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Opening a Chinese bank account is actually a remarkably easy process, and not the bureaucratic nightmare you might expect. It can be slighly bewildering if you don’t speak Chinese, but read on and you’ll have your bank account open in no time . . .

First, there’s a long list of documents you’ll need to prepare before you go to the bank. Are you ready? Here we go:
1) Your passport

Got that? Excellent.

Yes, the only actual document you’ll need for a basic account is your passport - no proof of address, no proof of income, nothing else. If you wanted to get a Chinese credit card thing might be different, but we’re assuming you’re not looking for any credit facilities. The only other thing that might be useful is something with your address on - not because they’ll want to see it, but because you might need to copy it on to the form if you haven’t memorized it . . .

Next you’ll need to actually turn up at a bank. Many foreigners assume that the Bank of China sounds like the biggest most reliable bank. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the best reputation for customer service, so you may want to avoid it. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and the Merchant’s Bank tend to get better reports, so we suggest you open your account there.

You can just turn up at any branch, but bear in mind that branches near concentrations of foreigners (ie near a university, or central business district) are more likely to have English speakers on hand if that’s necessary. Bear in mind also though that for some services you may have to turn up at your own branch, rather than going to the counter at another branch, so you don’t want to be traveling too far.

Once you get there, don’t bother with the counter yet - head for an information desk and express the desire to open an account. Even if you can’t speak Chinese, saying ‘Open account’ clearly is likely to get through. Forms are often bilingual, but either way we suggest just asking the information desk staff to fill it out for you - they’re more careful than you, and probably have neater handwriting.

One point to watch is the name - make sure this matches the name on your passport exactly, and if you are having any more sent to you internationally, use that name exactly. Otherwise there’s a chance the money won’t get through - Chinese banks have been known to return payments to John Smith as the account was registered to Smith, John.

If you want Internet or mobile banking, request these at the same time - it can be done later, but you might as well get it all done at once.

Once the forms are completed, you’ll be sent up to the counter to hand over the forms and your first deposit. Practice varies from bank to bank, but the chances are you’ll be handed a passbook and a card immediately - if not you’ll be given a slip and told to come back when the card has been prepared. Whenever you get the card, you’ll be asked to set a six digit pin - don’t forget it . . .

Your Chinese bank account is now open. Wasn’t so hard, was it . . .

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