Accessing Money in China
The easiest way to obtain Chinese currency is to use a foreign bank card at ATMs in China. However, it’s always good to have a back-up option in case you lose your card. This could take the form of a second bank card (stored separately) or foreign currency.
By far the easiest method of accessing money in China is from ATMs with your foreign bank card. ATMs that accept foreign cards are omnipresent in all Chinese cities and ATMs almost always have a choice between English or Chinese operating language. Occasionally you will encounter an ATM that doesn’t accept foreign cards, but you can always rely on Bank of China or ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China) ATMs which are plentiful enough. Just look for the logo of your particular card (Visa, Mastercard, Maestro, etc) on the ATM. Visa is the most common.
One annoying thing is that ATMs generally have a withdrawal limit of ¥2500 (sometimes ¥3000), meaning you will rack up a fair number of fees for overseas ATM usage. But see our page on bank cards that offer fee-free overseas ATM withdrawals and no currency conversion fees in order to avoid this. There can be some difficulty using foreign cards at ATMs in small towns and villages. It’s wise to stock up on cash before heading to such places.
Almost all hotels from three star and up accept credit cards (though at cheaper establishments they might have some ‘connection problems’), as do most western restaurants and department stores in the cities. However, it’s best to always have cash handy just in case, or at least check whether credit cards are accepted before racking up a large restaurant bill or taking a stack of items to the counter at a department store.
It’s always good to have some foreign currency as a back-up, but it doesn’t really make sense to rely on exchanging money. Money can be exchanged at banks (the Bank of China is the best bet) but it can be a long, drawn-out procedure. Banks in China are always crowded as people go their to pay bills, etc, and it’s not uncommon to have to queue for up to 30 minutes. When entering the bank, you should take a number from the automated machine (show a staff member or the security guard your foreign currency if you’re not sure which button to press) and then sit and wait for your number to come up. You will need your passport to exchange money. On the bright side, the exchange rates are generally quite good.