Money makes the world go round, doesn’t it?
Okay, money isn’t everything, but it does play a huge part in our lives.
Financial security is important, though—that’s for certain. There’s even a study that suggests counting money relieves pain. I guess one could say that having deep pockets is therapeutic or comforting.
Because money is so essential to us and the fact that China is one of the top 10 wealthiest nations in the world, it makes sense to learn this particular vocabulary theme in Chinese.
But first, let’s talk about Chinese currency.
Chinese Currency: CNY vs. RMB
You might’ve heard people referring to Chinese money as yuan and remininbi. So what exactly is the difference between the two?
Without getting too technical with financial lingo, 元 (yuán) is the unit of account; simply meaning a unit that indicates how price is measured, such as the value of banknotes and coins. Thus, when you’re talking about denominations, you’d say 100 yuan, 50 yuan, 20 yuan, 10 yuan and so forth.
Yuan (¥) is also the symbol and unit used in foreign exchange, and CNY is the abbreviation used in international finance, trading and other modes of monetary exchange.
Renminbi (RMB) or 人民币 (rénmínbì), on the other hand, is the official currency of China. Known as the “people’s currency,” it’s referred to as the country’s medium of exchange.
The difference between the two is subtle, but most of the time, people will talk about Chinese money in terms of renminbi, as indicated in this conversation below.
Even though the two people in the conversation are discussing foreign exchange rates, the first speaker is speaking about Chinese currency as a medium of exchange, not as a unit of account. Therefore, he refers to Chinese currency as renminbi.
Now that you know what the currency is in China, let’s get on with the rest of the post.
Cha-ching! Money in Chinese and How to Talk About It
Whether we like it or not, we talk about money on a daily basis. Let’s go over all the relevant vocabulary for discussing money in Chinese.
Vocabulary Terms for Cash, Currency, Money and More
货币 (huòbì) — currency
钱 (qián) — money
现金 (xiànjīn) — cash, ready money
钞票 (chāopiào) — banknote, paper money, (money) bill
硬币 (yìngbì) — coin
零钱 (língqián) — small change, loose change
元 (yuán) — monetary unit
块 (kuài) — informal form of 元, more common in conversation
角 (jiǎo) — 0.1 yuan, 10 cents/pennies, dime
毛 (máo) — informal form of 角, more common in conversation
分 (fēn) — 0.01 yuan, 1 cent/penny
钱包 (qiánbāo) — wallet
零钱包 (líng qiánbāo) — coin purse
When discussing price, you might’ve noticed native speakers switching between 元 and 块. This is similar in the United States, where you might switch between “dollars” and “bucks,” or in the UK where they’d use “pounds” and “quid” interchangeably.
While 块 is considered the informal version of 元, it’s more commonly used than 元 in everyday situations.
So if you want to say ¥50, you can either say:
五十元 (wǔshí yuán)
五十块 (wǔshí kuài)
One thing to note is that 元 is normally used for prices in whole numbers. If a price has decimal points, 块 would be the unit to use.
For example, if you want to say ¥9.30, you’d say:
九块三毛 (jiǔ kuài sān máo)
For brevity, say 九块三.
In China these days, it’s rare for anything to be priced to the exact penny, but if you do come across a product that costs ¥6.24, the price in Chinese would be 六块两毛四分 (liù kuài liǎng máo sì fēn).
It’s a mouthful, so don’t hesitate to shorten it to 六块两毛四.
No cash in your wallet? No problem.
China’s steadily moving towards being a cashless society, with even small street vendors accepting mobile payments. Both locals and foreigners alike have been using apps such as Alipay and WeChat Pay to shop, pay bills, book tickets and more. Yes, WeChat is much more than just a messaging app.
Here are the options of payment when going cashless:
借记卡 (jiè jì kǎ) — debit card
信用卡 (xìnyòngkǎ) — credit card
Visa卡 (visa kǎ) — Visa card
万事达卡 (wànshìdá kǎ) — MasterCard
支付宝 (zhīfùbǎo) — Alipay
微信支付 (wēixìnzhīfù) — WeChat Pay
To pay by card, simply say:
我要刷卡 (wǒ yào shuākǎ), which literally means you want to swipe your card.
