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Using a credit card in China

Outside of major cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, China is still largely a cash-based economy.

The Chinese are typically averse to debt so don’t be surprised if you find an overall air of negativity surrounding the use of credit cards. If you’re limiting your visit to larger cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Tianjin or Chengdu, you’ll find no significant problems using a credit card in China. However, outside of big cities, you might have trouble finding ATMs and businesses that accept credit cards.

Compare credit cards for use in China

Planning on applying for a new credit card before you head to China? Look into a credit card that charges no foreign transaction fees and save 2.5% on every transaction.
1 - 4 of 4
Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Purchase Interest Rate Annual Fee Min. Credit Score Description
Walmart Rewards Mastercard
Up to $25 in Reward Dollars
Up to 1.25% cash back
19.89%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Get up to $25 in bonus Walmart Reward Dollars.
Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card
35,000 points
Up to 2 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$139
Min. recommended credit score: 750
Earn up to 35,000 bonus Scene+ points in your first year (that’s up to $350 towards travel).
Scotiabank Gold American Express Card
40,000 points
Up to 5 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($120 thereafter)
Min. recommended credit score: 700
Earn up to 40,000 bonus Scene+ points in your first year (that's up to $400 towards travel) and get the first year annual fee waived.
BMO U.S. Dollar Mastercard
N/A
N/A
19.99%
$35 USD
Min. recommended credit score: 725
When your purchases total US$1,000 or more in a year, the next year's annual fee (US$35) is rebated to your card.
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Canadian Visa and Mastercard credit cards are widely accepted overseas. Check with your bank before travelling to China to confirm whether or not you’ll be able to use your credit card during your trip.
1 - 20 of 45
Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Purchase Interest Rate Annual Fee Min. Credit Score Description
RBC Cash Back Mastercard
N/A
Up to 2% cash back
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Get 2% cash back on grocery store purchases, and up to 1% cash back on all other qualifying purchases and pre-authorized payments.
BMO CashBack Mastercard
5% cash back
Up to 3% cash back
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 660
Get 5% cash back on all eligible purchases in the first three months of card membership (up to max. spend of $2,500). Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers with a 1% balance transfer fee for nine months.
Tangerine World Mastercard
10% cash back
Up to 2% cash back
19.95%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 600
Earn 10% cash back (up to $100) on up to $1,000 of purchases in the first 2 months Until July 31, 2022. Plus, get a 1.95% interest rate on balance transfers for the first 6 months (valid within the first 30 days of account opening, 1% transfer fee applies).
RBC Avion Visa Infinite
55,000 points
Up to 1 point per $1 spent
19.99%
$120
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Get up to 55,000 Welcome Points. Get 35,000 points on approval and 20,000 bonus points when you spend $5,000 in your first 6 months. Apply by September 16, 2022.
OFFER
Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
10% cash back
Up to 2% cash back
19.95%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 600
Earn 10% cash back (up to $100) on up to $1,000 of purchases in the first 2 months Until July 31, 2022. Plus, get a 1.95% interest rate on balance transfers for the first 6 months (valid within the first 30 days of account opening, 1% transfer fee applies).
EXCLUSIVE
Neo Financial Mastercard
Get $25.00
Average 5% cash back
19.99% - 24.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 600
Get $25 when you sign up for the Neo Financial Mastercard. Plus, earn bonuses like 15% cashback on your first purchase at most partners, and earn an average of 5% cashback at thousands of partners and at least 1% cashback guaranteed.
RBC Rewards+ Visa
3,500
Up to 1 points per $2 spent
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Earn up to 3,500 RBC Rewards points by going digital in the first 60 days.
BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard
0.99% rate on balance transfers for 9 months
N/A
12.99%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($20 thereafter)
Min. recommended credit score: 660
Get a rate of 0.99% on balance transfers for 9 months with a 2% transfer fee. Plus, get the $20 annual fee waived in the first year.
Walmart Rewards Mastercard
Up to $25 in Reward Dollars
Up to 1.25% cash back
19.89%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Get up to $25 in bonus Walmart Reward Dollars.
Neo Secured Card
15% cash back
5% cash back
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 600
Earn bonuses like 15% cashback on your first purchase at most partners, and earn an average of 5% cashback at thousands of partners and at least 1% cashback guaranteed.
Refresh Financial Secured Card
N/A
N/A
17.99%
$12.95
Min. recommended credit score: Any score
The Refresh Secured Card has no credit check, a low annual fee and guaranteed approval once you secure your card with anywhere from $200 - $10,000.
BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard
60,000 points
Up to 5x points per $1 spent
20.99%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($150 thereafter)
Min. recommended credit score: 760
Get up to 60,000 points and get the $150 annual fee waived in the first year.
BMO Rewards Mastercard
10,000 points
Up to 1 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 725
Get a bonus of 10,000 BMO Rewards points when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months. Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers for 9 months. A 1% fee applies to transferred balances.
Home Trust Secured Visa (No Annual Fee)
N/A
N/A
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: Any score
The no annual fee Home Trust Secured card comes with a standard 19.99% purchase and cash advance rate. Apply with any credit score and start rebuilding your credit.
BMO eclipse Visa Infinite Privilege
90,000 points
5 points per $1 spent
20.99%
$499
Min. recommended credit score: 760
Get up to 90,000 welcome points in your first year.
Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card
35,000 points
Up to 2 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$139
Min. recommended credit score: 750
Earn up to 35,000 bonus Scene+ points in your first year (that’s up to $350 towards travel).
Scotiabank SCENE Visa Card
5,000 points
Up to 5 points per $1 spent
19.99%
$0
Min. recommended credit score: 660
Earn 5,000 bonus Scene+ points when you spend a minimum of $750 on eligible purchases in the first three months as a new SCENE Visa cardholder. Apply by August 31, 2022.
Scotiabank Value Visa Card
0% rate on Cash Advances for 6 months
N/A
12.99%
$29
Min. recommended credit score: 660
Get a 0.00% introductory interest rate on Cash Advances for the first 6 months. Plus, pay no annual fee in the first year. Apply by August 31, 2022.
Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite Card
10% cash back
Up to 4% cash back
20.99%
$0 annual fee for the first year ($120 thereafter)
Min. recommended credit score: 750
Earn 10% cash back on all purchases for the first 3 months. Plus, pay no annual fee in the first year. Apply by August 31, 2022.
Signature RBC Rewards Visa
N/A
1 point per $1 spent
19.99%
$39
Min. recommended credit score: 650
Earn 1 RBC Rewards point for every $1 you spend on qualifying purchases, plus earn bonus points through purchases at select retailers.
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What credit cards can I use in China?

