Considering moving to China? You might be studying, opening a business or working there, or perhaps it’s just an extended visit to catch up with friends or relatives in China.
Whichever is the case, if you’re staying in China for a while, you’re likely to need a bank account.
In this guide, we’ll run through everything you need to know about opening a bank account in China. This includes any restrictions for foreign citizens, the documents you’ll need and any fees you should know about.
And if you’re looking for a cheaper, more convenient way to manage your money across international borders - check out the Wise multi-currency account.
This lets you send money from the UK to China for low fees and a fair exchange rate. This could be super helpful for covering those initial moving costs. Plus, you can spend in Chinese Yuan (CNY) like a local using your Wise debit card.
But first, let’s focus on getting your Chinese bank account open.
You can open a bank account in China as a foreign citizen. However, you may find that it’s more complicated at some banks than others.
The eligibility criteria can vary from bank to bank. Some Chinese banks may not accept applications from non-Chinese citizens at all, while others may not accept every kind of visa or resident permit¹. You may find that your options are limited to non-resident or expat-only accounts at some banks.
So, in short, you’ll need to do a bit of research and perhaps try a few banks before you find the perfect fit.
In China, it’s usually necessary to visit the bank in person in order to open an account¹.
This means you won’t be able to open an account online or remotely. It may be possible to at least start the process online, but you’ll need to check with the individual bank.
For most banks, it’s necessary to physically be in China in order to apply for an account. However, there are some exceptions, or ways around this.
For example, if you choose an international bank like HSBC which operates in both the UK and China. HSBC operates worldwide, and has dedicated services for expats as well as international bank accounts and foreign currency products.
Crucially, HSBC lets you apply for an international bank account while still living in the UK². You can get set up before your move, then start using your new account once you’re living in China. The only important condition to know about is that you’ll need to have an HSBC current account already², but that should be easy to open.
After you’ve applied online, you’ll receive a follow-up phone call from HSBC to help you get your account in China up and running.
While it can vary from bank to bank, the process for opening a bank account in China usually starts with a visit to your local branch. However, it’s a good idea to take a look at the bank’s website in advance. This is just to make sure you’ve got the right documents and understand the terms and conditions of the account you’re planning to open.
Unless you speak Chinese, it could be a good idea to take someone with you who does - such as a friend, family member or interpreter. It’ll make the process much easier, help you fill in the forms correctly and hopefully avoid any miscommunication or misunderstandings.
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on what to expect¹:
- Visit a branch. You shouldn’t need to make an appointment in advance (although check with the bank if unsure).
- Head to the information desk, where you’ll be given a wait number and an application form to fill in. Copies may also be made of your passport and visa documents.
- When your number is called, take your completed form and ID documents to the desk.
- Sign the required documents and pay the initial deposit to open the account - this will be at around 10-20 RMB (approximately £1.22 to £2.45)¹.
- You should receive your account details and your bank card - you may also be asked to choose a PIN code for your new card.
While it varies from bank to bank, here’s what most banks in China will require in order to open an account³:
- A completed application form
- A valid passport
- Proof of residence - this isn’t always required, and in some cases your residence permit or the address of your hotel will be sufficient¹.
- A Chinese phone number¹ - if you don’t have this, you can simply buy a Chinese sim card.
- Your work permit or student ID (not always needed).
Some banks may also require a note from your Chinese employer, confirming that you’re working.
You’ll also need to make your initial deposit, which is usually around 10-20 RMB (approximately £1.22 to £2.45). However, it may be more or less, so it could be worth taking more cash into the bank with you just in case.
There are a huge number of local and international banks to choose from in China. Let’s run through some of the best banks in China for expats.
One of the largest banks in the world, Bank of China is a majority state-owned bank with branches across the country. It also has overseas branches in Japan, Singapore, the UK and many other countries.
Bank of China has a basic English version of its website, and a choice of personal accounts available to expats as well as Chinese citizens.
This includes its Current All-In-One Account, which lets you deposit and save in multiple currencies. You can use the account to make transfers, receive local and international payments, and you’ll get a debit card for spending and ATM withdrawals⁴.
One of the country’s leading banks, China Construction Bank was established in 1954 and now has nearly 40 branches across China⁵. It also operates in Tokyo, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Sydney and London among other overseas locations.
China Construction Bank has a number of personal and business accounts, including its All In One Account for everyday banking.
You’ll need to keep a balance of 50,000 CNY (around £6,100 GBP) in your account, and in return you’ll get interest on your money, a debit card and the chance to save in multiple currencies⁶.
Another of the largest banks in the world, ICBC was established in 1984⁷ and now has branches across China and overseas.
While it has a number of deposit, time deposit and savings accounts, one of the best options for expats at ICBC is its All-in-one Current Account. This can be used to deposit and withdraw in both CNY and foreign currencies. You can manage your account via online, branch or telephone banking⁸.
As an expat, you could find it easier to open an account at one of the many international banks operating in China. You’ll find the products and service familiar, especially if you’re already a customer in the UK.
Some of the most popular international banks in China for expats are HSBC, Standard Chartered and Citibank.
There’s also the option to open an account at a digital bank. These are also known as mobile banks or ‘neobanks’. They don’t have any physical branches but offer everyday bank accounts managed online or via a smartphone app.
In China, your options include:
- Aibank (Baixin Bank)
- XW Bank
If you plan to open a bank account in China, it's important to read the terms and conditions carefully - especially the section on banking fees and charges. Most of the large and international banks provide this information in English on their websites, although it often can be a little difficult to find.
A few key charges to look for include:
- Monthly account maintenance fees
- Early account closure penalties
- Dormant account charges
- Cash withdrawal fees for using non-network ATMs
- Transfer fees - especially for international payments.
If applicable, some of these fees may initially appear small, but can build up over time.
Although you can’t open a bank account online in China, you should still be able to manage your money online.
A variety of banks in China offer online banking, letting you check your balance, transfer money and change personal details outside of bank opening hours. You’ll need to check for details at your particular bank’s website.
For more complex transactions though, you’ll need to either call up the bank or visit a local branch in person.
A Chinese bank account is certainly handy to have, especially for things like paying your rent or receiving your salary if you’re working.
But when it comes to sending and receiving international payments, a traditional bank may not be the best option. This is because banks tend to charge high transfer fees for sending money overseas. What’s more, they often add a mark-up to the exchange rate. All of this makes your transfer more expensive.
Luckily, there’s always an alternative. Open a Wise multi-currency account and you can manage your money in 50+ currencies including CNY and GBP.
Send money to China from the UK to cover those initial moving costs, and spend in CNY once you land using the contactless Wise international debit card.
With Wise, you’ll only ever pay small transparent fees, and you’ll always get the mid-market exchange rate. This is a fair rate you can get without the mark-up that banks tend to add on top.
It’s the perfect solution for expats living in China, or anywhere else in the world. Get started here, and you’ll be all set for your big move - good luck!
Sources used for this article:
Sources checked on 04-Aug-2022.
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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