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Spending in Beijing[]

Basic information about spending money in Beijing

For many overseas visitors, the Beijing Olympic Games offers a good opportunity not only to watch exciting games, but also to enjoy a shopping spree, as the country is well known for its low-price, good-quality Made-in-China products.

Yet prior to splashing out in Beijing, it is useful to know some basics about the Chinese currency yuan (or renminbi), how to change your money into yuan, related Chinese foreign exchange policies and so on.


The renminbi (literally "people's currency") is the legal tender in the mainland of the People's Republic of China. It is issued by the People's Bank of China (PBOC, central bank). The official abbreviation is CNY, although also commonly abbreviated as "RMB".

Chinese paper money usually comes in 1 fen (rare), 2 fen (rare), 5 fen (very rare), 1 jiao, 2 jiao, 5 jiao, 1 yuan, 2 yuan, 5 yuan, 10 yuan, 20 yuan, 50 yuan and 100 yuan.

One yuan is divided into 10 jiao. One jiao is divided into 10 fen, pennies in English. The largest denomination of the renminbi is the 100 yuan note. The smallest is the 1 fen coin or note. RMB is issued both in notes and coins. The paper denominations include 100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 yuan; 5, 2 and 1 jiao; and 5, 2 and 1 fen. The denominations of coins are 1 yuan; 5, 2 and 1 jiao; and 5, 2 and 1 fen.

In spoken Chinese, "yuan" is often called as "kuai" and the "jiao" as "mao". Fen-denomination RMB is rarely used, except at supermarkets.

The following are descriptions of major features of the above 1-yuan banknotes. It is easy to tell various denominations of RMB since there are corresponding Arabic numerals printed on every paper note or coin.

The 1-yuan banknote has two types, the red one debuted in 1996 while the green one in 1999. The obverse of the 1996-type 1-yuan note is a portrait of two women from two minorities, and the reverse is the Great Wall. The obverse of the 1999-type 1-yuan note is a portrait of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong, while the reverse is the Xihu Lake in the southeastern Chinese city Hangzhou.

The 2-yuan banknote is in green. Its obverse is also a portrait of two women from another two minorities, and the reverse is the South China Sea.

The 5-yuan banknote also has two types, the brown one designed and issued in 1980 while the purple one in 1999. The obverse of the 1980-type is a portrait of two minority people -- a Tibetan woman and a Muslim man, while the reverse is a scenic picture of the Yangtze River, the country's longest one. The obverse of the 1999-type is a portrait of Mao Zedong and the reverse is Taishan Maintain, a mountain in east China's Shandong province listed by the UNESCO as a world natural and cultural heritage.

The 10-yuan banknote also has two types -- the ordinary one debuted in 1999 while the special note was issued on July 8 by thecentral bank to mark the Beijing Olympic Games. The obverse of the ordinary one is a portrait of Mao Zedong while its reverse is the drawing of the scenic Three Gorges. The special banknote issued onJuly 8 has a picture of the National Stadium, or the Bird's Nest, on its obverse, while its reverse features the famous ancient Greek marble statue of a discus-thrower, Discobolus, portraits of athletes and the Arabic numeral "2008".

The 20-yuan banknote, debuted in 1999, has a portrait of Mao Zedong and its reverse features a drawing of the scenic Lijiang River in South China.

The 50-yuan banknote has two types -- one in yellow and pink debuted in 1990 while the other in green was issued in 1999. The former type has a portrait of an intellectual, a farmer and a worker on its obverse while its reverse features the Hukou Waterfall on the Yellow River. The 1999-type banknote is currentlymuch more widely circulated. Its obverse is a portrait of Mao Zedong and its reverse is the landmark Potala Palace in Lhasa.

The 100-yuan banknote also has two types -- one in gray blue which debuted in 1990 while the other in red which was first released in 1999. The 1990-type note has a portrait of four formerChinese leaders, namely Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi and ZhuDe, on its obverse while its reverse is the Jinggangshan Mountain in South China. Very few of the 1990-type 100-yuan paper notes arecurrently circulated in China.

The obverse of the 1999-type 100-yuan notes is a portrait of Mao Zedong while a picture of the Great Hall of the People is printed on the reverse.


When you are visiting and spending money in Beijing, it is possible, though not very often, that you might encounter counterfeit banknotes.

In China, if banknotes were old, tattered or torn and were hard to spend, you could exchange notes for new ones at Chinese banks. But counterfeits will be confiscated by the banks. So it is better for you to know how to tell genuine RMB notes from fake ones.

There are four means you could use to tell fake banknotes: look, touch, listen and detect.

How to look? First, look at the watermark on the left of the notes. When you put the paper note against the light, you will see watermarks which are either a portrait of Mao Zedong or a flower. While the watermark for the 1980-type 5-yuan paper notes is ancient Chinese coins. Secondly, look at the drawn lines (or called security lines). The lines in fake paper notes are often more distinct or misty and hard to find. Thirdly, look at the color of the paper notes. The color of fake paper notes are often more pronounced and often not clear.

