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Paying for Foreign Purchases in China

Flying across the ocean to explore the rich Chinese culture is sure to be the trip of a lifetime. But before travelers stock up on exotic souvenirs, they should consider the following guidelines for making foreign purchases in China.

Yuan vs. Renminbi

When it comes to everyday use, "yuan" and "renminbi" are both terms related to Chinese currency, says Alfred Nader, vice president of corporate strategy and development at Western Union Business Solutions.

RMB is an abbreviation for renminbi, which means "people's money" in Mandarin Chinese, says Wing Fok, director of Asia business studies at Loyola University New Orleans. "Yuan is the simple form of referring to currency," Fok says. "It's like saying 'buck' or 'dollar' instead of U.S. dollar."

“Yuan is the simple form of referring to currency. It’s like saying ‘buck’ or ‘dollar’ instead of U.S. dollar.”

— Wing Fok, director of Asia business studies at Loyola University New Orleans

Technically speaking, however, the proper way to use the terms is to say "renminbi" when referring to the Chinese currency in general and to say "yuan" when referring to specific amounts of the foreign currency, Nader says.

The RMB can be used anywhere in mainland China and, depending on the business's proprietor, might be accepted in Hong Kong, says Fok. However, accepting the RMB in Hong Kong is not a universal practice and will most likely yield an unfavorable exchange rate.

Individuals planning on traveling between mainland China and Hong Kong can benefit from a free online currency converter to calculate currency exchange rates and other resources from a trusted online foreign exchange provider, which enables travelers to make convenient bank-to-bank money transfers and avoid unnecessary transaction fees from using their credit cards when traveling abroad.

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Making Cash Payments in China

Because ¥100 RMB is the most commonly used denomination by foreigners in China, it's useful to always have ¥100 RMB bills on hand to make foreign purchases, Fok says. However, it is also the most counterfeited bill in China, and an unscrupulous street vendor could claim travelers are using counterfeit bills and demand new ones. "It takes a lot of experience to tell if the bill is fake, so avoid using ¥100 RMB bills on the street since you may fall victim to the switching trick that is very common among street vendors," Fok says.

If possible, tourists should stick to getting ¥100 RMB bills via a reputable online foreign exchange provider, or through a well-known hotel, bank or ATM where bills are inspected and verified as the legal tender.

Making Electronic Payments in China

When it comes to electronic payments, debit cards tend to be more common than credit cards because cardholders are required to put in their PIN numbers to make transactions, Fok says.

In general, credit card use is not as widespread as it is in the U.S. because many businesses in China don't have the technology to support debit or credit payments so daily transactions are primarily in cash, Fok says. However, electronic payments are on the rise.

By taking the time to plan out how small and large foreign transactions will be made, travelers can keep their focus on sightseeing and soaking in the Chinese culture.  

Live Cross Rates

USD 69.3440 1.3139 0.7857 53.2670 1.0000 0.8780
CAD 52.7470 1.0000 0.5978 40.5230 0.7604 0.6680
AUD 50.4280 0.9555 0.5715 38.7410 0.7268 0.6386
EUR 78.9250 1.4956 0.8945 60.6340 1.1377 1.0000
GBP 88.1960 1.6713 1.0000 67.7560 1.2713 1.1169

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