Chinese Money: How Much Money is Enough for a China Trip

Chinese Money: How Much Money is Enough for a China Trip

We should never take money for granted – because without it your holiday would be spoilt. On your holiday in China you need to understand the value of the money in your hand in order to use it well.

5 Jiao Coin

What is the Chinese “dollar”? What currency does China use?

The main unit of Chinese money, what we could call the Chinese “dollar”, has several interchangeable names, which can be confusing.

You may hear Chinese money referred to as Renminbi (人民币), or RMB, which means simply “Peoples Currency”. So in this case you may see prices quoted like this: RMB 10

You may also hear the Chinese dollar referred to as “Yuan” (元). The abbreviation CNY is used, sometimes written as CN¥ or just ¥, and so you may see the same prices quoted as CNY 10.

You will commonly hear people use the word “kwai”, which is still exactly the same thing. The price would be stated as “10 kwai”.

There are also names for denominations smaller than an RMB / Yuan / kwai:

Jiao or mao are both the name for a tenth of a yuan. A fen is a hundredth of a yuan.

What are the denominator, buying everything with “plastic” on your bank cards. However, in China, you need to be comfortable handling cash. Your card will be useful mostly for withdrawing cash from ATMs.

If you take cash out of an ATM you will only receive red RMB 100 notes. However, this is too large a denomination for most transactions, so you will need to get hold of some of the others:

There is an RMB 50 note, which is a greenish blue, and an RMB 20 note which is brown. The RMB 10 note is blue, and the RMB 5 is brown. There is also a purple-brown RMB 1 note as well as a coin. All of these small denominations will be most useful at street stalls.

You will also find uses for the 1 jiao coin and note, and the 5 jiao coin and note. Occasionally you will even come across fen notes and coins.

What is Chinese money worth compared to other currencies?

Obviously exchange rates are changing all the time, and vary from one currency to another. However, as a general rule there are about CNY 5 – 8 to each western dollar. You can check the up to date exchange rate here: www.xe.com.

For example, at this particular time

  • The US dollar (USD) converts to CNY 6.2
  • The Canadian dollar (CAD) converts to CNY 4.9
  • The Euro (EUR) to CNY 7.7
  • The British Pound (GBP) converts to CNY 8.8
  • The Australian Dollar (AUD) converts to CNY 4.8

Sometimes it’s easier to consider the CNY 100 note in terms of your own currency. At the time of the above exchange rate, the CNY 100 note was worth about $16 (USD), or €13 (EUR), or £12 (GBP), or $20(AUD).

Using the same calculation, you can easily be aware of the value of a single Yuan in your own currency. For example, at the rate mentioned above, your Yuan is worth 15 ₵ (USD).

You may sometimes notice that items are a similar number of Yuan as you would expect to pay in your home dollars. For example, a $30 shirt may cost CNY 30. Clearly things are much cheaper to buy in China.

Food is especially cheap in China, partly because wages are so much lower. But generally everything is relatively cheap. Enjoy your wonderful holiday!

FAQs for preparing a trip to China:

1. How much cash should I bring when I fly to China?

Firstly, you cannot bring in more than $5,000 USD, or CNY 20,000, without declaring it and having the relevant paperwork.

You should only bring enough cash for your immediate needs, for taxi’s, snacks, and the like, for the first day or two. For many people that means CNY200-300, others feel more comfortable with CNY 500. You can change a little money at your bank before you leave home, or change money at the hotel, or draw out some money from an ATM in the airport.

Once you are settled into your hotel, you can draw money out from ATMs every few days as you need it.

2. Will my credit card be accepted?

You need to inform your bank before you go to China so they are not worried when charges are arriving from China.

If you have one of the common cards (Visa, MasterCard, Amex etc.) then your card will be accepted by ATMs.

You can use your credit card in most hotels and shops, especially in the big cities, but China is more of a cash economy and you would do better to be ready with cash, especially some of the smaller denominations to use at stalls and on public transport.

3. Can I use Travelers’ Checks?

Travelers’ Checks can be changed in some big banks and hotels, but they are actually far less convenient than credit cards. So not recommended.

4. Can I tip my tour guide and driver with US dollars?

As having been internationalized, tipping is now expected in China. You can tip in US dollars, as they can be quite easily exchanged, but you could just as easily tip in Chinese Yuan.

Some people like to also bring a number of small gifts from their homeland to hand to special people who have given loyal service.

5. Is there counterfeit money in China?

Be aware that there are counterfeit bills in circulation in China, especially the RMB 100 and RMB 50, so be careful. When you hand over your money in a Chinese shop or at a stall, you may observe the vendor examining it carefully to make sure that it is not counterfeit. They may simply rub a coin over it, or run it through a machine. Watch carefully to make sure they don’t switch the note, then hand back a counterfeit saying they can’t accept it. Money from ATMs will be okay, but any other time you are handed cash it may be worth feeling it carefully and comparing it with other notes (to make sure it is not too thin or smooth). You can also choose to reject a note and ask for another.

You may also like:

  1. Summary of China Travel Tips
  2. Is It Safe To Travel To China?
  3. What is a Chinese overnight train like?
  4. How can I travel safely if I have Allergies?
  5. Why are Chinese flights always delayed?
By Ruth Wickham
Chief Editor & Writer