Currency in China

In China, the official currency is called (人民币) ren min bi (literally, “the people’s money”), and the (元) yuan, is the basic unit of ren min bi. You’ll typically see the 元Chinese character in stores or on signs to refer to the cost, but when you pay, people typically call the (元) yuan (块) kuai. So basically, 1 yuan = 1 kuai. To further break it down, 1 (元) yuan is equivalent to 10 (角) jiao or (毛) mao. To simplify: one unit, several names. It can even be abbreviated in several ways: RMB and ¥. Otherwise, the system is fairly simple.

As you can see, as the bills increase in value, they also increase in size. The same concept goes for the coins.

Now that we understand how the money is broken down, let’s look at it in use. China is full of markets, made for you to test out your bargaining skills. When you see something you like and ask about the price, your initial reaction should always be, “Tai gui le!” (too expensive!). From there, you can work your way down to the price of your liking, as long as it’s not outrageously low. The vendors do need to make at least some money.

When you’re not at establishments where bargaining is an acceptable practice, you might like to know if you’re overpaying for something.

- Typically, a bottle of water is 2 元. If you pay over 3 元for it, you’re being overcharged.

- Any imported products (food, tech product, clothes, etc.) are usually a little more expensive than what you would normally pay, so use your home price as a kind of benchmark.

- Depending on where you eat out, your meal could cost you from 15 元 (normally in those side shops on the streets) to 70 元 (the more established or foreign restaurants).

Another major topic related to money in China is that there is NO TIPPING – which is actually very nice. If you give someone a tip (ex: a taxi cab driver or a waitress), it is seen as an insult. Also, when you go out to eat at a restaurant, sometimes, the establishments may ask you to pay right after you order. This is just a way to keep business moving and efficient.

Depending where you’re from, the conversion rates will differ, but you can quickly convert your home currency to China’s here: http://www.xe.com

Make sure to enjoy your time as an intern in Beijing or as an intern in Shanghai!

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