Hong Kong is one of the world’s best banking jurisdictions. In this guide, I cover how to open personal and business bank accounts, how to apply for credit, how to set up a merchant account and how to transfer money to and from Hong Kong. I also share additional information, acquired during my many years living in Asia’s World City.

 

Preparation and due diligence

Obviously, your first step will be to choose a bank. This step is important and deserves careful consideration as it will significantly influence the account opening process and the services you will have access to as an account holder. While there are LOTS of banks operating in Hong Kong, more than 150 in fact, only a small fraction will accept non-residents. Citibank, HSBC, Hang Seng and Standard Chartered are some of those. BEA will also work with you if you can deposit more than half a million HKD.

The banks listed above all offer similar accounts and debit cards (Unionpay, Citibank has a debit MasterCard). They all have online banking, mobile banking as well as digital cheque cashing facilities and foreign currency accounts. Where they differ most is in their minimum balance requirements (ranging from 0 HKD at Hang Seng to 1500000 HKD at Citibank) and their credit card offering (Citibank, BEA and Standard Chartered are the clear winners here).

As long as you maintain the minimum balance for your account there will be few, if any, fees.

My personal recommendation: Standard Chartered’s Premium account. The minimum balance requirement is a reasonable 200000 HKD, their debit card has no foreign currency fees (they even reimburse you for third-party ATM fees), you earn Asia Miles for most transactions, most regular fees are waived and you get access to priority customer service.

 

Due diligence for personal accounts

Every bank in Hong Kong will ask you for a proof of address (from a reputable bank or utility company, in your name, less than 3 months old) and a valid passport. Some will also ask for additional documents such as a recommendation letter, a proof of funds etc. It is important to note that your documents will have to be in English or Chinese. If they are not, they will have to be translated by a bank-approved translator. You will also need to have some cash on you, as a deposit is often required to activate the account. In most cases, 100 HKD will be enough (the bank will give you a month or two to wire the rest of the minimum balance requirement).

 

Due diligence for business accounts

While the requirements vary from bank to bank, they usually are the same as for a personal account + certified copies of the company documents. Be prepared to answer questions regarding the type of business you run (or plan to run), your experience, your clients, the source of your initial deposit, your transaction volumes, how do you process payments etc. Often, you will have to provide the bank with A LOT of supporting documents, possibly even some references.

 

Premium banking

The major banks all offer premium banking and opening such an account is much easier than opening a normal bank account. You will need the documents listed in the “Due diligence for personal accounts” section as well as a proof of origin for the funds you will initially deposit. As a premium account holder, you will benefit from lower transaction fees, better customer service and a waiver on annual fees and income requirements for most credit cards. Obviously, you will also need to maintain a much higher relationship balance to qualify.

 

Documents checklist per bank

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2019 – Latest updates

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In-depth guides

Taking action

After choosing a bank and preparing your due diligence documents, you will have to book a trip to Hong Kong to open the account in person at the bank. To save some money on your travel expenses, you can read my guide on travel hacking. Plan to spend at least 2-3 full days in the city (I recommend staying for an entire week in case you are asked for more supporting documents and need to have them shipped in). It is important to note that it is currently not possible to remotely open a personal bank account in Hong Kong. Anyone telling you otherwise is either ignorant or trying to defraud you.

 

Opening personal accounts

A few days before your arrival, you should choose the branch you will visit to open the account. I recommend choosing a branch on Hennessy Road (MTR stations Wan Chai and Causeway Bay) as almost all the major banks have branches side by side there so in the event that one refuses to open an account, you can visit the one next door and try there instead. On the big day, make sure you have some cash on you along with all your due diligence documents. When you arrive, tell the receptionist that you want to open a non-resident account and they will point you in the right direction. Although it is not necessary, having a local mobile phone number will greatly help you set up the online banking so I recommend getting a prepaid SIM card at a 7/11 or Circle K prior to visiting the bank. You can keep the SIM active by depositing 50 HKD or so every six months. It usually takes up to an hour to complete the process so plan your day accordingly. In almost every cases, you will receive your debit card and documentation on the spot.

