The official currency of the People's Republic of China is the renminbi 人民币 "People's Money", often abbreviated RMB. The base unit of this currency is the yuan 元, international currency code CNY. All prices in China are given in yuan, usually either as Â¥ or 元. The RMB is not legal tender in the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, both of which issue their own currencies although occasionally it will be accepted on an unfavorable 1 to 1 basis with Hong Kong Dollars.

The yuan is currently hovering at ¥6.2 to the U.S. dollar and slowly rising in value Feb 2012.

Cheat Sheet

10 fen 分 is 1 jiao 角

10 jiao is 1 yuan 元, the base unit

yuan is commonly called kuai 块

jiao is commonly called mao 毛

10 is shí 十

100 is bǎi 百

1000 is qiān 千

10000 is wàn 万

The official subdivisions of the yuan are the jiao 角, at 10 jiao to the yuan, and the fen 分 at 10 fen to the jiao. The fen is extinct nowadays but may still be seen in less developed areas. A coin worth Â¥0.10 will thus say 壹角 "1 jiao", not "10 fen", on it. But in colloquial Mandarin, people often say kuai 块 instead of yuan, and the jiao is also dubbed the mao 毛. A price like ¥3,7 would thus be read as "3 kuai 7" although the trailing unit is usually omitted.

When dealing with numbers, note that for example wu bai san, literally "five hundred three", means 530 or "five hundred three tens", with the trailing unit dropped. The number 503 would be read as wu bai ling san, literally "five hundred zero three". Similarly yi qian ba, literally "one thousand eight", means 1800. When using larger numbers, keep in mind that Chinese has a word for ten thousand, wàn 万, and thus for example 50000 becomes wu wan, not wu shi qian.

A lot of Chinese currency will be in the form of bills — even small change. Bills are more common in some areas, coins in others, but both are accepted anywhere. Even the jiao, at just one tenth of a yuan, exists as both a bill the smallest and two different coins. Conversely, one yuan exists both as a coin and as two different bills. You should be prepared to recognize and handle either version.

tobacco products

While China has experienced a declining trend for smoking, it is still a popular habit and cigarettes 香烟 xiāngyān are generally cheap. Cigarettes can be purchased from small neighbourhood stores, convenience stores, counters located in supermarkets and in department stores.

Most mainstream Chinese brands sell at around ¥5-20 for a 20-pack. Popular national brands include Zhongnanhai 中南海 zhōngnánhǎi, Honghe 红河 hónghé, Baisha, Nanjing, Liqun, and Double Happiness 双喜 shuāngxǐ. Some local brands sold in certain regions can be much cheaper whilst others are more expensive. Chinese cigarettes are stronger than many foreign cigarettes 13 mg tar is the norm although Zhongnanhai is popular with foreign visitors, having a similar taste to Marlboro Light but only half the price. Western brands are available including Marlboro 万宝路 wànbǎolù, 555 三五 sān wǔ, Davidoff 大卫杜夫 dàwèidùfú, Kent, Salem and Parliament. Western cigarettes are a little more expensive - stick to major convenience store chains such as C-Store or Kedi as many smaller stores sell counterfeit or illegally imported cigarettes.

Premium-brand cigarettes are often ridiculously overpriced and are vary rarely smoked personally - they are usually offered as gifts or bribes as an expression of wealth. The two most famous 'premium brands' include Zhonghua 中华 zhōnghuá ¥60-100 and Panda ¥100. If you choose to buy them then stick to major department stores - those sold in neighbourhood cigarette stores are likely to be fake. Rolling tobacco and papers are rare in urban China. Lighters 打火机 dǎhuǒjī are usually cheap about ¥1 but flimsily made. Zippos are widely available but expensive.

Cigars can be bought from some specialist tobacco stores and Chinese-made cigars are surprisingly good - expect to pay around ¥20-30 for 10 locally produced cigars. Beware of fake western-brand cigars sold in bar-districts; they are usually terrible and ridiculously overpriced. Genuine Cuban cigars are available in cigar bars and upscale establishments in large cities but are often very expensive.

Duty-free stores in international airports, international rail stations e.g. Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou East and at land borders sell a greater range of imported brands - expect to pay between ¥80-150 for a 200-cigarette carton.


Counterfeiting is a serious problem. Anyone staying in China for a few months would have certain experience on it. From ¥1 coin, to ¥10, ¥20, ¥50 and ¥100 bills, all currency are subject to a risk. The very first lesson to survive in China is how to scrutinize notes and even coin. The main focus is on the texture of different parts, metal line, change of colors under different lights. Ask anyone how, all of them have their own way.

It is very common for a cashier to scrutinize the banknotes you use to pay a bill. Don't be offended; they are not suggesting that you're using counterfeit currency. They just need to be responsible. When you get change, do the same, scrutinize the banknotes you get, especially notes over ¥50. Salespeople may try to give you counterfeit money that they took from other customers as change.

Counterfeits from ATMs became a hot topic in recent years, although it is not common. If you are worried, withdraw your money from the bank counter and say "I worry about jiabi counterfeit". Bank staff seem to be very understanding on this.

It's not unheard of a non licensed money exchanger on China borders to change counterfeits to travelers. If you're not experienced in checking notes, you're highly advised to go to banks.

When you pay with a ¥50 or ¥100 banknote in a shop or taxi, it's socially accepted that you remember the last few digits of your currency number as you pass it. It's possible that they say that your banknote is fake, just make sure you get back what you gave them.


