Cash and Credit Cards
China is still a largely cash-based society, especially in smaller cities and away from tourist areas. So make sure you have enough money on you whenever you're out and about as many foreign credit and debit cards may not be accepted everywhere.
You can exchange your home currency for Renminbi, the official name for the Chinese Yuan, before you leave for China or, alternatively, take out cash from one of the many 24-hour ATMs after you arrive in China. We don't really recommend exchanging money at the bank in China, as you will be in for a lengthy wait.
Getting Cash in China
It is easy and quick to get cash on arrival at any Chinese international airport. There are cash machines in the baggage areas and after exiting customs at both the arrival and departure levels. There are also specific counters where traveler checks can be exchanged.
Using a debit card to take money out of an ATM or cash machine may prove to be the easiest and most convenient way to get Chinese currency in China. 24-hour ATMs are common in all big cities and most smaller towns, and you can choose to operate in English. The only areas that will not have many ATMs are Tibet and very rural areas. For example, Yangshuo has plenty of banks and ATMs, whereas there will be no places to get cash in the villages around the Longsheng Rice Terraces.
Not every card works at every machine, so it's best to stick with major banks such as Bank of China, HSBC, ICBC, or China Construction Bank and look for machines with your card system's logo.
Using International Credit Card in China
More and more places in China, including hotels, upscale restaurants, and foreign brand name stores, accept international credit cards such as Visa, American Express and MasterCard, so it's still worth bringing your credit card with you.
Using foreign credit cards in China will seemingly always incur a foreign currency exchange fee from the issuing bank which can be expensive and add up fast, but it is easier to use them for big payments, like hotels, tours and major shopping.
The best thing to do is to exchange some money before arriving in China, bring at least one credit card and one debit card, and prepare to exchange more money upon arrival. Please note that you should let your bank back home know that you will be using your card in China.
Mobile Payment in China
China is quite advanced when it comes to mobile payments and you will see QR codes for mobile payment at even the smallest of stores.
The most popular mobile payment methods are provided by local companies like WeChat and Alipay. Unfortunately, most foreign bank cards can't be linked to WeChat or Alipay. Some international chains such as Starbucks and KFC also accept Apple Pay.
Sometimes you may be unable to pay using your credit card or even cash, especially in smaller stores; if this happens, ask your guide to pay with WeChat or Alipay and you can pay them back with cash.