The Renminbi, which literally means “people’s currency” with the sign “¥” and the code “CNY” aka RMB is the official currency of the People’s Republic of China. The basic unit of Renminbi is Yuan. Yuan is also generally referred to as the Chinese currency worldwide and in international contexts. The difference between the terms Renminbi and Yuan is similar to the difference between Sterling and Pound, which are the British currency and its primary unit.
One Yuan is subdivided into 10 Jiao and a Jiao is subdivided into 10 Fen. The Renminbi is issued by the People’s Bank of China, the monetary authority of The People’s Republic of China. Based on the latest notice of People’s Bank of China about Renminbi in 2019, there are 8 banknotes available for use, ¥0.1 (1Jiao), ¥0.5 (5 Jiao), ¥1, ¥5, ¥10, ¥20, ¥50, and ¥100. These notes have been used in China since 1955 with the exception of 20, 50, and 100 Yuan which were added later to the system in 1999.
There are also Renminbi coins which are from 1 Fen to 1 Yuan (¥0.01–1). So for some amount of Renminbi, there are both coins and banknotes. Although China has issued larger Yuan coins too such as ¥5, they are mostly commemorative and are not used in trade much.
On each banknote, you can see the denomination printed in Chinese. The numbers on banknotes are printed in both financial Chinese numeral characters and also Arabic numerals (exactly the numbers used in English). Another feature of the bank notes is that the denomination and the phrase, “People’s Bank of China”, are printed in Zhuang, Mongolian, Tibetan, and Uyghur on the back of each banknote which are the languages of China’s minority ethnic population. Since the fourth series of Chinese bank notes, a section on the right front of the note has been added in Chinese Braille.
Although Renminbi has smaller parts as Jiao and Fen, due to increment in prices, they are not much necessary now and generally coins under ¥0.1 are not used frequently. As a result, Chinese retailers mostly avoid decimal values such as ¥9.99 and instead they opt for integer values of Yuan such as ¥9 or ¥10.
Use of Credit Cards in China
Major credit cards and debit cards such as Visa Card, Master Card, American Express, and JCB are accepted in some large department stores and high rated hotels mostly in Metropolises like Shanghai or Beijing but, generally, foreign credit cards are not accepted widely in China. If you want to spend money and buy food on the street or small shops, you would need to exchange your money for some Chinese currency in cash.
China has its own Union Pay system and credit cards issued by banks associating with this system are practical but foreign credit cards are not much accepted for purchases yet. Credit cards could be of use in five-star hotels and luxury outlets but, generally, your credit cards would not be much help when traveling to China and you should prepare cash for your travel.
Remember: It’s very unlikely to use your bank cards in small cities or countryside and for any means of payment including eating, transport, shopping, and etc. you will need to have cash prepared. This is one of the reasons that pre-pain activities are recommended.
Exchanging Money in China
Foreign currencies such as USD, EUR, and GBP are not accepted in China and therefore you need to exchange them to RMB. Like everywhere else, in order to exchange your money to the local currency of China, you can do it at:
- The Airports
- The Bank of China Branches
- Large Hotels
Although almost all five-star hotels in China have a foreign exchange service that deals with both cash and with travelers’ checks, but keep in mind that the exchange rate in such places is not competitive with the banks.
Passport is required as a mean of identification when exchanging at a bank. For exchanging in most banks you will also need to fill out a form with questions about your purpose of such exchange. The best way to answer these questions is to give them the most innocent answer. Usually, there would be no follow up about the questions unless the answers given by you seem troublesome, so keep it simple and innocent.
Keep in mind that banks will only accept undamaged bank notes and even a small tear in the note, would not be accepted. If you are planning for traveling for a long period, travelers’ checks can be a secure option but it is not recommended very much because exchanging by other options is much easier. Remember that although travelers’ checks can be used by some office, generally they might not be accepted by many places and it’s better to be prepared and exchange before traveling to rural areas.