Living in China

New passport, new bank account?

bankWhile in Finland this January I applied for a new passport as the old one was expiring later this year. I had no idea how getting a new passport could also affect my banking back in Guangzhou. In Finland the passport number changes every time you get a new passport. And in China your passport number becomes your identity number that is needed in many official documents and papers.

So yesterday I went to the ICBC, a bank where I’ve been a customer for four years now. Visiting the bank is never a quick trip and this time I had to wait hour and a half before it was my turn. When I handed in my papers and documents for changing euros to renminbi, I also mentioned that I have a new passport now. He started going over their computer system and seemed a bit puzzled. He called over his supervisor as well and they asked me if I happened to have my old passport with me as well. Luckily I did.

They had no idea how they could be certain that I had changed my passport legally, which is a bit strange to me as changing a passport is something everyone has to do. They demanded me to get a document from my embassy to prove that I had gotten a new passport. I don’t even know if such a document exists!

In the end they changed my euros to renminbi by using my old expired passport! Next time they told me to get the document from my embassy, but I told them it would be much easier to just open a new bank account. And that’s what I have to do as soon as I have the time to waste a few hours at the bank again.

I can still access my online bank and withdraw money, but if someone sends me euros, there’s no way I can get them changed to renminbi! It seems that I just have to get a new bank account every five years when I get a new passport. Have any of you experienced this dilemma?

I can only imagine how hard it would be if I decided to follow the Finnish custom to change my last name when married. But I don’t have the patience to go over that paperwork so I’m happy to continue using my rare last name.

I just hope there isn’t any other surprises around the corner for me and my new passport number.

photo: Zhejiang News


  • Mike

    The exact same thing happened to one of my friend recently. He had to go to the consulate to ask for this kind of paper or he couldn’t change his money. I think it was for ICBC too.
    The weird thing is that I also have a new passport and when I went to the bank to change some euros (Bank of China), they didn’t say anything about my passport. They just change the money , like usual.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Maybe I should change to Bank of China then? But on the other hand I’m already used to the interface of the ICBC online banking.

  • Marta

    Oh rats! I changed my passport a couple of months ago and I thought of going to the bank to tell them but I totally forgot. Anyway, I don’t really need to change money from inside the account as I get my salary in RMB but it’s better to go first and not discovering in 2 years that I need to do something and I can’t because they don’t recognize my passport… But if they tell me to get a paper from the Consulate I’m going to get mad at them.

    Try sending an email to your Consulate first and if they don’t seem too helpful just open a new account, as you said… banks and bureacracy just love making things difficult for people.

    And, BTW, if you changed your passport in Finland, what did you do with your visa? Did you ask for a new one in the Chinese Consulate or did you just show the old passport when entering China? That is a question I have asked myself several times…

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I think I’ll just open a new account, perhaps at Bank of China as changing your passport number seems to work fine there.

    When I got a new passport I applied for a new visa as well. My old student visa would have been valid until April, but I applied for a 3 months family visit visa in order to get married.

    R Zhao Reply:

    I think you have to get a new visa to re-enter as you can’t technically enter on the old passport, therefore the previous visa is void. However, I applied for a new passport in China (at the American Embassy in Beijing) and my local PSB didn’t require me to get a new visa right away. They let me wait unti the old one was about to expire. Not all PSBs will allow this though. I think if you live in Beijing, the PSB requires you to apply within a week of receiving your new passport.

    Marta Reply:

    That is also what I think but somebody told me about someone entering showing the visa in the old passport. I prefer not trying it. A few years ago when I was living in Beijing I had to get a visa in the new passport right away, the woman in the PSB was very mean and even made me go back to the Spanish Consulate to ask them for a Certificate stating that I had just got my passport, because the PSB had a norm that you have to get the new visa in X days (maybe a week as you said) and they said I had taken longer because they were looking at the issuing date in the passport, which obviously was not the date I had picked it up as the passports are processed in Spain and then sent to the Consulate…

    Chris_Waugh Reply:

    The New Zealand embassy in Beijing just gives you a letter explaining the change of passport when you pick your new passport up, so getting the visa put in the new passport has never been a hassle for me.The worst I had was the cop asking, “Is this really the soonest you could come here?” But Beijing does seem to be the strictest place in China when it comes to interpreting and enforcing the rules.

    ruby Reply:

    You got your new passport from the NZ embassy in Beijing? They made me apply online and posted it from NZ, sending just the new passport, no letter or anything at all accompanying it. And the embassy staff here were useless, couldn’t even tell me how to transfer my visa across to the new passport!

    I also have to open a new account with my new passport at ICBC, the staff told me that would be easier than doing a change of ID. I guess because Chinese use their 身份证 as ID and that number never changes, therefore the system probably isn’t set up to allow the form of ID to be changed?

    Chris_Waugh Reply:

    No, I got my passport through the embassy, not from the embassy. Passports can only be issued in NZ, Sydney or London, but the embassy has a service where they check over your application, make sure it’s all good, then bung it in a diplomatic bag back to WGTN, drop it in to Internal Affairs, then when the new passport is issued, the bung it in a new diplomatic bag and send it back to Beijing. When it arrives, they email you so you can make an appointment to pick it up, and that’s when they lop the corner off your old passport to formally cancel it (it’s already cancelled when Internal Affairs receives your application to renew, but lopping the corner off makes that more formally clear) and give you a letter to explain to the PSB that you’ve just got a new passport and you went in to the PSB as soon as possible. Of course, they charge for all of that, but it’s not a huge fee, quite reasonable. I’ve done it twice now, and got my daughter’s citizenship papers and passport through the embassy in a very similar fashion.

    Procedure for transferring visa/residence permit to a new passport is virtually identical to that for renewing a visa/residence permit, except, of course, that you’ll have your old and new passports with you.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Lets see how things go when I go to register with my new visa. Haven’t done it yet as I was too busy with the Chinese new year.

  • Chris_Waugh

    Sara, ICBC seems to be about the worst bank in China. That’s why they call it “爱存不存”. I’ve never bothered to tell a bank about a new passport, but generally the service I’ve had at Bank of Communications and China Merchants Bank has been far superior to anything I’ve experienced at ICBC. And it sounds to me like the bank staff were just trying to cover their arses just in case something went wrong – they didn’t really know what they were doing or what they were supposed to do, they just wanted to avoid any potential trouble. Well, that’s just how it sounds, anyway.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Yes it really sounded that they wanted to avoid any potential trouble. I think I’m ready to try some other bank now even though I’ve been a ICBC customer for all the four years.

  • DJ

    That’s why I don’t intend to change my Chinese last name to my Finnish husband’s. I’m happy to keep my own name anyway. :)

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I think it’s great that people have the option to change their name if they want to but can also use their own last name :)

  • Kaiser


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  • Charlotte

    I had so many problems after I got my new passport! We were in the process of buying a house, so half the documents have the old number, half have the new one. And at the bank, they ended up just opening another account for me, which took 58 minutes (down from 98 when I opened my first account!) for them to do.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I also ended up later opening a new account at ICBC, as that’s the only bank where I can receive my scholarship. Well, lets see after five years if changing the passport number becomes any easier.