Travel Guide to Managing Money in China

by May 30, 2016Money

Managing Money In China Chinese Money Bills

Our travel guide to managing money in China will help you avoid the frustration of knowing how to deal with money – exchanging foreign currency and shopping.

When traveling to China, figuring out how to deal with money (exchanging foreign currency and buying things) can be equal parts mystery and frustration. We’ve traveled to Mainland China multiple times over the past decade and each time we learn something new about getting and managing money in China.

Primer on managing money in China

The money in China is called, officially, the renminbi or RMB for short (“ren-min-bee”), which means “people’s currency.” You will also see “CNY” as the abbreviation, which is short for its more common name of “yuan” (“you-ahn”), casually known in slang as “kuai” (“k-why”), which translates into something like “bucks.” The most common bill for this “Chinese dollar” is the 100 Yuan note – which is all you will get by the way at bank ATMs so be prepared for a wad of larger bills. Quite commonly, you’ll also see 1, 5, 10, 20 and 50 notes. No worries about getting all those 100 bills that seem so big to us. They are quite commonly accepted for the smallest of purchases although of course no store vendor really wants to get a 100 for a 3 RMB bottle of juice.

One yuan is divided into 10 “jiao” (also called “mao”) and that is subdivided into 10 “fen,” which is rarely seen anymore since they are so devalued. When it comes to coins, you’ll see 1 jiao (1/10th of a yuan, or like a USD dime),) and 5 jiao (5/10ths of a yuan or like a 50-cent piece), as well as an occasional 1 yuan coin too. So look carefully when you are going to spend money at which coins are what, although we found merchants to be very honest in helping you pick out the coins and bills needed to pay when shopping, even just out of the palm of your hand.

And don’t get confused when you see a 5 note or a 1 note that is smaller in size than other 5s or 1s – these are not the same! The smaller ones are like the 5 and 1 coins, or equal to 5/10ths of a yuan and 1/10ths of a yuan, as explained above.

Managing money in China .... coins and bills can be very confusing.

Top row, R to L: 5 yuan bill and a 5 Jiao bill and coin. Bottom row, R to L: 1 yuan bill and coin and a 1 jiao bill and coin. Note the difference in sizes.

Yes, the government does control the value of the money in China despite which currency or slate of currencies it is pegged to. The renminbi was devalued in 2015, which was allowing more market control over its value. However, according to a 2016 story in Business Insider, China quietly repegged the yuan back to the US Dollar in early 2016, so who knows really which way it will go.

Check the current value of the yuan

To check the current value, you can use one of many online currency converters, but HI Travel Tales likes, where you can also download “travelers’ cheat sheets” or search about for app for your smartphone. 


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HITT Tip — When managing money in China, is best not to think in terms of dollars and then how much yuan that buys. Think in terms of the local currency only. When making purchases, you want to get used to the yuan and its buying power. In mid-2016, a liter bottle of water cost about 3 yuan, and a smaller bottle of juice or tea approximately 3.50 yuan, with some snacks like a small package of crackers, costing also about 3 or 4 yuan. And what that might have cost you in dollars matters not one bit.

Read our story Getting and managing money when traveling to learn much more about working with cash, ATMs, banks and foreign currency.


Withdrawing money in China is made easier if you use ATMs at one of the national banks such as Bank of China.

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