The Chinese Currency

The Chinese Currency

The official currency in China is the Renminbi (RMB or CNY), which consists of yuan, jiao and fen. 10 jiao make up 1 yuan, and 10 fens make up 1 jiao. (The equivalent of yuan, jiao and fen are dollar, 10 cents and 1 cent respectively)

Money is issued in notes of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 yuan, and 1 yuan coins. There are also notes and coins for 1, 5 jiao. Fen is issued as coins. But fen is rarely used as they have no purchasing power.

1.    Banknotes

table_1The Chinese Currency

Significantly, the Chinese currency now uses the portrait of Mao Zedong on all banknotes, in place of the various leaders and workers which had been featured previously.

The substrates use well-known Chinese flower pattern and the back of the main pattern shows a representative pattern with ethnic characteristics. It fully demonstrates China’s long history, magnificent mountains and rivers, showcasing the cultures of China.

The denomination of each banknote is printed in Chinese. The numbers themselves are printed in financial Chinese numeral characters, as well as Arabic numerals. The denomination and the words “People’s Bank of China” are also printed in Mongol, Tibetan, Uyghur and Zhuang on the back of each banknote.

2.    Coins

1 jiao coin (equivalent to 10 cents)

3.    Foreign Currency Exchange

Note that China has established some very strict regulations on foreign currency exchange.

table_3It is possible to exchange traveler’s checks or cash at most banks, and hotels always have a money exchange counter. Cash advances are available on most common credit/debit cards e.g. American Express/Visa/MasterCard, but this facility is available only from the main branch of the Bank of China in most Chinese cities. A fee of 3%-4% will apply.

The Bank of China has an ATM network that will allow cash advances from major credit / debit cards and ATM cards. Check you credit card provider for this information before leaving your home country. You are required to present your passport to change money/travelers checks etc. Hotels will usually only allow you to change money if you are guest at the hotel. The RMB is not easily convertible on the international market so it is only usable in China.

It is advisable to change only the money that you need for you trip as it may be difficult to change back to you preferred currency. RMB is now readily convertible in Hong Kong. You can convert unused RMB to another currency in China by producing the receipts for your original purchase of RMB in China. This exchange is done at the airport as you leave China.

coins in china
1 yuan silver coins (a dollar) and the golden 5 jiao coins (50 cents)


  • Due to the strict regulations, there is an active black market for currency exchange, but illegal money changers sometimes operate with false currencies so it is definitely preferable to do your currency exchanges at an official institution.
  • Most of the time, vendors and taxi drivers ask for a small note when you pass them a RMB100 note, sometime they cannot change it and sometimes are not willing to. So it is a good idea to stack up on RMB10 bills.
  • average price of U.S. dollar against RMB  (1 U.S. dollar)


4.    Cost of living in China

China is no longer the “bargain country” that is used to be. Along with the rise of living standards, prices have also dramatically increased. Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong have become some of the most expensive cities to live in the world, with prices for top-range apartments reaching US$ 10,000 monthly rent or more. Education for your children can also become quite costly, and if you move within the “higher circles” of Chinese society, expect to pay Western prices at top-level restaurants and other places.

On the other hand, you can still live relatively cheaply if you stick to the living standards of the lower and middle class ends of the local population. Riding buses instead of taking cabs, eating at cheap noodle outlets and living in an old-fashioned Chinese apartment with little or no amenities will save you a lot of money. If you move out of the big cities, prices for everything drop dramatically, often by more than half.


元   yuán  (equivalent of a dollar)

角   jiǎo  (equivalent of 10 cents)

分   fēn  (equivalent of 1 cent)

纸币   zhǐ bì   banknote

硬币   yìn bì   coin

外币兑换  wài bì duì huàn   currency exchange

自动出纳机   zì dòng chū nà jī   ATM (automatic teller machine)

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