Modern Chinese Money Isn’t a Puzzle: How to Recognize China’s Currency and Understand Money Changing

China’s currency is called Renminbi, usually abbreviated RMB or CNY which stands for Chinese yuan. Although the lowest denomination is called fen, it is rarely used because it is worth so little. Ten fen are equal to one jiao, also called mao, which is approximately 1.5 American cents. One, two and five jiao notes are in circulation but, like pennies, not always used. Many business people just round up or down to the nearest jiao. Ten jiao are equal to one yuan. Yuan, or more commonly called kuai, is circulated in notes of one, five, ten, twenty, fifty and one-hundred.

When it Comes to Chinese Currency, Size Matters

Each denomination is a different size with the one being the smallest. Each note in the succession is five centimeters longer than its predecessor with the one-hundred being the largest. There are three different widths. The one and the five are the same and the thinnest. The ten, twenty and fifty are all the same and the one-hundred is the widest.

All of the notes are colorful with subtle patterns on both the front and the back. The bill’s denomination can be identified by the color:

  • 1 – predominantly olive green with a pale orange accent
  • 5 – the main color is purple with some tan, blue and pink details
  • 10 – primarily blue with gray-green and pink bleeding into each other in a center band
  • 20 – orange with accents of turquoise and pink
  • 50 – forest green with a bit of purple
  • 100 – mostly red with some yellow, orange and blue

Chairman Mao Zedong’s picture is on the right hand side of the face of each of the yuan notes. Slightly left of the center of each note, and in the right hand corner, is a number, the value. Under the number each denomination has a different flower.

The reverse sides of the notes each show a different scenic or historical site along with the denominational number in all of the corners except the right bottom one.

Exchange Foreign Money in China With ATM Machines and the Internet

It is against the law to use foreign money in China or to buy Chinese money from a private person. Banks and some hotels are approved to make such transactions. However money changing is not as difficult as it once was. ATMs can be found thoughout China and many accept foreign cards. There’s no limit to the amount of foreign money that can be changed into Chinese money but it is important to keep the receipts. When leaving the country, foreign currency can only be purchased up to the amount exchanged.

Historically, the exchange rate has fluctuated independently. More recently it has stayed within a few cents of an exchange rate of 6.8 yuan for one dollar even though the exchange rates for other countries has changed. Current rates of exchange are available online.