Why does it take so long for a US check to clear?

I know we’ve discussed alternatives to depositing checks here and then waiting for them to clear but I’m still curious.

Once in a while I still get checks drawn on US banks and it can take 21 to 30 days for them to clear and for the funds to become available in my Taipei Bank account.

But WHY? If a Christmas card can get to the US in under a week, a check can too. Someone on that end receives the check, does whatever they need to do to get the funds released, and I’m guessing that would be done electronically in this day and age. Right?

So why the 30 days?

Ha! The “International” Commerical Bank of China (ICBC) needs a month to process a money order!

I asked them if they thought that was very good “international” service. They hadn’t ever thought of it before… :unamused:

I had the same complaint years ago, and was told something like this: the check has to be handled manually, not automatically, due to the low volume of this kind of transaction (unlike the highly automated processing of checks in the US). It is mailed by the receiving bank, back to the US, where it has to await clearing before being once again handled manually by the US affiliate, which then has to wire the money back (again, a single, manually processed item) to the Taiwan affiliate, which then has to confirm receipt of the wire, and await receipt of the cancelled check by mail; once these are checked off (manually), the money is credited to your account. Add in a time lag at each step, along with time zone differences and weekends, and you have the grand total of 3-4 weeks. It costs the bank at least $25 when you add up all the time in manual processing, wire costs, etc. Or so I was told, by a bank CEO expat, a few years back.