Visa, Mastercard and American Express find acceptance in China, although to varying degrees. You may be able to use your credit card at mid-sized to large hotels, restaurants and other businesses in most major cities, but you’ll find very few or no takers in rural areas or at small family-owned restaurants and shops.

Merchant acceptance
ATM acceptance
Visa
check mark iconHigh
check mark iconHigh
Mastercard
check mark iconHigh
check mark iconHigh
American Express
exclamation point iconMedium
exclamation point iconMedium

PINs in China

Chinese cards come with six-digit PINs. ATMs of some banks accept four-digit PINs, and in some cases you can override the system by keying in two zeros before your PIN. However, this does not work at all ATMs, so it’s best that you check with your bank before you depart. You may be able to easily change your Canadian credit card to a six-digit PIN before you go. Don’t forget that three incorrect attempts at entering your PIN will lead to a temporarily blocked card.

Potential credit card fees in China

You should always keep an eye on credit card fees, especially when you’re travelling overseas.

  • Foreign transaction fees. Most credit cards issued by Canadian banks come with foreign transaction fees. Sitting around 2.5% of the total transaction cost, you’ll need to pay this fee every time you use your credit card outside of Canada. Fortunately, there are a few credit cards that offer no foreign transaction fees in Canada.
  • Currency conversion fees. If someone gives you the choice of paying in Canadian dollars or Chinese Renminbi with your credit card, always choose the local currency. Paying in Canadian dollars with your card will subject you to a dynamic currency conversion that can lead to poor exchange rates and currency conversion fees. Always choose to pay in the local currency and let your bank do the currency conversion.
  • Cash advance fees. If you use your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM, you’ll face a cash advance fee as well as the cash advance interest rate, which is usually charged from the day you withdraw the funds. To avoid the high APR, use your debit card to withdraw funds from an ATM.
  • ATM fees. Even using your debit card to withdraw funds from an ATM will likely have you facing an ATM fee. To avoid this fee, you can use a debit card issued by a bank that has an international ATM alliance, such as the Global ATM Alliance that Scotiabank is a member of.
  • Surcharges. Although surcharges aren’t legal in Canada, businesses in China commonly add a surcharge to the total cost of the purchase when a customer pays with a credit card. In some instances, this cost is a result of fees imposed by processing banks. If you’re not sure, ask about the surcharge before handing over your card.

