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I currently live in the US and could get a UnionPay credit card from the local branch of ICBC. Would having this card be sufficient to never have to use cash or other forms of payments while traveling in China?

I could also sign up for Alipay if only having a UnionPay card is not sufficient or just withdraw cash for my trip.

  • Note that if you have a Discover or Diners card, you can use that at UnionPay terminals in China: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Card_reciprocal_agreements – k2moo4 Dec 22 '19 at 6:17
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    @k2moo4 Technically that's true, but many establishments don't enable international card processing for their POS terminals so they can't take any card issued abroad. – xuq01 Dec 22 '19 at 16:04
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Credit/debit card receptance in China is not great in that most smaller establishments do not accept plastic. If you want to get a drink or some chewing gum or anything like that, unless you go to a Seven Eleven or big chain store, then cards are probably not accepted. Same with restaurants: unless you go to a reasonably large restaurant that is at least mid-end, cards are likely not accepted. Most taxis don't take credit cards. So your best bet is still cash.

I remember when I was growing up in China, paying in cash was the norm unless one is going to a large supermarket or some fancy restaurant. Due to social norms, most people did not have credit cards. You would use cash for everything from hailing a taxi to paying the security deposit for your new apartment (yes, it was actually a thing).

However, when QR codes came in, cashless transactions soon became the norm because it was so easy and cheap to implement. QR codes (Alipay or WeChat) are accepted almost universally.

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  • You made the point I tried to make in my (now deleted) answer but you also have the local knowledge. – Willeke Dec 22 '19 at 16:17
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In China mobile payments rule, you are more likely to be denied using cash Han mobile payments like Alipay or we pay, even the beggars on the streets use we pay here these days.

Even out in the most rural areas mobile payments are preferred.

Taxi, public transport, malls, food markets and even high fashion brands they all accept and prefer Alipay or wechat.

In my daily life I never use cash these days in China, and I mean never. I exclusively use wepay or Alipay

NOTE how we on your UNIONPAY question, that a UNIONPAY card issued outside of China might not be accepted in China, even if it is issues by a chinese bank outside of China, most places n China accept foreign cards but there are still many that don’t and that sometimes includes foreign UNIONPAY cards.

So do not assume that your UNIONPAY card will work if issued outside of China.

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I'd like to say that cash is needed in China. Although most of the shops or markets accept the Alipay or WeChat pay, I think it will be complex for new user to use. There are two kind of ways to pay using Alipay or WeChay pay:

  • Cashier scan your QR code
  • And you scan shop owner's QR code

I will be a little difficult for a traveler or new user to understand. So my suggestion is that take your Union Card along side a Visa/Master Card and take some cash with you. Most large shopping mall accept credit card. But for most individual shops they only accept cash or Alipay/Wechat pay(because there is no service charges).

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