Getting a Credit Card in China for Expats

Shanghai Living

Getting a credit card in China isn’t the same as back home. China based banks will not readily give out credit cards to foreigners. That can be annoying since credit cards are a vital tool for a traveling professional and without one, it makes life abroad that much more difficult. If you’re in the market for a credit card in China, check out our tips of how to apply.

As a foreigner, you are a “flight risk”

The reason why banks are reluctant to offer cards is because they are worried that as a foreigner you can run up a debt then jump on a plane and never return. It’s called “flight risk”. Keeping this in mind, when applying for a card you’ll need to give the bank different options for them to collect on the potential debt, even if you disappear. That way you’ll have a stronger chance at being approved for a card.

What documents do you need?

 Valid work visa
 Income certification
 Proof of address (such as a bank statement)

You need one of these to prove you are good for the money:

 Proof of employment by a large fortune 500 company or large client of the bank. A large company after all can be chased for your debts.
 Proof of assets such as a property deed.
 Sponsorship by a Chinese spouse.
 A security deposit. Typically a RMB10,000 surety will get you the same credit limit.

Consider card providers for international travel

For those who do travel overseas and not just in China, it would make sense to get a card that is part of the Visa or Mastercard global network. If you do it correctly, then the only “flight risk” you should have to worry about is making your connecting flight in Hong Kong.

12 thoughts on “Getting a Credit Card in China for Expats”

  1. I’ve seen many people mention that if you work for a fortune 500 company it should be easy to get a credit card here. I work for one but have been finding it very difficult to get a credit card. So far I’ve been rejected by ICBC, CMB and Pufa despite providing all the relevant paperwork.

    Is this fortune 500 = success thing just a bit of a myth or does anyone have any experience of successful applications? As far as I can remember none of the forms actually asked whether your company is fortune 500 listed or not. During the application for the last one I even mentioned to the guy in the bank that my company was, but he just gave me a patronising look as if to say ‘that’s great, good for you – have a biscuit’.

    Some background: I’ve been here 9 months. Company has over 1,000 people in China but less than half a dozen foreigners. Not sure if any of this makes a difference.

    • When I first asked about a credit card they DID ask me if I worked for a Fortune 500 company and if I owned property here. They don’t need to ask if you work for a Fortune 500 company on the form, that’s a bit superfluous. They already know if your company is or isn’t – why would they need a separate question for that?

      I think it HELPS but it isn’t a guarantee of being approved. Length of time living here would also be a factor I imagine.

    • Having been here 9 months, you have basically zero credit history and I’m going to go ahead and guess that they have been burned in the past by foreigners who pull a runner. With no assets or substantial ties to the country that they can go after, it’s just all risk on their end. Nothing in the world to stop you from waking up one day, saying “screw this” maxing out the card and running off, and they are perfectly aware of that.

      Do like a year on a secured card and after that you should have a decent shot with your credentials.

  2. I have a friend working at one of the banks. She told me flat out, there have been many cases of foreigners clocking up a big bill before they leave China. So to be fair, I 100% understand their reluctance to hand out credit cards to non-citizens. I definitely wouldn’t if it was my risk to take on.

    • I also completely understand their reluctance. Any idea how to go about getting a secured card? That’s what I presumed the fortune 500 thing was about – I was expecting them to ask me for a guarantee letter from my company or something, but none of them even mentioned this. Is this something I have to volunteer?

  3. I thought secured means you leave a deposit. I know some banks will issue a card if you give a deposit that is equal to your credit limit. Yes, it sounds stupid and pointless, but it CAN still be useful, for example, if you are traveling abroad, you don’t need to worry about changing RMB to foreign currency, you simply pay by credit card and then get billed in China in RMB. I have a few friends who have this and are very pleased with it.

  4. Basically you give em 10,000 RMB or whatever which gets locked up and you get a “credit card”, for which you are liable for just like a normal credit card and that 10k is something you get back when you cancel the card. So, it’s like a really shitty debit card, but it builds a credit history and eliminates the risk from the bank perspective.

    There’s a small loophole you can use to secure card with a low limit on it that can be jacked up to 5~10w eventually. But I suspect foreigners getting it is purely a fluke, not by design and for that reason I’m not gonna say much else about it. To have it leave a proper credit record linked to yourself also requires some effort and unless you’re a fluent or highly-proficient and literate speaker I advise against it.

