But back home, I would rather go to the bank and have all the transactions done through my banking account. Afterall, all the limitations on currencies exchange remain the same, what's the difference?" she said.