For travelers, the easiest way to get Chinese renminbi (also called “yuan” or “RMB”) is via a local ATM machine. While it may sound daunting to pull money when you can’t read Chinese characters, it’s thankfully not that hard. Still, there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to use an ATM in China.
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For most travelers, using cash is going to be the easiest way to pay for things around China.
While it’s true that WeChat has become the most popular form of payment for local Chinese people, it still requires a Chinese bank account to use, which most traveler’s won’t be able to do.
Credit cards branded with Visa and MasterCard won’t be accepted every place you travel in China, so make sure you have enough cash.
Oh, and if you decide to bring foreign cash with you, you’ll need to consider how to exchange cash for Chinese yuan.
For the purpose of this article, though, I’d like to share with you a few tips I’ve learned about finding an ATM in China and making sure you don’t run into any problems while trying to get cash to fund your travels.
Which Chinese ATM Can I Use as a Foreigner?
There are ATMs on almost every corner in China, but not all of them are foreigner-friendly. There are a couple things you need to ask yourself when finding the right ATM in China to use.
- Which Chinese Bank? Typically you want to find a Bank of China, China Merchant’s Bank or ICBC. These banks are reliably friendly to foreign cards and have locked spaces to get your money. Many of the other banks will also accept foreign credit cards, just make sure you see signs for Visa and MasterCard above the ATM.
- Which Cards do they Accept? You’ll usually see a sign in front of the ATM that tells whether it accepts Visa, MasterCard, JCB or any others. These are the most common. Unfortunately, I haven’t found many ATMs that accept American Express.
- Do I Use Credit or Debit? Banks will accept both, but you’ll save yourself a lot of extra fees if you use your debit card to withdraw money. Make sure you know your PIN! If you want to get cash with either your debit or your credit card, you’ll need your PIN number. Didn’t know your credit card had a PIN? Then don’t expect to get cash with it!
- How Much Money Do I Need? You may not know this, but your bank at home limits how much money you can take out per day, per card. Check your bank to determine how much that is. In addition, Chinese banks limit how much you can take out of an ATM at one time. This daily withdraw is capped at about 2,500-3,000 RMB depending on the bank. If you need more than this, you’ll need to go inside the bank or use multiple cards.
Pro Tips for Using a Chinese ATM
All Chinese ATMs give you the option to choose “English” as the language in their menu, so don’t think that your language skills are going to hinder you from getting money.
To avoid any further problems, it’s best to keep the following tips in mind:
- Alert Your Bank at Home: Before you leave for China, call your bank and tell them where you plan to travel. They should put a note on your account so that any withdraw transactions shouldn’t be flagged as fraudulent. You don’t want to find yourself without cash because your account gets locked up!
- Be Prepared with a Backup Plan: I’ve had friends who have alerted their bank about their travels and still their account got frozen. They were stuck at the airport without any cash to get a taxi to their hotel! Don’t let that be you. Either bring a backup debit/credit card or have some extra cash ready that you can exchange for RMB.
- Know Your PIN: Every Chinese ATM will ask you for your PIN number, whether you’re using your debit card or a credit card. If you’ve forgotten your PIN number, do a bit of research to make sure you know what it is.
- Factor in Fees: When you think about your budget, consider the ATM fees. They’re not much, but they will add up over time. ATM’s will sometimes charge you a fee, and then your home bank will likely charge you an international ATM fee (waived with some banks, so check before you leave). This, of course, is in addition to an international currency exchange fee. It’s usually about 3%. Like I said…it adds up. This is why it’s worth considering a global payment solution like ECARD. If you’re a U.S. resident and you are traveling or moving to China, that’s worth investigating further.
The one downside to using an ATM is that it will only spit out 100 RMB bills.
You’ll need to find other places – like restaurants and grocery stores – to break this down into smaller bills because some services (such as a Chinese taxi) don’t like breaking 100’s.
Final Thoughts: Using an ATM in China
As you can see, finding and using an ATM in China isn’t terribly difficult, but it’s very easy to get stuck in the mud if you don’t know your card PIN or you don’t alert your bank to your travels.
Oh yea…and don’t forget to be safe as you walk around carrying wads of cash!
Personally, I try not to keep it all in one place, but that’s just me. You can take advantage of the convenience of an ATM or you can try to send money to China via another mean.
Are there any further questions about ATMs that aren’t answered here? Ask them in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer them promptly.