ATM's in China

Aug 5th, 2002, 11:38 AM
Posts: n/a
ATM's in China

I will be visiting Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Guilin, Xian and the Yangtze River. I typically use my ATM card for easy access to cash when this the suggested routine for China too? Most of my costs will be covered in the group tour I am on...however will need money for shopping a few meals. What do my fellow travelers suggest? I will have along my credit cards and my $100 in American singles....but should I stock up on travelers checks too? Thanks for your advice!
Aug 5th, 2002, 11:47 AM
Posts: n/a
Kitty -- I can only supply a small piece of information. Several years ago I did use an ATM in Beijing. As far as we could tell from our hotel staff, it was the only one around. We had to take a taxi to a specific bank in order to use the ATM. So, not particularly convenient, but handy to know in an emergency. (Our emergency was the necessity of making additional purchases at the Silk Market.)

There may be more ATM's now as Beijing is "westernizing" at a rapid pace, but I certainly wouldn't expect any in smaller towns.
Aug 5th, 2002, 12:02 PM
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I didn't bother with looking for an ATM. In Shanghai, I used my VISA card at a Bank and got Chinese currency and it was very easy.

I don't know if the rate was good or bad, but I do know from years of traveling that if you can use your creditcard for major purchases, you do get the BEST exchange rate.
Aug 5th, 2002, 12:24 PM
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I am from Hong Kong. I only know that you can use your switch card to draw money in Hong Kong. Otherwise you can use any type of credit card on most places you go. One thing, they don't have cash back in supermarkets.
Aug 5th, 2002, 02:19 PM
Peter Neville-Hadley
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ATMs are everywhere in China. ATMs which accept foreign cards are not, even though many have a colourful screen showing the logos of international clearance systems. ATMs accepting foreign cards tend to be found in high foreign tourism areas (even in small towns), but may be missing even from provincial capitals which have a lower volume of foreign traffic.

Your starting point for finding out where you can use your card might be or Their lists are not entirely up to date, but they're a good start.

Machines accepting foreign cards accept just about anything, and if you have a Cirrus or Plus logo on your otherwise obscure card you're fine.

The system is not entirely reliable, so it's better not to wait until you are out of cash before looking to stock up, even if you are staying right next door to a machine you've used previously. An earlier poster is correct that in major branches of the Bank of China you can draw cash against Visa, Mastercard, Amex, Diner's, and a Japanese card. But this is a bad idea, and even the bank staff may try to dissuade you these days. The minimum withdrawal is Y1200, and the service charge is 4%, plus whatever your card issuer charges you.

The situation is gradually changing, but for now Bank of China machines are the only ones likely to work for you. There are four machines at Beijing airport (two of which are not Bank of China, as it happens) all of which take foreign cards: two at arrivals level and two at departures level. Stock up here to start with.

Beijing also has useful ATMs at: the southwest corner of Oriental Plaza (Wangfujing and Chang'an Jie junction), in Wangfujing on the west side of Sun (Xin) Dong'an Plaza, at Yansha (Lufthansa Centre near Sheraton, Kunlun, Hilton, and Kempinski Hotels). There are also machines inside almost every major shopping centre. Better still, for when the Bank of China cracks up, there are Citibank machines just to the left of the entrance to the Chang'an Grand Theatre (next to the Beijing International Hotel), and Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in COFCO Plaza, almost opposite.

There's little difficulty in Shanghai either, and both HKSB and Citibank have branches there, too. In Xi'an I understand there are now three useful machines adjacent to one branch of McDonald's, two of which are not Bank of China, but I haven't seen these for myself.

And although familiar credit card signs are everywhere in shops these days, in 90% of cases they are for Chinese versions of those cards only, and where not then you are almost certainly going to be paying a lot more than you need to for whatever you are buying.

Bring US$100 cash as back-up in case all else fails, since this can be exchanged for Yuan RMB at almost any bank, but not in $1 bills--what on earth use do you think those will be?

Peter N-H
Aug 5th, 2002, 10:19 PM
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Peter, I imagine that Kitty is bringing the US $1 to use for bargaining, as many, many posters have recommended on this board.

