The Chinese currency is known as rénmínbì (RMB), or ‘people’s money’. Officially, the basic unit of RMB is the yuán (¥), which is divided into 10 jiǎo, which again is divided into 10 fēn. In spoken Chinese the yuán is referred to as kuài and jiǎo as máo. The fēn has so little value that it is rarely used these days. It’s generally a good idea to keep ¥1 coins on you for the metro (some ticket machines frequently take only coins) and buses.
The Bank of China (中国银行; Zhōngguó Yínháng) issues RMB bills in denominations of one, two, five, 10, 20, 50 and 100 yuán. Coins come in denominations of one yuán; one and five jiǎo; and one, two and five fēn (the last are rare). Paper versions of the coins circulate, but are disappearing.
ATMs are widespread and generally accept Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus and Maestro cards. Most operate 24 hours. Bank of China and the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China are the best bets.
You can change foreign currency at money-changing counters at almost every hotel and at many shops, department stores and large banks such as the Bank of China and HSBC, as long as you have your passport; you can also change money at both Pǔdōng International Airport and Hóngqiáo International Airport. Some top-end hotels will change money only for their guests. Exchange rates in China are uniform wherever you change money, so there’s little need to shop around.
Whenever you change foreign currency into Chinese currency you will be given a money-exchange voucher recording the transaction. You need to show this to change your yuán back into any foreign currency. Changing Chinese currency outside China is a problem, though it’s quite easily done in Hong Kong.
Very few Chinese will accept a ¥50 or ¥100 note without first checking to see if it’s a fake. Many shopkeepers will run notes under an ultraviolet light, looking for signs of counterfeiting. Visually checking for forged notes is hard unless you are very familiar with bills, but be aware that street vendors may try to dump forged notes on you in large-denomination change.
Credit cards are more readily accepted in Shànghǎi than in other parts of China. Most tourist hotels will accept major credit cards (with a 4% processing charge) such as Visa, Amex, MasterCard, Diners and JCB, as will banks, upper-end restaurants and tourist-related shops. Credit hasn’t caught on among most Chinese, and most local credit cards are in fact debit cards. Always carry enough cash for buying train tickets and for emergencies.
Check to see if your credit-card company charges a foreign transaction fee (usually between 1% and 3%) for purchases in China.
Call your card's emergency contact number in case of loss.
- Restaurants Never tip at budget eateries; some (midrange and up) restaurants will levy a service charge, so check your bill first.
- Bars No need to tip in bars or clubs.
- Hotels Porters at midrange and high-end hotels may expect around ¥5 per bag.
- Taxis No need to tip.
As ATMs are so plentiful and easy to use in Shànghǎi, travellers cheques are far less popular than they once were. Stick to the major companies such as Thomas Cook, American Express and Citibank.