How I Saved Money on My Last Trip to China

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MANILA—Full disclosure: EastWest Bank is an advertiser.

But I wanted to write this story a month before they decided to advertise in China Business. See, I finally found a way to get rid of my forex headaches when traveling overseas.

Headache number one is having to stash multiple currencies at whatever current buying rate there is at the time of your travel. And then, you have to sell any leftover currencies at a loss when you come back home.

If you spent it all, you would have likely put some charges on your credit card.

If there’s a particularly juicy sale going on in Causeway Bay or Harajuku, you’re dead. You could be saddled with buyer’s remorse upon seeing your purchases in the light of tropical Manila (Where am I ever going to wear this?!) or getting your credit card bill at the end of the month (I spent that much? But my second suitcase wasn’t even full!)

Anyway, I was so busy leading up to my recent China trip, I had no time to pass by BDO. I usually buy my forex at BDO because I can just call to reserve some and pick it up when it’s ready. I timed the transaction once. I was out of the bank in five minutes and didn’t even have to pay for the ridiculously high parking fee in Greenhills. Full disclosure: The SM Group is also an advertiser.

I may have run out of time to buy currency, but I remembered I still had some credit left on my EastWest Travel Money card.

Thump that forex

Travel Money is a prepaid card that is like carrying six currencies in your wallet: USD, HKD, JPY, EUR, AUD, and GBP. But unlike a credit or debit card, the currency in your Travel Money is not subject to forex fluctuations.

All I need to do is monitor the buying rates and load my card when they are cheapest.

So what happens when I can’t load my card with, for instance, RMB? It wasn’t a problem. I still could purchase items in yuan and the charges were reflected in pesos.

There was a small conversion fee on top of my RMB purchase. The fee was so small I hardly noticed it and it was definitely a cheap price to pay for the convenience.

Here’s an example: I bought a box of chocolate chestnuts for RMB79. It was Php563 in my currency converter app, but I was charged Php578. That’s only a Php15 difference. Factoring in the higher buying rate, that transaction really cost me only Php5.

If the currency of the country you’re shopping in is not among the six, expect a small surcharge.

I don’t know about you, but I like keeping my spending in check by deciding on a budget before I leave on a trip. Using a prepaid shopping card like Travel Money—which isn’t connected to my bank account or credit line—is a great way to stay within budget.

This service area is actually a gas station convenience store selling local Gansu delicacies. Many provincial stores don’t take credit, but major airports like those in Beijing and Shanghai do

China offline

During this hectic trip, I did all my pasalubong shopping at Beijing Capital International Airport on the way back to Manila. Unfortunately, many provincial airports (even more so, stores) in China do not accept credit cards.

I was at Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport (which has direct flights to Taiwan making it an international airport) so I thought I could use a card to purchase. I was wrong. “Cash only,” said the cashier in Chinese. It was only then I noticed the absence of a POS in which to swipe my card.

So, unless, you plan to restrict your shopping to the duty-free stores at big international airports like Shanghai Pudong or Guangzhou Baiyun, it’s still a good idea to buy a small amount of yuan.

Provincial prices are very low (a tenth or less of airport prices) at “service areas” (gas stations that have a warehouse attached where you can buy goodies). Especially useful for delicacies native to the province like nuts, beans, and preserved root crops.

One thing good though about duty-free shopping at China’s large international airports is you can be sure the food is clean and melanin-free. So, the next time you’re in China, or anywhere else in the world, try using a prepaid credit card.

EastWest Travel Money is powered by more than 30 million VISA merchants and ATMs overseas.

Print ed: 09/14

 

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