Currency in China - A Full Guide 2024

Claire Millard
Ileana Ionescu
Last updated
4 December 2023

Planning a trip to China? Whether you’re heading there for work or pleasure, you’ll need to know how to pay your way as you travel.

This guide covers all you’ll need to know about the official currency in China, where to get it and how to keep your costs down during your trip.

What is the currency in China?

The official currency in China is the Chinese Yuan, which is issued and overseen by the People's Bank of China. If you’re buying your travel money online you may also see the official code being shown - CNY. In stores and restaurants, Chinese Yuan prices are likely to use the currency symbol ¥.

Once you’re in China you’ll see costs of items shown in CNY and you’ll need to start paying for things in local coins and notes which are often found in the following denominations:

banknotes - 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 CNY and coins - 1, 2, 5 jiao; 1 CNY.

Can you officially pay in SGD when you are in China?

You’re unlikely to be able to officially transact in SGD in China, which is why it’s time to start getting used to CNY and learning more about the currency exchange rates so you’ll know what you’re spending on your trip.

This guide will walk through all you need to know, including Singapore dollar/Chinese Yuan rates and where best to get your travel money from.

Chinese Yuan
Currency nameChinese Yuan
Central BankPeople's Bank of China
Best travel cards to take to ChinaWise, Revolut

CNY coins and banknotes

Here’s a full rundown of the CNY coins and banknotes you’ll need to be familiar with when you’re in China.

CNY banknotesCNY coins
banknotes - 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 CNYcoins - 1, 2, 5 jiao; 1 CNY

History of Chinese Yuan currency

The Chinese Yuan (CNY), also known as Renminbi, which means "people's currency," was introduced by the Communist Party in 1948, shortly before the establishment of the People's Republic of China. The introduction of the new currency was part of the economic reforms to unify the country under the communist regime after years of civil war and to end hyperinflation. The yuan has undergone several revaluations since then. China's economic rise has increased the yuan's role in the global financial system, leading to its inclusion in the IMF's Special Drawing Rights basket in 2016.

Is SGD accepted in China?

As we’ve seen, the official currency in China is CNY. If you carry SGD with you on your trip, you’ll probably need to exchange it before you can spend.

Sometimes when you’re away on a trip abroad you’ll find that merchants will take payments in a selection of major foreign currencies. However, the chances are that where this is offered, you won’t get a good exchange rate for your SGD. Planning smart and convenient ways to spend in CNY when you’re away is likely to mean you save on costs in the end.

Usually, having a few different ways to pay and get cash is the best option for travelers and tourists. That’s because you’ll have a back up plan in case one payment method isn’t accepted for any reason, and you can pick the method that’s best suited to the specific transaction. Having a multi-currency card from a provider like Wise or Revolut, plus your normal bank debit card, and some local cash in CNY should mean you’ve always got options. You can use your cash for small purchases and tipping, and make low cost payments and cash withdrawals with your multi-currency card, while keeping your bank card in reserve for emergencies.

Use a travel card on your next trip to China

Using a travel debit card in China is usually cheap, safe and convenient. A few providers in the UK offer multi-currency cards which come with a linked payment account that lets you convert, hold and spend in CNY. That allows you to add a balance in SGD and switch over to CNY to lock in the exchange rate and set your travel budget.

Once you have CNY in your account there are no extra fees to make payments, and you’ll not have foreign transaction charges to worry about, either.

Here’s a quick overview of a couple of handy travel debit cards you may want to order and use in China.

Wise travel card

Order a Wise travel card online or in the Wise app, to hold and exchange 40+ currencies and manage your money from your phone. You’ll be able to spend conveniently in CNY - and all currency exchange uses the mid-market rate with no markup.

Card holders get some free ATM withdrawals available every month, and there’s no annual or monthly fees to pay, and no minimum balance requirement.

Read a full Wise review here

Green Wise card
Go to Wise
Wise prosWise cons

✅ Currency exchange uses the mid-market rate

✅ No foreign transaction fees apply

✅ Free to hold and spend 40+ currencies

✅ Receive payments to your Wise account in a selection of global currencies

✅ No minimum balance or ongoing fees

❌ Card order fee applies

❌ ATM fees apply once you’ve exhausted your free monthly withdrawals 

Revolut card

Revolut offers several different account plans so you can pick the one that suits your needs and spending, including some with no monthly fees. All account plans let you hold and exchange multiple currencies in the same account, and there’s no-fee to spend currencies you hold.

Depending on the plan you pick you’ll get fixed levels of no-fee ATM withdrawals and mid-market currency exchange every month. Low fees apply once you exhaust your plan no-fee limits.

Read a full Revolut review here

Go to Revolut
Revolut prosRevolut cons

✅ Hold and exchange a selection of global currencies, spend currencies you hold with no extra fee

✅ Choose from different account tiers to suit different customer needs

✅ Get some currency exchange every month which uses the mid-market rate - limits vary by account plan

✅ No card order fee

✅ Some account tiers have extra perks including travel benefits

❌ Ongoing fees apply for some account tiers

❌ No branch network for a face to face service

❌ Fees apply once you exhaust your account no-fee transaction limits

What is the currency exchange rate for £ 1 SGD/CNY?

