By Ben Baldieri
You’ve done it! After months of preparation, you’re finally here and ready to start teaching in China! You’ve successfully navigated the bureaucratic nightmare that is the visa process, and you’ve arrived in your new city, ready to start a fresh chapter. Before your new life can truly begin, there are two pretty significant things that need to happen; you need a bank account and you need a SIM card. How do you go about getting these life essentials ticked off the ever-lengthening to-do list of a newly-landed expat?
Getting a Chinese SIM card
Life in China without a mobile phone is challenging, to say the least. That’s because near enough everything is done using WeChat. WeChat has over one billion users, and once you’re set up with it, it’s easy to understand why. This WhatsApp/Apple Pay/Instagram/Twitter super-hybrid mega app is one of the lynchpins of day-to-day life in China. You don’t specifically need a Chinese SIM card to register for it, but if you’re going to be here for any length of time, it doesn’t make sense not to get one. It’s also best to make sure that your phone is unlocked before coming to China and that it’s going to work with a Chinese SIM card.
There are two major network providers in China: China Mobile and China Unicom. China Mobile is the largest mobile telecommunications corporation in the world and China Unicom is the fourth largest. It should be noted that China Telecom is also a massive provider but their network almost certainly won’t work with a foreign handset.
Prepaid SIM or Data Plan
You can buy a prepaid SIM for texts and calls for either of these providers at near enough any corner shop. Just pay your money, choose your number and you’re good to go. If you’re looking for a data plan/contract it’s still an easy process. It will, however, take a little more time and effort. To get set up with a data plan, simply go into one of the numerous China Mobile or Unicom shops and tell them what sort of plan you are looking for. Don’t forget your passport though, as all data plans in China require passport registration. The shop staff will have your new SIM set up and working in no time. You can then start settling in to your new home and let your friends and family at home know you’re surviving!
Opening a Chinese Bank Account
Everyone wants and needs to get paid – money makes the world go around, after all! You’ve arrived in China and you’re ready to start stacking that sweet RMB. But you can’t get paid without a Chinese bank account. It’s going to be difficult to enjoy your new life without any cash, so how do you go about opening a bank account? And what options are available to you?
The Big Four
There are 4 major banks in China; Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), Bank of China (BOC), China Construction Bank (CCB) and Agricultural Bank of China (ABC). Choosing to open a bank account with any of these providers is a good start, as all of them have myriad ATMs all over the country and branches everywhere if you need one.
First Things First
Regardless of which bank you choose, the first steps will be the same. All banks require a valid passport and a residence permit if applicable. It’s also useful to have a Chinese mobile phone number at this stage too – you can register for text message updates when your balance changes for a nominal fee (2RMB a month). You can open an account with a deposit as small as 1RMB.
Online banking is an option with all of the above banks, though their systems vary quite significantly in terms of accessibility. You’ll be able to login and check your statements, account balance and transactions no problem. However, unlike Western banks, you won’t be able to access foreign currency or overseas bank transfers. That’s because this can’t be done with online banking in China, period.
Transferring Money Home
Invariably, if you’re working, you’re going to want to send some money home. That’s a little more challenging, as you can’t simply convert RMB into a foreign currency. And you can’t send money home that you haven’t paid taxes on. To send money home, you’re going to need to take a few things with you to your local branch: an official stamped letter from your company on headed paper verifying taxes paid, your stamped company payslips and the government tax receipt. Once you have those things, simply provide the details of the foreign bank and you’ll be able to send the money no problem. It’s probably best to take a Chinese friend with you the first couple of times as they’ll make any breakdowns in communication much easier to overcome.
So that’s it….easy, right? Ok, well not exactly easy but that’s always the case when you relocate and hey, it’s all part of the fun!
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