Getting to know the Chinese currency

The Chinese currency is called ‘renminbi’. In Mandarin, it literally means the people’s currency.

The yuan is the basic unit of the renminbi. It’s the Chinese equivalent of a dollar or a pound.

Everything for sale in China is expressed in yuan. However, people usually say ‘kuai’ (instead of yuan) on the street. This is like saying a ‘buck’ in the US or a ‘quid’ in the UK.

One yuan is made up of 10 jiao (or mao), which in turn is made up of 10 fen. This makes everything easy to count.

If you're teaching English in, or visiting, Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan, you'll need to use the local currency. Renminbi is legal tender in mainland China only.

Keeping on top of Chinese exchange rates

Although you can earn a decent salary in many Chinese schools, the money may not stretch as far when you return home.

That’s why it’s important to keep exchange rates in mind if you send or bring money home.

Exchange rates as at August 6, 2018 are as follows:

Country (currency) Exchange rate
USA (USD) 6.82
UK (GBP) 8.86
Canada (CAD) 5.25
Australia (AUD) 5.05
Ireland (EUR) 7.88
New Zealand (NZD) 4.60

 

Putting the exchange rate into practice – an example

Jimmy, an American teacher in China, spends 20 yuan on some delicious dumplings and stir-fried vegetables.

To calculate how much this costs him in US dollars, he divides the figure by 6.82. Jimmy’s meal works out to be about US$3. That's cheap!

Go to XE for the latest exchange rates.

Understanding the art of bargaining in China

If you enjoy the practice of bargaining, you’ll love shopping in China!

The country is full of bustling markets with clothes, gifts and other merchandise, and negotiating the price you pay for these goods is the norm.

Ask for the cost of the item and give a counter-offer of around half or two-thirds. The vendor isn’t likely to give it to you for half price, so you’ll need to go back-and-forth a few times until you arrive at a price you’re comfortable with.

Haggling is part of Chinese culture, so when you’re out shopping it’s important to think and act like a Chinese person. They would never accept the first price they’re given!

Note that you generally can’t bargain at shopping malls and high-street shops.

The longer you teach English in China, the better you'll become at getting the lowest prices at the markets. Good luck!

Learning the Chinese numbers

To get a grasp on how money works in China, and to be able to bargain, it’s a good idea to learn the numbers in Mandarin. Even knowing numbers 1 through 10 will help you outside the classroom.

Luckily, Chinese numbers follow a pretty logical sequence. Although 200 breaks the pattern, with a bit of practice you should be able to count up to 999 with relative ease.

As a teacher in China, it would be rare that you would need to spend 1,000 yuan or more on general living items, so learning up to 999 is considered a relatively safe level.

Are you ready to start counting?

Number Chinese character Pinyin (how you pronounce it)
0 líng
1
2 èr
3 sān
4
5
6 liù
7
8
9 jiǔ
10 shí
11 十一 shí yī
12 十二 shí èr
13 十三 shí sān
14 十四 shí sì
15 十五 shí wǔ
16 十六 shí liù
17 十七 shí qī
18 十八 shí bā
19 十九 shí jiǔ
20 二十 èr shí
21 二十一 èr shí yī
30 三十 sān shí
40 四十 sì shí
50 五十 wǔ shí
60 六十 liù shí
70 七十 qī shí
80 八十 bā shí
90 九十 jiǔ shí
100 一百 yī bǎi
101 一百零一 yī bǎi líng yī
110 一百一(十) yī bǎi yī (shí)
111 一百一十一 yī bǎi yī shí yī
120 一百二(十) yī bǎi èr (shí)
121 一百二十一 yī bǎi èr shí yī
200 两百 liǎng bǎi
300 三百 sān bǎi
400 四百 sì bǎi
500 五百 wǔ bǎi
600 六百 liù bǎi
700 七百 qī bǎi
800 八百 bā bǎi
900 九百 jiǔ bǎi
999 九百九十九 jiǔ bǎi jiǔ shí jiǔ

 

Don’t worry if you find you're struggling to learn the numbers. You’ll have plenty of real-life practice in China. Your new Chinese friends will be eager to help you too.

Ultimately, you're not expected to have any Mandarin skills to teach in China. All you need is English!