 

Opening business accounts

To open a business account, you will first need to book an appointment with the bank. I recommend calling at least 2-3 days in advance to ensure that you get your preferred time-slot. During the call, the bank will inform you of their due diligence requirements and of the location of their commercial banking center. Simply show up with the requested due diligence documents. Depending on the bank, the account may be opened on the spot or in the following days (or weeks). A debit card will usually be issued and in some cases, a two-factor authentication device. Please note that most Hong Kong banks charge a company search fee when opening a business account. The fee for HK-registered companies is trivial, usually no more than 500 HKD. For overseas-registered companies, however, it can be as high as 20000 HKD.

 

Expert assistance

Opening a bank account in Hong Kong has become increasingly difficult in recent years and while it is still possible to do so on your own, it is not a gamble I recommend taking. I have seen too many people fail and as a result, waste their precious time and money (can be a significant amount considering the cost of traveling to HK).

There are experts who can help you navigate the process, choose the best branch, advise on what to wear, what to say, when to visit, what document is acceptable etc. Hiring such an expert can significantly increases your chances of success. I recommend going with Accoplus (accoplus.net, +852 3547 0140). They have the best reputation and will get you the best outcome possible.

 

Wallet services

While they are not real bank accounts, wallet services offer similar functionalities and can be an interesting alternate option. In Hong Kong, the most popular wallets are Tap & Go and Neat. Both offer a MasterCard that can be used worldwide (including online) and the ability to receive and hold money. Apple users will also be happy to learn that Tap & Go can be used on Apple Pay. Where these two wallet services differ is in the type of payments they can receive. With Tap & Go, you can only receive payments from accounts in your name while Neat accepts third-party payments (including TransferWise). Business accounts on Neat also come with their own dedicated local bank account number.

 

Using the accounts

Once the account is open, you should register for the online banking facility using the information the bank provided to you. I recommend doing this while in Hong Kong as you may need to receive a verification SMS on your prepaid HK phone number to complete the process. If there is a problem you can also walk into a branch and seek help which is more convenient than having to phone in. Once registered, make sure all the information displayed on the online banking is accurate. Because some banks require you to receive a verification SMS or make a verification phone call in order to add a new wire link, you should link your new Hong Kong account to your existing ones (in HK or your home country) before leaving the city.

Hong Kong banking is not very different from banking in most other countries. You can view your balance and initiate transfers at any time using online banking, an app or over the phone. The debit card you received should work everywhere in the world, simply make sure that the processing machine / ATM has the logo displayed on your card (Visa, Unionpay, Cirrus etc).

If you intend to pay local bills using the account, head over to a Circle K convenience store and ask for the PPS machine. Register using your ATM card and local phone number. Once registered, visit the PPS website and log in. Change your username and password to something more convenient. You can then add a payee, pay your bills etc. It is much more convenient to use PPS than the online banking facility of your bank.

 

Local address

While you need a bank statement or utility bill as a proof of address when opening an account, it is usually possible to register a new correspondence address without any supporting document once it is open. Having a local address can greatly help when it comes to applying for credit or buying investment products. The most cost-efficient way of getting a local address is via a mail forwarding service provider. You can find more details here along with a list of the best service providers.

 

Apply for credit

The great thing about non-resident banking in Hong Kong is that you can apply for credit. Hong Kong has some fantastic miles-earning cards and this can be a game changer for those who charge large amounts every month. If you do not have a local credit file, the bank is likely to ask you for either a proof of income or to leave a security deposit. Depending on the bank, that security deposit may be equal or larger than the credit limit granted. In most cases, it will be returned to you in full once you have established a good payment history. While each bank follows their own rules, most tend to ask for a deposit equal to around 10% of the minimum salary required for a specific card. For example, if a card has a 150000HK$ minimum salary requirement, the deposit asked by the bank is likely to be 15000HK$.

 

The best cards

Citibank PremierMiles (2.5 miles per 8 HK$ spent, no annual fee if spend is above 100000HK$)
Standard Chartered Bank Asia Miles MasterCard (2 miles per 8 HK$ spent, 1800HK$ annual fee but waived if premium or priority account holder)
DBS Black MasterCard (2 miles per 8 HK$ spent, 2000HK$ annual fee)
AmEx Cathay Pacific Elite (2 miles per 8 HK$ spent, no annual fee if spend is above 150000HK$)

 

Opening a merchant account

I maintain a list of the best payment processing services per country, you can access it here.

 

Moving money

I have written a comprehensive guide on how to transfer money internationally. You can read it here.