Credit/Debit Cards and Cash
While China is miles ahead of most of the world in terms of mobile payments, most places in China do not take credit cards, so you will have to take Renminbi (Chinese currency) wherever you go. There are ATMs where you can take money out, but tell your bank that you are in China and be aware of international fees! Currency cards, such as CaxtonFx, Monzo or from the Post Office (UK), are also a good option to avoid unfavourable exchange rates, and they offer a free online checking account with no fees for international withdraws.
These currency cards work at most banks which accept foreign cards, such as ICBC, Bank of China and China Construction Bank. Bank of America account holders can withdraw money from China Construction Bank free of charge. As a rule of thumb, always let your financial institution know when and where you are going overseas to avoid problems with your bank account.
While China is rapidly changing when it comes to finance and banking, it is still a good idea to carry cash. We recommend bringing a reserve of cash, e.g. C¥1-2000, in case your bank card has any problems while you are here. You can also exchange money at the airport when you arrive, or at banks, but beware bank processes can be more complicated.
Be aware you will need to show your passport when exchanging money. Generally, most major banks in China accept Visa or Mastercard or Amex cards from major foreign banks.
China is miles ahead of most countries around the world in terms of mobile payments. Even in small rural villages or up secluded mountains, you can use WeChat or AliPay to pay for goods and services, just by scanning a QR code. However, this requires you, the user, to link your bank account or add money to your account. Some international cards, such as Monzo, can be used on WeChat, but don’t bank on it: still follow the guidelines for cards and cash shown above as the payment system will usually require you to have a Chinese bank account.
Even if you cannot use it for payments, WeChat, a mobile app similar to Whatsapp, is highly popular in China. It will be invaluable during your time in China for communicating with the team at your school and for making friends locally, so we urge you to download it now. Not only is it useful for messaging friends and family, businesses also often give discounts to customers following their WeChat account.