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Money Matters in China

Money

Though it's usually a good idea to change at least some money before you leave home, this scenario doesn't apply as readily to mainland China, as the Chinese RMB is not a commonly held currency. Where it's carried, it will most likely be exchanged at a highly unfavorable rate. This shouldn't present too much of a problem for most travelers arriving in Shanghai by plane, as airports all have money exchange facilities and ATMs. Those travelers arriving by train from Hong Kong would do well to change a small amount of money in Hong Kong where the RMB yuan is readily obtainable.

Currency exchange in China is legal only if conducted at hotels, banks, and stores, at the official rate set by the central government through the Bank of China. This rate is the same at all nationwide outlets, saving travelers the hassle and stress of having to find the best rate. Besides the airport, you can change money at hotel bank desks and at larger branches of the Bank of China. Hotel desks have the convenience of being open long hours 7 days a week, but their services are usually restricted to guests. You'll have to provide your passport for any kind of currency exchange.
Keep all receipts when you change money; you will need them should you wish to reconvert any excess ¥RMB into your home currency.


Reject any attempts by private individuals or shops to change money at rates different from the official rate: Not only is this illegal, you may well end up with fake bills. Avoid especially the black-market money-changers who congregate outside branches of the Bank of China that are popular with tourists, such as the one on the Bund, and the one north of the JC Mandarin Hotel.

Yuan Notes & Exchange Rates – A. Chinese currency is known as renminbi (RMB, literally "the people's money") or the yuan (¥). However, you'll mostly hear money referred to as kuai qian, literally "pieces of money," or kuai for short. Bills come in denominations of ¥100, ¥50, ¥20, ¥10, ¥5, ¥2, and ¥1, which also appears as a coin. The next unit down is the jiao (¥0.10), commonly referred to as mao. There are notes and coins for ¥0.50, ¥0.20, and ¥0.10. Beyond that is the fen (¥0.01), but you'll hardly ever see or have use for it. China being primarily still a cash society, keep a good stock of smaller bills, especially ¥10 notes, for street stalls, convenience stores, and taxis, all of whom will balk if you offer a ¥100 bill first thing in the morning.

Since 2005, the yuan is no longer pegged solely to the U.S. dollar, but rather a basket of currencies (known as a "crawling peg") with the result that the yuan has appreciated around 2%. At press time, the U.S. dollar was trading at about ¥8.00 to US$1, the pound sterling at around ¥15.08, and the euro at ¥10.36. For this guide, U.S. dollar rates have been rounded off to ¥8 to US$1). For the latest exchange rates, consult www.xe.com/ucc.

ATMs

There are many ATMs in China, but only a handful that will accept your foreign issued card. Check the back of your ATM card to see which network your bank belongs to:

Cirrus (www.mastercard.com), PLUS (www.visa.com), or AEON (www.americanexpress.com).

Before you leave home, you can contact the proper institutions to locate ATMs currently available in the city or ask your bank for a list of ATMs in China. Be sure you know your personal identification number (PIN) and daily withdrawal limit before you depart. In general, the ATMs at the major branches of the Bank of China will accept your card. Bank of China ATMs allow a maximum withdrawal of ¥2,500 ($310) per transaction, but it is possible to make another withdrawal the same day.

Note: Remember that many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank's ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions (up to 4% or more) than for domestic ones. In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. For international withdrawal fees, ask your bank.

Credit Cards

Credit cards are another safe way to carry money. They also provide a convenient record of all your expenses, and they generally offer relatively good exchange rates. In China, however, despite the plethora of Visa and MasterCard signs throughout, your international credit card (guoji xinyong ka) is usually accepted only at the top international hotels, and at restaurants and shops catering to foreigners. You can also obtain cash advances (in yuan) against your American Express, Visa, MasterCard, and Diners Club card at major branches of the Bank of China (bring your passport).

This is an expensive way of getting cash, as there is a minimum withdrawal of ¥1,200 ($150) and you'll have to pay a 4% commission plus whatever your card issuer charges you, so use it only as a last resort. Finally, you can use your card at ATMs where international cards are accepted, if you have a PIN and have properly set up your account for this service before leaving home. Keep in mind that you'll pay interest from the moment of your withdrawal, even if you pay your monthly bills on time. Also, note that many banks now assess a 1% to 3% "transaction fee" on all charges you incur abroad (whether you're using the local currency or your native currency).

If you plan to use your credit cards in China, notify your issuer(s) beforehand, as many companies, to prevent fraud, often put a hold on cards that suddenly start registering foreign charges. Loss of credit cards should be reported immediately.

Traveler's Checks

Traveler's checks, still a popular way to bring money into China, are only accepted at major branches of the Bank of China, at foreign exchange desks in hotels, and occasionally at major department stores and shops targeted to foreign tourists. Bigger bank branches will accept checks in any hard currency from any major company, but smaller branches will only accept the currencies of larger economies. The exchange rate for traveler's checks is fractionally better than for cash, though the commission charged on checks (0.75%) usually offsets any gains. Most Chinese banks will change U.S. dollars cash into yuan, so it's a good idea to have some U.S. dollar notes on hand in case of emergencies. If you carry traveler's checks, be sure to keep a separate record of their serial numbers so you're ensured a refund in case of loss.

