Take a card without foreign transaction fees and carry some cash for small purchases.
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.
Compare travel cards for China
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 option||Pros||Cons|
|Prepaid travel money cards|
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 debit card
It can be a good idea to travel with a debit card as they have minimal fees and can rarely be overdrawn.
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.
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.
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?
Compare money transfer services for 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.
Check out our travel money guide page to find out what payment method might work best for you overseas.