China's Banks Compared: Which Offer the Best Accounts for Foreigners? (2022)

Banking in China can be nothing short of a headache, especially if you’re an expat – long lines, rare English service, and the confusion over paperwork is just the beginning. But the simple fact is that some banks really are better than others. We take a look at China’s “Big Four” state-owned banks – the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), Bank of China (BOC), China Construction Bank (CCB) and the Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) to see how they stack up in terms of prestige, customer service, and online banking services. So while banking in China may never quite feel like a walk in the park, staying informed of your options can make the whole experience just a little less stressful.

The basics

(Video) Video shows violent reaction to China bank protest

First of all, there are some things that all the banks will require when you open an account with them, as well as a basic procedure you can expect to follow no matter where you go. When you arrive to open an account, all the banks require a valid passport and, if applicable, a residence permit. A minimum of 1 RMB deposit is needed if you are opening an RMB (as opposed to a foreign currency) account. After you have filled out an application form, you will be asked to create your six digit PIN number (which is different from the usual four digit PIN number found elsewhere in the world, such as in the United States). You will then be issued a “passbook” in which you can record your withdrawals and deposits, along with a debit card which you can use at any of the bank’s branch ATM’s in China. Be warned, however, that if you withdraw money from an ATM outside of the city or town in which you opened your account – even if the bank branch is the same – you will be charged a fee of 4 RMB.

Also, a quick word about online banking: Most banks offer online banking, where you can gain access to your account statements, transactions, and account balance. This can be a great and convenient form of banking – if you don’t expect too much. Expats often wonder why their online banking service doesn’t cover foreign currency and bank-to-(overseas) bank transfers. Well, unfortunately, you can get the best bank in China and this whole process will still be impossible. Why? You cannot convert RMB directly to a foreign currency through online banking. Period. Nor can you send RMB out of China directly.

If you wish to transfer RMB from China into an overseas account, you will have to physically go to a bank branch (all of the banks discussed below offer this service) with your passport, your work permit and a contract from your employer vouching your employment and income. You will also need a letter on your company’s letterhead (and with your company’s stamp) verifying the taxes that you have paid on your income. This is a mandatory requirement, as you are not allowed to transfer any Chinese income for which you haven’t been taxed. In addition, you must bring your monthly pay slips, with your company stamp and government issued tax receipts. All of this is just to change your RMB into foreign currency. Next you will have to actually wire the money to your foreign bank, which is a lot easier – just provide the foreign bank’s details, including its routing number and your account number. This service will cost you some money (around 200vRMB) and take some time, but hey – nothing in life (or China) is easy!

Another big issue expats have is finding banks that offer English service. Unfortunately, it’s simply a “hit-or-miss” situation, with a vast majority of “misses.” The best thing to do is get a Chinese friend or co-worker to come with you and explain the process. Once you’ve done the same transactions a couple of times, you’ll know which documents you need and which forms to fill out.

(Video) Protests in China: What's behind the bank scandals | DW News

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC)

Of the Big Four branches, the Industrial and Commerical Bank of China is the most popular choice when considering customer service and online banking. The word most often used to describe their website is “streamlined,” although personally I have found that Bank of China’s website is not too far behind. The website has full English text, although the wording can get a bit convoluted (for example, a FAQ question asks: “Can we realize the functions that staff of ministry of personnel submit payroll payment orders and the finance director is not able to view details of the payment via Corporate Internet Banking?” Um, what?). You are able to do the usual online activities, however, including paying bills online and viewing your account balance.

Founded in 1984, ICBC is the largest of China’s state-owned banks with assets of over 11 trillion RMB in 2009. You shouldn’t have a problem finding an ATM outlet, even if you’re traveling outside of China, as there are over 18,000 mainland branches and 106 overseas branches.

Opening an account for foreign currency is never an easy task here in China, but ICBC has some of the strictest rules of the Big Four banks. To do so, you must bring your passport and, if applicable, your residency permit. You must also bring a notarized translation of your English name into Chinese, and fill out a basic application form. The bank will then open the account under your officially approved Chinese name. Keep in mind that there is a minimum deposit for opening an account for foreign currency. For example, to open a USD bank account, you are required to put in at least $300USD.

