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Travel money guide: China

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

Whether you’re touring the great palaces of China and historic landscapes or visiting for business, you’ll find that major stores and restaurants accept plastic, though you’ll want to carry some Chinese Renminbi for local spots. Here, Discover cards are accepted as widely as Mastercard and Visa. To avoid foreign transaction fees on your travels, slip a Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card into your wallet, which also lets you earn miles with each purchase.

However, you’ll need some cash on hand if you go to small restaurants, shops and establishments, which may not accept cards. To get cash, you’ll find many ATMs inside banks and shopping centers in major cities.

Our picks for traveling to China

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card logo

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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 accepted throughout China in major stores and restaurants. 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, such as the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card . 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

Which credit card issuers are accepted in China?

Merchant acceptanceATM acceptance
Visa
check mark iconHigh
check mark iconHigh
Mastercard
check mark iconHigh
check mark iconHigh
American Express
check mark iconHigh
check mark iconHigh
Discover (at all UnionPay locations and ATMs)
check mark iconHigh

Potential credit card fees in China

Always keep an eye on credit card fees, more so when you’re traveling overseas.

Foreign transaction fees

Most American credit cards will get you to pay foreign transaction fees that typically vary from 2% to 3% of each transaction. Luckily, you can find some cards that come with no foreign transaction fees, examples of which include the PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card, the Hilton Honors American Express Card and the Marriott Rewards® Premier credit card.

Currency conversion fees

When presented with the option of getting your card charged in yuan or US dollars, always opt for the former. You don’t want to go the dynamic currency conversion way, which comes into effect when you make payments in US dollars outside of the US. If you do, you’ll probably end up with an undesirable exchange rate and a currency conversion fee.

Surcharge

Businesses in China commonly add a surcharge to the total cost of a 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.

Compare travel cards for China

Narrow down top travel credit cards by welcome offers, rewards and annual fees to find the best for your budget and financial goals. Select Compare for up to four products to see their benefits side by side.

1 - 3 of 29
Name Product Welcome Offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

2x miles on every purchase, every day, 5x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 5x miles when you book on Turo, the world’s largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
$95
Earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months ​from account opening.
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
Earn unlimited 1.25x miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
$0
Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
Alaska Airlines Visa® Business card
70,000 bonus miles plus Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) after you make $4,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.
3 miles per $1 on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases and 1 miles per $1 on all other purchases
$50
Get 70,000 bonus miles plus Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) after you make $4,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.
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Compare up to 4 providers

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. However, choose an account that waives or reimburses foreign currency exchange fees and ATM fees, such as the Betterment Checking debit card.

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
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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

= ¥ 7.1160

Refreshing in: 60s | Mon, Oct 03, 11:56PM 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

You’ll find ATMs aplenty in major Chinese cities inside banks and shopping centers, available during normal business hours. ATMs accept both Visa, Mastercard and Discover cards, though you may see Visa’s Plus and Mastercard’s Maestro and Cirrus logos on the machines. However, to avoid foreign exchange and international ATM fees, go with a Betterment Checking Visa debit card in hand, which reimburses these fees automatically.

Keep your travel money safe while in China

Use a heightened level of caution when traveling through China. Arbitrary detainment has been known to occur. But the most common crime for tourists is petty crime, such as bag-snatching and pickpocketing — even in broad daylight.

Be extra watchful in major cities, busy tourist spots and on public transit. Keep your wallet less accessible in your pocket and consider a money belt to keep your funds out of arm’s reach.

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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