How to Open a Bank Account and Credit Card in China as a Foreigner

November 11, 2021

Opening a bank account is one of the many things that a new arrival to China has to do. Although the process can seem overwhelming at first, with our guide, it should feel lot more manageable. Here’s a look at the must-knows and must-haves for opening a bank account in China.

Can a foreigner open a bank account in China?

Yes, a foreigner can definitely open a bank account in China!

It is not illegal for foreigners to have a Chinese bank account - unless you use it to break the law. In fact, many foreigners have more than one bank account.

More importantly, opening a bank account is both advised - for safety reasons - and required if you are in China for work. A vast majority of expats working in China are paid into a Chinese account by their company, which makes choosing a bank a little trickier (more on this later).

Can a tourist open a bank account in China?

It is possible to open a bank account on a tourist visa, but only if you have a residency permit. A temporary residence permit is available for foreigners arriving on ‘M’ and other short-term visas.

In such cases, it will take a lot of patience and likely several rejections until you are able to find a bank branch that is willing to help.

If a Chinese bank is willing to work with you as a tourist, be aware that the account provided will be very limited, and no better than a safer version of a piggy bank.

In which Chinese banks can I open an account?

All banks in China accept non-citizens; however, you need to find the branch of a particular bank that is willing to set the account up for you.

The most commonly used banks are:

  • Bank of China (中国银行)
  • ICBC (工商银行)
  • CBC (建设银行)
  • Bank of Communications (交通银行)

ICBC bank

Photo by Alexandra Nicole Sieh

You can also use the following two banks if they happen to be closer to your location:

  • CITIC Bank (中信银行)
  • CMB (招商银行)

China Merchants Bank CITIC bank

Photos by Alexandra Nicole Sieh

The above banks tend to be more familiar with foreign customers and have a more efficient system in place due to their experienced staff.

However, the choice of bank may be taken out of your hands by the company you work for.

Companies in China tend to pay all salaries into a specific bank for tax purposes. So, it is advised that you check with the HR of your new employers to avoid wasting time at the wrong bank.

Once you know the Chinese bank that you are going to open a bank account with, we recommend that you pick the nearest possible branch to you. This will be your home branch, which, for some banks, is where you will have to go whenever you need to do any admin work, such as change a PIN or replace a stolen card.

Note: You can still use other branches for banking purposes. Some banks also do not require you to have a “home branch” for admin purposes.

What do I need to open a bank account in China?

There are a few things that you’ll require in order to open a bank account in China:

  1. A Passport: This should be obvious. Of course, that passport will need a valid Chinese visa, but if you’re already in China, we are assuming you have one.
  2. A Chinese Phone Number: All Chinese bank accounts need to be tied to a Chinese phone number.

    You can get a SIM card from pretty much any phone provider. The two choices you have are China Mobile (中国移动通信), China Unicom (中国联通) or China Telecom (中国电信). When you get the SIM card, make sure to have your passport. If anything happens to your SIM card, when you replace it, your old number can be retrieved.

  3. Work Permit / Student ID: Some banks will ask for your work permit or student ID. This isn’t always the case though, and usually they won’t need it.
  4. Proof of Residence: Some banks will require proof of residence. This could be as simple as your residence permit or a receipt from the hotel where you’re staying. You can also use your 住宿证明 from when you registered at the police station near where you are living.
  5. Small amount of cash: When you have finally opened up the account, you will need to make a small deposit to activate the account. This could be as low as 10RMB. In some banks, you may be asked to pay a deposit for the bank card, though this is not common.

One thing any expat will tell you is that it is better to be over-prepared when doing anything at a bank so that you don’t get refused.

Once at the bank, you will be able to pick up an application form to open an account. At most banks the form is in both English and Chinese. The staff are also there to help you, as long as you acknowledge that they are trying to help others at the same time.

Can foreigners get a credit card in China?

As a foreigner, if you have a residence or work permit and can prove you have a steady income, you can apply for a credit card.

To get a credit card in China, you will need all of the above documents, plus proof of income.

Not all banks are willing to issue credit cards to foreigners, so we recommend first inquiring at the banks listed above, as they tend to be more foreign-friendly. Additionally, not all Chinese banks offer the same product when it comes to credit cards for foreigners, so you may want to shop around before deciding where to get your Chinese credit card from.

You may find it easier to get a credit card that is part of an international network, such as Visa or Mastercard, especially if you travel outside of China often.

Do foreign credit cards work in China?

Yes, they do. you should let your home bank know you plan to use the card in China so they do not flag your card as stolen and lock you out of your account.

You should also check if there are any fees for using your foreign credit card in China, as some banks to charge for international use of their credit cards.

HOWEVER. Many Chinese vendors do not accept foreign credit cards, so your card might be only useful as an ATM card. To be safe, you may want to consider getting a Chinese credit card anyway, or simply use a Chinese digital wallet, such as WeChat or Alipay (for which you need a Chinese bank account).

Which brings us to...

How do I open a bank account in China?

Before you set off to the bank, be aware, this is not a short process. You will need to set aside an hour or two to open a bank account in China, though the process can be made quicker if you go with a Chinese friend.

Note: We advise not going to the bank between 12-2pm as there are usually fewer windows open. Also, at the time of writing, banks are shut on Saturdays.

When you enter the bank, you must go to the information/help desk first and take a number. This desk is usually right by the door. Typically, there is an employee at the desk to help you.

When your number is called, go the correct window and present your documents to the bank clerk. Some clerks are able to speak English at a sufficient level, but it is advised that you have some translation app with you just in case.

Once the bank clerk has your application form and documents, what follows is plenty of watching and waiting. You will be asked to sign a handful of documents and provide an electronic signature via a small pin pad and signature device that will be on the right-hand side.

That same device will also scream at you to input a six-digit pin. In the end, you will eventually receive a UnionPay Bank Card.

Chinese Unionpay bank cards

Photo by Mehmet Dogan

What should I remember when opening a bank account?

Before you finish the process of opening your Chinese bank account, it is worth making sure that the bank has set up your account to send text alerts whenever money goes in or out. These alerts cost 2-3RMB per month (automatically taken from your account) depending on the bank but the convenience and peace-of-mind is well worth the cost.

Also, make sure that your bank has turned on online banking, otherwise you will not be able to make purchases on Jindong (京东)or Taobao (淘宝) etc.

Finally, make sure you are clear about the way your name is written on your account (order of your first and last name, all capitals vs lowercase letters, spaces or no spaces, etc.), as it will be vital when registering your card on such apps like WeChat and Alipay.

If you are unclear about any of the apps or how to register for them, you are better off setting them up while at the bank, knowing you can ask for help if you encounter any problems.

Can I access my Chinese bank account outside of China?

Sort of. When setting up your bank account, make sure to ask the clerk if you can use the bank card outside of China. (This is not always an automatic setting on Chinese bank cards.)

Restrictions do apply when using a Chinese bank card abroad, including a daily withdrawal limit of 10,000RMB per card and a yearly withdrawal limit of 100,000RMB on all your cards put together. If you reach either limit, no further withdrawals are permitted until the next day/year, respectively.

Not all banks/ATMs will accept Chinese bank cards though, so you should check this website to find out where does accept them. Click on your continent, select your country, and then click on "Tips".

Hopefully this guide will help you take a big step towards expat life in China.

Best of luck!

Post contributed by Mehmet Dogan