Best Credit Cards When Traveling to China


best credit cards china travel

If you’re planning a trip to China, we bet that you’re excited! Whether you’re going as a tourist, a businessperson, or a student, you’re bound to have an interesting and enjoyable experience.

However, if you’re anything like us here at Credit Liftoff, there’s probably something else on your mind too. What are the best credit cards when traveling to China?

Simply put, this is a more complicated question than just choosing a top travel credit card.

In this article, we’re going to walk you through the entire topic of using credit cards in China. We’ll start with the basics, before wrapping up with some more concrete suggestions.

So, without further ado, let’s get started!

The Basics: Cash vs. Credit Cards in China

The symbol of the Chinese yuan, to help demonstrate the idea of cash versus credit cards in China.

Over the past several decades, China’s economy has modernized in a major way. Massive cities such as Shanghai and Beijing are as developed as any in the West, and credit cards are accepted in most places without issue.

That being said, these global cities are not representative of China as a whole.

Throughout much of the country, and especially in rural areas, cash is still king. Whereas over two thirds of American adults have at least one credit card, only 21 percent of those in China can say the same.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t bring credit cards to China, or that you shouldn’t expect to use them. It does mean that you should always have cash on you as well, in major cities but especially outside of them.

Additionally, you should always ask if a restaurant or store accepts credit cards before making any assumptions!

Now that you know the basics about cash vs. credit cards in China, let’s take a look at some general considerations about credit cards and traveling in general.

Credit Cards and Traveling

This image of an airplane is meant to illustrate the idea of traveling with credit cards.

Regardless of whether you’re flying halfway across the planet or taking a day trip across the border, there are some basic considerations that you should always make when planning to use credit cards internationally.

First of all, it’s important to always look into your cards’ foreign transaction fees. Many cards will charge you a minor percentage fee for every transaction you make abroad.

Though small, these charges can quickly add up!

So, especially when you consider that many credit cards charge no foreign transaction fees at all, it’s best to choose one of these for your international trip.

Next, it’s also smart to choose a credit card that will offer you some form of travel insurance for your trip. Learn more by checking out our in-depth guide to credit card travel insurance!

Another important consideration is what sort of trip you’ll be taking. For instance, if you’re vacationing, you might be eating out at a lot of restaurants. Think about what you expect your trip expenses to be, and choose the right rewards card accordingly.

Finally, always remember to inform you credit card company before traveling abroad! The last thing you want is to have your account frozen when trying to make a payment. Avoid this problem by letting your credit card company know where you expect to be ahead of time.

Now that you’re up to speed on traveling with credit cards in general, let’s get specific about using credit cards in China.

The Specifics: Credit Cards in China

Food is just one of the things you might purchase using credit cards in China.

Although China has grown increasingly integrated with the global economy, it’s still uniquely cut off from it in many ways. Many American companies that are ubiquitous around the world have seriously struggled entering the Chinese market.

Major American credit card companies are no exception to this rule! Companies such as Visa and Mastercard, for example, are not as widely accepted in China as they are nearly everywhere else.

Generally speaking, the most widely accepted American credit cards in China are those offered by Discover. This is because Discover has an exclusive agreement with UnionPay, China’s only national card payment network.

Discover cards are accepted everywhere in China that UnionPay cards are accepted. Essentially, this translates to every card payment terminal in mainland China!

With this in mind, arguably the best credit card to use when traveling to China is the Discover It Miles card (stylized as the “Discover it Miles” card).

As discussed in our article covering the top travel credit cards, this card charges no foreign transaction fees. It also offers 1.5 rewards miles per dollar spent, including on purchases made abroad.

What this all adds up to is a credit card that’s not only widely accepted throughout China, but also one that will reward you financially for using it. Not a bad deal, right?

Final Thoughts

If you have a favorite credit card from a company that isn’t Discover, don’t lose hope quite yet. Especially in major cities, there are many places where Visa, Mastercard, etc. are accepted. Just don’t assume that this will always be the case! When in doubt, you can always call ahead before making any major purchases.

We hope that you found this article helpful, and that you have a great trip to China!


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