ATMs in China: Where to find them, fees and more

Tommy Buckley

China isn't just a country, it's a fascinating mix of centuries-old traditions and cutting-edge technology, a blend that makes every moment here a discovery. You're about to step into a world where history dances with the future, from ancient dynasties and the Great Wall to futuristic skyscrapers and bullet trains. And don't worry about the food - you're in for a culinary rollercoaster ride!

But let's talk money - after all, you'll need some cash to pay for that delicious Peking Duck or a souvenir from the bustling markets. China's banking system is super easy to navigate, with ATMs nearly everywhere, whether you're exploring the energetic streets of Beijing or soaking in the tranquil beauty of Guilin. So, pack your bags and buckle up; your exciting Chinese adventure is about to begin!

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Read on to find out more about using ATMs in China.

Where do I find an ATM in China?

China is very ATM-friendly. ATMs are a common sight in major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. You should also find ATMs in more rural areas, but it’s best to make withdrawals beforehand just in case.

China’s ATMs are operated by Union Pay, which has a convenient online ATM locator. Unfortunately, because most ATMs are located in bank lobbies and shopping centres, they aren’t accessible 24 hours a day. Many ATMs also tend to run out of cash at the weekend, so it’s best to think ahead and get cash during the week.

Will my credit or debit card work in China?

Most Chinese ATMs accept Visa (Plus), Cirrus and Maestro. They accept both chip-and-pin cards and cards with only a magnetic stripe on the back. There are also special ATMs for foreign cards in many major business and shopping areas.

You can check whether an ATM accepts your card by looking for your card’s logo. Alternatively, find the nearest ATM on Visa’s online locator or MasterCard’s online locator)

Your bank can confirm whether your card will work in China (and which card network it belongs to). You should also advise your bank you’ll be abroad. This removes the risk of your card being blocked because your transactions are suspiciously unusual.

Language and keypads

While a lot of the signage on ATMs is in Chinese, most ATMs do offer at least an English language option. Especially in popular business and tourist areas, many ATMs also have other languages available - usually French, German, Italian and Spanish.

That said, different ATMs tend to have different keypad layouts. Sometimes the keypad runs from zero to nine, while other times the keypad runs from nine to zero. Always check the layout before keying in your number, as inputting the wrong PIN three times will result in your card being swallowed by the machine. You’ll need to go to a branch with your passport and provide the correct PIN in order to recover it.

PIN length

Chinese banks use six-digit PINs. Some ATMs may accept a four-digit PIN, but others may not. If an ATM requires a six-digit PIN, adding two zeros to the front of your number often does the trick. However, do ask your bank to confirm this beforehand.

Withdrawal limits

Chinese ATMs have daily and per transaction withdrawal limits. These can vary from bank to bank. As a general rule, however, you can withdraw CNY 2,500 per transaction and a maximum of CNY 20,000 per day.

Your bank back home may also impose daily and per transaction withdrawal limits. Ask about this before your trip.

What are the fees on my card?

Chinese ATMs charge fees. The exact amount varies from bank to bank, but is usually between CNY 20 to CNY 30 per transaction.

Your home bank may also charge fees. If it does, they’ll be added to the fee charged by the Chinese ATM. You can usually expect your bank to charge a withdrawal fee and a foreign transaction fee.

Your money is converted into Chinese currency using the mid-market rate, which means you’ll get the fairest exchange rate possible. However, this only happens when you choose to perform the transaction in the local currency. Choose to be charged in your home currency, and you’ll be in for a nasty surprise, as the ATM will make up an exchange rate for you.

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Wise will not charge you for these withdrawals, but some additional charges may occur from independent ATM networks.

How can I avoid paying ATM fees?

Don’t let high fees discourage you from using a Chinese ATM. Here’s how you can avoid them or keep them low.

Use a fee-free network

Because it’s a major business and holiday destination, many large international banks have branches and ATMs in China. These include HSBC, Citibank and Scotiabank.

If you’re a customer of one of these banks in another country, you can use their ATMs in China without paying an ATM fee. This applies to all Citibank and Scotiabank customers, but only to Advance and Premier HSBC customers.

While none of China’s banks form part of a fee-free network, Scotiabank is a member of the Global ATM Alliance. If you’re an alliance member’s customer, you can use Scotiabank’s Chinese ATMs free of charge. Your bank may also have a special arrangement with a Chinese bank that would allow you to make withdrawals fee-free or at a reduced cost.

Use a fee-free card

Some banks have cards that don’t incur foreign transaction fees. These include Charles Schwab and Metro Bank. If you travel often, it may be worth considering opening an account with one of these banks.

If switching to a different bank isn’t something you’d consider, you should still have a look at your bank’s fees. Sometimes using a particular card will work out cheaper, because it has lower fees. Debit cards often have cheaper fees than credit cards. In addition, credit card companies charge interest, because withdrawals are considered loans. If you are traveling to Europe here is a useful list of the highest ATM fees in Europe.

Use Wise

As mentioned above, you can also sign up for a Wise international debit card making it easy to spend like a local, and with our multi currency account manage your money while abroad through our newly redesigned application without the hassle.²

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