China's latest national census shows at least 600,000 expats living there. As well as the cities of Shanghai and Beijing, there are large communities based in southern Guangdong province. In fact, across China, new and growing business opportunities have drawn foreigners from all over the globe.
China is as diverse as it is expansive, and can prove a challenge for expats looking to settle. However, with a sense of adventure and a little patience, the vibrant culture can offer a unique experience.
If you're planning a move to China, one major step you’ll need to take is opening a local bank account. This can be somewhat daunting - but don't panic, check out this quick guide to get you started.
Opening a basic bank account in China is pretty simple for permanent expats. It's worth noting, however, that the process becomes more complex if you want to open a corporate or investment account, and some products offered to foreigners are more limited than regular bank accounts.
To open a basic bank account in China you need the following:
- Valid passport
- Proof of residence (usually only for correspondence purposes, so your bank may accept a temporary address or email instead)
- An initial opening deposit
- Employment pass, student pass or work permit (Required by some banks)
The exact documents you’ll be asked for will depend on individual banks. Typically, banks list a range of additional documents which staff are entitled to request should they think this necessary.
It can be difficult to get a credit card as a foreigner in China, although debit cards are usually provided without an issue.
When you have chosen a bank, simply present your passport at the information desk of your local branch. For some account services in the longer term, you may be required to visit the branch in person, so choose one close to you.
Application forms are usually provided in both Chinese and English, but if you're somewhere with a large international community, the staff are more likely to be familiar with the process for opening accounts for foreigners. This might make the process run more smoothly.
It is possible to open a Chinese bank account from abroad, but how easy this is will depend on where in the world you are.
For example, if you’re in the UK, then you can open a RMB account with Bank of China, but you will still have to call into one of their branches (in London, Manchester, Birmingham or Glasgow). HSBC offer the same service in some countries, but again, you’ll need to visit a branch to complete your application.
Similarly, many major banks operating across Asia will allow you to open a RMB account, even if you open it at a branch outside of China. The key is to be able to attend a branch in person to complete the application process, so check out what options are available from the banks operating locally.
Many Chinese banks state online that you can, but some people travelling in the country run into difficulty. It's best to check the website of the bank you're interested in, or give them a call to confirm. If you can, you'll definitely need to present a valid passport at a local branch to get started.
Given its population size, it is hardly surprising that there are a huge number of banks operating in China. You can choose from state owned banks, local regional banks, and internationally recognisable finance houses with a global reach.
If you live in China already, then choosing a bank with a convenient branch is advisable. You will find you need to attend the branch in person to set up your account, make any changes, and report any issues, so find one you like which is convenient for you to travel to.
Below is a list of four national retail banks in China worth checking out as possible banking options.
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| ICBC | ICBC are one of the largest banks in China by volume, and also operate a network of banks outside of the country. In 2015, they were voted the best bank in China. ICBC offer a full range of financial products and services, and have a clear website with English translation. |
| Bank of China | You will find Bank of China branches in many large cities across the world, meaning you can open an account before you arrive in China if you wish. The products on offer include current and savings accounts, loans and investment products. |
| HSBC | HSBC might be the Chinese bank most broadly known across the globe. As a massive international banking group, you can expect a full range of products, and reasonably sophisticated mobile and internet banking facilities. |
| China Construction Bank (CCB) | In 2015, China Construction Bank (CCB) was the second largest bank on the planet by market capitalisation. As you would expect, you can get a range of accounts and payment cards, as well as loans and mortgages. With over 13000 branches in China (and more globally), you’re not going to be far from your local CCB office. |
When you open a bank account in China, you’ll need to go to the information desk rather than joining the main bank service lines. If you need an English speaking staff member it is worth calling ahead to make an appointment and check that documentation is available in English.
As a general rule, details will be taken in Chinese, so it’s also best to allow the staff to complete forms for you if you’re not experienced in writing Chinese characters neatly.
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, so you can check it out before you choose a specific account.
Check if there are handling charges payable, to keep your account open or use a credit or debit card. Other common charges include a set fee for withdrawing cash from an ATM operated by a different bank. These fees may initially appear small, but can build up over time.
Another common issue for expats is excessive fees applied to move money between accounts which use different currencies. Many banks do not offer a good deal to their customers when making international money transfers like this. As well as a charge for processing the transaction, you might find that your bank’s profit is rolled into an exchange rate which is far from favourable.
To get a better deal on international money transfers, use Wise.
With Wise you can transfer money between accounts using the real exchange rate. There is no mark up and no hidden fees, just a clear set charge for your transfer. Check out our website to find out more about simple and fair international money transfers with Wise.
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