China Primers - China Travel Tips

Money in China – a guide to Currency, Denomination and Buying stuff

This article sets out to explain a little about China’s currency, incredibly useful stuff if you’re travelling to China or buying from Chinese websites.

Lets take at looks at the many names used when talking money in China and the Chinese currency, which include RMB, Renminbi, ¥; CNY; also CN¥, 元 and CN元 Yuan, Kuai and Mao.

RMB is an abbreviation of Renminbi which has the meaning “people’s currency”.

Yuan (元) is a unit of the Renminbi. Just like the ‘dollar’ is a unit of the ‘Australian Dollar’, the ‘Yuan’ is a unit of the ‘Renminbi’.

Jiao (角) , often referred to as Mao, is 1/10th of one Yuan.

Fen (分) is 1/100th of one Yuan.

Kuai (块) is a locally spoken name for money, often heard at small shops. Kuai is simply an alias for Yuan.

CNY is the ISO code for Renminbi, just like there’s the USD, AUD, EUR and so on.

¥ is the symbol for Yuan, just like there is the $ for the dollar. Note it’s the same symbol as used for the Japanese Yen, so when used internationally you may see CN¥.

The most commonly seen currency units in circulation would be 1 Jiao (coin and note),  5 Jiao (coin and note), 1 Yuan (coin and note),  5 Yuan (note), 10 Yuan (note), 20 Yuan (note), 50 Yuan (note) and 100 Yuan (note).

Here’s an image featuring those commonly used notes and coins:


Counterfeit Currency

You’ll notice whenever you hand over money in shop in China they will either visually check, or via a machine, that it’s not a copy. Probably a good idea to follow their lead. Check the watermark, feel the paper quality and hand back notes that are overly worn or torn as they may not be accepted elsewhere.

Currency Exchange

Is quite simple and there is little need to shop around as rates should be as set by the government. Banks and up-market hotels can exchange currencies.

ATM and Credit Cards

The major banks such as Bank of China accept foreign cards. Many stores accept foreign credit cards, such as Visa, but for markets and smaller stores cash is the only means. Most machines will have at least an English language option, banks such as China Construction Bank have multi-lingual ATM’s.

Check with your own bank prior to departing as to the best way to minimize withdrawal fees, currency exchange fees and so on, also ask about procedures for sending replacement cards if you happen to loose it while travelling. Put back up plans in place if you do happen to loose your card, such as travelers cheques, alternate card (kept in a separate location to your main card).

Understanding Chinese characters when shopping:

Prices can be displayed as ¥15 or 15元, both meaning 15 Yuan.

In the west it’s common to see a store display signs with stating the reduction when there is a sale, in China it’s quite often the other way around, in that the sign will say what percent you have to pay, example in the west a store may have a sign saying ‘30% off’ in China it’s would be ‘7 折’, meaning you only have to pay 70% of the original price. It’s not always the case, I have seen some stores displaying percentage discounts rather than percentage of original price.

Here’s a ad showing ‘pay 7o% of original price’ in Chinese and 30% off in English:

Unless you’re practiced up on your Chinese skills with some native Chinese speakers you’ll probably never understand what the store-person is saying when they ring up your item and ask for ‘shi wu kuai‘. Just prod them to punch the numbers into a calculator or mobile phone and you’ll see you owe them 15 Yuan.

Hong Kong and Macau

Hong Kong has their own currency, the Hong Kong Dollar (HKD), as does Macau with the Macau Pataca (MOP). Some places in either of these two regions of China will still accept RMB, although the RMB has a higher value they may only want to exchange at face value, therefore it’s usually preferable to exchange into the local currency.

Approximate Currency Conversions

1 Yuan = 0.153 AUD       100 Yuan = 15.30 AUD

1 Yuan = 0.157 USD        100 Yuan = 15.70 USD

1 Yuan = 0.159 CAD        100 Yuan =15.90 CAD

1 Yuan = 0.126 EUR        100 Yuan = 12.60 EUR

1 Yuan = 1.21 HKD          100 Yuan = 121.00 HKD

1 Yuan = 1.25 MOP          100 Yuan = 125 MOP

For current conversion rates see: