Expat banking woes in Beijing

By Alok Joshi Source:Global Times Published: 2018/6/26 15:18:40

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT


If there is one tip I need to give to newbie expats in China, it would be "avoid going to a bank as much as possible." It is too much of a hassle and a real test of patience that is bound to upset you.

As a newcomer in 2008, I went to a Chinese bank to exchange a few hundred US dollars to get local currency for daily transactions. It took my Chinese colleague and me endless translations, a one-hour wait, loads of paperwork and a multitude of signatures.

Fast forward to this year, this time I went to my Chinese bank to buy dollars with local currency for an upcoming US visit. After shuffling between two banks and two hours of waiting, the result was a frustrating failure.

My ordeal went like this.

"We can only give you $500 per day. If you need more, you have to come back another day," I was told.

After a long wait, my passport was scrutinized by three people.

Then, suddenly, a lady bank official announced, "Sorry, we cannot give you any dollars."

"But why," I asked.

"It will take a long time, maybe two to three days," she said.

"But why?"

Her answer was, "It is complicated!"

I failed to understand what was so complicated about giving me a paltry $500 from my account.

When I expressed my displeasure, she had the audacity to say, "You can close your account."

I then went to one of the biggest banks in China where after waiting for a while someone came to tell me that they were nearing closing hours and I need to come back another day since my case was "complicated."

I had always believed personal relationships were complicated but here my simple banking relationships had become complicated. By this time, I lost my patience and gave up.

I narrated my story to a few locals, and they said it was "common" or "bad attitude." Someone even said, "It happened because you are a foreigner."

What's wrong with being a foreigner?

Luckily, I found a lifesaver who offered to give me the US dollars I needed.

Everything has changed in the 10 years I have been in Beijing.

The subway lines have multiplied, hospital services have improved, one can ride shared bikes, there are private taxi hailing services, more Western toilets and restaurants, several translation apps in English for foreigners, even for food delivery and more and more locals speak English. Beijing is a unique city where you can go on with daily life absolutely cashless.

In short, life for a foreigner is much easier in 2018 than it was in 2008. Post-Olympics Games, Beijing is a happening city where everything has improved, except the banking services.

If Beijing wants to be a world-class city in the near future, it must transform its bureaucratic banking procedures and make things easier for foreigners.

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.


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