Chinese Money is called Renminbi (RMB) (means “People’s Currency”). The popular unit of RMB is Yuan (also known as Kuai). 1 Yuan = 10 Jiao, 1 Jiao = 10 Fen. Chinese currency is issued in the following denominations: one, two, five, ten, fifty and a hundred Yuan; one, two and five Jiao; and one, two and five Fen.
Be warned only the 4/5 star businesses and large (expensive) shops will take credit cards — everything else is cash (no US dollars — all yuan/RMB) UnionPay (debit card), Apple Pay, Alipay or WeChat payment — However, you won’t need much cash — there are lots of ATM’s around, and I’ve found that withdrawing RMB ¥3000 at the beginning of a week is more than enough to buy gifts for friends back home, the occasional drink, sightseeing ticket and delicacies etc…
Everything, with very few exceptions is cash only (paper bills) — credit cards are unknown to them, if they are, it’s the local Chinese equivalent only called “UnionPay”.
- American Express is extremely rarely accepted — Apart from the 5 star (and some 4 star) hotels, only a tiny handful shops and businesses in China currently accept it.
- VISA is generally available in the larger tourism shops, and foreigner restaurants in the tourism areas.
- MasterCard is less accepted, but is accepted in some foreigner shops in major cities.
- UnionPay is generally accepted in larger restaurants and shops everywhere.
Counterfeit cash is a big problem, I’ve been stuck a couple of times having received counterfeit RMB ¥50 and RMB ¥100 notes that had to be thrown away. You need to get cash from a reputable source only (aka banks, 4/5 star hotels) and always be suspicious of change received from restaurants and shops. Chinese assistants routinely check each bill when we receive change and is often haggling with the merchant to change a suspicious bill. Every reputable shop has a counterfeit bill detector. If you are given old dirty or torn money, you can ask for different change. Often vendors will try to get rid of old, torn money by giving change to foreigners.
For those living in China, with a Chinese bank account, more than 90% of transactions and purchases are handled electronically through WeChat payment, AliPay or Apple Pay.
WeChat payment is used commonly and most widely accepted for taxi’s, groceries, restaurants, bars plus many online purchases.
AliPay is used commonly and most widely accepted for taxi’s, plus the majority (if not all) online purchases.
Apple Pay can be used in select stores, including Starbucks in China.
There are typically no exchanges or refunds in Chinese shops.
Pay attention to how much cash you have with you. It is a good idea to keep enough to get a taxi back to your hotel, and a secret stash in a different pocket or place in your wallet for emergency.
Global network-connected ATM’s (Cirrus, Plus) can be found in most larger cities these days. Your best bet for cash is money from an ATM machine (better rate than currency exchange office or bank). But you’ll also typically be charged a foreign exchange fee by the Chinese bank, as well as a fee from your own bank (so withdraw the maximum amount, which in many ATM’s is RMB 2,500 — some 3,000). Up to 20,000 RMB allowed per day per person.
Many ATM’s from bigger Chinese banks will accept major credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, Cirrus, & AmEx). Also note that most ATM’s in China are located inside banks or shopping centers so are not accessible 24 hours/day.
Before leaving home, contact your bank to let them know the dates you’ll be in China as well as to verify that your ATM/credit card will work. As an additional back up, it’s a good idea to request a PIN from your credit card company so you can use it at ATM’s (often takes a couple of weeks to process).
Budget if possible, using your local currency per diems. Avoid transferring currency in and out of the country – there are significant controls and restrictions on this that would require 30 pages to explain.
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