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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.
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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.
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.
|Merchant acceptance||ATM acceptance|
Discover (at all UnionPay locations and ATMs)
Always keep an eye on credit card fees, more so when you’re traveling overseas.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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