How to Open a Bank Account in China
Looking to open a bank account in China? Whether you’ve just landed in China or you’re planning everything ahead of your arrival, opening a bank account in China can be a complex process.
This article guides you through how to open an account as a non-Chinese resident, or when planning your relocation to China. We’ll cover the documents you need, the options available and the likely costs. We’ll also compare non-resident accounts from traditional banks against some more user friendly solutions, such as Wise or Revolut. But more on that later. Let’s dive right in.
What documents do I need?
To open a bank account with a traditional Chinese bank you’ll need to provide proof of identity, work permit and residency permit. This usually means you’ll need the following:
- Proof of identity – a valid passport
- Work permit – work visa and letter from employer
- Residency permit – with expiry date more than 1 month
Choosing these documents is often the easiest way for the bank to comply with Chinese legislation designed to stop fraud, money laundering and illegal account use. It helps keep accounts and customers safe – but it’s not always easy to provide this paperwork as a non-resident or new arrival in China.
Luckily some specialist providers and expat services are more flexible in the ways they check customer identity – which can make it far easier for non-residents to legally get a Chinese account. More on that, next.
Save the paperwork with alternative solutions like Wise or Revolut
All financial services companies in China need to verify customers’ identity and address details to comply with legislation and provide a safe service for everyone. However, while Chinese banks usually require customers to provide address details showing a Chinese residence or work permit, some specialist services, like Wise or Revolut, can accept an international proof of address which may be more convenient for expats, non-residents and digital nomads.
If you’re not yet in China, you’ll be able to use your proof of address from your country of residence, to open a Wise or Revolut account, and set up a CNY balance. That means you can get your account set up before you even move, to receive, hold, and spend CNY easily once you arrive in China.
With modern alternative providers like Wise and Revolut, verification is typically done online by uploading images of your paperwork, and – often – a selfie to show your identity documents match your image. This is quick, convenient, and can be done from home whenever you have time.
How to open a bank account in China
There may be legal restrictions on non-residents or foreigners opening a bank account in China. Traditional banks tend to be wary of offering accounts to non-Chinese residents because it makes it harder to complete legally required verification checks.
That’s why if you’d like to open a bank account with a traditional institution in China you’ll usually need to provide proof of residence. It’s just easier for the bank to verify addresses using Chinese government issued documents they’re familiar with. However, that can make it tricky for non-residents and new arrivals to get their Chinese accounts up and running.
If you have your proof of ID, residence documents and work permit prepared already, you’ll have no problem opening a bank account with a major Chinese bank. In most cases you won’t be able to get started online and you will need to visit a branch to present your original paperwork. Generally all you need is:
- Proof of identity
- Proof of address
- Work permit
- A completed application with all your personal details
- Opening deposit – there may be a minimum deposit requirement
Can I open a bank account in China before arrival?
It’s tricky to open a bank account in China prior to arriving in the country. That’s because most traditional banks need you to be able to show a Chinese government issued proof of address.
If you want to get ahead of the game and get your CNY bank account set up before you arrive you’ll probably be better off with a specialist service like Wise or Revolut. More on the best CNY account options for non-residents coming up in a moment.
Which account is best in China for foreigners?
Chinese accounts for non-residents tend to fall into a couple of different categories:
- Multi-currency accounts from online specialists
- Expat accounts from major banks
Specialist services include financial technology companies which are not banks but which are regulated in a similar way to banks – which means that for the services they offer they’re just as safe. These options tend to be cheaper and more flexible. Expat accounts from traditional banks are usually aimed at high wealth individuals looking for a personal banking service. Let’s take a look at a few examples:
|Currencies covered||54 currencies including GBP, USD and EUR||25+ currencies||Current accounts in GBP, USD and EUR|
Savings accounts in 19 currencies
|Open before you arrive in China||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Opening fee||$0||$0||Minimum balance: £50,000|
|Fall below fee||$0||$0||£35|
|Maintenance fee||$0||Up to $16.99/month||Waived if minimum balance is maintained|
|International transfers||Low fee, varies by currency||Fee varies by currency and payment value||Up to £15 or relevant fees if account is held in another currency.|
Non-residents and foreigners in China can choose between a range of account types depending on their preferences and priorities. Multi-currency accounts allow for flexibility if you travel, send, spend or receive in a range of currencies, while expat accounts from traditional banks offer a more personal service for high wealth individuals.
We’ll take a look at these options in a little more detail now.
Wise is a financial technology company which serves 11 million+ customers around the world with low cost international payments, as well as personal and business accounts. The Wise multi-currency account is free to open, and available to non-Chinese residents and new arrivals. The account can be managed online or in the Wise app, and allows customers to hold 50+ currencies and exchange between them using the mid-market exchange rate with no markup. You can also send payments to 80+ countries and spend using your Wise international debit card all over the world.
Account types: Wise personal multi-currency accounts are free to open, with no minimum balance or monthly fees to pay.
Eligibility: Accounts are offered in most countries around the world – you’ll need a government issued ID and in some cases a proof of address or tax number to apply. Full details of availability by location available on the Wise website.