It’s helpful to get to know the live SGD/CNY rate so you can easily calculate how much things are costing you while you’re on your trip abroad. The rate you need to focus on is the mid market rate, which is the one banks and major currency services get when buying and selling currencies. This rate isn’t always passed on to customers. Instead you may find that the SGD/CNY rate you get when exchanging travel cash includes a markup - an extra fee.

Find the SGD/CNY mid-market rate from a currency conversion site or a website like this, so you can keep an eye on the market and compare the rates you’re offered as you travel against the mid-market rate easily.

Should I exchange SGD to CNY before traveling to China?

It’s a good idea to exchange SGD to CNY before you head off to China, as you can often find a better exchange rate and lower overall costs before you travel.

When you’re in China you’re going to need CNY in cash for some of your spending - particularly when tipping or making smaller value purchases. Buying your CNY travel money in advance can get you better SGD/CNY exchange rates, and saves you wasting precious time shopping around for a good deal once you arrive in China.

Tips for exchanging money in China

Cards are widely accepted in China, but you’ll still need to watch the exchange rate given when making a transaction from SGD to CNY. Some merchants offer to let you pay in SGD instead of CNY, but this will usually mean paying more because of dynamic currency conversion costs.

Best place to exchange currency in China

You can get your CNY in China in a couple of ways.

You’ll be able to use a travel debit card from a provider like Wise or Revolut to make convenient payments and cash withdrawals and to convert funds online.

Or if you prefer an offline solution you can carry some cash in SGD to exchange when you arrive. Currency exchange providers are often in airports and hotels, although the exchange shops in a city center are likely to be cheaper overall.

How to pay in China?

You’ll need to have CNY to spend in China. However, generally having a few different payment methods is a good plan. That means that if a merchant won't accept one, you’ve got a back up. It’s also reassuring to know you have a different way to pay if you were unlucky enough to have a card or some travel cash stolen. Here are your key payment options in China.

1. Debit or credit card

Card payments can be helpful in shops, restaurants and hotels but there will be places where cash is also important. Order a travel card from a provider like Wise or Revolut for cheap and fast transactions, including card payments and cash withdrawals as and when you need travel money in CNY.

2. CNY cash

  • Cash is widely used in China, so it’s worth having some with you at all times. You may want to exchange money to CNY before you leave, but it’s also usually convenient to make ATM withdrawals locally once you arrive in China.

  • You’ll usually find you can use a card to make payments in China, but carrying some cash in CNY is also reassuring. It’s often easier for tipping and making smaller purchases, plus you’ve got a nice backup if your card is ever out of action for some reason.

  • It’s a smart idea to have both a card and some cash in CNY when you’re in China. Some merchants will prefer cash, but having a card for higher value payments and in busier more tourist places is also convenient. Consider using a travel card from a provider like Wise or Revolut alongside your cash for flexibility.

Paying for the trip in SGD

If you’re paying for things in China with a SGD bank card you might find a foreign transaction fee is added. This pushes up your costs when you spend in a foreign currency, and can be tricky to calculate.

Travel debit cards don’t always work this way. When you make purchases in China using the Wise card you can either choose to convert your account balance to CNY in advance in the Wise app, or just leave your balance in SGD and let the card handle the transaction when you pay. You’ll always get the lowest available fee and there are no extra foreign transaction charges.

Conclusion - Currency in China

You won’t be able to pay in SGD when you visit China - so learning about the currency you need is essential. Whether you decide to use a travel debit card from a service like Wise , or stock up on CNY in cash in advance, knowing the mid-market exchange rate can help you get the best available deal. Use this guide to learn all you need to know about the options, rates and fees for exchanging SGD to CNY, and make your money go further while you’re away.

The official currency in China is CNY. You can’t usually pay in SGD in China, so you’ll need to plan in advance to get your travel money sorted. Consider ordering a travel debit card from a service like Wise, for low cost conversions to CNY and convenient spending and withdrawals - and remember that knowing the SGD to CNY mid-market exchange rate is essential to check you’re getting a fair deal on currency exchange.

FAQ - Currency in China

What is the currency in China called?

The official currency in China is the Chinese Yuan. You may also see the code CNY and the currency symbol ¥.

What's the currency in Beijing?

The official currency in Beijing is the Chinese Yuan. You’ll only be able to spend in CNY while you’re there.

What is the old China currency?

Today the currency in China is the Chinese Yuan. If you’re worried about currencies changing, why not get a travel debit card from a service like Wise which will automatically pick the currency needed in your destination when making a payment - with no penalties or inflated fees.

What is the best currency to take to China?

You’ll only be able to spend in CNY while you’re in China. Carrying some money in cash and using a travel debit card from a service like Wise is usually the best way to spend while you’re away from home.