Money & Banking


Chinese currency: Renminbi (人民币)


Abbreviated as RMB, renminbi means “the people’s currency.” The main unit of the RMB is the yuán (元) – for example, a bottle of water might cost three yuan. In China, the word yuan is interchangeable with the word kuài (块), and you’ll usually hear prices quoted as kuai instead of yuan. The largest bill in circulation is the red ¥100 (about US$16), followed by ¥50, ¥20, ¥10, ¥5, and ¥1. Below ¥1, there are a series of coins and smaller-sized bills worth ¥0.5 and ¥0.1. These are called jiǎo or, more commonly, máo (i.e. ¥0.5 is five mao).


Though ATMs will only dispense ¥100 bills, you’ll find that shop owners and cab drivers sometimes balk at taking one – they may not have enough change. While traveling in China, it’s a good idea to keep a supply of ¥100 bills and a good mix of smaller bills.


100 RMB banknote



Did you really expect not one communist symbol to be on the back of the RMB? Of course you didn’t! Located just south of Beijing’s Tian’anmen Square, Great Hall of the People (Rénmín Dà Huìtáng; 人民大会堂) is where members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hold national conferences and meet with foreign emissaries. You can take a guided tour of the Great Hall of the People almost any day of the week, unless there is a governmental conference or some other special event.


The Great Hall of the People in Tian’anmen Square, Beijing



50 RMB banknote


The landmark on the back of the 50 RMB is Potala Palace (Bùdálā Gōng; 布达拉宫), Lhasa, Tibet. The Potala Palace was built in the 7th century CE and is considered a great wonder of the world. The 13-story palace, situated on a cliff right in the middle of downtown Lhasa, was built for the Han Princess Wencheng who, according to some accounts, introduced Buddhism to Tibet. Unfortunately for many, the picture on the back of the 50 RMB is as close as you can get to the real thing, given the government’s tight restrictions on tourists entering Tibet.


Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet


20 RMB banknote   

You’ve probably heard of Lijiang River (Lí Jiāng; 漓江), Guilin, and if you check the 20 RMB note you can see a picture of it too. Often considered by locals, tourists and expats to be the most beautiful sight in all of China, Guilin and nearby Yangshuo definitely have some incredible natural scenery with lush summits shooting straight out of the water into the heavens. This particular picture on the 20 note is of the Li River, and if you visit Guilin or Yangshuo, taking a hike, bike, raft or kayak down this magical river is a must.

 The Lijiang River between Guilin and Yangshuo, Guangxi Province



10 RMB banknote   

On the back of the 10 RMB is The Three Gorges (Sān Xiá; 三峡), Yichang, Hubei. You thought the Three Gorges was just a gigantic dam clogging up the arteries of China’s heartland, right? Well, you’re right if you add the word “dam” to the end, but really the Three Gorges is a glorious Yangtze River valley that belongs in Lord of the Rings. For an unforgettable experience, take a Yangtze River cruise through the Three Gorges.
The Three Gorges, Yichang, Hubei Province



5 RMB banknote


An old saying goes, “There’s no need to visit other mountains when you’ve been to the Five Sacred Mountains.” In fact, Taishan (Tàishān; 泰山) just isn’t part of the fantastic five, it’s actually the principal one of the group. Fortunately, whipping out your 5 RMB note to purchase a Tsingtao beer from 7-11 doesn’t count as actually visiting Taishan, so you’ll have to hike to the top at 1,532 m (5,029 ft) and gaze at the surreal sunset to get the true holy experience.
Taishan, Shandong Province



1 RMB banknote   



A Chinese saying describes Hangzhou perfectly: “Above is heaven, below is Hangzhou.” (Hey, it even rhymes in English.) This picture on the back of the 1 RMB is of the three gourd-shaped stupas bobbing on the water at the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon in Hangzhou’s world famous West Lake (Xī Hú; 西湖). Now you have one more reason to visit Hangzhou, one of China’s nicest cites. 
West Lake, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province


Credit & debit cards

China is a heavily cash-based economy: outside of big international hotels and some stores, don’t expect to swipe a credit or debit card. Luckily, almost all foreign ATM cards work in China, though you will incur fees for international withdrawals. If you’re concerned, check with your bank. If you plan to use your credit or debit cards while you’re abroad, make sure to notify your bank of your travels before you leave so that your purchases do not activate a fraud warning.

A sample debit card of China Construction Bank


A sample credit card issued by CITIC Bank


A branch of Bank of China


Waiting area inside Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC)




There are a number of ways to get cash during your trip. First, you can bring an amount of your home currency and exchange it once you arrive at the airport, but the rates will most definitely be inflated. You can also exchange cash at a branch of the Bank of China, though foreigners are restricted to exchanging US$500 worth of currency per day. Second, you can plan to withdraw cash from an ATM once you arrive – ATMs are very common in China, especially in larger cities and near popular tourist attractions. Also, don’t forget that you can exchange money in your home town before coming.

Bank of Beijing ATM machines located at Beijing Capital International Airport

ATM machines located at Beijing South Railway Station


Traveler’s checks


These can be cashed at international hotels and branches of the Bank of China. Though they do offer more security in the event of theft, the ease of using debit cards to withdraw cash at ATMs has made them less popular in recent years, and you might need to go out of your way to cash them.


Exchange Rates (at time of research)








Euro Zone



Hong Kong



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For up-to-date currency exchange rates, see


Common Chinese Banks



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