Rénmínbì, or yuán (¥)
Budget: Less than US$75
- One-way hard sleeper Xining–Lhasa train: US$75
- Room without bathroom: US$8–12
- Meal in local restaurant: US$5
- One-way flight to Lhasa from Kathmandu: US$280–400
- One-way flight to Lhasa from Chengdu: US$180–260
- Daily shared vehicle rental per person: US$50–60
- Double room with bathroom: US$30–60
- Potala Palace entry ticket: US$30
Top End: More than US$150
- Boutique or four-star hotel in Lhasa: US$90–150
- Main course in a top restaurant in Lhasa: US$8–10
Basic bargaining skills are essential for travel in Tibet. You can bargain in shops, hotels and travel agencies, at street stalls, and with pedicab drivers, but there is one important rule to follow: be polite. Aggressive bargaining will usually only serve to firm the conviction of both Tibetans and Chinese that the original asking price is the one they want.
ATMs are available in Lhasa, Shigatse and a couple of other towns. Credit cards can be used in Lhasa. Otherwise bring cash US dollars and euros.
The Chinese currency is known as rénmínbì (RMB) or ‘people’s money’. The basic unit of this currency is the yuán, designated by a ‘¥’. In spoken Chinese, the word 'kuài' is almost always substituted for the yuán. Ten jiǎo (commonly known as máo) make up one yuán.
Several ATMs (自动取取款机; zìdòng qǔkuǎnjī) in Lhasa and Shigatse and even as far afield as Ali accept foreign cards. The Bank of China accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Maestro, Cirrus and Plus. Check before trying your card, as many ATMs can only be used by domestic account holders.
In Lhasa, the Bank of China also has currency-exchange ATMs that will change the cash currency of the US, UK, eurozone, Hong Kong and Japan.
ATMs have a ¥2400 transaction limit but no daily limit, unless set by your bank. ATMs at ICBC banks also sometimes take foreign cards. Cards are occasionally eaten by machines, so try to make your transaction during bank hours.
You’ll get very few opportunities to splurge on the plastic in Tibet, unless you spend a few nights in a top-end hotel. Most local tours, train tickets and even flights out of Lhasa still can’t be paid for using a credit card (unless purchased online). The few shops that do accept credit cards often have a 4% surcharge.
The Lhasa central branch of the Bank of China is the only place in Tibet that provides cash advances on a credit card. A 3% commission is deducted.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
In Tibet, the main place to change foreign currency is the Bank of China. Top-end hotels in Lhasa have exchange services, but only for guests. Outside Lhasa the only places to change money are in Shigatse, Purang (cash only), and Ali in far-western Tibet.
The currencies of Australia, Canada, the US, the UK, Hong Kong, Japan and the eurozone are acceptable at the Lhasa Bank of China. ATM currency-exchange machines accept the currencies of the US, the UK, the eurozone, Hong Kong and Japan but have a maximum of US$700 per transaction (no daily limit).
The official rate is given at all banks and most hotels, so there is no need to shop around for the best deal. There’s no commission to change cash.
The only places in Tibet to officially change yuán back into foreign currency are the central Lhasa branch and (less reliably) the Kyirong branch of the Bank of China. You will need your original exchange receipts.
Moneychangers at the Nepal border will change yuán into Nepali rupees and vice versa. Yuán can also easily be reconverted in Hong Kong and, increasingly, in many Southeast Asian countries.
China has a problem with counterfeit notes. Very few Tibetans or Chinese will accept a ¥100 note without first subjecting it to intense scrutiny, and many will not accept old, tattered notes or coins. Check the watermark when receiving any ¥100 note.
Getting money sent to you in Lhasa is possible, but it can be a drag. One option is to use the Bank of China’s central office in Lhasa.
The second option is via Western Union (www.westernunion.com), which can wire money to one of several Postal Savings Bank of China outlets in Lhasa.
- Restaurants Tipping is not expected in restaurants or hotels in Tibet.
- Guides Approximately ¥35 to ¥50 per day per person.
- Drivers Approximately ¥25 to ¥30 per day per person.
Travellers cheques are rarely used these days but can be useful in Tibet. Besides the advantage of safety, travellers cheques actually get you a slightly higher exchange rate than cash. US dollar cheques from the major companies such as Thomas Cook, Visa and American Express are your best bet.