Renminbi, or the Chinese Yuan, is the official currency of mainland China. Hong Kong dollars (HKD) is the currency of Hong Kong and Macanese Patacas (MOP) is the currency of Macau — though you can also use HKD in Macau.
You can compare travel money options for China and Hong Kong in this guide, as well as learn some general tips for how much money you might need to take with you.
Which should I choose: a travel card, debit card or credit card?
A prepaid travel card lets you pre-load several different foreign currencies onto your card before you even leave the country. This means that you can lock in a favourable exchange rate before you leave for your trip, and don't need to worry about exchange rates falling while you're overseas. By loading money on the card in the currency you'll be using, for example Chinese Yuan (CNY), you'll be ready to pay in the local currency when you get there. You'll only have access to what you load onto the card, it isn't attached to your full bank account like a debit card is. This can be a good safety benefit.
Benefits: Prepaid travel cards can be used anywhere that a regular debit or credit card can be used.
Visa and MasterCard debit cards can be used at the point of sale and to withdraw cash from an ATM. These debit cards can be used all around the world without any issues. Instead of pre-loading foreign currency before you leave for your trip, instead, when you make a purchase with your Australian debit card in China the currency exchange will happen on the spot. This means that whatever the daily exchange rate is between AUD and CNY will be applied at the time of the transaction (plus the banks mark up).
Tip: Lots of Australian debit cards charge no foreign transaction fees and no overseas ATM fees, making them a good option for saving money when travelling.
Credit cards are the preferred means for deposits at hotels in China, you're going to need a credit card to pay for large holiday related expenses. Places you can use your credit card include 3-star hotels and above, large department stores and retail chains and larger restaurants. If in doubt, ask whether credit cards are accepted before you buy or sit down for a meal. If you're staying outside the major cities, for your day to day purchases, it's better to use cash. You can preload your credit card with your own money and use it to make ATM withdrawals: you'll avoid the cash advance charge and interest rate, and you won't get any interest free days on cash advance transactions. If you're using one of the Bankwest Platinum credit cards or the Latitude 28° Global Platinum Mastercard, you can avoid the international ATM fee and the currency conversion fee too. Using a credit card with a positive balance is not advised. You waive the card scheme anti-fraud guarantees when you're using your credit card to spend your own money.
Tip: Use the Citibank Plus to make free ATM withdrawals from Citibank ATMs.
These are slowly being phased out. Banks in China usually refuse to cash traveller's cheques. The time spent searching for a bank to cash your cheques and waiting in line to see a teller can mean that traveller's cheques are more hassle than they're worth.
In Hong Kong, traveller's cheques can be exchanged at banks and currency exchange offices. These businesses and financial institutions will charge a commission when you cash your cheques, which can be as high as 60HKD at some banks (avoid Hang Seng Bank). The Bank of China and Travelex can cash your cheques for a reasonable commission. However, the exchange rate will be much poorer than what you can get by using a debit or travel card product to make an ATM withdrawal.
Tip: You will need photo identification to cash traveller's cheques
China: outside of the major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an and Hong Kong, you won't be able to rely on using your card and will need to carry cash.
Hong Kong: There are no restrictions on the amount of Australian dollars you can bring into Hong Kong. You will need cash in Hong Kong, for example, you'll need to pay cash to purchase the Octopus Card, which is popular and widely accepted prepaid debit card that works at a number of businesses in Hong Kong. Still, if you want to get a taxi, go market shopping, eat at cafeterias and buy goods from street stalls you'll need cash. Your options: change Australian dollars when you arrive or withdraw from an ATM (this is the best option to get Hong Kong dollars). Furthermore, in some places you'll get a better price if you pay cash.
Macau: The main thing to note here is that the Macau currency can not be used in Hong Kong, it isn't worth your time to exchange your Hong Kong dollars to Macau patacas.
Visa, Mastercard and American Express cards can be used at Chinese ATMs. Look for the logo on the front of the machine. Bank of China, HSBC, ICBC and China Construction Bank ATMs all accept foreign cards. These machines will let you complete the transaction in English.
6-digit PIN. Chinese cards have a 6-digit PIN. Contact your card issuer before you travel to China to find out how you should withdraw cash if you have a 4-digit PIN. Anecdotal evidence suggests you can enter two zeroes followed by your PIN, but definitive advice from your card issuer is preferable.
ATM withdrawal limit. Chinese ATMs have low maximum withdrawal limits. A common withdrawal limit is approximately CNY2,000 per day, so keep this in mind when managing your travel budget.
Hong Kong and Macau
You'll find ATMs everywhere in Hong Kong and Macau; airports, ferry terminals, shopping centres, convenience stores and train stations (subway) all provide ATM facilities. ATMs are linked to the Cirrus and PLUS international Mastercard and Visa networks and ATMs facilities are available 24 hours a day. If you're using an American Express branded product such as their travel card or credit cards (with a cash advance facility), you can use Aeon ATMs to withdraw cash.
How much currency do I need for my trip to China/ Hong Kong/ Macau?
Hong Kong's status as an international city puts prices on par with Sydney, London, Paris, New York and so on. Although Hong Kong is expensive compared to other Asian cities, like Sydney, a trip to Hong Kong can be as expensive as you want it to be as well as offering prices to suit travellers on a shoestring — if you know the right places to eat and you're willing to share a room with other travellers in a hostel.