Can I avoid all of these fees?

Yes, here’s how:

  • Avoid foreign transaction fees by applying for a credit card that waives this fee.
  • Avoid conversion fees by always paying in the local currency.
  • Avoid the high cash advance APR by using your debit card (instead of your credit card) to withdraw cash from an ATM.
  • To skirt around ATM fees, you’ll need to use a debit card from a bank that belongs to an international ATM alliance – plus you’ll need to stick to ATMs that belong to that network.
  • Surcharges may be more difficult to avoid. Before paying, ask the merchant if they charge a surcharge. If they do, you’ll have to pay with debit or cash – or avoid the transaction altogether. Some merchants may apply the surcharge to debit payments too, so be careful.

ATMs in China

ATMs can be difficult to find in small villages and rural areas. In big cities, you can usually find ATMs inside banks, malls and on the street. Your debit or credit card may not work at all ATMs in China, so you may have to use a few to find a brand of ATM that works for your card.

Should I use my credit card to get cash?

No, avoid using your credit card to get cash from an ATM at all costs. You’ll end up paying a cash advance fee as well as interest, which will start adding up from the day of the transaction. If you need to withdraw cash from an ATM, use your debit card.

Have more than one travel money option

Depending on where you’re going, using your credit card can present challenges. While this can happen in smaller towns and rural areas, the part of a city you’re travelling in can also have an effect. Even if you see a sign that says a business accepts cards, it’s best to confirm in advance of attempting to pay. The sign may be old, the network might be down or the business might not accept credit cards at all.

Cash is king in China, so it’s not uncommon for locals to carry up to 2,000 RMB in cash at all times. You might want to keep at least 500 RMB with you, unless you plan to make a purchase that costs more. (See RMB to CAD conversions below.)

Is it safe to use my credit card in China?

Using your credit card in China is safe, although you’ll need to exercise at least the same levels of caution you would back home.

  • Protect your PIN. Don’t write your PIN down anywhere. When entering your PIN, use the other hand to hide it from hidden cameras and snooping eyes.
  • Select ATMs carefully. Use ATMs found in banks, shopping centres and otherwise busy areas. Avoid ones in isolated areas or unsafe districts.
  • Keep an eye out for skimmers. If you feel that the card slot is not as smooth as it should be or if you think there’s a problem with the keypad, cancel your transaction. Someone might have installed a card skimmer on the machine.
  • Keep your card physically safe. Instances of pickpocketing and theft are common in areas frequented by foreigners. Take extra care when venturing out after dark. There have been reports of thefts at airports and on public transportation as well, so remain vigilant at all times. Don’t leave your purse or wallet in a parked car. Instances of petty crime tend to increase leading up to the Chinese New Year.

How to prepare before travelling to China

  1. Carry at least two cards. Ideally, take at least two credit cards with you, with at least one being a Visa or Mastercard. That way, you can avoid being left without money if your primary credit card is lost or stolen.
  2. Think about foreign transaction fees. Paying foreign transaction fees does not make sense when you can find cards that come with no foreign transaction fees. For each transaction, you’ll save yourself 2.5%.
  3. Inform your bank. Banks monitor accounts to minimize fraudulent transactions. If your bank sees an unexpected purchase made in China, it will have a good reason to temporarily block your card. Let your bank know of your travel plans in advance.
  4. Carry emergency numbers. If your card ends up lost or stolen, you should know which number to call. Write down your credit card providers phone number and carry it on you at all times.
  5. Know how you’ll get cash. Since cash is king in China, you’ll need to carry some on you at all times. Find out which ATMs allow you to withdraw funds and use your debit card to avoid the cash advance interest rate.

Next steps

You can avoid unexpected problems by asking yourself these simple questions before you leave for China:

  • Which cards should I take? Carry at least one Mastercard or Visa card and have at least two credit cards with you.
  • Did I inform my bank? Unless you want to deal with the possibility of a blocked card, inform your bank before you head overseas.
  • Will I pay extra fees? Check if your current credit card charges foreign transaction fees. If it does, consider applying for a card that charges no foreign transaction fees.
  • Where will I get money from? Avoid using your credit card at an ATM, instead withdraw using your debit. Remember that your card may not work at all brands of ATMs in China. You can also consider converting Canadian dollars to yuan (RMB).

China, despite its advances in technology, still remains a largely cash-based society, especially when you move out of the larger cities and towns. While you may be able to use your credit card in big cities easily, keep at least some cash on you at all times.

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