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How to: Open a Chinese bank account

Money is what makes the world go round, therefore there’s nothing more useful than a bank account so you can do with your money whatever you find fit. As an expat in China, a Chinese bank account is essential, whether you want to shop online, receive your wage, make investments, or order takeout. It not only provides convenience, but also is even indispensable in many cases. Foreign debit and credit cards are often not accepted and even when they are this comes with extra costs attached. Therefore, it is a sensible decision to start the process of setting up a Chinese bank account.

The process of setting up a Chinese bank account may seem daunting. It will indeed be more complicated in China than in your home country because of the language barrier. However, if the right preparations are taken the process should go smoothly. This article will help you make take these steps and make the process efficient and easy.


Choosing your Chinese Bank

The banks in China offer similar services, there is no definite best establishment to bank with. There are however banks that are considered the big four in China, mainly because of their reputation and size. These banks are, Bank of China (BOC), Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), Agricultural Bank of China (ABC), and China Construction Bank (CCB). Having an account with one of these banks offers certain advantages:

A larger chance of getting English service
The largest number of branches and ATMs

This allows for service all over the country. This is an advantage because withdrawing from an ATM owned by a bank other than your home bank involves extra costs. The branch you open your account at is the branch you will need to go for any additional service. Therefore make sure you find a branch nearby, so that you will not have to travel far if you lose your card or if you want to make changes or cancel your account.


Opening the account

When going to the bank it is advisable to bring a Chinese friend to help you. When going to one of the Big Four, there is no guarantee that an English-speaking employee will be available. If you need English services it is advisable to make an appointment for this in advance. This is not necessary however if you are brave!

Required documents:

Original Passport
Work Permit or Residence Permit
Chinese Telephone Number
Proof of residence (sometimes)
Tax Number (if any)

You will also be asked to fill out necessary forms. If you prepare the above documents well, other than the queue waiting time which should not be significant, you will have no issues opening a bank account on the same day. You should definitely bring originals of the documents, and it is advisable to also bring copies as well. You may be required to put in a deposit into your account, it is advisable to bring around 50 RMB just in case.

When all these steps have been taken you will be given the union debit card for your new account. You will then have to set a 6 digit pin for the card. Now you have successfully set up your account and activated your debit card.

Using your debit card
You are now able to use your new debit card. You will be able to withdraw cash at ATMs or pay at stores using the card. (Note: Withdrawals from ATMs not owned by your bank will involve extra fees.)  Currently UnionPay is accepted everywhere in China as well as at banks in over 120 countries overseas. You will now also be able to connect your card and account to services like Wechat Wallet and Alipay. These online services will allow you to pay and transfer money using your phone.

Transferring money
Once you have opened a Chinese bank account, you will be able to make electronic money transfers. It is now possible to wire money from your home country bank account to your Chinese bank account using IBAN and SWIFT. These transfers have limits on them, you will have to research these. Transfers the other way around however are more complicated and require government authorization.

In conclusion, the process of setting up a Chinese bank account and starting to use it is less complicated than it seems. Good preparation is key to making the process go smoothly. A Chinese bank account unlocks a large array of services and products that you will now be able to enjoy.

For more information on each bank and their services please consult the following websites.

Agricultural Bank of China

Bank of China

China Construction Bank

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China


The Specifics

While most banks in general offer similar services and require similar processes to set up, there are some finer details on bank regulations that may provide a challenge in setting up accounts.

Maxxelli had previously been tasked with opening up 33 new accounts with ICBC for one of our clients. While the application documents were prepared accordingly, one unforeseen obstacle that proved a challenge was that ICBC had a policy of only opening three accounts for foreigner groups per day. This meant that Maxxelli had to coordinate with 13 different branches to get the accounts opened up on the same day, ready for business. Other than large groups, there are sure to be finer regulations that differ between banks and even between branches.

If your requests seem out of the norm, such as setting up many accounts at once, it is best to call in advance and find out what the regulations and limits are. On that same note, Bank of China (BoC), while a being a great bank, is definitely the strictest on regulations and application processes. According to our experience working with BoC, they are the least flexible bank.


Feel free to contact Maxxelli about banking in China

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