In terms of banking, there are a few options open to expats living in Hong Kong. For example, some choose to maintain an existing account in their home country, which can be useful for things like paying recurring bills back home. Others choose to open an international account with their existing bank, which may eliminate or reduce penalties on moving currencies across borders. And still others prefer to open a local account in Hong Kong. There is also the option of using a borderless account, such as TransferWise.Generally speaking, the best option for long-term residents is to open a local account, as this will make it easy to pay bills, receive a salary, get a mortgage, and establish a credit history in the country. With that said, you might still want to consider using TransferWise, at least while your local account is being set up.
So many people pass through Hong Kong that it is very easy to open a no-frills current account. Passport holders from the UK, the EU, the US and Australia can open an account almost immediately, though for other nationalities the process may take up to two weeks to complete. US citizens who open an account with an American bank must provide their social security number, so that the bank can report income interest to the US Internal Revenue Service.
Note, however, that while opening an account is easy, some banks may charge an early closure fee, should you close it before an agreed amount of time (usually three months). You can expect the fee to be around HKD 200.
Obviously, you should do research beforehand to decide which bank best suits your needs. The main local banks to consider are:
• Bank of China
• Bank of East Asia
• Dah Sing
• DBS Bank
• Hang Seng
• Standard Chartered Bank
If you want to open an account mainly to deposit your salary and pay your bills, then you may want to consider an integrated account. This will give you both a conventional current account and a savings account, linked to the same card, and your employer will find it easier to deposit your salary through autopay.
You should check what the minimum balance needed to open your account is. It’ll usually be around HKD 10,000. Once that balance has been set, you must take care not to drop below it at any point. Otherwise, you will be charged a fee on top of your monthly maintenance fee. A monthly maintenance fee is charged by most banks, but it varies from bank to bank. While you are doing your research, check with each bank what the fee might be.
You can withdraw money from an ATM free of charge in Hong Kong, as long as it belongs to the same network as your own bank. Otherwise, you will have to pay a service charge. You can only withdraw Hong Kong dollars, not foreign currency.
If your bank at home has a presence in Hong Kong, then you may be able to open an account remotely, before you move. The largest UK and US banks with a presence in Hong Kong are HSBC and Citibank, but if you do not bank with one of these, then it’s still worth checking with your own bank whether they can help. You will need to do this at least 30 days before you arrive in Hong Kong.
Opening an account remotely will be much simpler, as your local branch can help you complete the necessary paperwork and then send everything to the Hong Kong branch. Once you arrive in Hong Kong, you will still need to visit your new branch to confirm your identity, but after that all the obstacles will have been removed.
Note, however, that due to Hong Kong’s stringent anti-money laundering regulations, you cannot open an account online if it is your first account with that bank. If you are an expat arriving in Hong Kong for the first time, therefore, this option will probably not be open to you.
Whether you are visiting a branch to conduct the whole business of opening an account or simply to verify your identity, make an appointment. This way, you will know that you are expected, and you can confirm exactly what you will need to take with you. Weekday banking hours are 9 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. from Monday to Thursday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays. Banks are open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.
You will need to present:
• Your official ID – this will probably be your passport, as an arriving expat. Note that if you are over 11 years old and are planning on staying in Hong Kong for more than 180 days, then you will also need a Hong Kong ID card. If you already have one, then this is an equally valid proof of identity for the bank’s purposes.
• Proof of address – this does not necessarily have to be a Hong Kong address. It can be your address from your home country or any other permanent residence. The bank just wants to know that it can communicate reliably with you. Proof should be less than three months old, and it can be in the form of a utility bill, a bank statement, or a phone bill.
• A valid visa – if you are opening a basic account, then this does not need to be an employment visa. The bank just wants to know that you are in the territory legally and in no imminent danger of being thrown out.
If you are opening a joint account, then both parties must present their own versions of all the documents.
If you are expecting a salary to be paid into your account, then you will need a job contract or a letter confirming your employment, as well as proof of salary, so that the bank can set your account for auto-payroll. You will also need proof of salary or income if you want a credit card or any kind of credit arrangement.
Once you have your account, you will receive an ATM card, a debit card, a cheque book (cheques are still commonly used in Hong Kong), and access to online banking. You can also apply for a credit card.