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Opening a bank account in India may seem like an awesome thing. You can transfer money easily with other Indian bank accounts. You can keep the rupees you earn. You can use your Indian debit card in places that don’t accept international cards.
However, it’s can also be a pain. First, trying to open an account could legitimately take 6-12 months off your life when you add up the time wasted and the stress associated with it. Second, it’s very hard to transfer money out of an Indian account directly to an international one. And third, you will have to practice writing your signature exactly the same way forever for the rest of your time in India, or they may not accept any transactions you sign for.
Getting an Account
Officially, the only way to open a bank account in India as an expatriate is if you are on an employment visa. That said, I have come across people who have overcome this.
Two things will impact your ability to get a bank account. Neither one is foolproof on its own, but they are your only options.
The first is trying to please the Babu by having all the correct documentation. I visited several banks while researching this article and put together the most comprehensive list I could find (below). However, the Babu is hard to please and will often come up with a mystery form you were not prepared for.
The second is relying on a friend you have good relational capital with. Particularly a friend who is very high up in a bank, or who has considerable influence in a bank. While this is normally a surefire way to get things done in other parts of life in India, the banking industry is quite notorious for being inflexible, even for the culturally savviest of people.
Choosing a Bank – 4 Options
There are good reviews and horror stories for every bank, so it’s best to go with one of these options.
- The bank your employer uses. They may have some processes streamlined with them, but it’s not guaranteed.
- The bank closest to your home. It is painful to drive across town to drop off documents three days in a row because your signature was smudged on one of the forms. Having the bank nearby is a big benefit.
- The big name bank. These will likely have a little more experience with expats and are probably a safer option, but are also likely to have more fees.
- The bank of the person whom you will rely on to help you. If you have some existing first- or second-hand connections, that is a good bank to go with.
Here are some of the documents they might require of you. You will not need all of them, but the safe bet is to have as many as possible in place before you go. I’ve starred the ones that are nearly essential.
- *Passport – The real thing, and a self-attested (signed) copy
- *Indian Visa – Same as above
- *FRRO Documentation – Particularly your Residence Permit, and the Police Verification Report that confirmed your address; only people who have registered at the FRRO can open a bank account.
- *2 Passport sized Photos
- *Letter from your HR department on company letterhead – It should confirm your employment and mention your current address in India; make sure it also has the contact details of the HR head
- *ID Proof – A signed copy of your home driver’s license that shows your home address
- Copy of your employment contract from your employer
- Indian Residency Proof – A telephone bill or rental agreement copy
- 3 Months of Salary slips
- PAN Card – No one specifically mentioned this, but if you happen to have one, a bank account should be pretty easy to get.
- One mystery document
As a final note, make sure that no one tries to sign you up for a NRE/NRO account. These are for NRIs who still hold Indian citizenship.
If anyone else has insights or stories to share about opening a bank account in India, please leave them in the comments!
Image Credit: Peter Gibbons on Flickr