Though creating a bank account in Beijing is simple, most domestic banks – even large ones like the Bank of China (BoC) – lack English forms and services, so it’s best to bring a Chinese-speaking friend. That being said, all you need to open an account is your passport and a proof of address. You’ll be asked to fill out a form and choose a six-digit PIN. Keep any papers that the bank gives you.
Unless your employer pays you through a specific bank, it doesn’t really matter which one you choose. Convenience is key, so pick a bank with several branches near you. If your work requires you to travel quite a bit within China, select a bank with many branches nationwide like BoC or ICBC. Open your account at a branch near your home or office since you’ll need to return to this specific location in case you lose your card or need to change your PIN.
Keep your bank card in a safe place, away from magnetized objects; it’s a hassle to get a new one. The replacement process can take up to a week – longer if you lose your bank card during a national holiday. While waiting for your new card, it will be impossible to withdraw money from an ATM; the clerk won’t even allow it if you show them your passport. Most Beijingers maintain at least two bank accounts or open another account rather than wait for the replacement card, then transfer money electronically from one account to the other.
The Chinese government is wary of people moving large sums of money out of the country, so successfully applying for a domestic credit card is relatively difficult for foreigners. The rules may vary a bit from bank to bank, but required documents usually include the applicant’s passport, an application form, an employment contract in Chinese showing they’ve been working at their company for at least a year, the work permit (a little brown booklet that shows they’re legally allowed to work in China), and a stamped employment certificate from the company clearly showing the applicant’s income.
Currency Exchange and Overseas Transfers
The limit for overseas transfers is USD 500 per day for foreign nationals and USD 2,000 per day for Chinese nationals. However, there’s an annual cap of USD 50,000 for Chinese nationals but no such cap for foreigners. The bank will convert the RMB into the foreign currency in-house before an international money transfer.
The simplest way to send a sizable chunk of money is to go through a Chinese friend. When I needed to send money to my Canadian bank account in February, my colleague accompanied me to China Merchants Bank (CMB). Required information included:
• My Canadian bank account number
• The SWIFT code of my Canadian bank. This is an international identifier code made up of letters (ask your bank or look it up on www.theswiftcodes.com). It was actually optional, but a bank employee explained that not having it would delay the transfer.
• The address of my local bank branch in Canada
• The permanent address tied to that account
Here’s the step-by-step process:
1. The transfer had to be done from a Chinese national’s bank account, so I gave my colleague the money and she deposited it into her account.
2. CMB converted the amount into CAD before the transfer.
3. We filled out an electronic form with the information listed above. We then took a number and waited.
4. When it was our turn, the bank clerk printed out a form with the information we filled in earlier, then had us double-check and sign it.
5. She processed the transfer, then gave us a copy of the form and a summary of the commission fees (which totaled RMB 250).
The process went very smoothly and the money took only 48 hours to reach my account. After doing some research, my colleague discovered that Bank of China has the lowest minimum commission fee (RMB 80 compared to RMB 100 at CMB).
Another option is Western Union, which has higher transfer limits (up to USD 9,000 per transaction). The main difference is that someone has to pick up the money transfer, which means you have to provide their name, address, city, state, country, phone number, and gender. Commission fees vary from USD 15-30 depending on how much money is being sent. As with the bank, you’ll need to show your passport and exchange RMB into EUR or USD (the only supported currencies) before making the transfer. Western Union counters can be found in selected branches of Agricultural Bank of China, China Construction Bank, China Post, and more. For a list of locations, visit www.westernunion.cn/en or call 800 820 8668 (press 2 for service in English).
Fake bills are rife in China and citizens aren’t incentivized to turn them in. That’s because there’s very little recourse; if you bring them to a bank, they’ll make a note of it and confiscate the fake bills, but not replace your money. As a result, people regularly try to shift fake bills onto others.
Foreigners should be particularly careful with taxis. If you pay the fare with a RMB 100 bill, a dishonest driver might might surreptitiously replace it with a fake, make a big show of examining it and hand it back to you while claiming that you gave them a fake. Minimize the risk by having smaller denominations on you as much as possible and keeping an eye on the driver when you’re paying.
Not even ATM machines are safe. Hedge your bets by only taking out money during business hours, using withdraw-only machines, and limiting the amount taken out per transaction. Don’t leave the ATM without checking your bills first, and do so conspicuously under the camera over the machine. If you get fake bills, note the ATM machine number and either go to the bank counter or call the bank’s hotline from the phone attached to the wall. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get your money back even if you follow these procedures – in fact, most people won’t go through the mafan and just eat the loss or try to pass the fake bills onto someone else – but you’ll stand a much better chance than if you do nothing.
This article originally appeared in the 2015 beijingkids Home and Relocation Guide. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.