CHINA – The Yikatong card is a versatile pass that allows travelers to use the metro, buses, taxis, and make purchases at supermarkets, convenience stores, fast food outlets, and vending machines.

Yikatong (一卡通, meaning “one card for all”) or Beijing Municipal Administration Traffic Card, was introduced by the Beijing government in 2003 with the aim of increasing convenience for its citizens and reducing the use of cash. Initially used mainly as a replacement for traditional subway tickets, Yikatong is now widely accepted on all modes of transportation and can also be used to pay for various products and services within the city.

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Using the Yikatong card allows you to purchase various goods and services within the city. Photo: Trinh Hang

Using Yikatong, travelers can enjoy discounts on certain services and products, but more importantly, it helps save time and energy by eliminating the need to purchase tickets for each trip, wait in line at ticket machines, or struggle with preparing exact change when making payments for services and products. While most Chinese people prefer using mobile apps for payment, foreign travelers may find it difficult to use these apps, making Yikatong a practical alternative.

Apart from the plastic Yikatong card, most Chinese locals use the Yikatong app on their phones. However, foreign travelers who are not familiar with the app tend to stick with the physical card.

How to Purchase and Use Yikatong

Yikatong cards can be purchased at airports, subway stations, bus terminals, and numerous other locations throughout Beijing. Simply present your passport and payment to the vendor to obtain the card. A deposit of 20 yuan (around 2,74 USD) is required and will be refunded upon returning the card when leaving Beijing. As this is a small amount, many travelers choose to keep the card as a souvenir.

In theory, users can top up their cards with additional funds, but this is not possible for foreign travelers as the system only recognizes Chinese ID cards. Therefore, it is important to estimate the amount of money needed and load the card accordingly. For a 2-3 day stay in Beijing, 100 yuan should suffice, with 20 yuan as a deposit and 80 yuan for transportation via metro, buses, and taxis. All accepted locations have card readers, which will deduct the appropriate amount for the services used and display the remaining balance on the card. This makes it easier for non-Chinese speakers to travel and shop without having to communicate with drivers or vendors.

In case you have used up all the money on your card but still have time left in Beijing, you can purchase a single journey ticket to travel by metro or pay cash for each bus ride.

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The card reader displays the deducted amount and the remaining balance. Photo: Trinh Hang

Using Yikatong to visit popular attractions

The Great Wall of China (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

From anywhere in the city, you can use Yikatong to take the subway (3-4 RMB per trip) to Jishuitan station. From there, you will see a large bus station, where you can find the dedicated parking lot for bus route 877 – which takes passengers from central Beijing to Badaling – The Great Wall. When boarding the bus, simply swipe your Yikatong card and pay 12 RMB for the ticket. The journey takes about 70 minutes.

Summer Palace (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

This famous 800-year-old scenic spot was built during the Qing Dynasty by Emperor Kangxi and later renovated by Empress Dowager Cixi. To get there, use Yikatong to take line 4 of the subway to Beigongmen station or take bus routes 74, 374, or 437 to Yiheyuan Xinjiangongmen station. The cost for the subway or bus is around 4-5 RMB.

Ming Tombs (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

This complex of tombs was built by Ming Dynasty emperors and is known for its grand architecture. Use Yikatong to take bus route 314 to Dingling, Zhaoling, or Sacred Way.

Temple of Heaven (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

Built in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty and expanded during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, this temple is the most important architectural structure of that time. It is located in the center of Beijing and can be easily reached by taking metro line 5 to Tiantandongmen station (Exit A2) or by taking bus routes 36, 958, 122, 2, 20, 120, 6, 34, 35, 106, 110, 128, 525, 623, or 684.

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Using the Yikatong card for subway travel to tourist attractions. Photo: Trinh Hang

Forbidden City – Imperial Palace (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

This is the most magnificent architectural structure in China. The Forbidden City is located in the center of Beijing and can be reached using Yikatong to take subway line 1 to Tiananmendong station or by taking bus routes 1, 120, 2, 52, 59, 82, or 99 to Tiananmendong station. There are multiple gates to enter the Forbidden City, but you can purchase tickets and enter through the Meridian Gate.

National Stadium (Bird’s Nest Stadium)

The modern iconic structure of Beijing is located in the Olympic Park, surrounded by many other grand sports facilities. Take the subway line 8 or line 15 to Olympic Green Station (Beijing Olympic Park Station), exit at D or take buses 82, 419, 538, 645 to National Stadium East stop.

National Art Museum

This is where numerous masterpieces of painting, sculpture, and calligraphy are displayed. Visitors can use the Yikatong card to take metro line 5 to Dongsi Station or buses 101, 103, 109, 111, 128, 58 to Art Museum Stop.

With the Yikatong card, you can also travel to any airport, long-distance bus station, or high-speed train station within the city to reach other destinations. The card is valid for three years from the last time it was used.