I see a lot of people with questions about what the best combination of (credit cards, cash, traveller's checks, and ATM cards) is to carry in China. I'll share my experiences here. If anyone else has any experiences to share, whether they were the same or different please share them here as well.
I arrived in China the first time from the border crossing from Boten in Laos to Mohan (and on to Mengla). I arrived in the middle of Chinese New Year, and Mengla was pretty quiet. I think maybe 2 banks were open at the time. At the time I had with me my Star/Plus/co-op networks ATM card, a Visa credit card, and American Express traveller's checks (U.S. Dollar-denominated). The cards were from a U.S. bank. The first bank we went to didn't accept any of those three things. The second bank only could do credit card advances.
I realize now I should probably have tried my ATM card, as there probably was and is an ATM in town that would have accepted them, but at the time our driver was waiting for payment. It was my first time in China, and I knew the most Mandarin of my fellow car-mates so I was a bit stressed out trying to help translate, and didn't think to wander around town trying every single ATM machine. Anyway, I'm sure the driver wouldn't have appreciated that.
Since then, in every reasonably sized city I've been in, I've been able to find a China Construction Bank (CCB), ICBC, or Bank of China (not People's Bank of China) ATM that accepted my ATM card. All three banks seem to generally accept foreign bank cards, Bank of China most reliably so. For example, in Xianggelila, where there is no Bank of China, Construction Bank ATMs take my card, but ICBC ATMs do not. Both CCB and ICBC ATMs worked for me in Shanghai, except for one ICBC ATM that I tried.
The way that I think about getting money in China these days is carrying both my ATM and credit cards around, using the ATM cards when possible, and the credit card to get a cash advance in a crunch, and getting enough money if I ever go to a smaller village where it might be difficult or impossible to exchange money.
I'd be curious to hear other people's experiences!
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