If you are moving to Hong Kong, do not underestimate the complexities and nuances of banking. What we may perceive to be a simple task or service that has been available elsewhere for decades, is most likely much harder to achieve here. The system is technology light, paper heavy and frustratingly antiquated. Take a breath and try not to attack the pen pusher that seems to be standing between you and carefree use of your own money.
Firstly, if at all possible, start the process of account opening with your existing bank before you move here. The process is slow and cumbersome, so if you have an account with HSBC or Citi for example, speak to them first.
The process to open accounts is greatly assisted by having your HKID and/or a utility bill. For those in serviced apartments, the apartment management may be able to provide something.
You will often need to have your salary paid into the account to avoid charges or having to leave an minimum amount on deposit earning no interest (HK$10,000 – 100,000 plus). For whatever reason, most firms seem to use HSBC, which means you will receive your pay earlier if you bank with them.
Opening an account for a spouse who has no income may be difficult. The best thing to do is apply for additional cards for your spouse on the existing accounts.
Apply for a credit card from the bank. Firstly a normal debit card that we would have in the US or Europe is only usable in a small number of places (it’s called EPS). Secondly the credit card can be linked to your accounts to withdraw cash. The concept of credit cards that you can roll over a balance each month does exist, but rates are high. I use my credit card like a debit card and clear every month.
Open a credit card with Cathay or one of the other airlines. You will be amazed how quickly the miles rack up when you get into the habit of paying with them. As an example, a couple can accrue enough miles in a year for a pair of return flights to Europe in economy (or just one of you in business).
Have your credit card linked to your Octopus card (pre-paid card for shops and transport). You can use your Octopus in a wide number of places instead of cash and to pay for parking or using the buses or MTR. The expectation is that HK will be the first cashless society in the world and it will use this system.
Cheques are still widely used. Be prepared for some vendors taking cash or cheque only, and some only cheque.
Standing orders and direct debits are best set up in a branch. Prepare for a slow and painful process. Equally amending these needs to be in a branch.
Online banking does exist, but it is firmly 20th century. Bills are paid online manually each month. It’s the most efficient part of the system, but still requires managing.
Lastly, when you have accounts up and running you may want to open joint accounts and potentially accounts for your spouse. Sit down and work out exactly what you want each account to do, which payments will go from which to which, and then sit in the branch until they have got the message.