Overcrowding aside, Beijing has one of the world’s simplest and easiest-to-navigate public transportation infrastructures. Local government has done a superb job of designing the lines so that they’re easily accessible no matter where you are in the city.
But to use them, you’ll need a Beijing Municipal Administration Traffic Card, or Yikatong. This universal smartcard is used for all forms of Beijing public transit, plus a few more reasons that might surprise you: subways, city buses, airport express trains, public phones, long distance bus tickets, and even a few supermarkets all utilize the Yikatong for payments.
It’s as critical to most Beijing residents as a smartphone is to millennials. In other words, most rarely leave home without it. With near ubiquity and unmatched convenience, here are 4 things you’ll want to know about Beijing’s Yikatong.
1. Where can I get one?
You can snag your Yikatong at ticket offices in any Beijing metro station, certain bus stations and supermarkets, or any post offices in the city.
2. How much does it cost?
The cards are lent and require a deposit of CYN20 (about $3 USD). You must also add a minimum value of CYN20 ($3) for the credit to be used.
3. How do I use it?
Couldn’t be simpler. When using a city bus, just scan the card over the card reader. For the metro stations, place the card over the card reader both when entering and exiting. Trips cost CNY2 (roughly $0.30), unless you’re taking the airport express train. Those will cost CNY25 (about $4) each way.
4. Returning the card
Remember, the city of Beijing only allows you to “rent” the cards, so you’ll need to return it once you’re done. Fortunately for you, there are about 62 different subway stations, bus companies or branches of China CITIC Bank that you can return them to. Make sure there’s less than CYN100 ($15 USD) on the card prior to returning, and your deposit and balance can be refunded on the spot.