Nowadays, Chinese banks are more welcoming towards foreigners than even a decade ago and they have adopted more services resembling Western banks than in the past. Today, the process of opening a bank account in China as a foreigner is not as difficult a process as you might think. On the contrary, it is actually pretty easy to do, since most of the documents you will be asked to provide are similar to what you present to banks in your home country.
Although the process is much more simple now, the language barrier is probably the biggest obstacle a foreigner will face. So it is recommended to find a branch where English is spoken well or to bring a friend who is fluent in Mandarin or a translator (such as one of Landing East’s staff) with you to open the bank account. Banks in China are convenient for different services for their customers and there are various benefits for an expat choosing to open a bank account at a Chinese bank. One of them is that having an account at a Chinese bank can allow for cheaper banking as well as the ability to purchase certain goods and services online that cannot be purchased with a foreign debit or credit cards.
Opening a bank account and receiving a debit card is generally free in China and the administrative effort rather small. The process of obtaining a credit card as a foreigner, however, is more complex. It should take you around two weeks from the submission of your application to the time you receive your card. And, the bigger issue with applying for a credit card is that the applicant must meet some requirements depending on the bank such as being in China on a working visa coupled with a long-term residence permit, having a minimum of CNY 10,000 salary per month and being 18 years old or above. The applicant must also present several documents like a bank statement proving that they have been receiving the minimum required income for more than three months, a copy of an employment agreement in Chinese, a rental agreement from their landlord, their original passport and residence permit, whereas some banks will require them to bring even more documents.
Tip: The branch banks near residential areas with an important concentration of foreigners, near universities or central business districts are more likely to provide English services.
The biggest banks and state-owned commercial banks with the most extensive branch network in china are: Bank of China (BOC), Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), Agricultural Bank of China (ABC), China Construction Bank (CCB) and China Merchants Bank (CMB).
Let us give you step by step guide to opening an account.
Step 1. Do your research and decide which of the above-mentioned banks meet your needs by logging onto their website or by visiting the banks in person. Checking with friends or colleagues might also be a viable option.
Step 2. Once you are in the bank you chose, get the appropriate ticket from the service terminal so you can queue. In China, different counter windows cater to different needs. Your translator/friend with Mandarin skills or an English-speaking staff member can make sure you get the correct ticket.
Step 3. You fill out the bilingual form asking basic questions on the information desk regarding the service you want and wait for your turn according to the number on the ticket you got.
Step 4. You present the necessary documents for this process, which include a valid passport with a current visa. It is possible to open a bank account with a tourist, student and working visa, hence you may be required to present a resident permit if you have a student or working visa.
Step 5. Fill out the forms handed to you, which usually require an address in china. The forms you need to fill are sometimes in English. If you are afraid you might put the wrong information, ask some help from the staff, most are very glad to assist foreigner. The person at the counter will make a copy of your passport for filing purposes. Then they will ask you to sign the documents. At the same time, you can request access to the Internet or mobile banking, which will require more forms and signatures. Many banks offer the mobile banking option of informing you via SMS about any movement on your account (for a very small monthly service fee), which helps greatly in detecting unwanted activity – such as if your card is pirated – and also informs you automatically when your salary has arrived!
Tip: Double check if your name on the form is identical to the name on your passport. Sometimes, staff will require you to write your name in capital letters in addition to your normal signature, as they are unable to read your signature and compare it to the name on your passport.
Step 6. When the forms are completed, you can set your account password (a six digit pin), which you will be asked twice, then you make your first deposit, which is usually a minimum CNY 10 or CNY 100 – depending on the bank. The password of your Internet banking must be changed into pin on the online bank after you return from the bank.
Step7. Check if your deposit is in your account through the ATM at the bank if the bank issued you an ATM card on the spot, if not, arrange to pick up your card and check it then.
Tip: If the ATM card is not issued the day of the application, it is safer to pick your ATM card up in person than to get it delivered.
Banks in China have 24 hours self-service ATM machines almost everywhere that work in both English and Chinese (depending on your card). Unfortunately, only about 50% of these accept foreign credit cards. In China, the maximum withdrawal amounts in the same transaction from the ATM as well as fees differ from one bank to the other. Also, the limit on how much you can withdraw per day or per month is set by your own bank. At local china state-owned banks, every time you withdraw from an ATM that is not owned by your bank, you will be charged a fee of 2 RMB. If you use a local card at your own bank’s ATM, the withdrawal is free.
Losing a bank card in China is a real inconvenience, if one wants to have the same account number as before then as a general rule you will need to wait for five to seven business days to have your card replaced. But if you agree to receive a different card with a different account number, then you will only need 20-30 minutes to get a new one.
This is how you set up an account at a Chinese bank. If the process still seems daunting to you or if you are concerned you will not find a bank with competent English service, get in touch with us here at Landing East any time via phone or email – we can support you!
Written by Helen Abomsa.