“What card to bring with me for my trip to China?”

This is a question frequently asked by my western friends. Some of them have never went to China before and was anxious about how they should plan their spending oversea.

Credit Card:

Well, the reality is that in major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, you might use the Visa, Master or American Express credit card you are using daily just fine. In this case, you just need to mind the foreign transaction fee charged by the card. There are many cards that do not charge foreign transaction fee as well. Here are several examples: Chase Ink Bold, Chase Saphire Preferred. Check with your credit card company to see if they charge foreign transaction fee.

One card I particular like is the Discover card. If there is only one card I could bring. I will pick the Discover. The reason is that Discover is partnered with the biggest credit card network in China (Unionpay or 银联). Any POS machine that accept Unionspay can accept your Discover. It may not be the case if you took Visa/Master/Amex card. Discover can also be used through Diners Club International network in many of the other Asian countries.

You can check the details of the Discover card usage in Asia here. I will highly recommend you print out the wallet card to bring with you.



Debit Card:

Cash is King in China. In case that you can not swipe your credit card, you are resort to the Cash. So it is always good to bring a debit card so that you can get some cash just in case. If you have a debit card that charge low or does not charge ATM withdraw fee and POS Purchase fee, you would want to bring it with you. The typical fee structure is a fixed amount (eg. $5) plus some percentage (1-3%).

Here are a couple of good options I would recommend:

  • CapitalOne 360 check card: there is no fee for all ATM withdraw. (Apply Now)
  • Charles Schwab Bank: they will reimburse all the ATM fee at the end of month.
  • Ally Bank: they charge 1% of the withdraw amount. The simple and relatively low percentage make it more manageable.
  • Bank of America Debit card: it used to be a good option because BOA partnered with China Construction Bank and charge no fee for ATM withdraw from the CCB. But there are many recent report saying that it is not free any more.

You can also see the link below for a good survey.


Tell us how it worked for you. Enjoy your trip.

Which Credit/Debit Card To Bring When Travel To China
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