For those planning to take advantage of the visa-free regime and travel to China shortly, it’s essential to understand that payments in China have completely shifted to non-cash transactions. Renowned Sinologist Adil Kaukenov provides advice for Kazakhstanis heading to China on his Telegram channel.
«Unlike many other countries, China’s digital leap has significantly complicated the use of cards. Money is accepted through apps like WeChat or Alipay, and the number of card-accepting devices is extremely limited. Therefore, paying with a card is largely not feasible.
Cash is also not very welcome, especially large bills, as change for large denominations is often hard to come by, turning each purchase into a quest. Nevertheless, cash is still cash.
However, there is an even more significant nuance here: exchanging money in China is extremely difficult for foreigners. The banks, after three years of quarantine, have simply become unaccustomed to currency exchange procedures with foreigners. The exchange process itself is quite strict, so banks often refuse to exchange money. In a city like Shanghai, historically having a large number of foreigners, exchanging money might be possible, but only in major banks. In more remote areas, this becomes a real problem that only local residents can solve using their identity cards (身份证).
For Kazakhstan, where exchange offices are ubiquitous in major cities, this sounds quite strange, but in China, currency exchange regulation is a serious matter, so it should be treated seriously. If you are willing to pay a commission, you can simply withdraw money from an ATM using a Kazakhstani bank card.
It is more convenient to use the Alipay app, to which you can link your Kazakhstani card. This is the best payment option in China, accepted everywhere. I linked my card to it, and everything worked perfectly. The only nuance is that you shouldn’t try to top up your Alipay account; this is only possible with a Chinese bank card. With a foreign card, you simply make payments, and the amount is directly deducted from your bank account. In China, no one dictates the number; on the contrary, you press the ‘pay’ button, a QR code appears on your phone that you scan at the seller’s, and the amount you need to pay appears on your screen.
WeChat Pay (微信) is also becoming more popular, seemingly allowing you to link a foreign bank card to your wallet. Unfortunately, my WeChat wallet is permanently blocked, so I can’t share with readers how well it works. It got blocked because, over the years of using WeChat, all my data changed: passport, phone number, address of residence, etc., so at one point, they just blocked it and don’t allow anything to be done with it.»