Money and credit cards in Tibet
What currency can I use in Tibet?
Chinese Yuan (CNY) is the only currency in Tibet, also called the Renminbi (RMB). Foreign currencies cannot be used directly, they have to be converted into Chinese Yuan "CNY/RMB", and people in Tibet do not use coins as the other major cities in China.
If you are traveling to the remote areas in Tibet, try and get your cash in small denominations, since RMB 100 and RMB 50 bills are sometimes difficult to get rid of in rural Tibet.
How to exchange my money in Tibet?
In Tibet, the only place to change foreign currency and travelers' checks are the Bank of China. However, going to the bank needs to wait in line for the exchange business, which often takes 1-2 hours. Bank of China's working hours are from 08:30 am to 17:00 pm, and generally will not accept business and provide services after 16:30 pm. The working hours on weekends are from 09:00 am to 16:30 pm, and the business processing and services will no longer be accepted after 16:00 pm. In addition, at noon, there is an hour of lunch break that will close the window to stop the business.
The 5-stars hotels in Lhasa (e.g. The St. Regis Lhasa Resort, Shangri-La Hotel, Lhasa, InterContinental Lhasa Paradise, etc.) have exchange services but they are only available for their guests.
There are very few banks and ATMs in other places in Tibet. It's a waste of time and energy to search for banks to exchange the cash when you are on the journey, and some areas even have no banks.
Can I use credit cards in Tibet?
The short answer is YES. However, credit cards are not recommended as a way of payment in Tibet. The debit and credit cards used in China are UnionPay. The MasterCard and Visa cards can only be used in luxury hotels like St. Regis Lhasa Resort, Shangri-La Hotel, etc. In addition, the number of shops/restaurants/hotels (only 5-star hotels) in Lhasa that can accept international credit cards is rather limited. Other Tibetan cities outside Lhasa are even more inconvenient to use credit cards, even UnionPay cards.
The Lhasa branch of the Bank of China provides credit card advances. Most of the time you cannot get cash by ATM from small branches, it's better to go to the main branch nearby Potala Palace. A 3% commission is usually deducted and the minimum advance is normally RMB 2,000.
Agricultural Bank of China has the most branches and ATMs in Tibet. Some ATMs (from all Chinese banks) can accept Visa or MasterCard to withdraw cash, but the handling fee is very high and the repayment date is shorter. Different banks have different handling fees and repayment cycles. Travelers should consult their local bank for specific details of cash withdrawals in China prior to departure.
In general, there are too few places in Tibet where you can use credit cards, especially the international credit cards. It is best to withdraw enough cash in advance when traveling in Tibet.
With the development of technology and network, mobile payment becomes more and more popular in Tibet including the remote areas. AliPay and WeChat Pay are the two main mobile payments in Tibet, as the Apple Pay is not available in Tibet.
Price reference in Tibet
For personal expenses like meals and laundry in Tibet, travelers may prepare about 200-300 RMB per day per person. Most of the tour package will exclude lunch, dinner, and breakfast in the remote area, the hotels will provide daily breakfast. Normally, a bowl of noodles or fried rice costs from 15RMB to 40RMB depending on the meats and vegetables you choose. A traditional Chinese or Tibetan meal costs 60-100 RMB per person. The single price of drinks and desserts is from 5-40 RMB. While for vegetarian travelers, you would save about 50-100 RMB every day.
The laundry service is available in the hotels of the big cities like Lhasa and Shigatse, the cost is about 10-40 RMB per piece. As for the souvenirs, the price is ranging from a few RMB to tens of thousands of RMB, based on the item you chose. And the best place to buy them is Barkhor Street in Lhasa or the lively market in Shigatse.
Tipping is not necessary for Tibet, hence, travelers don’t need to tip at most of the restaurants and hotels. However, some luxury hotels may require tips for bellman or other service staff.
During the tour, WindhorseTour does not include the tips, however, tipping is not compulsory. We encourage our clients to prepare to tip their guide and driver based on the personal reflection on the received service. For reference, we suggest tipping about 100-150 CNY per day per group each for the guide and driver. It is best to tip them at the end of the tour and as a whole group.