My Lifeline on the Little Plastic Card

My first visit to U.S. was around the year of2000. I prepared for the trip for almost 1 month – from visa, to map, to research, to exchange money, and to create plan… The excitement and curiosity made going aboard very different from going to other city to me.

However, after visiting U.S. for more than 10 times, to visit a U.S. city is not a big deal any more. It is just like a Beijing trip (and a Beijing trip is like visiting another area in the city).

Money? Where is my Money?

After Boeing 747 of UA 858 arrived in the San Francisco International Airport in the typically sunny morning in the bay area, I realized that I didn’t bring a penny of USD with me during the trip. I still have much Renminbi cash in my wallet, but no USD. I don’t worry about it at all, since I have a magic plastic card – the visa credit card with me, and hopefully, the trip will be OK with the card. The only problem I can think of is, how to pay the tip in hotel.

To travel with no local cash? Bay area seems to provide this opportunity. I remember my first trip to San Jose with 100 USD and some changes in cash, and turned out to bring the 100 USD note back. I just spent the money on tip in hotel.

Australia is not so Credit Card Friendly

We applied the same “credit card” only approach in Sydney this Oct, but failed. The first problem is, the shuttle bus does not accept credit card, so we have to take train. There are many places, like restaurants, and coffee where credit card was not accepted, or at least not welcomed.

In Shanghai? Never go out of airport without RMB cash. The taxi, metro, bus, and food court, for example, all accept cash only. Exchange RMB at airport before going out.

Chance to Exchange USD? Oh. No. Thanks

We witnessed how fast the world is changing. During the first few visit to U.S. in 2000 – 2002, the first thing I’d like to do after getting ticket and visa is to exchange 3000 USD of cash, no matter I needed it or not. At that time, the exchange rate was something around 8.28 RMB = 1 USD, and USD kept going strong. To go aboard was one of the only few opportunity for people in China to exchange some foreign currency. If someone wanted to buy something from outside, they have to trade USD in black market. Any cash people had can easily change back to RMB at much higher exchange rate. Even friends wanted to exchange some USD from you at higher rate you pay the bank.

Just within 4 years, everything changes.

First, people can trade USD pretty freely. With a national ID, people can exchange up to 20,000 USD per year. This was enough, at least people didn’t have to go to the black market just for some USD to buy a book on Amazon.

Second, USD consumption in credit card can be paid by RMB. There is no limitation on it. If I pay USD with my credit card, I can make up the balance simply by RMB.

Third, and most important reason, USD continue to go soft and I don’t want to hold too much USD in cash.

So in the last three trip, I didn’t exchange any cash at all. I have some USD changes that I will bring to U.S., just in case. However, this time I even forgot the changes.

The good thing is, from renting a car, to hotel, to restaurant, everywhere credit card is accepted.

Till now, I didn’t see any problem. What a risky game I am playing. Hope everything should be fine. I will report my the first place I met problem later.

P.S. I am just a small potato in the big wave of change in history. My personal experience in the city or on the road sometimes reflects the bigger change in someway.

9 thoughts on “My Lifeline on the Little Plastic Card

  1. correction: … In Shanghai? Never go out of airport with RMB cash. …

    with –> without

    Mistakes are tolerated, but it’s better without it. :)

    Keep on, Jianshuo!

  2. Liujie, you read the first draft of the article. Everytime I write something, I typically use 15 minutes to write it, and publish it, and then review the article and correct grammer and spelling mistakes at the review. This also takes about 15 minutes. So you will see some errors between my first draft and the reviewed version. Sometimes I simply cannot find time to review or review it carefully, so I admit there are many typos or errors in my blogs. Well. Finally my trade off was, try to write often, even time does not permit me to write perfectly.

  3. no problem with some typos because I can still understand your article.

    one time I lost all my cash while in New York City when someone cleaned out my wallet and I only had an American Express credit card left. I needed to get from my hotel back to the airport, so I called a limousine service using my credit card. Leaving the hotel with only a credit card was the most awkward part because I had to fight off the bell boys who wanted to carry my luggage and earn a cash tip for doing so.

  4. Pretty amazing, isn’t it? I’m in the US 11 months every year (the other month in Shanghai), and I only have RMB cash in my pocket. The only use for cash is to give to homeless people, and I don’t do that. :x

  5. Haha. The only cash I get is when I have to pay coworkers or friends with my card, and they pay me back in cash. I don’t have any use for cash here, I just end up depositing it at the bank.

  6. Jianshuo, some advices.

    Take two cards with you, and keep then in different places.

    Scan the pages in your passport, one page with visa and one page where your photo is, and give the copies to your travel partner (if you have one), or keep them in a safe place.

    Some day, an ATM will grab your card, and it is with 95% chance on a friday afternoon, so you can’t get your card back before monday at bank opening hours :-(

    In some cases, the card magnetic information strip will “not work”…

    (Happens frequently in China with Diners)

    The card must NEVER get close to magnetic things, as it erases all information (both chip and stripe cards).

    :-) Do NOT buy the very funny magnetic “longballs” to play with. Some day you will put them in your pocket, where your card is….

    If you are having troubles with your card, 300US$ in your money belt (a belt with a hollow space and closed with a zipper from inside) will do miracles, even for up to a week !

    Robberies happens in US. (It is the “land of guns”.)

  7. Carsten is right! This is a land of guns. I live/work in San Francisco, not far away from the Japan Town in SF. Burgularies/robberies happen regularly, and breaking car window/stealing from parking lot sort of things are not longer regarded as crimes, to my knowledge. So take care, jianshuo!

    BTW, I knew your blog while I was back in Shanghai, glad to know you are also in the Bay Area. Keep going and best luck!

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