How to Open a Bank Account in Mainland China

2018 Update

It is now much more difficult to open a bank account in mainland China. Not only in China, but it seems like there is a global trend of difficulty opening bank accounts all over the world recently. I always try to open as many bank accounts as I can in the countries where I work, travel, or invest. 

It's much easier to keep an account open than it is to open a brand new account. And it's better to have a bank account that you don't need than it is to need one that you can't open.

Back to the situation in China.

If you have a work visa/resident permit, then it's still quite easy to open a bank account in mainland China. The procedure is the same as the original article written below, but they will ask you a few more questions. Such as who your employer is, and the purpose of opening the bank account. They want to know if you are opening the account to deposit your salary, or for other reasons.

Actually, that is a very common question these days that banks everywhere are asking.

What is the purpose for opening this account?

Your ability to give a good answer to this question will often determine whether or not you are successful in opening the account. If your answer sounds suspicious, you will likely be rejected. You need to give the banks a good reason to do business with you.

If you have a legal job in China, then it's easy to give a good reason for opening an account. Even if it's not the bank that your company will pay salary to, you can say that you prefer their bank for keeping your savings.

You may also want to mention that you may be interested in some of their "wealth management" products, or opening a VIP account (if you have 50k CNY or more to deposit). This will give the bank more incentive to have you as a customer.

The situation gets more complicated if you have a tourist or business visa.

In addition your passport, you will also need the "registration form of temporary residence for visitors", that you get from the police station when you register where you are staying in China. When you stay in China, you are required to register the place you are staying within 24 hours of entering the country. 

If you are staying in a hotel, the hotel staff will register on your behalf, and you will not get this form. You may ask the hotel if they can get this form for you, some hotels may be able to help you do it. If you can't find a hotel that will give you this registration form, you can try finding an Airbnb host that can get it for you (message the host first to make sure they can do it).

Once you get this document, then you will need to find a bank that will open an account for you. Not all banks will open accounts for holders of tourist/business visas, even with the residence registration form. I have heard that Bank of China will not do it.

I don't know the specific policy of every bank, but I would suggest that you try China Merchants Bank first. I have heard reports of people with tourist and business visas opening accounts recently. And it's my new favorite Chinese bank. I think they have the best service, and the best English app for mobile banking in China.

The reason for opening the account is even more important to answer well when you have a tourist or business visa. Your reason should be according your own situation, but here are some examples.

1. For a business visa. You often travel in China to visit suppliers or clients of your company. You want to open a bank account to make payments easier, and use electronic payments methods such as Alipay and Wechat when paying for your travel expenses.

2. For a tourist visa. You have family or extended family in China that you often come to visit. Same reason as above, to make payments easier for your travel expenses. Always having to withdrawal cash from a foreign ATM card is not convenient. You would rather wire money from overseas, and make electronic payments.

You definitely don't want the bank to think that you are working in China illegally, or involved with anything suspicious like money laundering.

If you get rejected at first, don't give up. Just try again at another branch. Most banks (except Bank of China) have the discretion to open the account for you. Opening an account for a foreigner causes them a lot of extra paperwork, so sometimes they will reject you just because they don't want to do it (especially in the smaller branches).

If you are American, then it will be even more difficult for you because of FACTA. The American government requires banks all over the world to report information on American account holders. Most banks will not want to deal with you, unless they think you have enough money to make it worth the extra expense of FACTA reporting.

If you are an American that has recently opened a bank account in China or other country outside of USA, please leave a comment below about your experience.

Original Article

Opening a bank account in mainland China is very easy. All you need is your passport and some patience. You need patience because banks in China have very complicated procedures for simple tasks that sometimes require you to wait around for hours while all kinds of different papers are signed and stamped.

To open an account just bring your passport to the any bank and tell them that you want open an account. You will immediately get a card which costs 10-15 yuan. The annual fee is usually 10 yuan. Make sure you sign up for any services you need such as online banking, online payment, etc while you are there to save yourself another trip to the bank.

Most of the major banks have an English online banking website. China Construction bank is the only major bank I know of without an English online banking site. My main bank that I use is Bank of Communications and I normally use the Chinese version of the online banking site because half the functions are either missing or don't work on their English version. Bank of China is probably a better choice if an English online banking site is important for you.

Tips for banking in China

  • You will often get better service if you pretend that you don't speak Chinese. If I only speak English at the bank, I will often find someone eager to help a foreigner. They will be happy to let me cut to the front of the line or take me to the VIP section, or even to the branch manager's office. They will even help me fill out the forms, etc. If I speak Chinese they will tell me to take a number and wait with everyone else. There are plenty of good places in China to practice your Chinese but the bank is not one of them!
  • Another way to get VIP service at the bank is to open a VIP account. This requires maintaining a minimum balance. For Bank of Communications it's 50,000 yuan for silver VIP and 500,000 yuan for gold VIP. The higher your VIP status the less time you will wait in line. If you don't have 50,000 yuan or 500,000 yuan then just follow the first tip and speak English, you can get the same or better service 90% of the time.
  • Bank interest is very low. If you want better interest and are willing to take some risk then ask the bank about "wealth management" products. They have all kinds of options for fixed term deposits with high interest. Some of them have guarantee your principal and other do not. I suggest only considering the funds with a guaranteed principal.
  • Always use Internet Explorer when doing online banking or payments in China. Most online banking and payment processing in China use something called ActiveX which is a proprietary Microsoft technology and only available in Internet Explorer. Not sure what you can do if you use Apple. Leave your comments at the bottom of this page if you know.

Here are some links to English websites of banks in China.

Please leave your questions or comments about Chinese banking below.