There are many banks in Shanghai and opening a bank account is not very complicated. China has several large national banks, such as the Bank of China and Agricultural Bank of China, as well as many regional banks. You also have foreign banks that now can deal in foreign currency accounts, such as Citibank or HSBC. Account holders are also given an ATM card with their account and ATMs are everywhere. You MAY be charged 50 RMB for a bankcard.
Interest rates for real estate or automobile loans are about 1.5% below prevailing Western rates. Bank accounts in China can only be in one person’s name – no joint accounts. It is possible to open foreign currency accounts, such as the Euro, US dollar, or the Swiss Franc. Accounts can be opened with 100 RMB at the Chinese banks. Individual accounts in the Western banks usually take the equivalent of US$10,000.
One piece of advice: If you want to access your money from accounts back home in China, the obvious choices are either transferring money to your Chinese account or using a credit card/ATM card to withdraw cash at ATMs. Both ways imply high fees. There is an alternative. Citibank has many ATMs in Shanghai and there is no fee for using them at home or internationally, they will only give you a slightly worse exchange rate than the official one. So, if you think you will need to take money from your home bank account, open a Citibank account at home before coming to China.
Opening an Account
Select a bank. The larger national banks have more experience dealing with foreigners and can make the process easier. Three of the biggest banks are the Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and the Agricultural Bank of China.
Get a Chinese translation of the applicant’s name. Although it is not required, this can make official processes easier in the future.
Take your passport to the bank. Just as in Western banks, there is an application form. The larger bank branches have English speaking clerks to assist with the process, but it helps to have a Chinese speaking person along to simplify the transaction.
Decide if the account will be in dollars or in Chinese Renminbi (RMB). To open a bank account with US Dollars, you need a minimum deposit of $300 to $500. The RMB accounts can be opened with as little as 1 RMB. The Bank of China has a “Savings Deposit Account Passbook” that allows depositors to deposit various foreign currencies.
Banking hours are usually from 9 am to 4 pm or 5 pm on Mondays to Fridays, but some close for an hour from 12 noon to 1 pm. If you need to visit the bank, allow plenty of time, as the queues can be long and slow moving. If you’re going at lunch time, it’s often best to grab a queue ticket and then have your meal. By the time you’ve finished, it should be your turn.
ATM & Credit Cards
Most banks will provide you with a debit card when you open a Chinese account. There is a wide network of ATMs throughout China’s main cities, with ATM facilities including cash withdrawals, transfers, balance inquiries and checkbook or statement requests. If you have a foreign visa ATM card or a card that is compatible with the Maestro system, this will probably work as well. Note that most ATMs have limits of US$ 100-500 per transaction and the fees can be quite high, especially if you use ATMs from banks other than your own.
Credit cards (as opposed to debit cards) are not yet very widespread in China. They’re useful for on-line shopping, booking tickets and paying at major hotels or international restaurants, but they won’t serve you much on the everyday street economy of China. Be prepared to walk around with a lot of cash instead.
Checks are generally not accepted as form of payment in China. Foreign checks are often not accepted by banks unless you leave some form of collateral. Also, Chinese banks will normally only deposit the funds in your account once they’ve received the payment from the bank that issued the check (which can take up to a month). If you receive financial transfers from your home country, checks are a very inefficient way to do so and you should look into some other option for the money transfers.
You can wire money from just about every country to China, but due to the high transfer fees, it is usually cheaper to deposit the money in a foreign account and withdraw it from that account via the ATMs in China. If you want to transfer money directly to China in a quick and efficient way, you can do so by using a money transfer service like Western Union. Be aware, however, that the fees for these services are usually quite high, so you might want to use them only in emergencies or if you don’t have any other options.
- Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), http://www.icbc.com.cn
- Bank of Communications, http://www.bankcomm.com (Chinese only)
- Pudong Development Bank, http://www.spdb.com.cn/
- China Merchants Bank, http://www.cmbchina.com/ (Chinese only)
- China People’s Construction Bank, http://www.ccb.com (Chinese only)
- Bank of China, http://www.bank-of-china.com/
- China Everbright Bank, http://www.cebbank.com/ceb/html/english/
Shanghai also has foreign banks that can now trade in foreign currencies. These have significantly fewer branches and the ATMs are something of a rarity. Two foreign banks that are popular with expats are:
- Citibank, http://www.asia.citibank.com
- Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank (HSBC), http://www.hsbc.com.cn