Opening a bank account in China is a very straightforward process. The "big four" banks in China are the Bank of China 中国银行, China Construction Bank 中国建设银行, Agricultural Bank of China 中国农业银行 and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China 中国工商银行. For locally-owned banks you only need your passport with a valid visa tourist visas are acceptable. Some banks such as Bank of East Asia will require proof of residence, but this restriction mostly applies to banks based in Hong Kong. For long-term travel or residence, a Chinese bank account is a very good idea. Depending on the bank, the PIN and/or ID may be required for withdrawals at the counter ask beforehand; some foreign banks only require a signature for withdrawal; if you're not comfortable with that don't open an account there although deposits can be made no questions asked if you have the bank book or card they issued with your account. Depending on the bank, the minimum initial deposit is ¥1-100 some multinational banks like Citibank or DBS require five-digit minimum deposits; these banks are to be avoided for the average person. You may receive a bank book in which will record all transactions and balances - including foreign currency balances. However, most banks in big cities offer card-only accounts by default; if you want a bank book you'll have to ask unless they don't issue ATM cards at all such as Shinhan Bank or Dah Sing Bank Banks usually charge a fee around 1% for depositing and withdrawing money in a different city than the one you opened your account in if opening with Woori Bank, they offer unlimited ATM withdrawals at any ATM in China until June 2011, and Wing Hang Bank offers free withdrawals anywhere in the world, with the card fee waived until 2014. ATMs are now present in almost all towns and cities except in the most remote areas. Many ATMs accept Visa, Mastercard, AMEX, Maestro, and Plus debit and credit cards although some only accept UnionPay and Pulse, Interac, or Link ATM cards.

Also, in Shanghai, most of the smaller local banks have relations with each other allowing for no-fee interbank deposits for any amount and withdrawals over ¥3000. Also, any Bank of Shanghai deposit-capable ATM can do deposits for any bank with a Shanghai-issued account.

Bank of ChinaBank of China ATMs are occasionally the only ATMs where an international bank card will work. This bank has good international banking experience.

China Construction Bank & Bank of AmericaBank of America and China Construction Bank have business ties, and because of this, Bank of America customers can use China Construction Bank ATM's without any fees to withdraw RMB.

China Merchants BankThis bank gets best reviews from expatriates as of July 2009.

Standard CharteredThis bank is also very expat-friendly it is based in the UK, however branches outside the big cities are lacking. They offer unlimited interbank ATM withdrawals within the city the card was issued in as long as the amount drawn is over ¥2000 each time and they also offer multiple foreign-currency investment products.

Woori BankIt has even fewer branches than Standard Chartered, but offers the Shanghai Tourist Card, which gives discounts at assorted restaurants and half-price tickets to various attractions, as a debit card. Locally-owned banks only issue this as a credit card, which foreigners can't get, so this is the better choice if traveling to Shanghai. They also offer unlimited free ATM withdrawals anywhere in China. As a Korean bank, they typically cater to Koreans and it shows in the level of customer service.

ICBCVery difficult to get complete bank statements from them. The largest bank in China.

Do note that if you are employed in China, you may not get a choice: many companies and schools deposit into only one bank, and therefore you must have an account with that bank to get paid.


Antiquities Banned From Export

China's government passed a law in May 2007 banning the export of antiques from before 1911. It is thus illegal to take antiques out of China. Even antiques from before 1911 bought in proper auctions cannot be taken out of the country. As violation of this law could lead to heavy fines and a possible jail term, it would be wise to heed it. However if you let vendors know you are aware of this law they may lower their prices since they know you know their "antiques" really aren't Ming Dynasty originals.

As China's emergent middle class finds itself with increasing amounts of disposable income, shopping has become a national pastime. A wide range of goods are available to suit any budget.

Do not expect everything to be cheap. The prices of imported brand name items, such as camping equipment, mountain bikes, mobile phones and electronics, cosmetics, personal care products, sportswear, cheese, chocolate, coffee and milk powder are often higher than overseas. Many Chinese tourists would buy such items in Hong Kong, not in mainland China.

In most brand name shops, upscale malls and supermarkets, the prices already have Value-Added Tax VAT and any sales tax included. Thus, anything with a marked price tends to be sold at that price or, perhaps, slightly below especially if you pay cash and do not require a receipt for your purchase. For unmarked goods, there is wide room for bargaining.

Regarding discounts, Chinese make sales using the character: 折 zhé which represented the fraction of the original price you pay. For example, 8折 refers to 20% off; 6.5折 is equal to 35% off.

China excels in handmade items, partly because of long traditions of exquisite artisanship and partly because labor is still comparatively inexpensive. Take your time, look closely at quality and ask questions, but don't take all the answers at face value! Many visitors come looking for antiques, and hunting in the flea markets can be great fun. The overwhelming majority of the "antique" items you will be shown are fakes, no matter how convincing they look and no matter what the vendor says. Do not spend serious money unless you know what you are doing, since novices are almost always taken for a ride.


While China is no longer the bargain destination it was during the 1990's, it remains quite affordable. Unless you are heading to Hong Kong or Macau, China is generally much less expensive - from a traveler's perspective - than industrialized countries. If you eat local food, use public transportation and stay in very inexpensive budget hotels or hostels then ¥200 to ¥300 is a serviceable daily backpacker budget. However, if you want to live an extravagant lifestyle and eat only Western food and stay in star-rated hotels, then even ¥3000 a day would not be enough. There is a high degree of variation in prices depending on where you go. Major cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou generally cost much more than second tier cities and rural, inland parts of the country. The boomtowns of Shenzhen and Zhuhai are also known for being expensive by Chinese standards. Nonetheless, many Hong Kong or Macau residents who live just across the border from Shenzhen and Zhuhai, respectively, who are generally more affluent than Mainlanders, often go to these cities to shop, play golf, and enjoy services like massage as costs are far lower.