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I'll be traveling to China soon, specifically to Wuhan, and I remember reading somewhere (I don't remember where, unfortunately) that it's only possible to exchange USD for RMB in China itself - is that true?

Or if not, is it just a much better idea to do the exchange in China for some reason, e.g. exchange rates?

And a bonus question: can I expect to find a trustworthy English-speaking exchange agent at the airport in Beijing, where I have a layover, or in Wuhan?

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in many if not most communist and 3rd world countries, the import and export of the local currency is illegal, or highly restricted (very small amounts only, like change left over from paying the taxi to the airport). I'd not be surprised if this were the case in China as well. –  jwenting Oct 9 '12 at 6:54
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up vote 9 down vote accepted

China has lifted most of the restrictions on trade in Chinese currency, so it has been possible to (legally) obtain renminbi outside China for a few years. When entering and leaving China, you are allowed to bring 20,000 CNY in local currency (appr. 3,200 USD) and 5,000 USD or equivalent in foreign currency (source: Chinese Customs).

Assuming that you are in the United States, I can't tell if you are actually able to obtain Chinese currency there. Here in Germany, most currency exchange offices sell renminbi, but I would expect the exchange rates to be better in China. If you really have to exchange cash, check a site like xe.com for the "real" exchange rate and find a Chinese office, where the offered exchange rate is not much worse. My experience is that the best deal is usually to withdraw cash from a local ATM if you need paper money.

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