(I will therefore take this opportunity to put in my standard spiel on bargaining in USD in China, which is: DON'T, or at the very least, only use them at the END of a bargaining session. I PROMISE you that unless you speak fluent Chinese and/or are a VERY expert bargainer, you will pay MUCH more if you bargain in USD.)

Anyway, back to ATM's. Peter and Marian are right, that you should have no problems in BJ, HK, and SH, (although I strongly second Peter's advice to plan ahead & not run yourself totally out of money expecting an ATM to save you - about 1 out of 10 times they say "the switch is down"). But I would stock up on USD before your other locations just in case.

I have no idea about travelers checks - never used them.

Good luck!
Aug 5th, 2002, 11:25 PM
Peter N-H
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Thanks Andrea, but excuse me for being simple-minded, and from taking this away from the original query, but what on earth use are $1 notes in bargaining?

The currency of the PRC is yuan RMB, and the exchange against the US dollar fluctuates only within a narrow band. The typical exchange rate a tourist gets for cash is Y8.07. Black market exchange is available in some areas, but the margin rarely makes it worthwhile for the casual, non-Mandarin speaker on a short visit given the risks. Supposing the black market takes it as high as Y8.5 or so, perhaps Y8.8 for a large sum (and the last few times I've been accosted they were interested in changing thousands of dollars, not hundreds), and that vendors will take the risk to take advantage of this, that can also be taken into account when bargaining.

But forgive me if I fail to see the point of reducing your bargaining flexibility to working in units of 9 (rounded up) times the local currency, and reducing your choice of shopping destinations to those vendors who are willing to accept US$. Furthermore, anyone willing to accept these is probably doing pretty well out of you already if they are willing to take a notional loss in order to bank a bit of hard currency, that's only because there's plenty of margin coming out of the price you are paying anyway. Walking around waving foreign currency only makes you more of a mark for a mark-up than you already are: it screams 'TOURIST' as opposed to someone who's been in China long enough to know the ropes.

I did see someone from a tour company recommend that tourists bring US$100 in one dollar bills for use as tips (!) and small purchases (!). This is a gormless and patronizing piece of advice, and indicates that the tourist is going to be taken for a ride by the travel company in more than one sense. There is no tipping in China: you're already paying well over the odds for everything, often with service charges on top, so why insist on breaking with local custom to force yet further payment on those who've siphoned you already? Of course, they won't resist, but your tour company should have negotiated a price with them already.

If a hotel hears that the bell boy has hinted he wants a tip, it may well fire him, and quite right, too.

And what are these magical small purchases which only come in prices which are multiples of Y8 or Y9? I have visions of thirsty tourists parting smilingly with $1 notes to excited vendors (and finding this quite charming). The vendors are selling them soft drinks which should cost Y2.5. No wonder they're excited.

In short, change your money into RMB, try to interact with the local people as they really are and not as you imagine them to be, leave your one dollar bills at home, and reduce your costs.

'You need US$1 bills in China', however often it may be repeated here, is a myth along the lines of 'The Great Wall can be seen from space,' 'It's your last chance to see the Three Gorges', and 'You've done well if you bargain down to half the original asking price.'

Peter N-H
Aug 6th, 2002, 07:56 AM
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Thanks for the wonderful advice you have given on this board. We are leaving for China in 22 days - but who's counting ;-) .

Aug 6th, 2002, 01:53 PM
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I spent 5 months in CHina last year, and yes, there are ATM machines available (in major cities like the ones you are going to) but be aware that some of them are only available in Chinese, and you may not find this out until your card is stuck in the machine. Also, credit cards are very useful, but be prepared for them to tell you they don't accept your Visa or Mastercard, even though they have a picture stating clearly that they accept both. I came across this problem in a major department store, they insisted that I needed a Visa issued from a Chinese bank. If you stick to major tourist destinations, however, you probably won't have a problem (although both of these instances happened in Beijing). It is pretty easy, however, to exchange your money at a Bank of China, etc. I would avoid the black market, unless you feel you really know what you're getting into. Good luck, have fun!

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