The Chinese currency is called ‘renminbi’ (人民币) or RMB for short.
In Mandarin, it translates as the people’s currency.
The yuan (元) 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, on the street people usually say ‘kuai’ (块) instead of yuan. This is like saying a ‘buck’ in the US or a ‘quid’ in the UK.
Renminbi is China's national currency (pictured: 100 yuan note).
One yuan is made up of 10 jiao (角) or, in spoken Chinese, 10 mao (毛).
This makes everything relatively easy to count, as outlined further down.
If you’re in Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan, you'll need to use the local currency. Renminbi is legal tender in mainland China only.
To get a grasp on how money works in China, and to count in Chinese, it’s worth learning the numbers in Mandarin.
Even knowing numbers 1 through 10 will help you in everyday situations.
You'll see these common characters everywhere in China.
Beyond 10, Chinese numbers follow a fairly 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)|
|21||二十一||èr shí yī|
|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|
|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. And your new Chinese friends will be eager to help you!
How to count money in Chinese
Let’s say a drink costs RMB 3.5 in China.
The way to say this in Mandarin Chinese follows this structure:
Number + 块 + Number + 毛
Remember, 块 (kuài) is the common way of saying yuán. And there are 10 毛 (máo) in a kuài.
So, RMB 3.5 is 三块五毛
When you’re buying things in the shops, however, people generally don’t say the last word (毛). It’s implied, so it drops off.
In English, it’s like saying “three dollars fifty” rather than “three dollars fifty cents”.
So, RMB 3.5 is 三块五 (informal way)
If a drink was just RMB 3, in Chinese it would be 三块. Easy!
In a supermarket
In Chinese supermarkets, prices will be more specific. For example, a drink might be RMB 3.56.
This would be said as 三块五毛六 (just add the 6 on the end).
Exception to the rule
With all foreign languages, there are exceptions to the rule. Mandarin is no different.
If a number starts with a 2, it’s represented as liǎng (两) rather than èr (二).
So, if a drink costs RMB 2.5, it’s 两块五.
If the drink was RMB 2.52 in a supermarket, it would be said as 两块五二.
Counting with your hands
Chinese people often use their hands when showing you the price for something, especially in markets.
While 1 to 5 may look familiar, 6 through 10 are unique to China.
As you can see in the picture, there are different ways to show the number 10.
Practice makes perfect!
You’ll earn a generous local salary when you’re teaching in China.
However, the money you make in China won’t 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.
Approximate, recent exchange rates are shown in the table below.
Or, you can use the XE tool for live rates.
|Country (currency)||Exchange rate|
|New Zealand (NZD)||4.52|
Putting the exchange rate into practice – an example
Jimmy, an American teacher in China, spends 15 yuan on a bowl of dumplings.
To calculate how much this costs him in US dollars, he divides the figure by 6.79. Jimmy’s meal works out to be about $2.20. That’s cheap!
Take a look at this page if you’d like to see the cost of everyday items in China.
Bargaining in China
If you enjoy the art of bargaining, you’ll love shopping in China!
The country is full of bustling markets with clothes, household goods, gifts and souvenirs, 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.
Bargaining is common at places like this across China.
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.
And most vendors have a calculator on hand, making it easier for you.
Next, read our Teach English in China Salary Guide for a range of different teaching roles.