China’s banking system is in the process of evolutionary change. It is transitioning from a once-monolithic structure into a more globally active economy after years of government control.
In the 1980s, China had one central monetary bank known as the People’s Bank of China (PBC). In 1994, the government decided to partially commercialize these banks with some degree of public ownership.
If you’re moving to China or traveling for business, understanding how banking works is half of the battle when figuring out how to open up an account. The way money moves in this country is quite different from the rest of the world. These tips will surely aid you in your journey.
What is the Best Bank in China to Open an Account With?
Since banking in China is quite different from North America, there are not too many options to choose from. As mentioned above, most of the banks are government-owned. They don’t offer foreigners too much as far as products and services go. That’s why it’s key to focus on a bank that is conveniently located within close vicinity to where you’re staying or where your business is based.
Some good banks are:
- The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC)
- Agricultural Bank of China (ABC)
- Bank of China
- China Construction Bank
These banks are known are the “big four”. They are the only four banks that exist in China apart from the central monetary bank (PBC). Here’s a quick chart to show you how they compare:
Another popular bank in China is HSBC with a strong international presence and provides tech-savvy internet and mobile banking with a vast spectrum of products and services.
What Documents are Needed to Open an Account?
Sadly, opening a bank account in China as an expat used to be much easier. You once only needed to present your passport at any Chinese bank and they would open an account for you upon providing a minimum deposit. Now, they ask you for your passport and a valid Visa that has been active for over a year.
If it not over a year old, they will most likely deny your request to open an account. They may also ask you for proof of your address or business certification. You may also be asked to deposit a minimum balance in order to open the account.
If you’re a resident of China, they will ask you to provide proof of your address as well as a student card or proof of employment in addition to your passport. The specific documents may vary from bank to bank with regards to opening a residents account, but you can expect to be asked for these.
If you’re an expat, all you really need to do now is to present your passport and your Visa to your respective bank and you’re set! At most, some banks may have trouble dealing with foreigners, so bringing along a translator would be a good idea.
Most of the application forms they provide must be filled out in Chinese, so having someone to write out Chinese characters and effectively translate for you is quite important, should the bank not speak English. If you’re having trouble finding a translator, you can go to any local branch out of the four major state-owned banks and they will be able to provide you with one.
Things to Consider
When opening a bank account in any foreign country, it’s vital that you take the time to read the terms and conditions to ensure that you’re not being subject to any additional fees or policies without realizing so.
As mentioned above, when it comes to choosing which bank to get use as an expat in China, location is key. China is a massive country that does not necessarily provide enough ATM services to account for its massive population. It is very important to think of convenience first.
The fees for taking money out from alternative ATM’s add up over time, and in the event that something happens to your account (say, fraud), you would need to go to the specific branch you went to when you originally opened your account in order to fix the problem. This will obviously be an inconvenience if your branch is on the other side of the city.
Cash or Credit?
Many people in China spend money through a mobile payment app called “WeChat Wallet”. This is a Chinese messaging app that uses a scancode to pay for goods. Many places like grocery stores and restaurants still accept basic banking cards, although mobility has begun to take over.
Many places in China don’t even accept American credit cards, but most do accept Visa and Mastercard. Getting access to Chinese credit cards can be difficult for a foreigner, although it’s not impossible.
International Money Transfers
In China, you’re able to use your foreign debit card (say a Canadian or American bank card) at any ATM and you’re able to take out funds, although this doesn’t cancel out foreign currency exchange rates. This is a convenient feature to have at hand, although it can be quite expensive.
To get a better deal on currency exchange rates when sending money to China, consider using a company like REMITR that operates specifically to save you time and money when making overseas payments to another country. Most banks will charge you unreasonable fees for making foreign transactions and most likely offer rates that are less than favourable.
When you register with REMITR, you will receive the best exchange rates in addition to incredibly fast payment processing times when compared with banks. It’s only $5 CAD per transaction for a business transfer. Most banks will typically take a week to make a cross-border payment to China. The service fees are also much higher than $5 per transfer.