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Beijing tips - ATMs / Cash Machines

Beijing is a very ATM friendly city.  There are many banks with many ATMs.  Unfortunately only about 50% of these accept foreign cards.  Still, this is still far better than supposedly modern cities like Tokyo, Japan. 

The main foreign friendly ATMs are controlled by the Bank of China.  Bank of China ATMs work in both Chinese and English (depending on your card), use the latest equipment, and are pretty easy to find.  They do have a habit of being over-used though, so sometimes they are out of cash, receipts or whatever.  Also, the connection to the overseas banking network tends to have a high down time.

Bank of China logo (above). External style ATM (right).  24 Hour banking facility with card-swipe access (left).

If you are told by a Bank of China machine that your transaction has been declined and to contact your bank, do not panic.  This often just means that the International network is unavailable.  You should try the other two banks mentioned or return the next day.

China Merchants Bank logo on advertising billboard (left) and internal style ATM (right)

If the Bank of China ATMs are not working for you, the next best bet is a Merchants Bank outlet (pictured above).  Their network seems to be a bit more stable, and seem to run out of cash less.  The problem is that Merchants Bank branches are few and far between.  Finding one is often difficult.

ICBC sign (above).  An advertising video plays whilst a  transaction is being processing in an ICBC ATM (left).  Internal style ATM (right)

Just recently another bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, has opened up most of its ATMs to the international network, allowing VISA transactions.

ICBC is a very common bank in Beijing and seems to have branches almost everywhere.  These banks are very popular however, and you may end up waiting in line to use one of these ATMs.


Using the ATMs (nothing to fear)

When you put your foreign bank card into a Beijing ATM it should give you the option to display English, or display both Chinese and English.  There are various different methods the banks employ to let you select language.  The Bank of China ATMs give the password screen in both languages, then on the select account screen, the options are given in two languages, English to the left, and Chinese to the right (pictured below right). 

On the select account screen (pictured right) it is essential that you use the left buttons to select your account as this is what determines the language you will be using from that point on.  If you mistakenly press the buttons on the right, you will be in Chinese from that point onwards.

Other banks, like ICBC, have a separate screen near the beginning of the process which lets you select your desired language (pictured below left).  At the end of some ATM transactions you will be given the option to continue or take your card (pictured below right).  This is because the transaction limits on most bank accounts is set pretty low.  The maximum you will be able to withdraw in one request is about 2500 RMB, sometimes as little as 1500 RMB.  You can press the continue button and try to get more cash out up to the ATMs daily limit. Most USA banks allow you about 5500 RMB per day, but this is controlled by your own bank.

As a result of the limits set on Chinese bank accounts and ATMs, you will often experience the hell of Beijing / China ATM usage.  You will join a queue of people at the ATM with maybe one or two people ahead of you.  However, each person will probably do multiple transactions, and often use many cards from many different banks before they have withdrawn their ideal sum of money.  This can be very frustrating, or amusing, depending on how much sleep you've had.

There are a couple of other banks which may accept foreign cards around Beijing, namely HSBC and Citybank.  These ATMs are extremely rare however.  Other internal Chinese banks almost certainly will not process your overseas transaction.

The ATMs mentioned here dispense Chinese RMB currency.  The money will be taken from your foreign bank account.  It will be converted to your home currency at a quite reasonable rate usually.  The commission and transaction charges will be dependent upon your own bank's policies.  If you are using an ATM / Debit card, usually the charges are comparable to drawing money in your own country (e.g.  Bank of America charges $3 per transaction, which is the same as if you used a non-Bank of America ATM in the US)   If you are using a Credit Card, you are usually talking about a "cash advance" which can be extremely expensive depending on your bank and how long you take to pay back the money.

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