For your trip to Tibet bring a mix of travellers cheques (say 60%), cash in US dollars (40%) and a credit card.
Several ATMs in Lhasa and Shigatse accept foreign cards. The Bank of China accepts Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club, American Express and Plus. The Agricultural Bank accepts Visa, Plus and Electron. Check before trying your card as many ATMs can only be used by domestic account holders.
The maximum amount you can withdraw per transaction is Y2000 with the Bank of China and Y1000 with the Agricultural Bank. Cards are occasionally eaten, so try to make your transaction during bank hours.
For those without an ATM card or credit card, a PIN-activated Visa TravelMoney card (US 1-877-394 2247) will give you access to predeposited cash through the ATM network.
Exchanging money
In Tibet, the only place to change foreign currency and travellers cheques is the Bank of China. Top-end hotels in Lhasa have exchange services but only for guests. Outside of Lhasa, the only other locations to change money are in Shigatse, Zhangmu, Purang (cash only) and Ali, and at the airport on arrival. If you are travelling upcountry, try to get your cash in small denominations: Y100 and Y50 bills are sometimes difficult to get rid of in rural Tibet.
The currencies of Australia, Canada, the US, the UK, Hong Kong, Japan, the euro zone and most of the rest of Western Europe are acceptable at the Lhasa Bank of China. The official rate is given at all banks and most hotels, so there is little need to shop around for the best deal. The standard commission is 0.75%.
The only place in Tibet to officially change RMB back into foreign currency is the central Lhasa branch of the Bank of China. You will need your original exchange receipts. You cannot change RMB into dollars at Gongkar airport.
Moneychangers at Zhangmu (by the Nepal border) will change yuan into Nepali rupees and vice versa. Yuan can also easily be reconverted in Hong Kong and, increasingly, in many Southeast Asian countries.
International transfers
Getting money sent to you in Lhasa is possible but it can be a drag. One option is by using the Bank of China’s central office in Lhasa. Money should be wired to the Bank of China, Tibet/Lhasa branch, 28 Linkuo Xilu, bank account No 90600668341, SWIFT code BKCHCNBJ900. Double-check wiring instructions with the bank beforehand.
The second option is via Western Union (, which can wire money via the Express Mail Service (EMS) at Lhasa’s main post office.
Although big hotels may add a tax or ‘service charge’ of 10% to 15%, all other taxes are included in the price tag, including airline departure tax.
Travellers cheques
Besides the advantage of safety, travellers cheques are useful to carry in Tibet because the exchange rate is higher (by about 3%) than it is for cash. The Bank of China charges a 0.75% commission to cash travellers cheques. Cheques from the major companies such as Thomas Cook, Citibank, American Express and Bank of America are accepted.