I have lived in China on and off for the past five years. Yet over the years I have seen many expat tourists and residents make the mistake of eating ATM fees by using their American bankcard when they simply do not have to. There are ways to get around this. In my time in the Asian nation, I have only given an ATM fee once, and that was because it was a minor emergency.
So if you are heading to China on business, for leisure travel, or for study, learn how to avoid ATM fees. Some banks may charge up to a four percent charge. I have learned the ropes of exchanging money here, and that is just absolutely unnecessary.
1. Sign up for a bank account with a United States financial institution that has cooperation with a Chinese bank. Be sure to check with your home bank first to see if they have any such partnerships. For example, before heading to China my first time, I realized that Bank of America (BOA) and China Construction Bank had just started a partnership that would allow Bank of America account holders to withdraw money from China Construction Bank ATM machines for no fee. I was astounded, and immediately signed up for a checking account with BOA. What this has allowed me to do since then is exchange US Dollars for Chinese Yuan at such ATM’s within China at the market exchange rate.
2. Bring cash in US Dollars or whatever your home currency is. Most countries, with the exception of some Asian nations, do not yet offer reasonable exchange rates for the Chinese Yuan. However, Chinese banks like Bank of China, the Agricultural Bank of China, and others, offer exchange rates that are very close to the current market rate. At the worst you will be losing a fraction of what you would have lost had you simply used a US bankcard that had an international transaction charge. When carrying such cash across borders, be sure to have the money safely concealed on your person. I like to hide my money in a secret pocket in my laptop case; that way it never leaves my person.
3. Find a friend you know in China or in your homeland that has Chinese Yuan. Before I went the first time, I exchanged US Dollars for Chinese money with a classmate who had just returned from a vacation there. While this may not be an option for you, it’s worth thinking about who in your personal network has been there and seeing if they have any leftover Yuan. It can save you some dough in the end.
Author’s Own Experiences