yuán (元; ¥)
Budget: Less than ¥200
- Dorm bed: ¥40–60
- Food markets, street food: ¥40
- Bike hire or other transport: ¥20
- Free museums
- Double room in a midrange hotel: ¥200–600
- Lunch and dinner in local restaurants: ¥80–100
- Drinks in a bar: ¥60
- Taxis: ¥60
Top end: More than ¥1000
- Double room in a top-end hotel: ¥600 and up
- Lunch and dinner in excellent local or hotel restaurants: ¥300
- Shopping at top-end stores: ¥300
- Two tickets to Chinese opera: ¥300
Haggling is standard procedure in markets and shops (outside of department stores and malls) where prices are not clearly marked. There's no harm in coming in really low, but remain polite at all times. In touristy markets in Shanghai and Beijing, vendors can drop to as low as 25% of the original price. It's also a good idea to see what locals are paying at markets, so you know where you stand.
ATMs are plentiful in big cities and towns. Credit cards less widely used; always carry cash.
Bank of China 24-hour ATMs are plentiful, and you can use Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus, Maestro Plus and American Express to withdraw cash. All ATMs accepting international cards have dual-language ability. The network is largely found in sizeable towns and cities. ATMs at the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) may work with international cards, but not in every destination. We list ATMs that take international cards for each destination, unless they do not exist, in which case you will be advised to take enough cash to that destination.
The exchange rate on ATM withdrawals is similar to that for credit cards, but there is a maximum daily withdrawal amount. Note that banks can charge a withdrawal fee for using the ATM network of another bank, so check with your bank before travelling.
Keep your ATM receipts so you can exchange your yuán when you leave China.
To have money wired from abroad, visit Western Union or Moneygram (www.moneygram.com).
The Chinese currency is the rénmínbì (RMB), or ‘people’s money’. The basic unit of RMB is the yuán (元; ¥), which is divided into 10 jiǎo (角), which is again divided into 10 fēn (分). Colloquially the yuán is referred to as kuài, and jiǎo as máo (毛). The fēn has so little value these days that it is rarely used.
The Bank of China issues RMB bills in denominations of ¥1, ¥2, ¥5, ¥10, ¥20, ¥50 and ¥100. Coins come in denominations of ¥1, 5 jiǎo, 1 jiǎo and 5 fēn. Paper versions of the coins remain in circulation.
Hong Kong’s currency is the Hong Kong dollar (HK$), which is divided into 100 cents. Bills are issued in denominations of HK$10, HK$20, HK$50, HK$100, HK$500 and HK$1000. Copper coins are worth 50c, 20c and 10c, while the $5, $2 and $1 coins are silver and the $10 coin is nickel and bronze. The Hong Kong dollar is pegged to the US dollar at a rate of US$1 to HK$7.80, though it is allowed to fluctuate a little.
Macau’s currency is the pataca (MOP$), which is divided into 100 avos. Bills are issued in denominations of MOP$10, MOP$20, MOP$50, MOP$100, MOP$500 and MOP$1000. There are copper coins worth 10, 20 and 50 avos and silver-coloured MOP$1, MOP$2, MOP$5 and MOP$10 coins. The pataca is pegged to the Hong Kong dollar at a rate of MOP$103.20 to HK$100. In effect the two currencies are interchangeable and Hong Kong dollars, including coins, are accepted in Macau. Chinese rénmínbì is also accepted in many places in Macau at one-to-one. You can’t spend patacas anywhere else, however, so use them before you leave Macau. Prices quoted are in yuán unless otherwise stated.
In large tourist towns, credit cards are relatively straightforward to use, but don’t expect to be able to use them everywhere and it's always a good idea to carry enough cash. The exception is in Hong Kong, where international credit cards are accepted almost everywhere (though some shops may try to add a surcharge to offset the commission charged by credit-card companies, which can range from 2.5% to 7%). Check to see if your credit-card company charges a foreign transaction fee (usually between 1% and 3%) for purchases in China.
Where they are accepted, credit cards often deliver a slightly better exchange rate than banks. Money can also be withdrawn at certain ATMs in large cities on credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard and Amex.
Mobile Payment Apps
Their use is complicated for foreign visitors, but local Chinese use WeChat (微信; wēixìn; WeChat Pay) and Alipay (支付宝; zhīfùbǎo) apps to pay for virtually everything from taxi rides and market vendors, to hotels and even donating to beggars in the street. Cash is, for the moment, still widely accepted, but China is increasingly a cashless society. Neither WeChat nor Alipay was useful for visitors at the time of writing as it was necessary to link a Chinese bank account to your digital wallet before funds could be received from any source. Check the latest before you head to China as things could change. It is still fine to use cash (or credit cards, where they are accepted) in most instances, though you may find taxi drivers no longer carry much change, so try to carry small notes when hailing a cab.
For a visitor the only accessible system that allows foreign cards is Apple Pay, which is accepted where you see the Apple Pay or QuickPass logos. Payments are made by holding your compatible device against the payment machine and verifying with your fingerprint.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- Credit cards Credit and debit cards, particularly Visa and MasterCard, are increasingly accepted in tourist towns and big cities. Ask if bars and restaurants take cards before ordering and always carry enough cash.
- ATMs 24-hour ATMs are available at Bank of China and ICBC branches.
- Changing money You can change money at hotels, large branches of Bank of China, some department stores and international airports. Some towns don’t have any money-changing facilities, so make sure you take enough cash.
- Mobile Payment Apps Chinese widely use the mobile payment apps WeChat Pay and Alipay, but their use is not straightforward for foreign travellers.
It’s best to wait till you reach China to exchange money as the exchange rate will be better. Foreign currency and travellers cheques can be changed at border crossings, international airports, branches of the Bank of China, tourist hotels and some large department stores. Hours of operation for foreign-exchange counters are 8am to 7pm (later at hotels). Top-end hotels will generally change money for hotel guests only. The official rate is given almost everywhere and the exchange charge is standardised, so there is little need to shop around for the best deal.
Australian, Canadian, US, UK, Hong Kong and Japanese currencies and the euro can be changed in China. In some backwaters it may be hard to change lesser-known currencies; US dollars are still the easiest to change.
Keep at least a few of your exchange receipts. You will need them if you want to exchange any remaining yuán you have at the end of your trip.
- Hotels Porters may expect a tip.
- Restaurants Tipping is never expected at cheap, and many midrange, restaurants. In general there is no need to tip if a service charge has already been added, so check your bill for one.
- Taxis Drivers do not expect tips.
With the prevalence of ATMs across China, travellers cheques are not as useful as they once were and cannot be used everywhere, so always ensure you carry enough ready cash. You should have no problem cashing travellers cheques at tourist hotels, but they are of little use in budget hotels and restaurants. Most hotels will only cash the cheques of guests. If cashing them at banks, aim for larger ones such as the Bank of China or ICBC.
Stick to the major companies such as Amex and Visa. In big cities travellers cheques are accepted in almost any currency, but in smaller destinations it’s best to stick to currencies such as US dollars or UK pounds. Keep your exchange receipts so you can change your money back to its original currency when you leave.