One of the very first things that you need to do when you arrive in Shanghai is usually to open a bank account. You might have heard many stories of people who could easily open one and others that had a hard time. Truth is, it really depends on what bank you go to. The good news is that if you go to the right one, it will be a painless and quick thing to do.
Before you choose your bank, here are a few important things to consider:
- Do you have a work permit?
- Do they have any English speaking staff?
- How many ATM/branches do they have?
- Is the branch you go to open during weekends?
- Do they have an English online banking website?
- Can their debit card be linked to Alipay / Wechat wallet?
If you have a work permit, you can pretty much choose any major bank. Bank of China (BOC) for example is a good option, with many ATM all over town, but they require a work permit to open an account.
If you have a visa but no work permit, we would recommend ICBC. Actually, even if you have a work permit, we would still recommend ICBC. You only need your passport and a local phone number to do everything. You can open an account, get your debit card and have access to English online banking services within 30 minutes. Many branches have English speaking staff but in case you are unlucky, the Huai Hai Central road’s branch has some. Note that their phone app is only in Chinese, but the website is in English. Their accounts are multi-currency and so you can receive and hold most foreign currencies on your saving account.
Note that HSBC is also an option – if you have a visa valid for more than 3 months – but they do not have many ATM available and their debit card will not allow you to use all the online payment apps. So unless you already have an HSBC account in a different country and need easy international transfers, you might want to pass on them.
On the top of ICBC and BOC, other readers have had good experiences with the following banks:
- China Merchants Bank
- China Construction bank
- Agriculture Bank of China
- Hua Xia Bank
Any bank will give you a debit card (either on the spot or within a few days) but it is really hard to get a credit card. Some banks say that you only need a work permit, but then will still reject your request, some banks like ICBC even asked me to own a property in China (!), some do not say anything but just reject your request.
It is unclear what the requirements really are for foreigners to get a credit card but do not take it personally if they say no. Actually, they almost always say no. Fortunately, you do not really need a credit card as everything can be done with the standard UnionPay debit card as long as you stay in China…
Some of our readers were lucky to get a credit card by either involving their company in the application process, having a Chinese spouse, owning a property, depositing 3 months of more worth of salary on the account. In general, it seems that banks care more about the balance on your account rather than how big your salary is, hence having some cash on your account should help.