(Video) Chinese banking crisis: Four Henan banks froze cash withdrawals | World News | WION

Bank of China (BOC)

Another popular choice is Bank of China, which happens to be China’s oldest bank (founded in 1912). The website is relatively clear and concise, without the gluttony of flashing ads and random-facts clutter that abound on most of the other banks’ websites. This is the bank linked to The Great Wall debit or credit card, signs for which you will see in many institutions around the country. Customer service tends to get slightly lower marks for this bank, although I’ve never heard any legitimate complaints beyond the usual “Banking in China is horrible.”

As of 2010, BOC is the top lender in China to individuals with over 6,951 billion RMB in assets. This means that you can find a stand alone ATM or bank branch on practically every street corner. This is one of the best banks to choose if you’re looking for convenience within China. Beware, however, when using BOC overseas. Any money you deposit into the China branch account cannot be accessed in overseas accounts.

To open a foreign currency account with BOC, you need your passport and your residence permit (if applicable). You can then fill out an application, deposit the minimum amount required (for USD accounts, the minimum is currently $500 USD), and voila – you have a foreign currency account!

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China Construction Bank (CCB)

China Construction Bank gained a major boost when Bank of America bought a 9% stake in 2005. It is currently the second largest bank in the world, which is not too shabby when you consider it was only founded in 1954. For all this, however, you would think their website would be a bit more internationally oriented. While the main online banking page is available in English, when you click on “Online Bank Services” under the “E-Banking” heading, the text switches back to Chinese, with no English language option. This can obviously be a major obstacle if you’re used to doing the majority of your banking online. I imagine that this issue is a pretty big obstacle in CCB not being more popular with expats.

It is fairly easy to find CCB stand alone ATM’s and branches, especially in the major cities. It is, however, a (relatively) smaller operation than, say, ICBC in terms of outlets. Currently, CCB “only” has about 13,629 branches throughout mainland China.

One of the major benefits that CCB has going for it is that it is a member of the “Global ATM Alliance,” which is a “joint venture of several major international banks that allows customers… to use their ATM or check card at another bank within the alliance with no transaction fees when travelling internationally.” According to the CCB website, other members of this Alliance include Bank of America (US), Barclays (UK), BNP Paribas (France), Santander Serfin (Spain and Mexico), Deutsche Bank (Germany), Westpac (Australia and NZ), and Scotiabank (Canada). This means that if you tend to be a world traveler, CCB just might be the most cost efficient choice overall. Agricultural Bank of China (ABC)

(Video) China: Protests over freezing of bank deposits; police, bank depositors clash in Zhengzhou | WION

The Agricultural Bank of China just recently went public in 2010, but when it did it certainly made a splash – it had the world’s largest initial public offering (IPO) ever. This may be one reason why their website has improved so much in recent years. The English is clear and the pages relatively uncluttered, meaning you won’t want to tear your hair out while trying to navigate the site.

Chances are you’ve run across at least one of these branches or stand alone ATM’s, as ABC has over 24,000 branches. This is a staggering number, especially considering that all these branches are limited only to mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore. The abundance of ABC’s can be great for those who are living and working mainly in these three places, with little or no travel needs. For those who need a more flexible debit card and who wish to avoid those pesky foreign transaction fees, this may not be the bank for you.

If you want to open a foreign currency account at ABC, the requirements are the same as BOC – simply bring your passport, your residence permit (if you have one), and a completed application form. The minimum deposit requirement here is much less than anywhere else, however. For example, if you’re looking to open a USD account, you only need $100 USD to do so.

FAQs

Which Chinese bank is best for foreigners? ›

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC)

Another of the largest banks in the world, ICBC was established in 1984⁷ and now has branches across China and overseas. While it has a number of deposit, time deposit and savings accounts, one of the best options for expats at ICBC is its All-in-one Current Account.

Can foreigners have bank account in China? ›

If you're looking for a more personal bank account in China, you must be a resident of the Country. Non-resident foreigners looking to open a Chinese bank account need to do so in the context of overseas business or currency exchange.

Which banks allow foreigners to open accounts? ›

However, larger banks such as US Bank, TD Bank, Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo will allow non-residents to set up a checking account and a savings account. Instead of your SSN, they'll ask for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) and other documents.

Which bank is best for non residents? ›

8 Best Banks for Non-US Citizens
  • HSBC.
  • Citi.
  • Bank of America.
  • Capital One.
  • Chase.
  • Charles Schwab Bank.
  • Wells Fargo.
  • Wise.
17 Nov 2022

What foreign banks are in China? ›

Six other global lenders control their investment banking operations in the mainland, including U.S. banks Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley, alongside European lenders UBS, Credit Suisse, and Deutsche Bank.

