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Interview with Mr. Elie Sfeir,General Manager of Fiduciary Services at Global Consultants & Services Limited (GCSL).
November 15, 2007

Dear members,

We are often asked how to open a bank account in Hong Kong.

Opening a bank account in Hong Kong might look easy. But in fact, you must follow a fairly strict procedure adopted by all banks operating in the Special Administrative Region (SAR).

The good news is you don't have to be a Hong Kong local or resident to open a personal bank account here in Hong Kong. All you need to do is walk into any branch of your chosen bank in Hong Kong and ask to open a personal account. You will have to present your passport and an original proof of residence. (Any utility bill, bank statement, credit card statement not older than two months, or a driver's license with your address will do.) You also must choose the type of account you want to open.

The bank officer will fill out the necessary documents; ask you a few questions about your reason for opening the account, the expected number of transactions and your chosen dollar amount. Then you sign the application and the signature specimen card and you can walk out with your ATM card and check book in your back pocket.

Once you have your bank account, you can enjoy the wide range of services that Hong Kong banks provide. Also, Hong Kong has one of the best Internet banking systems available to both individuals and companies.

Accounts can be held in different currencies except Renminbi, which is only allowed for personal accounts and controlled to a low daily transaction amount.

How to Open More Complicated IBC’s For offshore International Business Companies (IBCs), things are a little more complicated. The regulators in Hong Kong have set fairly high standards and strict rules to fight against money laundering. This has made setting up an account more difficult.

To meet the "know your client" bank requirements, each director, beneficial owner and authorized bank signatory must present the following documents:

  • Passport or notarized passport copy
  • Residential address proof, such as your utility bill OR bank statement issued by a financial institution, which is regulated within a FATF jurisdiction OR your driver's license with address (NOTE: The address proof cannot be more than two months old and, if it's not written in English, you are required to secure an English translation certified by a professional translation service company with company chop OR a solicitor/notary public in any of the FATF countries.)
  • Notarized corporate documents

Banks need to know who are the ultimate shareholders/beneficial owners of a company. This is why most banks require the new IBC's directors, shareholders and signatories to be present prior to setting up an account.

However, a few banks will allow a third party (meaning an approved professional intermediary) to conduct the due diligence on the IBC’s founders rather than requiring the directors, shareholders and signatories to be present.

What you need to have ready to setup your IBC in addition to the passport, proof of address and corporate documents,

The bank requires the following:

  • a detailed description of the company's main activities including its products
  • goods traded or services provided
  • a list of the countries in which the company's business takes place and the percentage of trade/work carried out in each country
  • details of main trading counterparties
  • estimated annual turnover
  • estimated number and value of inward remittances
  • estimated number and value of outward remittances
  • what the account will actually be used for
  • source of funds
  • full name of bank signatories and manner of signing

Once all the documents are submitted and all the standards met, it will take up to four weeks to have the account setup and operational.

I should point out that several banks, including Barclays and Standard Chartered Bank, have created a professional intermediary program. GCSL is a recognized professional intermediary of both banks, which makes setting up the account for a company easier and less expensive.

If you have any questions about setting up a corporation or bank account in Hong Kong, Please send us an email with any questions at intray@gcsl.info.

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