I have been asked many times if Credit and Debit cards can be used in China. The simple answer is YES, in most cities. Hongkong should be no problem, Shanghai and Beijing also should not pose too many problems. Nanning, Guangzhou and similar cities also should be OK.
Tips…although your card will be chip and pin you will in nearly all cases be asked to “sign for” do not let it out of your sight.
They can be used in the majority of the larger hotels, but not all cards will be accepted, in my experience VISA appears to be the most readily recognised and accepted. Before you leave for China, notify your bank (for Debit card) and the credit card company that you will be in China on the given dates, they will then flag up your account and you should not have to many issues. You may also still find after your first attempt at using either they will still be declined with the message “refer to provider”. Do not panic just phone your Bank or card company at your earliest. Tips…So always carry your card and bank contact phone numbers with you and also the numbers to report lost or stolen card.
On my last few visits to Nanning I used both my debit card and credit card in Hotels, Department stores and ATM machines with varying and erratic degrees of success. For instance, the ATM machines happily accept Debit cards but will vary on the daily amount given, I use Bank of China ATM’s only and found that at some Branches 2000RMB per day was permitted and others I was able to draw 3000RMB per day.
Tips…When the machines are empty of cash no indication was given, only that withdrawal was declined, it was only after asking the security guard (present in all Banks) that he informed me the machine was empty. So this could be misleading as the first reaction is to think someone has cleared your account out.
Tips… Also worth noting in the Department stores credit cards are preferred.There are numerous “pay” counters scattered around where you pay for your purchases, these vary in what they will accept, it is worth pointing out to the sales assistant that you will be paying by International card, she will then direct you to the correct counter. Internet connections are variable in China and as these transactions require Internet connection, sometimes this will be down and once again you will not be able to use your card. So in summary, Larger Hotels, Department stores and restaurants will in most cases accept International Credit cards and ATM’s will accept Debit cards.
Tips…Beware, never let the card out of your sight. Although your cards will be chip and pin it is highly likely that all transactions will be “sign for”
Do not be fooled by the reaction you might receive in smaller shops, they will appear at first to accept your card and go through the process of purchase, it is usually at this point the machine will reject it as they are not allowed to accept international transactions (only domestic transactions), it is likely that the shop staff have never encountered this before and it will throw them into orbit, managers will appear, your card will be passed from one to another, do not let it out of your sight and finally when all else fails they will probable offer to walk you to the nearest ATM to draw the cash. This happened to me in Nanning on my first visit, I declined there kind offer and walked away and ended up purchasing a similar product in the larger department store using my credit card.
Tips… When you do make purchases remember the Chinese are great hagglers. The only places where the prices are usually fixed and not negotiable are the large department stores but it might be worth a go. Everywhere else, especially the street vendors, Haggle, Haggle, Haggle the prices can be talked down. Ideally let a Chinese national do this for you. They know how to do it… and stay out of sight yourself, as soon as there is a glimpse of a westerner the price will double.