The Ultimate Guide to Opening a Bank Account for Expats

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moneyhero

Last Updated 31 August, 2016

Moving to a new country can be daunting. Not having access to cash can be even worse, especially in Hong Kong where many of the small shops don’t want to deal with your overseas cards. Here at MoneyHero.com.hk we hope to help you solve some of these difficulties, with our step-by-step guide for expats.

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Which bank should I choose in Hong Kong?

There is no clear winner here. When opening a bank account in Hong Kong, general saving accounts, while they have some variation, are very similar. Note you can still get a credit card at a bank even if you hold your deposit account at another.

When choosing your bank, you might want to think about the following features:

  • Where do you live / work? Visiting banks in person is an annoying but necessary part of the HK banking experience, therefore you should choose a bank that has a branch near your home or place of work. Note that SCB’s branches close at 5pm, HSBC’s branches close at 4:30pm while Citibank have extended working hours to 7pm during weekdays. Also, you can withdraw cash from ATMs, which are everywhere in Hong Kong.
  • Do you transfer money overseas regularly? If so, you should pay attention to the transaction fee and the conversion rate of the currency. You may have some more ideas by looking at the below chart.
  • What do your family / friends have? Most of the banks in Hong Kong will charge you a fee if you try and make an express transfer inter-bank. Make sure you open the same bank account if you have to do transaction regularly to a particular person.

You can see below an overview of some of the features of the main banks in HK. HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank and Citibank are selected, as they are the global banks which would be the best options for expats to open a bank account.

Ultimate-guide-to-opening-a-bank-account-for-expats

When I arrive at the bank, what do I need?

Hong Kong is notorious for the amount of paperwork required to open a bank account. You can speed this up by coming prepared with the following.

  • Passport: Always helpful when opening any account.
  • VISA: Make sure you have your relevant VISA, including the arrival slip.
  • HKID / Temporary ID: If you haven’t got this already, you can register for one here.
  • Proof of address: Sometimes necessary, and if you do not have a Hong Kong address, many banks allow you to use a bill from a foreign address.  
  • Proof of employment and salary: Bring a copy of your employment contract and, if possible, payslips for the last three months.
  • Direct work phone line number: While this may seem archaic in the world of mobile, it is still required by some banks. Be sure to have your direct work line number on hand, or at least a number that the bank can contact.
  • Proof of address in home country: Not always required, but some banks will ask this if you are opening certain credit cards. Having your drivers licence or other ID with your address at home can be a handy ‘just in case’ to bring.

Tips to speed up / get the application done

Many of you will probably encounter tons of problems when you try to open a bank account in Hong Kong. You may need to go to different branches and talk with different bank representatives, submit some documents, re-submit the documents you have submitted, make a lot of calls, visit a bank branch often, receive lots of calls or wait for ages for credit cards to arrive. So here are some tips from MoneyHero.com.hk for you to avoid the above problems.

  • Go to the branch and manager where others have successfully applied with the same documents that you have.
  • Make sure all the information you input is exactly the same as on the documents you provide - even the sequence of address parts, symbols and words could affect your application. For instance, use "Company Name Ltd." if it's stated "Company Name Ltd." in your employment contract, but not "Company Name" or "Company Name LTD".

What should I ask?

Hong Kong still has stringent banking regulations to comply with, meaning there are a couple of devices you should set up at the same time as your bank account. Be sure to take this list with you, as these items will not always be given unless requested.

  • Cheque book: Yes, the cheque book is still an important part of Hong Kong banking life! You’ll likely need this to set down on a rental deposit. Be sure that they are sending you one.
  • Internet banking account: Most banks will set this up automatically, but check just in case.
  • Telephone banking password: To access telephone assistance (which you will likely need as you navigate the HK banking system).
  • Security device: Some transactions need a security device (not just a mobile pin) to activate. Make sure they send it to you.
  • ATM card: Also important, and may be necessary to set up internet banking account. Note a ‘debit card’ capability can only be used in person, so you will likely need a credit card as well.
  • Credit card: These can often take up to 6 weeks to be issued, and may require additional information (such as 3 months of salary). Ask kindly what the bank can do to speed up this process. This writer suggests opening both a basic card and a premium card when opening, to be sure you have a line of credit available as soon as possible. Consider for the basic card the Octopus card offered by Citibank, and have the added bonus of reducing the number of cards in your wallet! Also many smaller merchants won’t accept credit cards, but will accept Octopus. If you are a tap and go person, SCB and HSBC have Apple Pay options. Last but not least, always ask for annual fee waiver! You can compare credit cards here.

Great I have opened my bank account, what now?

  • Link credit card to Octopus card, you can apply via the official website here.
  • If you are travelling, you need to notify the bank to allow you to take out cash overseas.
  • Sign up to Asia Miles so that you can start collecting points. Note credit cards from other providers may be better than your bank. You can compare credit cards here.
  • You need to visit the bank to change your phone number. Thus if you need a security code for anything to do with your account where you won’t have phone access, make sure you bring your security device.
  • Be aware that bank account numbers formats differ between banks (this can throw new arrivals). Some banks will require you to specify bank or branch codes as part of the account number in order to make a transfer.

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