Travel money China 2021: How to pay & how much to bring

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Travel money guide – China

Take a card without foreign transaction fees and carry some cash for small purchases.

Get credit card suggestions Compare travel cards
Exchange currency online Compare cash pickup

Thankfully, China accepts all major payment methods. Even Discover cards are accepted as widely as Mastercard and Visa. But be aware that some smaller restaurants, shops and establishments in rural areas may not accept cards, so always carry some cash.

Our picks for traveling to China

American Express® Gold Card logo

Our pick for travel credit card

American Express® Gold Card

★★★★★
Finder rating: 4.6/5
Wise Multi-currency logo

Our pick for multi-currency debit card

Wise Multi-currency

★★★★★
Finder rating: 4.5/5
SoFi Money logo

Our pick for 0% transaction fee debit card

SoFi Money

★★★★★
Finder rating: 4.6/5

Travel card, debit card or credit card?

China accepts all major credit cards, including Discover, which can be used at UnionPay ATMs and POS terminals.

It’s a good practice to use a debit card for cash withdrawals, but a prepaid travel card loaded with Chinese yuan could be a good choice if you don’t want to link your bank account.

These are your options for spending money in China

Using a credit card

Credit cards from major networks are widely accepted throughout China. If you’re looking for a solid credit card, consider a travel credit card to save money on foreign transactions and to earn rewards on purchases. In addition, the card may come with travel insurance, trip coverage, luggage insurance and car rental insurance against theft and damage.

If you often travel between the US and China, consider an airline cobranded credit card. You can save money on flights, on checked bags, priority boarding or lounge access. This type of card often comes with travel insurance and similar travel perks.

Tips:

  • Notify your bank you’ll be traveling to China
  • Avoid using credit cards to make ATM cash withdrawals — use a debit card instead
  • Decline to pay or make an ATM withdrawal in US dollars if offered
Pros
  • Credit line access
  • Rewards
  • May come with travel insurance and coverage
  • May come with concierge service
Cons
  • Cash advance fees
  • Cash advance APR

Using a debit card

It can be a good idea to travel with a debit card as they have minimal fees and can rarely be overdrawn.

Tips:

  • Notify your bank that you’ll be traveling to China
  • Use debit cards for cash withdrawals to avoid paying cash advance fees and cash advance APR
Pros
  • No cash advance fee
  • No cash advance APR
  • No overdraft
Cons
  • Weak or no rewards
  • No access to a credit line
  • Potential foreign transaction fees up to 3%
  • Potential ATM withdrawal fees

Using a prepaid travel card

Prepaid travel cards could be a good choice if you can load them with Chinese yuan. Otherwise, you’ll pay foreign transaction fees in addition to all the other fees that come with this type of card. Using a prepaid travel card makes sense, however, if you don’t want a card linked to your bank account.

Pros
  • Can load multiple currencies
  • No cash advance APR
  • No links to your bank account
Cons
  • Many fees, including currency conversion fees if the card is loaded with different currency
  • May take time to load money
  • No rewards

Using traveler’s checks

Traveler’s checks can be helpful if you want better security for your money. However, they’re rarely accepted and come with fees on purchases, when cashing them and on currency conversion. Also, it may take longer to cash your checks.

  • Tip: Consider other money options in China
Pros
  • Security
Cons
  • Not accepted everywhere
  • Fees for purchasing and cashing checks

Compare travel cards for China

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
American Express® Gold Card
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 6 months
4x at restaurants including delivery and Uber Eats; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points), 3x points on directly-booked flights and 1x points on all other purchases
$250

Rose Gold is back

Earn up to 4x points on select purchases, a bevy of travel perks, and a welcome offer worth up to $600 with this upper-mid tier travel card. Terms apply, see rates & fees
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
80,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $1,000 through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Plus up to $ statement credit towards groceries
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on up to $1,000 on groceries until April 30, 2021, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
$95
Earn a signup bonus worth $1,000 plus up to $ statement credit towards groceries with this popular travel card.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
75,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first 6 months, plus 10x points at US gas stations and US supermarkets on up to $15,000 in combined purchases in the same timeframe
10x points at US gas stations and US supermarkets on up to $15,000 combined in the first 6 months, 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel, 5x points on directly-booked flights on up to $500,000 annually, then 1x points after that and on other purchases
$550
One of the most valuable premium travel cards, featuring two welcome offers worth up to $4,500, multiple travel credits and unrivaled lounge access. Terms apply, see rates & fees
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Compare up to 4 providers

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What’s the Chinese currency and where can I get the best exchange rate?

China uses the Chinese yuan with a code CNY and a symbol ¥. It’s also known as the renminbi.

If you’re carrying cash, you can exchange a small amount at the airport if needed. Once in the city, exchange your US dollars in a bank for a better exchange rate. The bank may decline the exchange if you don’t have your passport with you.

If you’re carrying a debit card, making a cash withdrawal from an ATM would offer you the best exchange rate.

Live Rate

= ¥ 6.5210

Refreshing in: 60s | Sun, Apr 18, 09:54PM GMT

Common Chinese Yuan Renminbi banknotes:

5 Chinese Yuan banknote10 Chinese Yuan banknote20 Chinese Yuan banknote
50 Chinese Yuan banknote100 Chinese Yuan banknote

The main banks in China are:

  • Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC)
  • China Construction Bank
  • Agriculture Bank of China
  • Bank of China
  • China Development Bank
  • Postal Savings Bank of China (PSBC)
  • Bank of Communications
  • Industrial Bank Co Ltd
  • China Citic Bank Corp
  • China Merchant Bank
Find ATMs in China

Cash pickup services in China

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
$1 Within an hour USD 3.99 6.488 CNY 6,463 WorldRemit sends money to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposits, cash pick-ups or mobile top-ups. Go to site Show details
$10 Within an hour USD 1.99 6.391 CNY 6,378 Special offers like free transfers and better exchange rates available for new customers.
Remitly has quick, affordable transfers around the world, with both express and economy options.
Go to site Show details
$1 3 - 5 days USD 20.00 6.358 CNY 6,231 Western Union sends money online to friends and family in 200+ countries around the world. Go to site Show details

Compare up to 4 providers

Disclaimer: Exchange rates change often. Confirm the total cost with the provider before transferring money.

Verdict

To fully enjoy your trip to China, consider combining credit cards for transactions and debit cards for ATM cash withdrawals. Since not every establishment accepts plastic, it’s a good idea to also carry some cash.

Check out our travel money guide page to find out what payment method might work best for you overseas.Back to top

Our latest travel deals to China

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Rent a car in China and save big with our exclusive deals on car rental rates

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