The currency of China is the yuan (¥), also known as the kwai or renminbi (RMB), which literally translates as “people’s money.” Early January 2008, there were ¥ 7.30 to the US dollar, ¥ 10.70 to the Euro and ¥14.40 to the British Pound Sterling.
Check the links hereunder for current rates.
Paper money was introduced to the world by China in 806 AD and today bank notes come in various amounts, many of which show a portrait of the omnipresent Chairman Mao on the front and famous landscapes from around the country on the back.
Denominations are ¥100 (red), ¥50 (green), ¥20 (brown), ¥10 (blue), ¥5 (purple or brown), ¥2 (green) and ¥1 (green or brown), along with the almost worthless 5, 2 and 1 mao notes (10 mao, also referred to as jiao = ¥1). The ¥2 and 2 mao notes are both green and look very similar – remember the lower value one is the smaller of the two.
Counterfeiting is rife in China and even the smallest local store may have a UV scanner. While ¥10 notes are often copied, the one to watch out for is the ¥100. The quality of fakes is often high, but generally you can tell by the feel of the money, which is often a little too crunchy to the touch.
In Hong Kong, the currency is the Hong Kong dollar (HK$) and at the time of writing there were HK$8 to the US$, HK$10 to the Euro and HK$15 to the British Pound Sterling. In Macau the pataca, or Macau dollar (MOP$) is roughly equivalent to the HK$, which can be used throughout the territory.
The Bank of China (not the Agricultural Bank of China, Construction Bank of China, Industrial Bank of China or any of the other similarly named institutions) is the only bank licensed to exchange foreign currency or travelers’ checks. Their opening hours may vary but are generally Monday to Friday from - and 2-5 pm. Upscale hotels can also change money, although their rates tend to be a little worse.
In order to change money you’ll need your passport and, often, a sense of patience, as each one of your crisp greenbacks or checks is meticulously inspected. Dollars are by far the most readily accepted exchange currency, followed by Euros and then Pounds Sterling.
When China first opened its doors to tourism in the 1980s, foreigners had to use FECs (Foreign Exchange Certificates), which led to the development of black market money changing. Now that tourists use Yuan like everybody else, black market money changers are rare – if you are approached with rates that sound too good to be true, steer clear as there will probably be a few fake bills among your wad.
Note that you can’t change Chinese yuan into other currencies outside of China so budget accordingly and spend all of your cash! Unlike Mainland China, Hong Kong is overflowing with exchange booths and it’s quick and easy to change money. Some of the best rates are generally found on the ground floor of Chungking Mansions on Nathan Road in Kowloon.
Traveler’s checks are a safer option many people choose, although you’ll pay a small surcharge for each check cashed. Ideally they should be purchased from one of the better-known issuers such as American Express, as lesser known versions may not be accepted in smaller towns. Be sure to note down the serial numbers and keep them and the purchase agreement separate from your checks. Also don’t countersign them until you’re sure the bank teller is watching.
ATMs and Credit Cards
China has an expanding number of ATMs, which will usually accept Amex, VISA, MasterCard, Maestro and Cirrus, though you’ll pay a fee for each withdrawal and, outside of large cities, ATMs may be hard to come by. Also, while plastic seems a safe and easy way to carry your cash, bear in mind that ATMs can be temperamental (or empty), so they should be used as a back-up rather than your principal source of funds.
In Hong Kong, ATMs are found on seemingly every corner, although the same precautions apply.
For larger purchases, credit cards are often a good way to go. China is increasingly geared up to finding ways for visitors to part with their money and many larger shops, chains or “factory” outlets will accept credit cards, albeit with a surcharge of around 3%.
Money TransferIf you’re really stuck for cash, Western Union (www.westernunion.com) has offices around the country, often found in post offices. The sender has to pay a surcharge and you need to take along your passport to receive funds.
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