You can buy traveler's checks at most banks. They are offered in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and sometimes $1,000. Generally, you'll pay a service charge ranging from 1% to 4%.
The most popular traveler's checks are offered by American Express (tel. 800/807-6233 or tel. 800/221-7282 for card holders -- this number accepts collect calls, offers service in several foreign languages, and exempts Amex gold and platinum cardholders from the 1% fee.); Visa (tel. 800/732-1322 -- AAA members can obtain Visa checks for a $9.95 fee for checks up to $1,500 at most AAA offices or by calling tel. 866/339-3378); and MasterCard (tel. 800/223-9920).


Mail -- Sending mail from China is remarkably reliable. Most hotels sell postage stamps and will mail your letters and parcels, the latter at a hefty fee, so take your parcels to the post office yourself, if possible. Overseas letters and postcards require 5 to 10 days for delivery.

Current costs are as follows:


overseas airmail: postcard ¥4.20 (50¢); aerogramme ¥5.20 (62¢); letter under 10g (.35 oz.) ¥5.40 (70¢); letter under 20g (.70 oz.) ¥6.50 (80¢). Domestic letters are ¥0.50 (6¢). EMS (express parcels under 500g/18 oz.): to the U.S. ¥180 to ¥240 ($23-$30); to Europe ¥220 to ¥280 ($28-$35); to Australia ¥160 to ¥210 ($20-$26). Normal parcels up to 1km (2.2 lb.): to the U.S. by air ¥95 to ¥159 ($12-$20), by sea ¥20 to ¥84 ($2.50-$14); to the U.K. by air ¥77 to ¥162 ($10-$20), by sea ¥22 to ¥108 ($11-$13); to Australia by air ¥70 to ¥144 ($8.75-$18), by sea ¥15 to ¥89 ($1.90-$11).

Custom declaration forms in Chinese and French are available at post offices. When sending parcels, bring your package to the post office unsealed, as packages are often subject to inspection. Large post offices will sell packaging material.

Emergency Cash

American Express also runs an emergency check cashing system, which allows you to use one of your own checks or a counter check (more expensive) to draw money in the currency of your choice from selected banks. This works well in major cities but it can cause confusion in less-visited spots, and the rules on withdrawal limits vary according to the country in which your card was issued. Consult American Express for a list of participating banks before you leave home.

If you're stuck in a province where banks are closed on weekends, you can have money wired from Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000; www.westernunion.com) to many post offices and branches of the Agricultural Bank of China across China, including 49 in Beijing alone, and 18 in Hong Kong. You must present valid ID to pick up the cash at the Western Union office. In most countries, you can pick up a money transfer even if you don't have valid identification, as long as you can answer a test question provided by the sender. This should work in Hong Kong but might cause difficulties in mainland China. Let the sender know in advance that you don't have ID.

Lost & Found -- Be sure to contact all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss, although many Public Security Bureaus (police stations) will be reluctant to do anything as energetic as lift a pen. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen: In mainland China, Visa's emergency number is tel. 010/800-440-2911; American Express cardholders and traveler's check holders should call tel. 010/800-610-0277; MasterCard holders should call tel. 010/800-110-7309. Diners Club members should call Hong Kong at tel. 852/2860-1800, or call the U.S. collect at tel. 416/369-6313.

Currency Converter

Money exchange facilities for both currency and travelers’ cheques are available at major airports, hotels, and department stores. Please note that hotels may only exchange money for their guests.

The US dollar, British pound, French franc, German mark, Japanese yen, Australian dollar, Austrian schilling, Belgian franc, Canadian dollar, HK dollar, Swiss franc, Danish Krone, Singapore dollar, Malaysian ringgit, Italian lira, Macao dollar, Finnish markka, and Taiwan dollar are all exchangeable. Exchange rates fluctuate in line with international financial market condition and are published daily by the State Exchange Control Administration. The official exchange rate between U.S. dollar and Renminbi yuan currently is about 1:6.8

Keep your currency exchange receipts because you will need to show them when you change RMB back to your own currency at the end of visit to the Republic. Cash rather than credit cards is essential in remote areas and you should ensure that you carry sufficient RMB and travelers’ cheques to cover your requirements.

Currency Regulations

There is no limit on the amount of foreign currency and foreign exchange bills that can be brought into China by tourists, but it must be declared to the customs.
RMB should be converted back into foreign currency with the personal valid “foreign exchange certificate” before leaving China. Unused foreign exchange and RMB traveler’s cheques can be taken out of the country. Each tourist is permitted to take with them less than 6000 RMB.