How to touch then? Since the above 5-yuan paper notes use the technology of intaglio printing, you could have a slight concave-convex feeling left by the printing ink when you touch the real notes. Counterfeits seized by the authorities were usually printed with offset press, which made the notes smooth without anyconcave-convex feeling.

How to listen? The paper notes are made of dedicated paper. Relatively new bank notes can produce clear sound when fluff them or use fingers to flip them. The texture of a fake note tends to be smoother and softer than authentic notes, so fake notes would make a muffled sound.

Lastly, how to detect. If possible, you could use instruments to carry out fluorescence checks. Fake banknotes, most of which use bleached paper to print, have a fluorescent reflection and will become white and bright under fluorescent light.


The Chinese yuan isn't freely exchangeable on international markets, so overseas visitors might not be able to convert money easily until they enter the country.

For the upcoming Olympic Games, commercial banks in Beijing have pledged to provide as much convenience as possible for overseas visitors to convert their currencies and travelers' cheques into the Chinese yuan. These banks will give prioritized handling of currency converting and extend operation time for such business. For instance, the China Merchants Bank has promised to provide foreign exchange services until 8:00 p.m.

Some commercial banks such as the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the country's largest, and the Construction Bank of China have also set up dedicated counters to handle their currency exchange business.

According to the Beijing Bureau of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, more than 85 percent of Beijing branches operated by Chinese commercial banks are able to provide foreign exchange services for an individual customer.

While figures released by the central bank showed that more than 2,400 bank branches in Beijing are qualified to provide foreign exchange services and all bank branches around the venues of the Olympic Games are able to offer such services.

Apart from the 2,400 bank branches, you can also convert you money at Beijing Capital International Airport, hotels, Friendship Stores and some department stores. Please note that hotels may only exchange money for their guests.

Currently, at least 18 overseas currencies are exchangeable in the Chinese mainland. They are the U.S. dollar, Euro, British pound, Swiss franc, Singapore dollar, Swedish Krona, Danish Krone,Norwegian Krone Japanese yen, Canadian dollar, Australian dollar, Finnish markka, Malaysian ringgit, Philippine Peso, Thai Baht and Hong Kong dollar, Macao dollar as well as Taiwan dollar.

Exchange rates fluctuate in line with international financial market condition and are published daily by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE).

Undoubtedly, it won't be difficult for you to convert money into the Chinese yuan. And it won't be difficult either for you to change it back again at the end of your trip.

According to a 2007 regulation issued by the central bank, overseas individuals can show their tourist visa and change the yuan money into foreign money at banks and other money exchange facilities as long as the sum is equivalent to 500 U.S. dollars or less.

If the sum is equivalent to more than 500 U.S. dollars, visitors are allowed to change back into foreign money at banks and they need to show both tourist visas and their exchange receipts from the initial transaction.


There is no limit on the amount of foreign currency and foreign exchange bills that can be brought into the Chinese mainland by overseas tourists. But if you want to bring into China 5,000 U.S. dollars or more in cash, or cash that is equivalent to 5,000 U.S. dollars or more, it must be declared to the customs. Otherwise, you might probably be considered as trying to smuggle foreign money into China and be fined by the authorities.

Besides, overseas visitors are allowed to bring into or out of China a maximum sum of 20,000 yuan in cash.

If you want to bring foreign money in cash out of the country, the maximum sum is 5,000 U.S. dollars or equivalent to 5,000 U.S. dollars. If the amount of cash falls between 5,000 U.S. dollars and 10,000 U.S. dollars, you need to apply for a personal valid "foreign exchange certificate" from the Chinese banks. If the cash you want to bring out of China exceeds 10,000 U.S. dollars, you need to apply for a "foreign exchange certificate" from a local branch of the SAFE.

In addition, overseas visitors are allowed to open bank accounts in the Chinese mainland, both the yuan and U.S. dollar accounts. But the U.S. dollar account can only be opened at designated foreign exchange banks, which refer to banks duly authorized by the Chinese central bank to undertake the sale and purchase of foreign exchange. You do not need to have resident status for account opening. A tourist visa is sufficient.


Travelers' cheques provide a fairly secure way of carrying your money. Always remember to keep the record of cheque numbers separate from the cheques for reference in the event of loss.

The BOC is the sole banking partner of the Beijing Olympic Games.

For the convenience of overseas tourists, the business department of the Bank of China (BOC) headquarters and domestic branches a Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangzhou and branch in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region as well as branches in London, Singapore and Luxembourg sell renminbi travelers' cheques.

Also the BOC sells travelers' cheques for other banking institutions such as American Express, Citibank, Tongjilong Travelers' Cheque Co., the Sumitomo Bank of Japan and the Swiss Banking Corporation.

The BOC can also cash travelers' cheques sold by international commercial banks and travelers' cheque companies in the United States, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Britain, France, Switzerland, Germany as well as many other countries.

Credit cards are gaining ground in China. The most common credit cards held by overseas visitors include JCB International, Thomas Cook, Diners Club, Mastercard International, Visa International and American Express International. They can be usedin most mid-range to top-end hotels (three star and up), Friendship Stores and some department stores. Credit card cash advances have become routine at head branches of the BOC.

Source: Xinhua