How to Open a Bank Account in China (As a Foreigner)
Opening a bank account in China is one way to take advantage of the steady appreciation of the RMB (the Chinese currency) against the US dollar. This post is not intended as an endorsement of either currency or a suggestion that it would be a good idea to open a bank account, but it is merely a “how to” should you decide, on your own, that opening a RMB-denominated bank account as a non-Chinese citizen is right for you. Don’t read this post if you are prone to holding other people responsible for risks that you take.
I am sure that there are other ways to open a bank account in China than the one listed below – but this one strikes me as the most realistic and practicable. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that rules and regulations in China change frequently:
1) Before you open a bank account in China, contemplate the fact that there are restrictions on the amount of money you can wire into and out of China – and these change. Given the hassle and potential risk of having a bank account abroad balanced against the remaining potential RMB appreciation, it may not make sense to open a bank account.
2) Before you go to China, decide which bank(s) you would like to open an account with. Practically speaking, your deposits are not “FDIC-insured” in China. Do your research on the various banks – there is some risk that you lose your deposits. I could make a recommendation, but that would doubtlessly get me in trouble down the road. Don’t bother shopping around for interest rates – they are universally low. Do shop around for money transfer and exchange fees. Some Chinese banks charge you a hefty fee for taking your money out and for converting it back into US dollars.
3) Go to China.
4) If you don’t speak Mandarin, go to a city with a prevalence of English-speakers. Shanghai is at the top of the list; Beijing would be second. Hong Kong won’t do; they have their own currency.
5) Find a branch where English is spoken well – or bring a friend who is fluent in Mandarin with you to open the bank account.
6) Bring your passport to the branch. You can open a bank account with a tourist visa.
7) Fill out the forms that are given to you – you will need an address in China that you can write down in order to fill out the forms properly.
8) You may be asked to pay certain account fees – negotiate, you don’t have to pay these.
9) Finally, fund your account with cash on hand. When you get back to the country that you are a resident in, try to wire out some of this money as a test. Do not be surprised if there are problems as all information in the wire instructions from your bank must match those of the Chinese bank. Expect some back and forth – it could take 6-8 weeks for the money to arrive in your bank account back home. Only after you are completely comfortable with your ability to pull money in and out of the Chinese account would you want to fund a significant amount.