Opening a bank account in China

Updated 2022-09-17 20:01

If you've moved to China with the intention to stay for long, there is no way to get around opening a bank account. And it's best that you do this sooner than later, as opening a bank account as an expat in China can be quite a hassle. Having a Chinese bank account will make your life in the country substantially more convenient.  


Most payments in China are mobile — you can pay for groceries, order food, hail a cab, hop on a bus, and more by just using your phone and one of the country's popular payment apps like Wechat or Alipay. Not having a local card and bank account will make your life in the country way more complicated — even cash is used quite rarely at this point.

How to open a bank account in China?

Opening a bank account in China may take time and some patience. But it's not particularly difficult — provided you have the needed documents.


Most banks in China will only let you open an account if you have a residence permit in the country. Plus, a lot of banks also require you to have a work-based residence permit. You can only open a bank account in China in person — it's virtually impossible to do this remotely.

The first thing you need to know is that opening a bank account may take some time. Depending on the bank you choose, you may get your bank card in a few days or several weeks. This is why it's best to allocate a bit of time when you decide to open a bank account.

Which bank should you choose in China?

If you are opening an account as an individual (not a business) — then the bank you choose won't really make that much difference. The thing you should consider here is convenience. Is the bank branch close to where you live? Do they have English-speaking personnel? Is there an easy-to-use app? If you are opening an account for commercial purposes, then you will have more aspects to consider.

Some of the most popular banks among expats in China are:

  • China Merchant's Bank
  • ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China)
  • Bank of China
  • ABC (Agricultural Bank of China)
  • China Construction Bank

Note that different banks in China may have different policies on opening accounts to foreigners. Some banks do not allow non-Chinese nationals to open accounts at all, while others may have a specific list of requirements for expats who want to open an account.

What are the procedures for opening a bank account in China?

To open a bank account in China, you will need the following documents:

  • Passport
  • Valid Chinese visa
  • A local phone number
  • Work permit or student ID.

Note that the list of documents you will need may vary from one bank to another. Some banks may also require you to provide proof of address.

Once you've picked your bank and have the documents ready, you can go to your nearest bank branch to open an account.

It's always best to go with a Chinese friend or colleague. They can help you navigate the environment and help you communicate with the bank staff if they don't speak enough English. But even if you go to the bank alone, you should be able to open the account without issue. Use a translator app if needed.

At the bank, you will first need to take a number. If you are not sure how to do this or the ticket machine is in Chinese, you can go to the information desk and say that you need to open a bank account. Or, if you don't speak Chinese, show them a note from your translator app or “想开一个银行账户” (I would like to open a bank account).

You will then get a bank account application form that you will need to fill out. Sometimes these forms have both Chinese and English, but sometimes, they are only in Chinese. In this case, one of the bank workers will help you fill it in. You will then need to create your PIN number — in China, these are six digits.

Once you've applied for the bank card, you will need to wait a few days or weeks. When your card is ready, you will receive a message. You will then be able to pick it up at the same branch where you applied for your bank account.


When registering your bank account, make sure to double-check that your name is spelled correctly. Name spelling mistakes are quite common and may lead to problems in the future. Note that your full name may also be too long to enter into the Chinese bank system. In this case, it will be shortened by several letters.

Most banks in big cities will have English-speaking personnel to assist you throughout the process. However, if you are opening an account in a smaller town or branch, it is recommended you ask a Chinese-speaking acquaintance for help.

Making payments in China

Most bank card services in China are managed by UnionPay. And if you get a bank card in China, you will see that Union Pay is indicated on it.

There are several ways in which you can use your UnionPay card.

You can use your card to pay for purchases directly, or you can withdraw cash at the ATM. However, the most popular way of paying for goods and services in China is by using apps such as WeChat and Alipay. These days, very few people in China use cash or debit cards for everyday purchases. Instead, they connect their bank cards to WeChat and Alipay accounts. Then, you will be able to use your phone to pay for practically anything in a matter of seconds. To do this, you will simply need to scan a QR code on your phone or a QR code of the merchant you are buying from.

Having apps such as WeChat and Alipay on your phone and knowing how to use them will make your life in China much easier. WeChat is the most popular application in China, with over 900 million users. It's also the number one tool you will need for your everyday life in China. WeChat started out as a messenger app. Today, it's used to post social media updates, work exchanges, online shopping, and, most importantly, everyday payments. In China, you can use your phone to pay for anything from transportation to street food and more.

This is why it's a good idea to download the app and learn how to use it as soon as you get your bank account in China set up.

Opening a bank account in Hong Kong

Another option to get a UnionPay card is by opening an account in Hong Kong. A lot of expats prefer this option or open a Hong Kong bank account in addition to a Chinese one.

Hong Kong is the center of financial activities in Asia, and a lot of Chinese companies also have accounts in Hong Kong and the option to pay your salary to your Hong Kong account. Plus, due to favorable taxation policies, opening an account in Hong Kong may be a more financial decision. If you are doing business in China and need to transfer money overseas or receive payments from overseas accounts, opening an account in Hong Kong will also be very useful.

Taxes in China

Opening an account in Hong Kong and receiving payments means that the question of taxation will also come up. If you are legally employed in China, you will most likely need to pay income tax on your earnings. The two main factors that determine your tax status in the country are the duration of your stay in the country and how you make money. Generally, if you stay in China for less than 90 days in a tax year, you will only be taxed on the income you make in the country. If you come from a country that has a tax treaty with China, you will become a tax resident in China if you've stayed in the country for over 183 days.

If you've stayed in China for over a year (but under five years), you will be paying tax on the income you've earned from Chinese and foreign employers as well as the payments you have received from your employer in China while being temporarily abroad.

Now, if you've stayed in China for over five consecutive years, you will fall under the five-year rule. This makes your worldwide income taxable in China. To “get out” from under the influence of the five-year rule, you will need to leave China for 30 consecutive days in a calendar year or 90 days in total in a calendar year.

China uses a seven-tier progressive individual income tax system:


Tax rate















If you are legally employed in China, you will be taxed under the same income tax rate and thresholds as Chinese nationals.

The national threshold for income tax in China is currently 5,000 yuan (US$740) per month.

Currently, expats living and working in China can benefit from tax-exempt benefits within the following eight categories:

  • Rental expenses
  • Education expenses for children
  • Language training expenses
  • Meal expenses
  • Laundry expenses
  • Relocation expenses
  • Business travel expenses
  • And travel expenses for going back home

Good to know:

When it comes to home travel expenses, you will only be able to deduct expenses related to traveling back home — a maximum of two trips per year.

If you want to claim any of the above expenses as your deductibles, you will need to provide proof. In China, the proof is usually collected in the form of invoices — or “fapiao”. You can ask for fapiao any time you purchase specific goods or services in China. Make sure you do that and keep your fapiao so that you can use them when you claim your deductibles.


You may see people who sell fapiao/invoice papers on the street or online. Note that purchasing fapiao and using them to claim deductions from your taxable income is considered tax fraud. Tax fraud in China has very serious consequences, from heavy fines and jail time to deportation.

Useful links:

China Merchants Bank

ICBB (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China)

Bank of China

ABC (Agricultural Bank of China)

China Construction Bank



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