Getting Cash in China

Since I have an upcoming assignment in China I tried out a couple avenues to get cash on a recent trip to China last month. The last time I was over in China was 3 years ago and at that time it was very hard to find an ATM that took US cards so I pretty much relied on the hotel to pull cash from my credit card.

Times have changed. There now seems to be an abundance of ATMs and its easier to use credit cards. I tried a couple different transactions while there to see which ones were more efficient:

Also I have read/seen from numerous sources that Capital One Credit Cards are the best to use since they don't charge exchange fees. I have a Capital One Card (currently with a 0% balance transfer) that I will likely use as my primary purchase credit card in China, but didn't use it on this trip since it still has the balance transfer on it.

Here is a quick summary of the transactions:



US Amount

Exch. Rate

AmExp (Purchase)

$ 1,100.00

$ 146.50


Chase Visa (Purchase)

$ 1,039.00

$ 138.89


HSBC Savings Account (ATM)

$ 1,500.00

$ 196.11


This isn't really a fair comparison -- all three of these transactions were used to put local currency in my pocket. The AmExp transaction was at the hotel, but they charged an additional 10% commission. The Chase Visa transaction was eating dinner with some coworkers and having them pay me their cash and I charging the bill. The HSBC Savings Account was done at an actual HSBC ATM and I was able to pull money directly out of my savings account without any transaction fees.

I was really excited to see my HSBC Direct Savings Account let me pull local currency from the account and didn't appear to charge me extra fees and seems to have the best overall exchange rate (likely because they don't charge the foreign currency fee the credit cards do).

This is good news for my assignment. I may not even need to open a local checking account unless I need one to rent an apartment (or pay the rent).

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Comments (4)

I have an HSBC Checking account in the USA. I lived in Paris last year for 6 months, and I was withdrawing cash from the HSBC ATM over there, and paying for grocery, etc without paying any fees (just the exchange rate). I paid for everything by cash and saved money and other fees that other credit cards charge. HSBC has a huge numbers of ATMs...In Paris alone I counted over 30! I bank with them, and almost every country I visit, I tend to find ATMs by HSBC. It is a good way to go for short travel and assignment, but if you live overseas for an extended period of time, you are better off getting a local credit card...for example, in Paris when I pay for my grocery via my ATM card, I get asked to show an ID, and they question you a bit, but if you have an ATM card from a local bank in Paris, you get a different treatment... Just keep these issues in mind...

Speaking of buying overseas - I brought something from an overseas vendor using my Citibank credit card and got charged a 3% currency conversion fee because the vendor charged the amount in his own currency. Huh? I asked why a bank charged a currency conversion fee. Basically, the answer I received was - because we can. If you don't like it, then do business with someone else. I finally got a one-time reversal of the charge but it was like pulling a wisdom tooth. I'll make sure to do as little business with anything Citibank owns.

Could you comment on withdrawing money in China as of July 08 (from US-based saving account)? I called them in June 08, the customer rep told me that HSBC would charge 3% currency transaction fee. I canceled my trip to China, so I am wondering whether the bank rep was correct or not. Is it still free getting cash in China free-of-charges?

Mike -- Ok when I withdraw money in China at an HSBC ATM, there are no separate line item fees associated with the ATM withdraw on my US account, just the withdraw amount. That being said there is likely a currency transaction fee built into the exchange rate as I have noticed the exchange rate has become worse relative to say my Capital One credit card exchange rate (but not very significant). I did have a friend tell me he received notice that the HSBC currency transaction fee went to 3% around November 2007, but I never saw any notice on this.

If you have any suggestions of a cheaper way to move money - let me know!

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