One of the problems with traveling is having easy access to cash. When you are traveling in a foreign area like China, it is very easy to be concerned about having ready access to cash to pay for incidental expenses. I want to relate to you my experience with getting the cash that I needed directly from an ATM in Beijing, China.
When I was coming from the airport where my tour driver had picked me up, I found that I had no way to tip him. As soon as I exited through customs, my driver was waiting faithfully with a sign with my name on it. He whisked me out of the airport rapidly, completely foiling my original plan to get money from an ATM at the airport.
I could have gotten cash through a currency exchange booth or from any ATM that I found in the airport. I was sure that those ATMs would support my American ATM card. But alas I did not get a chance to test that theory.
So, on the way to the hotel, I relayed to my driver that I wanted to stop at an ATM. It was a little comical to get the message across to him, but it really was as simple as writing “ICBC ATM” on a piece of paper and handing it back to him. He immediately got the idea that this note and his tip were somehow linked, and took me to an ICBC ATM close to my hotel.
Previous to my trip, I had researched this issue on the internet. I read that most Chinese ATMs did not support American ATM cards. There was some indication that ICBC (Industrial Bank of China) ATMs did, but no real indication on the ATMs of the other banks. This, of course, could have been out of date information. There was also discussion that the ATMs had very long lines waiting to use them. So don’t expect it to be a fast experience.
With some uneasiness, I approached the ICBC ATM that my driver had taken me to.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the ATM carried a Visa logo. I had no trouble withdrawing the cash that I needed. I attempted to get 2000 RMB, but it would not let me. So, I withdrew 500 RMB, and came back another day to get more. That 500 RMB cost me $78.94 US, and an additional $5 non-bank atm transaction fee. There was only one person ahead of me, but they finished quickly. With fresh cash in hand, I was able to tip the driver in Chinese RMB currency. He was quite happy that we had taken this small detour.
After a little more research, I have found out that almost all ATMs will carry the visa logo. The only caution that I found was that there is generally a 1500 renminbi limit to an ATM withdrawal. That works out to approximately $240.00 US at a 6.3 RMB per $1 US. The withdrawal limit can vary according to your bank and the Chinese bank.
Due to this uncertainty, plan on withdrawing cash in some smaller amounts, such as 1000 RMB at a time. That is what I did on subsequent withdrawals. You can always try a larger amount, and then reduce the amount if that fails. And yes, you can expect your bank to add a small atm transaction fee similar to the $5 one that that I got.
From everything that I have read, this is the cheapest way to get US dollars into Chinese currency.
Remember. We are discussing travel in Beijing, which is a major city. In cities such as Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, you really should not have a problem. Once you leave the large Chinese banks such as ICBC or China Bank, there is no guarantee that your Visa backed ATM card will work.
So, if the idea of stuffing your bags with Chinese dollars before you arrive in China seems like an unnecessary hassle, it is. You can plan to use the Chinese ATM there much as you would here.
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