Advice for Tourists Visiting China
concerning Banks, Money & Currency
this page include:
The main bank for all foreigners is The Bank of China.
It is the only Bank allowed to conduct 'Personal' foreign
currency transactions. If you plan to stay in China,
or are a regular visitor, then you should open an account
with this Bank. It makes it very easy to service contracts
such as telephone bills and similar by direct debit
or standing order
You may also think it appropriate to open an account
with a different bank also, and main branches of larger
banks will be pleased to assist you. Small banks, or
branches in rural areas may not be able to help you,
mainly due to language difficulties. For personal finances
the Agricultural Bank has an excellent reputation, whilst
for large International Business the ICBC (Industrial
& Commercial Bank of China) may be a better place
to begin with
Opening a personal bank account is pretty easy and takes
about 30 minutes. You will need your passport and proof
of a permanent address in China ie your apartment rental
contract. You should receive both a current account
passbook and a card. The passbook and card will both
have different 6-digit pin numbers, and whilst the card
numbers will be posted through to you, the bankbook
number you will need to enter on the counter machine,
1. You will not have an overdraft facility,
and you will be expected to ensure your account is always
of good standing. Failure to observe this convention
can lead to very serious repercussions, be warned!
2. The card is not a credit card, but
it is a debit type card. Therefore you can use it to
make card payments at any place showing the 'Union Pay'
logo, as long as there is enough money in your current
3. All bank ATM's will accept this
card, usually without any extra charge - regardless
of which Bank they actually are
4. Most Banks make a very small service
charge if your account is below a set balance. Normally
this is about Y2, 000 and the charge is around Y5 per
Using your Bank account
This is pretty normal, and you can make transfers to
other personal accounts over the counter. If paying
cash, you only need the recipients bank details. You
need either your card or passbook, and associated pin
number (For the pin number machine) if making a transfer
direct from your account. You can set up direct debits
and standing orders, but may need help from a Chinese
person to do this in real life. Transfers can only be
sent to or received from another Chinese Bank account
that is a personal 'checking' account, see below
You will find it difficult to open a business account,
as to do this you need to have a Company that is registered
in China. Normally a business account is opened as part
of the company formation set-up process. Restrictions
apply - to lengthy and complicated to list here in this
1. From another Chinese Bank. Very
simple as outlined above. Note Transfers are only allowed
between business accounts or between personal accounts.
You are not allowed to make transfers between personal
and business accounts. To accomplish this you will need
to withdraw the cash from one of these accounts, and
then deposit it in the other one
2. From a UK Bank. You can transfer
money from a personal UK bank account directly into
a personal Chinese bank account. However, you will need
to use the SWIFT service for this, which is very expensive!
Alternatively you can transfer money from a specified
UK business account (Sole Trader status) direct into
your Chinese bank account for a simple currency exchange
3. From a Hong Kong Bank. The most
versatile way of making money and currency transfers
between China and a bank anywhere in the world. This
is the one place where everything becomes very simple.
A must for anyone who regularly sends international
payments in differing currencies. However, whilst services
are excellent and online banking standard, Hong Kong
Banks do have quite heavy monthly charges unless you
have a very high monthly minimum balance
About 30% of ATM's will take all major foreign credit
cards, although you are likely to frequent places where
this average is a lot higher.
Please clear this Card usage in China with your Bank
before you leave UK - preferably in writing, or via
your personally recorded phone conversation; and expect
them to still refuse your card when you arrive here
- 'because you happen to be in China' = Durrr!
1. Bring your 24 hour help line number
2. Charge them for your fees, phonecall,
and inconvenience when you get back to UK
3. Do expect this to be a major problem,
entirely due to current British International Banking
a . I know Barclays are extremely bad at this, and incompetently
consistent in this respect - all for your personal financial
safety, of course...
b . This is also why you need to bring Chinese 'Cash'
4. You will probably have a daily limit
of around Y4, 000, with a single transaction limit of
either Y2, 500 or Y3, 000 = put your card in twice.
You may have to juggle Chinese vs UK times here as well.
A card for a small business will have a daily limit
of Y10, 000
5. Nearly all ATM's have an English
6. If you plan to use your credit card
for any purchase, please check they accept it first!
Most Hypermarkets and posh hotels/restaurants do. Most
other places do not!
7. You can currently bring around £400
of Chinese currency with you, and I advise you to do
so - as Chinese use 'Cash' for everything!
You may remember these as being pieces of paper people
used to use to pay for things before Credit Cards were
Cheques work in China, even when issued by a UK Bank!
Do not expect a local store to accept your English language
cheque = silly. However Chinese Banks will process these
with no problem.