Which is the best country to open a bank account? ›

  • Singapore - Reputation is a key.
  • Hong Kong - Top financial center in Asia.
  • British Virgin Islands - High degree of privacy and confidentiality.
  • Mauritius - Ease of account opening.
  • Cayman Islands - Popular choice for offshore banking.
  • Puerto Rico - No CRS reporting needed.
  • UAE - Favorable tax laws.
24 Feb 2020

Why are Chinese banks freezing accounts? ›

Several local banks in China have had to freeze withdrawals to prevent a bank run. They had systemic issues that the Covid-19 pandemic and a real estate slump made worse. Some experts liken the situation to the bursting of the US housing bubble that triggered the 2008 financial crisis.

How much money can a foreigner transfer into China? ›

Move Money In and Out of China – Rules and Restrictions

They can take local currency of 20,000 RMB in or out of China. This limit is applicable to local residents and foreigners. This is the general allowed amount and does not require any additional action. This amount does not need to be declared with customs.

How much do I need to open an account in China bank? ›

  • 0.125% p.a. interest rate.
  • P100. account opening fee.
  • Php 1,000. minimum balance to earn interest.

What is the best international online bank? ›

The 9 Best Banks for Expats and Digital Nomads
  • Revolut — Best overall online expat bank account.
  • Wise — Best multi-currency account.
  • N26 — Best fully-licensed neobank.
  • Chime — Best fee-free ATM access.
  • Monzo — Best for savings interest rate.
  • Starling Bank — Best international UK bank account.

Can I open a bank account without being a citizen? ›

You must be living in the U.S. to open your account. You'll need to provide both a foreign and U.S. address, as well as two forms of ID and a tax identification number.

Can you open an account as a foreigner? ›

Fortunately, a non-U.S. citizen can open a bank account in the U.S. However, they may need to come up with different identification than U.S. citizens who are trying to open a bank account.

Which bank is best for immigrants? ›

What Are the Best US Banks for Immigrants?
  • Best intro bonus: Chase Total Checking®
  • Best for frequent travel: Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking® Account.
  • Best mobile bank: Varo Money.
  • Best rewards checking: Discover Cashback Debit.
  • Best for savings features: Chime.
15 Aug 2022

What bank has no international fees? ›

Which banks have no foreign transaction fees? Banks that have no foreign transaction fees on at least some debit card purchases, ATM withdrawals and credit card transactions include Capital One and HSBC.

What are the big 4 banks in China? ›

key takeaways
  • The four largest banks in the world are all Chinese.
  • China's Big Four banks, in order of asset size, are the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, the China Construction Bank, the Agricultural Bank of China, and the Bank of China.

What is China's main bank? ›

The Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) is the largest bank in China by total assets, total employees and total customers.

What is China bank known for? ›

China Bank was among the first local banks listed on the Manila Stock Exchange in 1927, the first in Southeast Asia to process deposit accounts on-line in 1969, and the first to offer telephone banking in the Philippines in 1988. In 1991, we acquired our universal banking license.

What is the safest international bank? ›

World's safest banks
RankBankCountry
1KfWGermany
2Zürcher KantonalbankSwitzerland
3Landwirtschaftliche RentenbankGermany
4L-BankGermany
6 more rows

Which is the safest bank to keep money? ›

The Safest Banks in the U.S.
  • Wells Fargo.
  • JPMorgan Chase.
  • U.S. Bank.
  • PNC Bank.
  • Citibank.
  • Capital One.
  • M&T Bank Corporation.
  • AgriBank.
9 Oct 2022

Which country is best to settle in foreign? ›

  • Switzerland has best salaries.
  • Germany provides quality education.
  • Spain — opportunities for investors.
  • Countries with a high quality of life.
  • Canada is the leader in terms of living standards.
  • Luxembourg and its business opportunities.
  • Austria has the most comfortable cities.
  • Finland has the happiest people.

Which Chinese bank is in trouble? ›

ICBC, BoC and CCB are the latest banks to report growing bad debt in the real estate sector, amid a gloomy first half in which rising developer defaults halted housing projects, leading to mortgage boycotts.

What is China's current account balance? ›

88,874,857,506

Can money go into a frozen bank account? ›

It is important to point out that while a bank account is frozen, the account is still able to receive incoming payments. The ability to withdraw or transfer money is not available while an account is frozen.

