A bank account in China is recommended for long-term, foreign-born residents. A Chinese account lessens the cost and inconvenience of accepting and making payments in Chinese currency, which can be an issue for anyone earning a living within the People's Republic. It will also help avoid costly ATM withdrawal fees and commissions on foreign exchange transactions. Although legal red tape complicates foreign investment in China, banking is a simpler matter.
Chinese law permits foreigners to open bank accounts at both Chinese and foreign-based banks within China. The process is relatively simple, although the language barrier can make procedures and rules difficult to understand. Foreigners are best-served by selecting a bank with English-speaking staff and an English-language website. The bigger the bank, the more likely it will accommodate foreigners; the largest Chinese banks are the Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China, and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
You will need a valid passport to open a bank account in China; other forms of ID, although sometimes useful, will not replace a passport. Some banks will also require a local residence permit. Chinese law does not require other paperwork for simple individual accounts, but there are restrictions on investment accounts that would allow you to buy and sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other securities.
Large Chinese banks offer a wide range of account options to expatriates. The Bank of China, for example, will open a fixed-term savings account, foreign-currency accounts or a "term-current" deposit account, in which the interest rate rises for money held longer in the account. The BOC and other banks also offer convenience services common in the U.S.: online banking, automatic bill pay and "wealth management" services for high-balance customers.
A useful feature of a Chinese bank account is access to the Union Pay card, which is widely accepted for transactions within the country. Many places that will not accept Visa, MasterCard or American Express will take a Union Pay card. Individual banks also offer their own debit and ATM cards, which can service online transactions within China and can reduce considerably the fees a foreigner would otherwise pay for ATM withdrawals.
- Shanghai Expat: Expat Guide to Chinese Banking
- Bank of China: Personal Banking
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Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.