Personally I have opened accounts with Bank of China and the Bank of Communication, but I’m not here to promote one bank over another. There are plenty of other good China banks including, but not limited to:
- ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China)
- ABC (Agricultural Bank of China)
- China Construction Bank
- China Merchant’s Bank
As far as a foreigner is concerned, there’s not a huge difference between all the banks so I recommend choosing yours based on convenience. Which branches and ATM’s do you see most often in your city or near your neighborhood?
Convenience is key.
Not sure if you need to open a bank account in China? Consider this: if you want to buy train tickets online or do any sort of online shopping on Taobao (China’s Amazon-like marketplace), you must have a local bank account.
Why NOT to Open a China Bank Account
Before I dive into the “how-to” of opening a bank account in China, I first want to cover a few reasons not to open one.
- You’re just a traveler. If you’re just traveling through China as opposed to actually moving here, opening a China bank account doesn’t have any real advantages. Most every ATM in China accepts Visa, MasterCard and AmEx, so save yourself the hassle and just take advantage of this.
- No Investment Experience: For those not living in China who want to open an account in an effort to diversify your portfolio, make sure you know what you’re doing. Investment in the Chinese Yuan isn’t crazy as this Wall Street Journal article explains, but it isn’t for the inexperienced.
3 Easy Steps to Open a China Bank Account
So if you’re still interested to open an account out here, follow these 3 simple steps and you’ll find yourself walking around with a new China bank card in no time.
Step #1: Proper Preparation
Preparation can be broken down into two simple categories: choosing your bank and gathering the appropriate documents.
Which China Bank Should I Choose? As I mentioned earlier, the most important factor to consider when choosing your bank is convenience. Bank of China is the largest in China, but I don’t keep most of my funds there because there isn’t a branch or ATM anywhere near me.
Also, your account is tied to the specific branch in which you open it. So if you need to change your PIN, report a stolen card or something of this sort you’ll need to go back to that exact branch. Another reason to pick one near you.
What Documents Do I Need? Believe it or not, the only thing you need to bring with you to the bank when opening a new account is a passport. They may ask you for a small deposit of 10-20 RMB and some banks might make you pay for the card they give you, so bring about 40 RMB as a precaution.
Step #2: Opening the Account at the Bank
Once you’ve picked the bank and put your passport and cash in your pocket, set aside an hour or two and head over to the nearest bank branch.
If you have a local friend that can accompany you it might speed up the process, but it’s not necessary. You should be able to do this by yourself if you’re adventurous enough.
The first place you need to stop is the information desk to speak with the staff and get a number. Tell them that you are opening a new account and often they can help you fill out the form.
Say: “我想开一个银行账户” – Wǒ xiǎng kāi yīgè yínháng zhànghù
Sometimes the form they give you has English as well, but unless you’re confident can write your address and information in Chinese characters, let the staff do the work. They’ll also likely go make a copy of your passport that you’ll need later.
When you’re number is called, provide them with your passport and the form. They’ll have you sign a few other documents, tell you how much money is required for deposit and hand a new UnionPay Bank Card.
At some point during the process a small keypad next to you will light up and scream at you to input a password. All China bank passwords are 6 digits long and you’ll probably have to input it a few times while you’re there.
That’s it! Keep the paperwork they give you and enjoy your new UnionPay debit card!
Step 3: Using Your China Bank Account
There are a few different ways you might find yourself using your new China bank account and your UnionPay card, and each might require specific actions.
- Using the ATM: This is the easiest way to utilize your account. You can withdrawal cash from the ATM and even deposit cash in some of them.
- Making Purchases Online: if you think you’ll be buying things on Taobao or another China merchant, you’re going to need to specifically ask for them to turn on Internet banking. Otherwise, the card simply won’t work to purchase. (note: some shopping sites like Amazon.com are not accessible in China without a VPN)
- Wire Money: each branch has its own wire instructions, so specifically ask your bank what you need. Mine provided me with a printout (in English!) describing exactly what needed to happen, including a specific intermediary bank. To learn more about moving money internationally, read our Guide to Sending Money to/from China.
Enjoy using your China bank account, whether for daily living or investment! I hope this was helpful and please let me know any questions or additions in the comment below.