Currency, Credit Cards and Changing Money in TibetBack to all travel tips
If you're planning a holiday in Tibet, this is what you need to know about currency, cash and credit cards.
The currency in Tibet is the Chinese Yuan (Renminbi). Bank notes come in denominations of 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 yuan.
Taking cash & cards
These notes are all widely accepted in the major cities, but some of the smaller local restaurants and shops are not equipped to give a lot of change, and prefer notes to the value of 50 yuan or less.
There are ATM machines in Lhasa, Tsedang and Shigatse, but if you are travelling to more remote areas then it is advisable to make sure you have sufficient cash with you. Also bear in mind that most ATMs will charge a small fee for cash withdrawals using a foreign bank card. Please check with your individual bank for specific fees, and always remember to inform your bank before using your card overseas.
The use of credit and debit cards is rare in Tibet. They should be accepted in some of the more upmarket hotels in large cities, but other than that you will still need to use cash for most transactions, so make sure you have a supply of cash with you to pay for any purchases or services not included in the cost of your trip.
China's currency, the Yuan (RMB), is considered an exotic currency by most foreign exchange providers, so for a good rate it is best to wait until arriving in China to obtain Yuan. The Bank of China has branches in most large cities where you can change British pounds into Yuan at an excellent rate, commission-free. Most large hotels also offer foreign exchange facilities with similar rates to the banks. Money exchange booths at the arrivals hall of main airports offer exchange rates and commission levels that are less favourable.
As China remains a cash-based society, it is worth exchanging a reasonable amount as you will need cash for many day to day transactions. If you are travelling to the more remote parts of Tibet we also recommend taking a few US Dollars in cash as a back-up. The exchange rates on offer for US Dollars in the UK vary considerably, so it pays to shop around.
As a general rule always avoid exchanging money at the airport unless you have pre-ordered to secure a favourable rate. One of the most convenient ways to get the best exchange rate is to order in advance and collect the currency at the providers' outlet, or arrange delivery. You can check the best rates available on price comparison websites such as moneysavingexpert.com or travelsupermarket.com. The Post Office's pre-ordering service is usually competitive and convenient for collection.
Prepaid credit cards are now the safest way to travel with "cash", and are much more cost effective and convenient than Travellers Cheques which are now slowly becoming obsolete. We recommend the Caxton FX Global Traveller card which offers a fixed exchange rate at 2.75% below the prevailing interbank rate when spending overseas and withdrawing local currency from ATMs. Unlike credit cards the application process is straightforward, but you need to allow 7 days for delivery of the card. For more information please visit caxtonfx.com.
If you have less time there is the Travelex Cash Passport which can be applied for up to 24 hours prior to departure, then picked up at branch in a number of airports (including London Heathrow, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds Bradford, East Midlands, and Newcastle) multicurrencycashpassport.com.
If you travel regularly it will pay to apply for one of the specialist credit cards for travellers that offer excellent rates of exchange and charge zero "load" fees when purchasing items, or withdrawing local currency from ATMs whilst abroad. For up to date information on the best specialist credit cards for travellers we suggest visiting one of the price comparison websites such as moneysavingexpert.com or travelsupermarket.com.