How much tax do foreigners pay in China? ›

However, only after staying in the country for six straight years, without exiting for more than 30 days, will global income be taxed.
...
GradeAnnual cumulative taxable income (yuan)Tax rate
1<36,0003%
236,000-144,00010%
3144,000-300,00020%
4300,000-420,00025%
3 more rows
9 Jan 2022

How much is tax in China for foreigners? ›

Note that there is a monthly standard deduction for foreign nationals of RMB 5,000.
...
2021 Chinese Income Tax Rate for Non-Residents.
Annual Taxable Income in CNYAnnual Taxable Income in CNY Rate Applicable to Income Level (%)
25,000 – 35,00025%
5,000 – 55,00030%
55,000 – 80,00035%
80,000 and above45%
3 more rows

How much cash can you fly with to China? ›

Travelers are allowed to take up to US$5000 equivalent of foreign currency or 20 000 RMB of local currency in cash in or out of the country. This applies to both foreigners and Chinese nationals. If the amount does not exceed this limit, one will not be required to declare this to customs.

Can I open a China bank savings account online? ›

Anytime, anywhere—even if abroad, as long as there is internet connection—one can conveniently open a new account without having to visit a China Bank branch. It is so easy as all it takes is one valid ID and a selfie. What's more, it is very affordable as there is no initial deposit required.

How much is the maintaining balance in China bank? ›

Hi Sheryl Narag Mercado, Thank you for your interest in opening an account with China Bank Savings. The required initial deposit and maintaining balance for Easi-Save ATM or Passbook is P500. 00.

How do I open a savings account at China bank? ›

Basic Requirements
  1. Two (2) 1x1 ID Pictures.
  2. Original/s and clear copy/ies of at least one (1) of the following valid IDs*: Passport. Driver's License. Professional Regulations Commission (PRC) ID. National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Clearance. Police Clearance. Postal ID. Voter's ID. Barangay Certification.

What is the easiest bank account to open online? ›

Easiest Bank Accounts To Open Online
  • Revolut.
  • Chime.
  • Capital One.
  • Juno.
  • Current.
  • Wise.
  • Majority.
  • FAQ about online banking.

What documents do I need to open a bank account? ›

Acceptable Forms of ID for Banks
  1. Driver's license.
  2. REAL ID card.
  3. DoD ID card (also known as Department of Defense ID Card)
  4. Passport/Passport card.
  5. Social security card.
  6. Birth certificate.

Why do banks ask for citizenship? ›

Many bank compliance officers feel obligated to ask customers about their country of citizenship, particularly in order to collect federally mandated information aimed at assessing potential risks associated with so-called “nonresident alien accounts.”

Can I open a bank account online as a foreigner? ›

If you don't have a social security number, most banks will be able to give you an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) which will allow you to open an account. Once you have all the required documents, opening an account is relatively straightforward and can be done in person or online.

How do immigrants get a bank account? ›

Yes, undocumented immigrants in the United States are legally able to open bank accounts with traditional big banks, credit unions, small regional banks, and neobanks. To do so, undocumented immigrants must first request an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) from the Internal Revenue Service.

Which bank is best for foreigners in Canada? ›

The best banks for newcomers to Canada are:
  • Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)
  • TD Canada Trust.
  • CIBC.
  • Bank of Montreal (BMO)
  • ScotiaBank.

How many immigrants have bank accounts? ›

According to the data, an overwhelming majority (94.7%) of U.S. immigrants only have a single bank account in their name. Just of 5% of immigrants have a second bank account. In the next sections of this article, we'll look at some of the common banking fees immigrants pay.

What bank has the best accounts? ›

The best checking accounts for November 2022
  • Best overall rate: Heritage Bank.
  • Best for no/low fees: NBKC Bank.
  • Best for members of the military and veterans: Navy Federal Credit Union.
  • Best for mobile app high-yield rate: Ally Bank.
  • Best for unlimited ATM fee rebates: LendingClub Bank.

Which bank is the best bank to save money? ›

Here are the best online savings account interest rates
  • Bread Savings – APY: 3.50%, min. ...
  • CIT Bank – APY: 3.25%, min. ...
  • Popular Direct – APY: 3.25%, min. ...
  • Citibank – APY: 3.10%, min. ...
  • American Express National Bank – APY: 3.00%, min. ...
  • Barclays Bank – APY: 3.00%, min. ...
  • Capital One – APY: 3.00%, min.

