I want to have a credit card, but I live in China. What should I do?

Written by
Joe Taylor Jr.
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Pundits have been speculating about expansion in the Chinese credit card markets. Since 2005, credit cards bearing the UnionPay logo have grown faster than most other types of consumer lending accounts. With the Chinese government softening its approach to the global banking industry, you may just have the opportunity to sign up for an American-style credit card in the coming years.

You may already have seen Citibank locations popping up around Beijing. Its retail presence in the country has convinced Chinese banking officials to allow Citibank to start offering credit cards directly to Chinese residents. Until now, foreign lenders had to team up with local banks to provide credit cards, mortgages, and personal loans to residents of China. Even Hong Kong banks have been restricted to issuing UnionPay credit cards in Hong Kong with companion debit cards for use on the mainland.

The homeland connection mirrors a major difference in the ways Chinese and Americans prefer to handle their banking. A McKinsey study revealed that more than two-thirds of Chinese credit card customers prefer to pay their bills in person at a retail bank branch, rather than by mail or online.

However, don’t expect to see Chinese credit cards offering the same credit limits and balance transfer offers as their American cousins. Government officials and economists have stressed the country’s need to grow its purchases through rising incomes and dipping savings, rather than by growing consumer debt. If analysts’ predictions come true, Chinese Visa and MasterCard products will tout purchase protection and security features instead of access to high credit lines and balance transfer offers.

If you need a credit card in China right now, visit a few banks near your home or workplace. A UnionPay logo on your card means you can transact almost anywhere in China. Thanks to a deal with Discover, UnionPay credit cards are accepted at most merchants and ATMs where you see the “Pulse” logo.

And, if business or family affairs bring you to the United States in the near future, you might even qualify for an American Visa or MasterCard. Capital One recently expanded its offerings for “newcomers,” foreign citizens permitted to work or stay in the United States for extended periods of time. A “newcomer” credit card requires a verifiable income from an American employer and a residential address in the United States where you’ll be staying during your work assignment or college study.

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