Is it safe? Wise is fully FinCEN regulated in China and overseen by global bodies around the world.
Revolut describes itself as a financial super app, and has some 18 million customers in the regions it serves.
Revolut offers a broad range of account services including multi-currency functionality for 30 fiat currencies, budgeting and saving tools, and opportunities to invest. You can choose between several different account types for yourself or your business, from a no-monthly-fee standard plan to a fee paid account which unlocks more features the more you’re willing to pay per month. Even the standard accounts come with some great features like a linked debit card and some no-fee currency exchange which uses the mid-market exchange rate. Paid account plans may also come with other perks like higher no-fee transaction limits, lounge passes and travel benefits.
Account types: Personal and business accounts available. Standard plans don’t have monthly fees or opening fees for both personal and business customers. Or you can upgrade to a paid plan for up to $16.99/month as a personal customer or $39.99/month as a business customer.
Eligibility: Available to customers with addresses in the EEA, US, Australia, Singapore, Switzerland, Japan.
Is it safe? In China Revolut is authorised by the FCA for all its activities. It also holds a European banking licence for the EU.
Bank of China
Bank of China has accounts for Chinese citizens and residents, overseas Chinese and expats both in and outside of China. There are a broad range of accounts available through the global Bank of China organisation, although you’ll have to attend a branch of Bank of China to get your account set up. You may be able to arrange an appointment at a branch in a country other than China, but the options are relatively limited for locations in the US.
Account types: Range of account products for different customer needs
Eligibility: Current accounts can be opened by most applicants with the right paperwork available
Is it safe? Yes – Bank of China is a popular and trusted bank both in China and in other countries
HSBC is a global banking giant and has a long history of cross border services. You can open a non-resident account through the HSBC Expat division which is based offshore, and aimed at high wealth individuals and people who live and work internationally. To qualify for an account you’ll need to meet some fairly strict criteria, including maintaining a minimum balance amount to avoid a fall-below fee. For an HSBC Premier account you’ll need a balance of £50,000 – or you have to pay in a salary of £100,000+ a year.
HSBC Expat current accounts are offered in GBP, USD and EUR, but you can also open savings account products in 19 currencies. HSBC has a service to help customers set up local bank accounts when they move to new countries – so you could open a HSBC US account upon arrival more easily if you choose to.
Account types: Current accounts can hold USD, EUR and GBP, but savings accounts are available in 19 global currencies.
Eligibility: Accounts come with minimum balance requirements of £50,000.
Is it safe? HSBC is a major global brand, fully regulated in China and around the world.
What are the costs?
In many cases you can open a non-resident Chinese account for free, especially if you pick a specialist online provider. Traditional banks may require you to deposit your salary or a hefty minimum deposit amount to get your account.
Once your account is up and running you’ll pay transaction fees for the services you use, and may incur monthly charges too – the costs to look out for can include:
- Monthly maintenance fees – or fall below fees
- International payment fees
- Foreign transaction fees when spending or withdrawing with your card
- Overdraft fees
- Credit card costs including cash advances and interest
- Chequebook and cheque cashing fees
- Account dormancy or early closure fees
Tips for transferring money
If you’re sending a payment overseas it’s good to know that you don’t necessarily need to rely on your bank to process the transfer. You could choose a specialist service and save money on both the fees and the exchange rate markups applied.
Here are some tips to avoid the additional costs on international transfer fees:
- Compare the exchange rate you’re offered against the mid-market exchange rate to see if a markup is being used
- Check the fees for different transfer types – arranging your transfer online is usually cheaper than doing so in a bank branch
- Ask about third party charges which can push up the overall costs significantly
Compare the overall costs of sending your payment with your regular bank against a specialist service like Wise to see if you can save. Wise uses the mid-market exchange rate with no markup, and low, transparent fees. This can work out 6x cheaper than using a regular bank for your international payment.
Conclusion: Can you open a bank account in China from the US?
There may be some barriers to non-residents and new arrivals in China opening a bank account, and non-resident accounts with traditional banks tend to be tricky to open, expensive and inflexible.
For many customers, choosing a specialist online service like Wise or Revolut will offer a better overall deal, including a more straightforward verification process, lower fees and better exchange rates.
FAQs on Opening a Chinese Yen Bank Account
Can a foreigner open an account in China?
Yes. You can open a Chinese account as a foreigner. However, non-Chinese residents can usually not open an account with a traditional bank, and may find it easier to get set up with a specialist online provider.
How much do I need to open a bank account in China?
You may often open a bank account for free in China, although some traditional banks do ask for a minimum deposit amount to start with. Compare a few providers to get the best deal for your needs.
Can I open a Chinese bank account online?
No. Most Chinese banks do not allow the opening of bank accounts online. To open an account, you will have to visit a branch in person with ID, proof of address and work permit. If you do not reside in China and/or don’t have this, you may be better off with a specialist online provider which allows you to open your account on your laptop or mobile device, with a more flexible verification process.
Can I open a bank account in China before landing?
If you’re not in China yet you will most likely not be able to open an account at a traditional bank. However, you can get a smart and flexible CNY account from an online specialist service like Wise or Revout instead.