You may need to check conditions of use, currency, overall
charges, and implementation on the ground here in China
- but one of our friends wrote one 'Just to try', and
a week later the money was in the recipients account,
albeit in UK £ Pounds Sterling = it simply works!
Never even consider doing Traveller's Checks. Chinese
Banks do not understand them at all, and any that do
will charge you a fortune to convert. Western Union
(Agricultural Bank of China and China Post) are far
cheaper and definitely more effective
Most Post Offices and The Agricultural Bank are your
places to go for using Western Union International services.
In general, Post Offices are a nightmare and best avoided.
Most branches of the Agricultural Bank will let you
receive money sent by Western Union, but only Main branches
will let you send money. This Bank has branches on every
street, and Main Branches every mile or so = very convenient
You do not need an Agricultural Bank account to use
Western Union services. Receiving money is pretty straight
forward, and you will normally be given express treatment
at a special counter or banking section. Remember to
take your passport!
Sending money can become a bit complex, especially as
the base currency used is US Dollars, which you will
need as cash in American banknotes! This is regardless
of what currency you will eventually be making delivery
payment in. If you have enough Dollars on you then there
is no problem sending money this way, and the process
takes around 30 minutes. You will need to fill in half
a dozen forms in triplicate, and provide ID's etc. Staff
dealing will have a high level of English
China does not normally offer Bureau de Change services,
other than converting foreign currency to RMB. The main
Regional Branch of the Bank of China will offer full
Bureau de Change services - if you can find it? It will
be on Renminbi Road somewhere, which in turn means it
will also be in a large city
You are personally limited to a maximum of Y50, 000
worth of international money conversions each year.
Not a lot, so if this is your thing then you better
get a Bank Account in Hong Kong also
However, you can deposit foreign currency such as US
Dollars in your current account if you have one, and
this can then be used to send payments via Western Union,
or withdrawn for cash. You cannot deposit money in one
currency, and withdraw it in another
Western Union also offer online transfers, by simply
debiting your card and sending the money onwards. The
small snag here is that they wait until after processing
your transaction before letting you know that nothing
is happening! You enter your tracking number and will
then discover your payment was declined - due simply
to the fact that your card is registered to an address
in 'xyz country', whilst you are using a computer that
is in China. Thanks for wasting my time!
The easiest way to send money via Western Union is to
go to Hong Kong and use one of their offices there -
takes 5 minutes with no problems!
The Chinese currency is called RMB - short for Renminbi.
In Cantonese this is 'yuan mun bai' = Yuan or ¥
1. The Bank of China is the only bank
authorised to exchange International currency
2. Every City has a road called Renminbi
Lu - and the Main Branch of the Bank of China will always
be located somewhere along this road
a . Notes: Y: 100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, 1 and 0.5,
b . Coins: Y: 1 and 0.5, 0.2, 0.1
a . All Cash Machines only deliver Y100 notes
a . You need to break-down Y100 notes into smaller denominations:
whenever and wherever possible
6. Please clock any notes that have
the same numbers as RMB, but are about half the size
= these are called 'Jiao', and worth a decimal point
or two less than RMB
7. As of 2014, the issuance of a Y1, 000 RMB note has been revealed on national Chinese television. Although much needed, I have not seen one yet, some eight months after launch.
In modern China, and everywhere outside of professional
banking circles and Hong Kong, the currency is called:
Yuan or ¥ , not RMB
1. Cantonese will quote prices as 'xxx mun'
2. Mandarin speakers will quote prices as 'xxx Kwai'
3. Prices on the street are written 'xxx
', like lower case letter 'n' with a line over the top
1. Street prices are often quoted as '3 for 2', or 90%
(= 10% off), so if other Chinese characters are associated
with the prices, check what they actually mean first
2 . All vendors understand:
a . 'Gay chin' = how much
b . 'Ho gwai' = too expensive
3. Fixed prices are found in supermarkets and other
places which use bar codes, restaurants, and certain
other shops. In all other situations, and especially
with market traders you will be expected to haggle.
To be effective and get good deals you first need a
reliable point of reference to work with. Try going
shopping with a local Chinese friend, or check equivalent
goods prices in supermarkets. You will soon get the
hang of it
1. If you buy oranges, and are quoted '9' each; this
means ¥ 0.9, not ¥ 9
2. As a rule if you are unsure; offer a ¥ 5 note
first and look expectantly for change
3. Fruits like Cherries and Grapes will be ¥ 20
a large bunch, but the majority of purchases you make
will be a decimal place lower than you think
This information is as supplied by the Chinese Embassy
in UK, as dated 20th June 2008, and/or other reliable
sources. Please check this information yourself as it
may alter without notice, and whilst we try our best
to ensure it is correct, please do not hold us responsible
for any errors - this is intended as a simple guide
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