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How to Open a Bank Account in China

New and existing companies looking to expand into China know how important it is to secure the necessary business facilities to operate. After setting up the appropriate entity (the most common being a Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise (WFOE)), perhaps the most critical of those facilities is a business bank account. To open a bank account in China as a business owner is a relatively straightforward process if the requisite planning is done carefully and all necessary paperwork and licenses are obtained in advance.

Is it required that businesses open a bank account in China?

It stands to reason that most businesses entering Chinese markets want to open a local bank account. After all, a local bank account entails many benefits, including the fact that it enables businesses to transact with other entities – including the government – more easily (those entities are more likely to trust the financial credibility of a business that has a local account) and it speeds up the process for issuing and requesting payments. 

But it is not just the convenience of a local bank account that attracts foreign investors to them. Indeed, for some types of legal entity – a Joint Venture (JV), for example – it is actually required that the business set up a local business bank account and submit its information to the relevant local government bureaus.

What type of account is necessary?

The majority of businesses actually need to open two bank accounts in China, not just one. For daily business operations, the business must open one RMB basic account. Only one such account is permitted, and this is the only account whereby company owners and authorized representatives may withdraw cash. RMB basic accounts are usually the designated tax account for the company, too. The other account a business must open is a foreign currency capital contribution account. This is the account into which the company may receive payments from foreign investors. Because RMB is not a fully convertible currency (i.e. it is traded with limitations imposed by the monetary authorities) the business must obtain the approval of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE).

Other accounts may also be opened, but are not strictly required. These include separate accounts for less common situations, such as the collection of debts or temporary capital allocations.

How to open a bank account in China

While many regulations and restrictions still apply to foreign investors looking to open a bank account in China, the goods news is that in recent years the Chinese banking system has become more liberal. This trend is expected to continue with the impending reduction of the Negative List, the Chinese government’s list of industries in which foreign investment is banned. As more industries open up, banking is likely to become easier. That said, it is not a particularly difficult process now for business owners that are organized; it just takes time.

Step 1: Find a compatible bank:

While most banks provide the same day-to-day services, many foreign investors find it best to bank with an internationally-recognised bank that has a local presence in China. This is because banks with experience in foreign investment tend to offer perks to foreign investors (such as preferential rates on loans, credit cards, or points rewards systems) and in general are just easier to work with. The most common of these banks are: Citibank, DBS Bank, Hang Seng Bank, HSBC, and Standard Chartered. Many factors could come into play depending on the nature of the business being established in China, but, for business owners, convenience will be a leading consideration, so it is best to choose a bank with a local office in case you need to see someone in person.

Step 2: Gathering the requisite documentation:

The exact documentation needed to open a bank account in China will vary from bank to bank, but generally the following documents are required:

  • Proof of compliant business registration, which may include copies of the application and any correspondence/certification from the relevant state agency, such as a valid business license, tax registration certificate, and signed articles of association
  • A full list of the directors’ names and addresses, along with the company chop (stamp)
  • Appropriate official identification of all legal representatives of the company, including directors, main shareholders, and responsible officers
  • Confirmation of the company’s legal structure and ownership, including foreign registration documents/certificates
  • Evidence of the account purpose or further documentation to prove business activities

Can the account be opened from abroad?

Usually, Chinese banks require a company representative to be present in China to open the account. This may vary from bank to bank, but generally the rule is that if the company representatives are not in China to prove ownership, confirm identify, and deposit funds, there is no possibility of opening an account. That said, it is possible to enlist the help of business services agencies that can provide the company with a temporary local representative so as to open a bank account. The other option is to open an account with a bank with many international locations – such as Citibank or HSBC – and then transfer the account to China. If speed is a priority, it may make most sense to get help from a local agency to open a bank account.

Summary

Opening a bank account in China is not a particularly difficult process for foreign investors, but gathering the right paperwork and making the right choice as to banking institution and account types does take time. Enlist the help of professional agencies where appropriate to streamline processes and enable faster market entry.

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Camilla

Camilla is an international lawyer with a keen interest in global business trends and emerging high growth industries.

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