Making the decision to live and work as an English teacher in China is exciting.  As we discussed in a previous blog post, you have the chance to have a comfortable lifestyle in China because the salary vs. the cost of living in China for an English teacher is quite favorable.  However, managing your money and banking in China has some differences from your home country.  In this blog post, we will give you a quick rundown of some differences, and link to some helpful resources for you.

Currency in China

The currency in China goes by many names.  Officially it is the Renminbi / RMB (“people’s money”) but is often called theChinese Yuan (¥).  Casually, people also call it “Kwai” — kinda like saying “bucks” in the States.

RMB comes primarily in note form.  Notes vary in colors, just like some other currency like the Euro.  Popular denominations are the ¥100,¥50,¥20,¥10,¥5 and¥1.  There are also coins for ¥1 and ¥2.  For anything smaller than a ¥1, it is actually more of a percentage — one-half and one-tenth rather than 99 individual cents, like in the States.  So the only small coins you will see are 5 (which is actually .5 of ¥1) and 1 (which is .1 of a ¥1).

You may be thinking, “what if I buy something that is ¥1.97?”  Well, actually they just do a lot of rounding in China.  Your purchase may be rounded up or down.

** Note:  the .5 and .1 coins also come in paper bills too.  They are physically smaller size than the Yuan bills — so keep this in mind if you have a small 5 and a big 5, the small one is only half a Yuan…not 5 Yuan!

Cash or Cards in China?

Mostly, China is a cash society.  However, big cities are quite different from the rural countryside.  For the most part, we recommend always having some cash on you in China.  Local vendors, small shops, and markets will only take cash.  However, large stores and restaurants will take cards.  A growing trend is people using their WeChat to pay for items (similar to Apple Pay) with their smartphone.  Many convenience stores like 7-11 take WeChat for payment.

Chinese vs. Foreign Cards

The important thing to keep in mind in China is that their banking system can be a little difficult when it comes to foreign cards.  Overall, foreign cards will not work throughout most of China for transactions unless you are at an international hotel, store or restaurant.  Local establishments typically only take UnionPay cards (not Visa or Mastercard) which are the primary type of cards in China.  So if you plan to live and work in China, you will need to set up a local bank account so you can get a UnionPay card.

Using the ATM in China

ATMs in China can be a little difficult as well.  The majority of big banks, like ICBC, Bank of China, HSBC will accept foreign cards in their ATM machines so that you can withdraw cash from your home account (although, you do need to contact your bank in advance to let them know and make sure they allow you to withdraw money from other countries).  Unfortunately, some of the smaller banks in China don’t accept foreign cards.

Using an ATM in China – the button on the lower left of the screen says “other languages” – so you can pick English.

Before using an ATM in China, check to see if the logo of your card is displayed on the machine (like Visa or Star network).  Then try it — but even then, it could be declined.  Sometimes it’s just a particular bank or machine, other times their systems just time out.  We recommend moving to a different machine if you get an error, and then just trying a different bank.  Again, the larger national banks will be more likely to accept your card.  It’s also recommended that you use an ATM that is located at a physical bank location, in case there is a problem you can go inside for help.

** ATM machines in China have a button where you can choose the language, so you can choose English rather than China.

More Banking in China Resources

If you want to read more in-depth about money and banking in China tips, check out a thorough post from our friends over at the Career China blog. They’ve put a massive post together all about banking in China and even how to set up a Chinese bank account and transfer money back to your home country.