Carrying Money

A money belt or pocket sewn inside your clothes is the safest way to carry money. Velcro tabs sewn to seal your pockets shut will also help thwart roving hands. Keeping all your eggs in one basket is not advised - guard against possible loss by leaving a small stash of money (say US$100) in your hotel room or buried in your backpack, with record of the travellers cheque serial numbers and your passport numbers.

International Transfers

Except in Hong Kong and Macau, having money sent to you in China is a time-consuming and frustrating task that is best avoided.

China Courier Service Corporation (a joint-venture with Western Union Financial Services in the USA) is very fast and efficient. In Beijing, there is a branch at 173, Yong’an St.Tel: 86-10-63184285.

Cash

Stock up some RMB10 bills in case of the vendors and taxi drivers cannot make change for big note.
Counterfeit bills are a problem in China. Very few Chinese will accept a RMB50 or RMB100 bill without first checking to see whether or not it is a fake. Notes that are old and tattered are also sometimes hard to spend. If you are having problems with a note, exchange it for a new one or small change at the Bank of China -counterfeits, however, will be confiscated.


Important Notice

In this website, we use "Y" to represent the symbol of RMB "¥". So wherever you see a "Y"before a number, it means "CNY"

Getting Renminbi (People's Currency)

Cash Renminbi is easily obtained via cash machines in Beijing - most will work with cash cards from overseas. However some will not. The Bank of China works well as does the Communications Bank. Normal receipts are dispensed so you can save them. The daily limit from your own bank may dictate how much you can pull out every 24 hours.

Cash and well known travelers checks such as American Express can be changed in large hotels and most banks (some banks don't do foreign exchange). The Friendship Store also does foreign exchange.

If you have an American Express card you can go to the Bank of China with a personal check from your home country bank and get a lot of cash out at once. Various American Express cards have differing limits, check with Amex before departing for details.

You can also get lots of cash out with other credit cards at the Bank of China, check with your card company for exact details.

The exchange rate is approximately US$ 1 = RMB 6.90 and is more or less locked to the US dollar.

There used to be a black market for foreign exchange but that seems to have disappeared.

What to do about money in China

Unfortunately it’s still not possible to legally exchange Chinese money abroad. Small dealers offer wads of RMB on the back streets of Chinatowns throughout the world, but if you go to them you risk being scammed and are breaking the law.

Once in China it gets a lot easier. Most major currencies can be exchanged at banks, top-end hotels and some large department stores. In all these places the rate offered is usually the official rate, so there’s little point in shopping around.

When you exchange money, keep the receipt as you’ll need it if you want to change back any spare RMB you have left at the end of your trip.

People often hang around outside banks and in tourist centres offering to exchange currency. You would be breaking the law, and will be ripped off in one way or another, whether it be by being given fake notes, a poor exchange rate, or no money at all.

Cash advances on foreign credit cards are available at the Bank of China, but usually only from the main branch in each town. You’ll need to bring a passport have to withdraw at least 1200Y. The commision is 4%, but AmEx users don’t have to pay it.

International Money Transfers in China


Having money sent to you should really only be a last resort. It takes up time and energy that would be far better spent elsewhere, and it is not cheap either.

If you end up having to, try CITIC (China International Trust and Investment Bank), who are much better for this purpose than Bank of China. Western Union and Moneygram both have agents throughout China.

Chinese Bank Accounts

Foreigners can open bank accounts in China, this is rather convenient if you’re planning to be in China for a long time. CITIC have reputation for efficiency, but if you’re planning to travel around then Bank of China might be worth a shot because they have so many branches. After you’ve opened your account, it’s relatively easy (though rather expensive) for someone in another country to transfer money into it.

Counterfeit Money and Torn Notes

Counterfeit money is a problem in China, and you as a foreigner may be seen as a good person to slip fake notes to. Nobody will take 50Y or 100Y notes without inspecting them first. Check the watermark, and don’t accept notes that are torn.

The highest denomination of coin is 1Y, below which there are coins of 5 jiao (0.5Y), 1 jiao (0.1Y) and 5 fen (0.05Y).

If you travel around China you may notice that small denomination notes are more common in the North than the South. This is supposedly because the damp Southern climate causes the notes to disintegrate more quickly – or maybe just because the rich Southerners are happy to throw them away.

Hong Kong

Lost & Found -- To report stolen or lost property, call the police (tel. 852/2527 7177) or go to the nearest police station. If you've lost your passport, make a police report at the nearest station and then contact your embassy or consulate for a replacement. The minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen, alert all of your credit card companies and file a report at the nearest police station. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss.

Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two. Visa's Hong Kong emergency number is tel. 852/800 900 782. American Express cardholders and traveler's check holders should call tel. 852/2811 6122. MasterCard holders should call tel. 852/800 96 6677. If you need emergency cash over the weekend when all banks and American Express offices are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000 from the U.S.; www.westernunion.com). There are many Western Union locations in Hong Kong, including one in the post office at 10 Middle Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui.

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