If you’re visiting China, you’ll want to stay informed of the financial basics. This guide will cover the Chinese currency, where to find money, and the banking essentials.
The official Chinese currency is the yuan renminbi which translates to ‘people’s currency’. The yuan is the basic unit of the renminbi, in the way that the British refer to the Pound Sterling.
Some resources will tell you that Chinese merchants can accept foreign currency. This usually only applies to expensive ‘shopping stops’ in touristy areas. In general, Chinese retailers will refuse to accept any foreign currency, so don’t count on it. Near Hong Kong, store owners might accept Hong Kong dollars, but the terms of exchange will be unfavorable.
| Names & nicknames | Yuan renminbi, yuan, renminbi, jiao, fen |
| Symbols & abbreviations | CNY, RMB, CNH, CN¥, ¥ |
| 1 CNY | One yuan is divided into 10 jiao, and there are 10 fen in one jiao. |
| CNY coins | Coins are available in denominations from 1 fen to 1 yuan. However, as prices increase, Fen and jiao denominations are increasingly unnecessary. Coins under ¥0.1 aren't frequently used. Chinese retailers avoid decimal values such as ¥19.99 in favor of integer values of yuan like ¥19. |
| CNY banknotes | Renminbi banknotes are printed in denominations from 1, 2, and 5 jiao, and ¥1, ¥2, ¥5, ¥10, ¥20, ¥50, and ¥100 yuan. |
The Chinese exchange rate is regulated, so you don’t have to worry about where to exchange your money in China. Unlike most other places, the airport exchange rate is fair. International airport kiosks will offer the same rates as ATMs. However, they'll probably charge transaction fees, so you’re better off finding an ATM.
More often than not, you'll find a better exchange rate in China than you will back home. There are several major Chinese banks that are open 24 hours a day and will exchange your money. However, it’s a good idea to leave home with a few hundred CNY to get you around when you first arrive.
Save receipts of your currency exchange transactions. Without receipts, banks won't exchange yuan back into your home country’s currency. Large hotels will exchange limited amounts of currency. Be sure to avoid exchanging currency on the black market from street vendors. You're likely to get fake bills.
The CNY used to be pegged to the dollar but the peg was lifted in 2005. The yuan has now moved to a managed floating exchange rate based on market supply and demand of a basket of foreign currencies.
Beginning in January 2010, Chinese and non-Chinese citizens have an annual exchange limit of US $50,000. Exchange can proceed only if the applicant appears in person at the bank and presents a valid passport or Chinese ID.
Note that it isn't customary to tip in China. If you try to tip a cab driver or a waiter, it's seen as condescending. An exception applies to bellboys at 5-star hotels, who have become accustomed to international travellers.
Don’t bother to bring traveller’s cheques to China. They're an antiquated method of carrying cash abroad. Many banks won't change them, and you may have to spend time hunting for a shop or bank that will process them. If you feel unsafe using ATMs or banks in China, take out cash before you go.
Many areas of China won't accept credit cards or debit cards, so you always need to have some cash. Cash is widely accepted at markets, small restaurants and for transportation. Credit cards are only accepted in hotels and larger stores and restaurants. If you’re a foreigner, you may have to show your passport to prove your identity.
You're also welcome to bring cash to China and open a bank account in any bank. The rules for opening an account aren't very stringent, and you'll receive a bank card for withdrawing funds all over the country at no fee. The card, which will have the ‘unionpay’ logo on it, can also be used to make purchases in stores and restaurants that accept it.
Counterfeit bills are rare, but they do exist. Reportedly, look for texture on Mao’s collar - if you feel it, then the banknote is very likely real.
China is rife with ATMs, and the country has one of the largest banking infrastructures in the world. Most ATMs will provide instructions in English and will accept international cards, but it’s prudent to bring a couple of different cards to China, in case one isn't accepted. ATMs are in all airports, and most hotel lobbies and department stores.
Cirrus/MasterCard,Visa/Plus, Maestro, and HSBC maintain ATMs in China. The maximum withdrawal might be lower than what you’d think; large withdrawals are viewed with suspicion. If you're anticipating spending a lot of money, it’s best to withdraw the money over the course of several days. Note that your bank will likely charge a withdrawal fee.
Listed below is a selection of larger local and international banks operating in China.
- Industrial and Commercial Bank of China
- China Construction Bank
- Agricultural Bank of China
- Bank of China
- China Development Bank
- ANZ Bank (China)
- Citibank (China)
- HSBC (China)
- Mizuho Bank (China)
- Standard Chartered (China)
- DBS Bank (China)
Alternatively, for simple access to the money you need while you’re abroad - and an even better deal - use TransferWise.
If you have a Unionpay card in China, or know someone who does, you can transfer money between bank accounts using the real mid-market exchange rate. It's a convenient way to get your cash, with no hidden fees.
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