Hostel dorm $15 - $80 per night
2 Star Hotel $60 - $200 per night.
5 Star Hotel $300 - $1000+ per night
Tsim Chai Kee Wanton Noodles from a street stall $5 (or less)
SuperStar Seafood Restaurant $20 - $40 per dish
5 Star Dining at Island Tang $100 + a head
Museum of Tea Ware, Railway Museum, Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb Museum Free entry
Hong Kong half day guided tour $50 per person
Private full day tour to Macau from Hong Kong $300 per person
*Prices are estimates only.
The official currency of China is called the renminbi. The renminbi is made up of yuan. When referring to the name of the Chinese currency we use the title renminbi, which means 'the people's currency' in Mandarin. Holiday prices in China are a little cheaper than other developed nations in the region such as South Korea and Japan; however, expenses can easily balloon if you're on a 5 star holiday.
The Aussie dollar has been steadily losing ground since peaking after the economic mess of the Global Financial Crisis. A prepaid travel card lets you lock in a rate ahead of your trip. This way, you can secure your travel budget if you think the value of the Australian dollar will fall during your trip to China.
Australian Dollar (AUD) to Hong Kong dollars (HKD)*
*Average annual exchange rate. Exchange rates are accurate as of 4 September 2017
The Australian dollar has been losing ground against the renminbi since the Global Financial Crisis. In the last couple of years 1 Aussie dollar will get you about 4 - 5 yuan.
Australian Dollar (AUD) to Chinese Yuan Renminbi (CNY)*
*Average annual exchange rate. Exchange rates are accurate as of 4 September 2017
Australian dollars can be changed at banks and exchange offices in Hong Kong and Macau. Banks give the best rates of exchange, it will pay to shop around till you find a rate you're happy with. Hang Seng Bank, Wing Lung Bank and the Bank of China are popular for changing cash due to low commissions and better rates.
Tip: You'll pay more to exchange cash at international hotels: convenience comes at a price. Money changers in the tourist districts (Tsim Sha Tsui) are likely to provide a poor rate of exchange and charge a higher commission.
You shouldn't have any trouble finding a bank or licensed exchange office that can exchange AUD for CNY. The renminbi is regulated by the Chinese government. The rate you get at the airport is the same as the rate you get at banks and at official exchange offices.
Before joining her family in mainland China, Guangzhou for Chinese New Year, Shirley was keen to travel to Hong Kong with her friends.
What cards did you take with you?
Commonwealth Bank Debit Mastercard
Why did you take these cards?
Shirley took the Commonwealth Bank Debit Mastercard. At the time she says the currency conversion fee was about 2.5%. She didn't worry about this because she took a large amount of cash with her.
Where could you use your cards?
Shirley says there were no issues with card acceptance when she tried to use her debit card. She used cash most of the time. She says in rural areas of China, card acceptance would have been a problem.
What about ATM withdrawals?
Shirley didn't use ATMs when she was in Hong Kong.
What's your travel money recommendations?
Shirley says the Citibank Plus Transaction Account is the card to use in China, or anywhere overseas. She says she wasn't aware of the large number of Citibank ATMs that were in Hong Kong.
Do you have any travel money tips?
Shirley says if you're travelling during the Lunar New Year expect all the banks to be closed for as long as two weeks straight, so have your money already exchanged beforehand. She also says the Octopus Card is a popular option; while she didn't get one, a friend of hers did. It simplifies the payment process on public transport and many retailers take the Octopus card too.
Bargaining in China
If you're shopping for tourist items, haggle for a price you think is fair. The point is to come to an agreement over what the item is worth. Remember that haggling is a friendly and social interaction and should always be approached with a smile. There are no hard or fast rules about haggling, but keep these tips in mind when you're hunting for the best price:
Shop around. The same item is often sold at different shops and stalls. Visit a few places to find the best deal before you make a purchase.
Don't be afraid to walk away. If you don't like the price, smile and say thank you and move on to the next place.
Don't feel bad. The vendor isn't going to sell something for a loss. Don't think the price you're paying is too low if the vendor agrees to a sale.
Buying currency in Australia
The best way to get foreign cash is to make an ATM withdrawal in the airport when you arrive at your destination. You're subject to the Visa / Mastercard exchange rate, which is the best everyday consumers can get, and if you're using a no currency conversion and no international ATM fee product like the Citibank Plus to avoid the lion's share of international ATM withdrawal charges, it's the cheapest way to get foreign cash. If you do want to purchase foreign currency in Australia, consider these financial institutions.
Why you'll need a combination of travel money options.
China is still largely a cash economy. You can use your card to make payments at major department stores, hotels and restaurants. Taxi drivers, guides, any merchant on the street and most shops outside big cities accept cash only. Spread your travel money across a number of products (including cash) to ensure your holiday to the South of China will go off without a (financial) hitch. A select few prepaid travel cards are suited for this part of the world, whereas the Citibank Plus Transaction Account is good to use worldwide. As always, a line of credit for emergencies can be essential for a trip overseas, so look out for a credit card that doesn't charge for currency conversion to save on fees.
If you have any questions about travel money options for China, Hong Kong or Macau get in touch with us using the form at the bottom of the page.
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