To ask if the above cashless payments are available, you’d just tack on 可以吗 (kěyǐ ma) after saying your preferred payment.
For example, if you want to ask, “Do you accept WeChat Pay?” or “Can I pay by WeChat?” you’d say:
微信可以吗? (wēixìn kěyǐ ma?)
Phrases for Money Transactions
Things to Say When Shopping
You might already know some key phrases when it comes to shopping, so let’s focus primarily on money exchanges.
To ask, “How much is this?” in Mandarin, you’d ask:
这个多少钱? (zhège duōshǎo qián?)
Is it too expensive? Say:
太贵了! (tài guì le!)
If you happen to be shopping at a market or a store that does allow bartering, you could ask for a discount.
An indirect way of asking is by saying:
能便宜一点吗? (néng piányi yīdiǎn ma?), meaning “Can you reduce the price?”
Although if you don’t mind being more direct, you could ask:
可以打折吗? (kěyǐ dǎzhé ma?), meaning “Can I get a discount?” or “Is there a discount?”
Unless specified otherwise, most stores and vendors accept cash payments.
Refer to the formula provided above if you’re going cashless.
Paying for Meals
You’ve successfully ordered your food in Chinese, and now it’s time to pay the bill.
If you haven’t been given the bill yet, you can ask for it by saying:
服务员,买单 (fú wù yuán, mǎi dān), which literally translates to, “Server, bill.”
Need to split the bill? Let your server know that you want to pay separately by saying:
分开付 (fēn kāi fù) — pay separately
If you need an invoice for tax purposes, just ask 可以给我发票吗? (kěyǐ gěi wǒ fāpiào ma?), which means, “Can you give me an invoice/official receipt?”
You’d then indicate the type of 发票 you need.
In China, you’d request either “individual,” which is 个人 (gèrén), or “company,” which is 单位 (dānwèi).
For the latter, you’ll have to provide your company name and address in Chinese.
Conversations at the Bank
Looking for an ATM machine, or perhaps need a bank statement?
Most of the time, there will be an English-speaking representative at the bank, and the main banks in China also have hotlines specifically for English-speaking services. In case your bank has neither, or if you’re afraid that things will get lost in translation, here are some helpful terms to get you by.
You already know how to say credit and debit card in Chinese. Let’s take it a bit further with other bank-related vocabulary. Regardless of whether you can carry a conversation in Chinese without fumbling, knowing these terms will at least give the bank tellers an idea of the kind of service you require.
自动取款机 (zìdòng qǔkuǎn jī) — ATM
银行 (yínháng) — bank
新账户 (xīn zhànghù) — new bank account
帐号 (zhànghào) — account number
储蓄账户 (chúxù zhànghù) — savings account
支票账户 (zhīpiào zhànghù) — checking account
银行证明 (yínháng zhèngmíng) — bank certificate
银行对账单 (yínháng duì zhàng dān) — bank statement
取钱 (qǔ qián) — to withdraw (from a bank account)
存入 (cún rù) — to deposit (from a bank account)
存款单 (cúnkuǎn dān) — deposit slip
国外汇兑 (guówài huìduì) — foreign exchange
Different Currencies in Chinese
Curious about what global currencies are in Chinese? Here are the Mandarin translations for the most commonly traded currencies for your reference.
美元 (měiyuán) — USD, American dollar
欧元 (ōuyuán) — EUR, euro
日元 (rì yuán) — JPY, Japanese yen
英镑 (yīngbàng) — GBP, Great British pound, pound sterling
澳元 (àoyuán) — AUD, Australian dollar
加元 (jiā yuán) — CAD, Canadian dollar
瑞士法郎 (ruìshì fǎláng) — CHF, Swiss franc
港元 (gǎngyuán) — HKD, Hong Kong dollar
纽元 (niǔ yuán) — NZD, New Zealand dollar
瑞典克朗 (ruìdiǎn kèlǎng) — SEK, Swedish krona
And there you have it. Knowing all these terms and phrases may not be as pain-relieving as counting money, but it sure does make life a lot easier when dealing with money in Chinese.