The Chinese currency is known as renminbi, while the main individual units of the currency are called yuan. The currency's abbreviation is RMB, just as the U.S. dollar is often referred to as USD or the British pound is abbreviated GBP. You can convert USB to RMB in person at a bank or currency exchange facility, electronically or by using a Chinese ATM that contains yuan.
Dollar to RMB Exchange Rates
As with other currencies, you can look up current rates to convert the U.S. dollar to Chinese yuan online, use a USB to RMB calculator program to find the current rate for a particular amount of currency or ask a bank for the current exchange rate. Make sure you're checking with an up to date source that you trust.
Note that the Chinese government controversially takes steps to keep its currency at a steady price relative to other world currencies, including the dollar. It does this in an effort to maintain the balance of trade between China and its international partners at a rate that it prefers. This may affect your plans to hold RMB for a long period of time or as an investment.
Naturally, if you're traveling to China, you will almost certainly need to obtain some RMB or at least pay for transactions in RMB using your credit or debit card.
Currency Exchange Facilities and Banks
If you're traveling internationally, including to China, you can go to a currency exchange in the country you're visiting to swap one currency's cash for another.
Desks in banks, hotels and major international airports are common locations that likely have the ability to exchange currencies. You may also find standalone currency exchange facilities in your travels. These are more likely to be present in larger cities than smaller towns and rural regions, so if you plan to travel to more remote areas in China or any other country, you'll likely want to make sure you have the right local currency before you set forth.
Make sure that you're dealing with a reputable dealer in order to avoid breaking local laws and to minimize the risk of receiving counterfeit currency, or simply a bad exchange rate.
Exchange at the ATM
In some cases, your debit card from home can withdraw cash in foreign currencies while traveling internationally. Before you go, make sure you inform your bank that you will be traveling so that it doesn't flag the transaction as potential fraud.
ATMs can often deliver better exchange rates than in-person currency exchanges, but not all ATMs in a foreign country will necessarily be compatible with your bank and card. You'll often find more success at branches of well-known international banks.
Make sure you understand any fees charged by your bank or the operator of the ATM to access your cash.
Paying by Credit Card Abroad
You can often use your debit or credit card to make purchases while traveling abroad. Your credit card company will automatically apply prevailing exchange rates to charge you in your home currency, such as U.S. dollars, when you make purchases in an overseas shop.
Some credit cards, but not all, will charge an additional fee for foreign currency transactions. If you're going to be traveling abroad regularly or spending a bit of money on a trip, consider which cards you have that don't charge such a fee and whether you want to open a new account for your international travels.
Save Your Receipts
If you're exchanging currency while traveling abroad, you may want to exchange the funds back to U.S. dollars at the end of your trip. Some Chinese currency dealers will only exchange your RMB currency for USD if you have a receipt from when you obtained the RMB. For this reason, it's important to save your receipts when you make a currency exchange in China.
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Steven Melendez is an independent journalist with a background in technology and business. He has written for a variety of business publications including Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, Innovation Leader and Ad Age. He was awarded the Knight Foundation scholarship to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.