Which bank is best for all services? ›

1. State Bank of India. State Bank of India (SBI) is among the Fortune 500 companies. It is an Indian multinational and Public Sector Banking and Financial services firm.

Which ATM card is best for international? ›

Top International Debit Cards Offered by Indian Banks
  • SBI International Debit Cards.
  • HDFC EasyShop Platinum Debit Card.
  • ICICI Bank Sapphiro International Debit Card.
  • Axis Bank Burgundy Debit Card.
  • YES World Debit Card.
  • HSBC Premier Platinum Debit Card.

What banks can I use abroad for free? ›

Digital banks like Monzo, Revolut, Starling and Monese have all of the same functionality as high street current account, but also usually offer free transactions and withdrawals abroad.

Which card is best for international transactions? ›

List of Best Credit Cards for International Transactions 2022
  • Yes Bank First Exclusive Credit Card.
  • Kotak Privy League Signature Credit Card.
  • HDFC Bank Regalia Credit Card.
  • IDFC FIRST Select Credit Card.
  • American Express Platinum Card.
  • Citibank Prestige Credit Card.
  • Standard Chartered Ultimate Credit Card.
7 Nov 2022

Can foreigner open bank account in China online? ›

It's worth noting that it's virtually impossible to open a bank account in China remotely. You'll need to be physically present in the bank in order to open an account.

How much money can a foreigner transfer out of China? ›

Travelers are allowed to take up to US$5000 equivalent of foreign currency or 20 000 RMB of local currency in cash in or out of the country. This applies to both foreigners and Chinese nationals. If the amount does not exceed this limit, one will not be required to declare this to customs.

How much bank balance is required for China visa? ›

Documents showing the itinerary including air ticket booking record (round trip) and proof of a hotel reservation. Or an Invitation Letter for Tourism issued by a duly authorized Chinese travel agency. 3. An original bank statement with a balance of at least US$6000.

Can you invest in China as a foreigner? ›

Foreign investors can freely trade in Chinese stocks that are listed on overseas stock exchanges, in accordance with the rules of each stock exchange. B-shares and ETFs can be traded through both domestic and foreign brokerage accounts that offer B-shares as a product.

Can I open a China bank account in Hong Kong? ›

You can open accounts with us for Wealth Management Service, Enrich Banking Service without the need to visit our branches in Hong Kong in person. You can simply complete the account opening forms for BOCHK accounts at designated attesting network in the mainland / Macao / outside Hong Kong*.

Can I transfer money to a Chinese bank account? ›

Bank or Wire Transfers (via SWIFT)

They're extremely common and often the best choice for businesses. The largest and most reputable international banks in China - as well as every other country - use the standard international SWIFT code system to reliably transfer money between accounts.

How can I withdraw money from China 2022? ›

If you are repatriating a large sum of money earned working in China you can go to your bank with the following documents:
  1. Your passport.
  2. Your work permit.
  3. Your employment contract.
  4. Your pay-slips.
  5. Your Tax Identification Number (provided by your company)
11 Jan 2022

Can Bank of China transfer money overseas? ›

Bank of China has an extensive network of correspondent banks and overseas branches. We provide global remittance service in various currencies by either telegraphic transfer (T/T) or demand draft (D/D). Therefore, you can transfer funds to most parts of the world in a safe and quick manner.

What is the safest way to send money to China? ›

7 tips for sending money to China
  1. • Use an Online money transfer service. ...
  2. Check the Chinese currency rules. ...
  3. Compare the exchange rates as well as the transfer fees. ...
  4. Pay by local bank transfer or use the cheapest payment method. ...
  5. Send money to a bank account, not for cash collection. ...
  6. Use a registered Payments Institution.

Videos

1. U.S. Banks Are Terrified of Chinese Payment Apps
(Bloomberg Quicktake: Originals)
2. Prof. Horst Löchel on the Big Four Chinese banks and the developments in the sector
(Frankfurt School of Finance & Management)
3. Moment mexican 'cowboy' stopped armed robbery - BBC News
(BBC News)
4. China urges banks to extend loans to real estate companies after homeowners halt payments
(DW News)
5. What a Rise Mortgage Defaults Would Mean for China Banks
(Bloomberg Markets and Finance)
6. Chinese Security Personnel Clash With Protesters Outside Bank
(NBC News)

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