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Travel money guide – China

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

Updated

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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.

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.

Pros and Cons of travel money options in China

Travel money optionProsCons
Debit cards
  • No cash advance fee
  • No cash advance APR
  • No overdraft
  • Weak or no rewards
  • No access to a credit line
  • Potential foreign transaction fees up to 3%
  • Potential ATM withdrawal fees
Prepaid travel money cards
  • Can load multiple currencies
  • No cash advance APR
  • No links to your bank account
  • Many fees, including currency conversion fees if the card is loaded with different currency
  • May take time to load money
  • No rewards
Credit cards
  • Credit line access
  • Rewards
  • May come with travel insurance and coverage
  • May come with concierge service
  • Cash advance fees
  • Cash advance APR
Traveler’s checks
  • Security
  • Not accepted everywhere
  • Fees for purchasing and cashing checks
Cash
  • Payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • No need for ATMs
  • High risk of theft

How credit cards, debit cards and travel cards work 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.

Using a credit card in China

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.

What are the best travel debit cards?

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.
What are prepaid travel cards

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.

Traveler’s checks explained

Paying with cash

Using cash is a convenient option when traveling. Be sure to exchange US dollars for local currency and note that carrying large amounts increases the risk of theft.

Compare travel cards for China

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
$95
This popular travel card's signup bonus is worth up to $750. Get even more value out of your travel, dining, and Lyft rewards by transferring them to miles.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
10x points on Lyft rides, 3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit and 1x points on all other purchases
$550
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
N/A
4% at gas stations on up to $7,000 annually (then 1%), 3% at restaurants and on travel, 2% at Costco and 1% on all other purchases
$0
Earn valuable cash back on everyday purchases at gas stations, restaurants and Costco as well as eligible travel with no foreign fees.
Luxury Card Mastercard® Titanium Card™
N/A
1x points on all purchases with 2% point value when you redeem for airfare and 1% for cash back
$195
Enjoy unique excursions, privileged access to exclusive events and insider opportunities.
The World of Hyatt Credit Card
25,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. 25,000 points after spending another $6,000 in the first 6 months
9x total points at Hyatt hotels as a World of Hyatt member, 2x on gyms, commuting, dining and airlines and 1x on all other purchases
$95
Earn 25,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. 25,000 points after spending another $6,000 in the first 6 months.
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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.
What’s the current USD to CNY exchange rate?

Cash pickup services in China

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
USD 0 2 days USD 9.99 6.968 CNY 6,898 No fee for transfers of $5,000 or more to 177 countries, backed by an International Payments Price Promise. Go to site Show details
USD 1 Within an hour USD 3.99 6.933 CNY 6,905 Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Send to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposit, cash pickup or mobile top-up. Go to site Show details
USD 0 1 - 2 days USD 1.99 6.829 CNY 6,815 Special offers like free transfers and better exchange rates available for new customers.
Quick, affordable transfers around the world with both express and economy options.
Go to site Show details
USD 1 3 - 5 days USD 20.00 6.794 CNY 6,658 The biggest name in money transfers can get your funds to friends, family, or businesses in almost every corner of the globe. 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.

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