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Useful Advice for Tourists Visiting China
General Information concerning Banks, Money & Currency
Topics on this page include:

Transferring Money
Credit Cards
Travellers Checks
Western Union
Using Money
Picture: Guilin featuring scene from 20 RMB Banknote. Courtesy of Tim and Cindie Travis


Main Banks
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, and remember

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 (Checking) account
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 month

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

Business Accounts
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 brief section

Transferring Money

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 fee
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

Credit Cards

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 with you
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 practices
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' with you
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 language option
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 invented?

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!

Travellers Checks

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

Western Union

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
3. Denominations:
a . Notes:  Y: 100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, 1 and 0.5, 0.2, 0.1
b . Coins:  Y: 1 and 0.5, 0.2, 0.1
4. Issuance
a . All Cash Machines only deliver Y100 notes
5. Usage:
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.

Using Money

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 when written.

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 only
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