I changed 2,000 RMB to US Dollars today at a Bank of China, the only bank I know that is authorized to convert money.
Outside the bank, a woman approached me soliciting money. At another chain, a security guard had offered to do the same for me when I realized I needed my passport in order to change money (Duh!, I know).
The whole transaction took about 45 minutes.
After waiting the 25 minutes or so for my number to be called, the teller sent me to another counter to fill out a form and copy my passport. They explained that the exchange rate was (August 2008) 6.8: lower than I’d expected. They had me wait another 5-10 minutes or so before sending me back over to the teller. Originally, they handed me another number slip, explaining: “Sorry but you have to line up again.”
Then—maybe after seeing my expression—the service woman said I could see if the teller would allow me to go ahead, avoiding the line. He was nice enough to do that, and after going through the paperwork and having another teller count the greenbacks, I had the net result: $290 USD finally in hand.
In Guangzhou, a trader acquaintance showed me an illegal money converter tucked into the back of a clothing store shop front. Skipping the bureaucracy, I would have gotten the money in a fraction of the time, though with greater risk of counterfeit dollars, or worse yet, getting in trouble with the state. Such are the risks that people take.
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