Living in China

My foreign name is too long for ICBC

Two weeks ago I wrote about the Chinese supermarket experience and I would say that going to a Chinese bank is an interesting event too. I have an account in ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China), but had some problems with it. When someone tried to transfer money to my account the bank said my name was written wrong. How could I not know my own name?

I went to the bank yesterday to solve the problem. Luckily there was a bank clerk whose English was quite good and I didn’t have to rely on my weak “banking Chinese”. The answer to my problem was obvious. Chinese name usually consists of three characters, on some rare cases it can be four. But I happen to have not only one first name, but two. In total my name is 21 letters.

That is just way too long for their system and so my name was written all together with no spaces and they also dropped the last A from my second first name. Wouldn’t have figured that out on my own.

The fun part about going to a bank is to see how many staff members are needed and how many different kind of stamps are used. I wanted to register for the online bank so I would have less visits to the actual office in the future. In total three bank clerks and three stamps were needed.

One clerk translated and two handled the registration. There was one big stamp on the table that is used by the clerk who is working behind the table at the time. Then all the bank clerks also have a small individual stamp so it’s clear who have handled which client and signed which papers. My online bank registration papers needed to be verified by two persons so in total I got one big stamp and two smaller ones.

While I was waiting for all the paper work to be done, a young man came to the counter next to me. He had a big black bag with him and he started pulling out hundreds of thousands of RMB. I had never seen that much money in my life! Was he a business man and came to deposit his profits? What kind of business could that be?

In general you can trust banks in China. I have lost my bank card once and when I went to the bank to collect it they were really careful about checking my identity and that I truly was the owner of the card.

Or does some of you have opposite experiences about the reliability of Chinese banks?


  • Simo

    I think the most convenient bank for foreigners to use is Bank of China, I never had any issues there & every branch you could get service in english. Their e-bank service was also in english, and I was even able to purchase domestic air plane tickets via e-payment.

    unfortunately, that was last time. now I was obliged to open an account in China Construction Bank which was already difficult enough and I have no idea how my name is inputted into their system (My name is even longer than yours). besides their ATMs are less common so I have to plan ahead where to get cash since I want to avoid all unnecessary fee’s of using another banks ATM.

    Sara Reply:

    I try to avoid extra fees too, but don’t actually know how much transaction fees can be. Simo, do you have any idea?

    Amy Reply:

    If you use ICBC ATM in Guangzhou there’s no extra fee.Outside Guangzhou it’ll cost 1% of the withdrawl money(if I remember clearly,the utmost fee is 50yuan) Withdrawl from ATM of other bank in guangzhou would cost some extra fee,and even more in other places in China.I don’t know the exact fee because I always try to find a ATM of ICBC.

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you for making this clear Amy!

  • Collins

    I couldn’t get English at BoC branches outside Nanchang when I lived in Jiangxi. They all passed the CET-6, but they never actually met foreigners before.

    lory Reply:

    yeah,English text can’t be depend on your level,so follow Chinese text rules and practise your oral English continutely

    Sara Reply:

    I’ve met so many Chinese students that have passed exams, but can’t speak. They maybe know how to read and write, but verbal communication is too hard for them. My friend once asked a Chinese student “Where are you from?” and she didn’t understand. Her major was English.

    Amy Reply:

    It’s a weak point in the Chinese education system.The teachers focus on grammer most,and then writing and listening.Since oral English is not envolved in College Entrance Exam it is the least important thing in our English class.
    When I travel to Southeast Asia,everyone praised my English.I speak reasonable good English just as other tourists.I think I was praised simply because a typical Chinese doesn’t speak English and thus I am beyond their expectation.

  • MB


    Yes banking in China is an experience, my bank is China Bank, the service is great and most tellers can speak good English but the amount of time spent waiting is painful. I have waited upto an hour for my number to be called, then another 30 min while the paperwork and transaction is completed.

    Sara Reply:

    I know what you’re talking about. Usually no matter where you go, there’s always a line where to wait. And in most cases the longest line is the right one!

  • Jin @ HK Girl Talk

    I agree that there are too many stamps for the banking documents in China.

    I was exchanging HK Dollars into RMB when I was in Shanghai and it took me half an hour with 3 to 4 stamps to finish the whole process.

    In Hong Kong, I only need to go to a currency exchange shop on the street and spend 1 minute to do it.

    There are a lot of regulations, procedures and verification in China.

    Sara Reply:

    Changing money really is faster and more hassle free than in China. I’ve heard that you can only change money in Bank of China in the mainlad, but I’m not sure is it true.

  • Susanna-Sofia

    That is exactly the experience I have: nothing is easy or obvious. Yesterday we tried to transfer money from our Chinese “euro”-account to our Finnish euro account… with no luck. Apparently we need to _prove_ that we need (our own) money in Europe. And since the bank personnel doesn’t have e-mails, the documents should’ve been sent to the clerk’s private “hotmail”-account. Apparently only westerners have a problem with this arrangement ;-) No-one has ever heard of privacy.
    But on the bright side: the ATM’s work great and you can even deposit money which we can’t do in Europe :-)

    Sara Reply:

    You need to prove that you want to use your own money? Sounds like China :) When my friend sent me money to my Chinese account (I’m helping her to buy some products) the clerk asked me why she sent me so much money. I pretended that I didn’t understand him (we were talking in Chinese) and luckily he didn’t ask again.

  • jerry

    hundreds of thousands of RMB? that’s normal in China, people often carry lots of cash around.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I had never seen that much cash in my life! Of course in China it might be more common as the 100RMN bill is the largest they have.