ATMs in big cities and towns. Credit cards less widely used; always carry cash.
Bank of China and the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) 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.
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. Bank of Nanjing ATMs waive the withdrawal fee for members of the Global ATM Alliance (enquire with your bank).
If you plan on staying in China for a few weeks or more, it is advisable to open an account at a bank with a nationwide network of ATMs, such as Bank of China or ICBC. HSBC and Citibank ATMs are available in larger cities. 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$). The Hong Kong dollar 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 always carry enough cash. The exception is in Hong Kong, where international credit cards are accepted almost everywhere (although some shops may try to add a surcharge to offset the commission charged by credit 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.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- Credit cards Credit and debit cards are increasingly accepted in tourist towns and big cities, particularly Visa and MasterCard. Ask if bars and restaurants take cards before ordering.
- ATMs There are 24-hour ATMs 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 carry enough cash.
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. Lhasa has ATM-style currency exchange machines that can change cash in several currencies into rénmínbì 24 hours a day, with your passport.
Keep at least a few of your exchange receipts. You will need them if you want to exchange any remaining RMB you have at the end of your trip.
- 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.
- Hotels Porters may expect a tip.
- 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 banks such as the Bank of China or ICBC.
Stick to the major companies such as Thomas Cook, Amex and Visa. In big cities travellers cheques are accepted in almost any currency, but in smaller destinations, it’s best to stick to big 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.
Paying for purchases with a smartphone app or a phone itself has become a common practice in the larger cities in China, particularly in large stores and chains. Plenty of convenience stores, fast-food restaurants, cafes, ride-sharing cars and online stores accept electronic payments from digital wallets paid through apps such as WeChat and Alipay.
For a visitor, the only accessible system that allows foreign cards is Apple Pay, 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.