  5. Had mine (ICBC) for about 3-4 years, spent 1.6 million RMB so far (some business expenses), the limit is 50,000 RMB and has been from day one, but they refuse to increase it, EVER, because I am a foreigner.

    Worse still, I have two cards, but the balance is shared between them, so if I spend 20,000 RMB on one, the limit goes down to 30,000 RMB on both cards. The only way to avoid this is to have cards with different banks if you can. I have a CMB card too, 30,000 RMB limit.

  6. Howdy,

    I’m working here and I have an account at SPDB. I have a debit card.

    I am 24 and really excited I finally have a job that allows me to save money AND travel. In the US I had a rewards credit card that helped with airline miles but I was convinced to close it when I moved here.

    Now I would like to get a credit card, preferably one that I could get airline miles rewards on. Since most my travels for the next few years will be here in ASIA I was looking at a local card, maybe something that put miles toward airlines.

    But what I have learned so far.
    1. China doesn’t like to give cards to non Chinese.
    2. If you don’t have a cr@p load of money, work for a top 500 company, and/or work visa it is impossible
    3. If your unlucky, no credit card.

    So I am assuming I can’t get a local credit card. I see nothing but bad news on the forums and articles. What I don’t see is anyone talking about using an international card.

    Is it possible to open an American rewards card with my SPDB account? So it is easy to pay it off? I would only use the card to buy airplane tickets, hotels, basically travel stuff.

    Since most is bought online, it might not have to be local. Is that possible? Or do American credit cards not accepting on Chinese internet? ( taobao, east china air, etc ) I’ve always had my Chinese gf buy things online for me because she has a rewards card.

  7. This is what I do. Every few months I transfer a decent amount back to my US bank accounts, one to my university’s credit union, and another to Wells Fargo. A ton of local supermarkets (as opposed to ones that have an eye on foreign customers) accept VISA and Mastercards as well. And if they don’t, I tell them to wait for me while I go to the nearest ATM. All the ATMS I’ve come across accepted both cards as well, and I’ve never had problems. Of Course, because of the international fees and such, I do strategize on how I use my cards.

    I’m quite surprised you canceled your American card, really. It’s not just that it’s hard to get Chinese credit cards, but from what I’ve heard and seen, there are a ton of hurdles obstructing expats like us who want to pay on foreign sites. And of course, if you buy digital stuff (on iTunes, Google, or Amazon), the address of your card is crucial.

    I’ve also never heard of using Chinese bank info to sign up for a US credit card. Do you still have accounts in the US? Of course, what US banks will be interested in will be your credit ratings first, assuming you have a Social Security number (which I think you do, based on what you have revealed).

    If you’re really desperate, and depending on the US Bank, you could ask to have a card linked to your parent’s accounts.

  8. @notateacher… If banks don’t give foreigners credit cards, how can they rack up debt. This is just a myth created by someone at the bank or somewhere else as a reason. Since I have been in China since 2008, I can tell you that if it did happen, it was from the spouses credit card, since I only know a handful of foreigners with a credit card! Yea, sure someone has done it, but that number can’t be high, since most foreigners either don’t try, don’t get past the first person who says their bank doesn’t issue to foreigners, or rejected at the branch you handed the application to.
    Four years ago I applied at a branch and online. The branch rejected it but the online application was approved. The branch assured me that they would be fair and objective. They had much more information about me than the online application platform did. (Yes, it was the same bank!). So, the branch will tell you what you want to hear to get you out the door. Trust me, when I tried to get an increase in the low limit they me, I went through a lot of this, but I didn’t give up.

  9. I have been living in China for almost 10 years.
    Rejected twice although I have a property (yes, a house) bought in China and with wonderful credit history.
    Wrote my story with complaints to branches outside China saying that I would have done my best to convince government in setting restrictions on Chinese banks working overseas.

    So far it has always worked, I have got my credit cards in this way.
    This proves that it is just someone else who does not like to give credit to foreigners, someone is thinking those funds shall be used by Chinese people only, someone who is thinking those funds shall be used for the good of China.
    It has nothing to do with risks and that’s why Evergrande is always welcome in borrowing money but foreigners are not and will never be …
    Unless your presence in China gives benefits to China


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