You can set up different accounts for different purposes, but most banks prefer to hook customers into a ‘one-stop shop’ account that links all their accounts to one card. Cheques are still used in Hong Kong to a large extent, so it is useful to set up a cheque/current account with a cheque book.
Opening a bank account in Hong Kong
To open any kind of account you need a valid Hong Kong identity card. If you are opening a joint bank account then both parties must be present with identity cards. Additional documents may be required depending on the individual bank but often include a passport and sponsor’s letter of employment. You’ll also have to show a proof of your Hong Kong address, such as a utility bill. For Americans opening an account with an American bank, the social security number is an extra requirement in order to report income interest to the US Internal Revenue Service.
All banks (except HSBC) offer ATM service through the Jetco system; check the reverse of your bankcard. American Express cardholders can also use Jetco ATMs and can withdraw cash and travellers’ cheques at Express Cash ATMs. MasterCard and Visa holders can withdraw money from HSBC ATMs. You cannot, however, draw foreign currency from ATMs.
An EPS card works as a debit card when you go shopping. Supermarkets, chain stores and department stores take EPS cards, but restaurants, small shops and travel companies often do not.
Visa, Mastercard and American Express credit cards are widely accepted in Hong Kong, at least at most large shops and restaurants. Obtaining a credit card is usually quite easy in Hong Kong, provided you have a good credit record and a regular salary. Card incentives include annual fee waivers and free gifts. Credit cards offered by major banks generally charge a very low rate of interest. Many credit cards have tie-ins with other bonus point schemes such as ‘Asia Miles’ or can give discounts on major Hong Kong brands – HSBC is notable in this respect.
Bank charges can vary significantly between different banks and also depend on the type of account and service package you order, so it is worth shopping around and comparing carefully. Many Hong Kong banks charge customers for the following:
- closing an account within three months of opening it;
- inactivity for a year with less than $2,000 in it (charged every six months);
- telegraphic transfer (outward remittances)
Beware of credit card plans that are free to join but then start to charge you (without notice) after the first year and ‘relationship banking’ plans that impose hefty charges if your balance drops below a fixed level.
These days, all banks in Hong Kong are encouraging their customers to manage as many of their transactions as possible directly online. Online banking is a free addition to normal bank services.
Telephone banking in Hong Kong
Most Hong Kong banks also offer free telebanking services in addition to normal bank services when setting up your account. Telephone banking offers a time-efficient alternative to effect transactions, money transfers between accounts, checking account balances, reporting lost credit cards, ordering a cheque book, checking deposit interest rates or obtaining information from bank staff.
Paying your bills in Hong Kong
Tax, water, electricity and gas bills can all be paid via the Jetco payment terminals at banks. Alternatively, you can set up a direct debit arrangement with your bank. PCCW phone bills can also be paid at Hong Kong Post Offices, 7-Eleven shops or via cheque.
PPS is a new service that allows automatic payments from your bank account to more than 150 merchants, including credit card companies, universities, charities and telecom services, through phone or Internet. To open a PPS account, visit www.ppshk.com.