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.
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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.
- 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
- Credit line access
- May come with travel insurance and coverage
- May come with concierge service
- 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.
- 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
- 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
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.
- 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
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
- Not accepted everywhere
- Fees for purchasing and cashing checks
Compare travel cards for China
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.
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Common Chinese Yuan Renminbi banknotes:
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
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.
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