China Underground > Essential guide to China > Why You Can’t Rely on Cash in China

Why You Can’t Rely on Cash in China

When you decide to travel, one of the most important decisions you are going to have to make is how you are going to get more money.

Travelling with large amounts of cash on you is never wise but travelling with only one or two credit cards is also not the smartest. If you are heading to China, there are many ways you can decide to pay as you travel around this beautiful country. Let’s take a look at some of them and how they could help.

Cash is on the Out

Fewer and fewer Chinese shops are accepting cash. This is due to many businesses switching to a system of mobile payments and a social credit system. No matter what sort of business you are headed to, you will be able to pay with your mobile. From market stalls, to food trucks, to the largest of department stores, no matter where you are you will be able to pay with your smartphone instead of through more conventional means like cash. There is no doubt about it, it is becoming harder to use cash in China.

This change has had a major effect on the way vendors carry cash. It is rare to see 1 RMB coins in circulation and many shops won’t like it if you try to pay your way with them, though they will grudgingly accept them. Notes will do fine if you are in a public place but you should do well to note that you might anger the queue behind you if you don’t hand over the right change when paying for something at a street stall.


One of the best ways to pay for goods in China is through WeChat. No matter where you visit, from bazaars to supermarkets, you will notice QR codes beside each till. If you stay a little while and watch a local buy something, they will scan this QR code when it comes time to pay. The app they are using to do this is called WeChat.

WeChat is the biggest communications app in China and it is also beginning to gain traction in other countries like Australia. People can use it to send texts and voice messages to each other, but there is also an inbuilt payment system. It makes use of the smartphone’s camera and reads the data in the QR code to know how much money to transfer to the merchant’s payment system.

While this might not be needed for tourists who are only going to visit for a short amount of time, anyone who is going to be in China for a significant period should install WeChat on their phones to help them acclimatise to local life faster.

Getting WeChat and ensuring that your closest loved ones back home also have it is a good way of making sure that you are always able to communicate with them. Remember that communication methods you are used to back home like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger won’t work in China without a VPN.

Credit Cards

As a back-up you should always make sure you have access to some credit cards. While you might need to open an account with the Bank of China if you are going to be working there for a certain time period, you will probably want to maintain your bank accounts back home too. This means that you should look up some zero foreign transaction fee cards so that you will not get charged anything extra while you are away.

It can be difficult enough trying to complete a currency conversion in your head without also having to remember to include a transaction fee on top of it. If you instead know that you are not going to be charged an extra fee every you use the card, you can shop more confidently.

Another advantage of having such a credit card, even if you are just travelling, is that you always know that you have an emergency fund to fall back on. No matter what might happen to you, you are always going to have a little money to help you out of any given situation. If you are thinking of travelling with this sort of contingency fund, make sure you conceal it well so you do not lose it.

Travel Confidently

Physical cash may be on the way out in China but that does not mean that you will be left without a way to pay. With a combination of paper money and new styles of pay like those offered through WeChat, you will have no problem paying for anything you could need.

It might need a little preparation, but it is entirely possible to set yourself up to travel through China unheeded in a financial sense. Take a look at what WeChat has to offer you and consider getting the right sort of credit card to help you out now.

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