Trailing Spouses in Beijing, Open Bank Account

What Trailing Spouses Need to Know About Opening a Bank Account in Beijing

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Two years ago, I went to China Merchants Bank to open a personal bank account. I only brought my passport because, in the eight years that I had been in and out of China, a passport was all that was ever asked of me. So I was very surprised when I was asked for two additional documents. The first was proof of my husband’s employment, and the second was proof of my relationship with my husband (like my marriage contract).

The requirements differ from bank to bank, and when I went to Bank of China soon after my passport was still the only thing I needed to open an account (although they also mentioned at the time that they had not yet been told to implement any new rules). Nonetheless, Chinese banks seem to be becoming stricter with their requirements. I realized just how much stricter yesterday when I tried helping my friend open a bank account. She has already been in Beijing for almost two years now and had finally decided to open a bank account.

The first bank we tried was China Merchants Bank, and she brought her passport and proof of her husband’s employment (which I had recommended). At the teller, we explained my friend’s current status and were surprised to be immediately rejected. They said that because she was neither working nor studying here, they could not open an account for her. They even asked us why she would need a bank account. Despite trying to argue our side, the staff kindly apologized but added that there was nothing they could do about it. That this was a recently implemented rule.

We moved on to the next bank hoping for a different outcome. At China Construction Bank, the customer service representative asked us to provide an additional proof of my friend’s identity (one with her photo on it) and assured us that this, along with her other documents, was enough to open an account. My friend quickly went back home to get another ID, returned to the bank, approached the counter when her turn finally came and was again rejected because she didn’t have proof that she had already been staying in the country for at least a year—proof that we weren’t asked to provide beforehand. Even the lady at the customer service counter who had asked my friend to get another ID didn’t know about this!

My friend had just renewed her passport recently and so the earliest entry stamp that she had was less than a year ago. The teller recommended returning in a few months to open an account then instead—one year after that entry stamp.

During this whole ordeal, we had our tired children in tow. So naturally, we decided to call it a day. But the question still nagged at me: does this mean newly-arrived trailing spouses won’t be able to open bank accounts anymore?

To understand better what the requirements are exactly for opening a bank account as a trailing spouse, I called up a few banks to confirm what their requirements exactly were.

The first I called was China Merchants Bank, which was the first bank we had tried opening an account with. According to the customer service agent, my friend would need to bring her passport, have a local Chinese mobile number, and justify her need to have a local bank account. During a second call, a different customer service agent suggested I call the branch nearest my friend to confirm the details. There I learned that China Merchants Bank cannot open an account for people without Work Permits (and I’m assuming study permits). For Malaysian citizens, they require to bring:
1. Work Permit
2. Identification Card from Malaysia
3. Passport
4. Taxpayer’s Number

According to the agent I spoke to, the only way my friend could open an account at China Merchants Bank was if she opened an account using her husband’s information (in other words, his card but she’s using it). He also noted that citizens from certain countries may not have the same limitations.

Next, I called Bank of Beijing, Bank of China and China Construction Bank, all of which gave me similar answers to China Merchants Bank. Bank of China’s customer service agent, however, also added that the bank my friend goes to might also check what visa my friend is on, while China Construction Bank could not confirm whether or not foreigners applying for an account needed proof of one-year residency in China (despite us being asked to provide proof while we were at one of its Beijing branches).

But they all ended on the same note: in the end, the choice to whether or not a trailing spouse meets the bank’s requirements is up to the bank’s discretion.

Jan 29 update: According to ICBC, Jiulongshan branch, they still only require a passport.

According to China Citic Bank (Guangqu Road branch), they are not accepting (Malaysian) clients opening a personal account at the moment. Call ahead to confirm if they can accept clients from your country.

This discovery is interesting in light of China’s recent announcement to ease visa rules for top talents looking for work in China. But living in China can be challenging if trailing spouses aren’t allowed to more easily open our own bank accounts. Most establishments (even the local fruit store out on the street) will usually accept Alipay or Wechat Pay in case you don’t have enough cash on hand. But we won’t be able to use these apps without a bank card.

If Chinese banks all start to implement the rules that China Merchants Bank currently have in place, then expat trailing spouses might one day have no choice but to open accounts under their spouses’ names, at a different bank from their spouses’ current bank (since China only allows one bank per Type per individual, e.g. my hubby applies for one account at China Merchants Bank and applies for another account at Bank of China to let me use). It’s great that China is finding ways to attract more top talent, but it needs to also be a bit more accommodating to their families as well.

For more information, here are the Bank Information and their (English) Customer Service Numbers:

China Merchants Bank (招商银行; Zhāoshāng Yínháng): 95555 loc 0
Bank of Beijing (北京银行; Běijīng Yínháng): 95526 loc 9
Bank of China (中国银行, Zhōngguó Yínháng): 95566 loc 8
China Construction Bank (中国建设银行, Zhōngguó Jiànshè Yínháng): 95533 loc 4

But I still recommend asking the phone number of the bank branch you plan to go to to directly ask what requirements they will need you to provide. As I was repeatedly told, in the end, whether or not the bank accepts our application is up to the bank’s discretion.

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