The Chinese currency is the “Yuan Renminbi”; it is referred to as Yuan, CNY or RMB (Renminbi). It is the only currency that can be used to purchase local items. In general, the Chinese do not use checks. Cash is the most common way of payment. Online and mobile payments are becoming more and more popular including Wechat and Alipay. Alipay is very similar to PayPal but based in China. Apple Pay was recently launched in China as another mobile payment method.
You will want to open a bank account right away. This can be done very easily with only your passport and a signature. I have found Citibank to be very “foreigner” friendly. They have multi-currency accounts that allow you to receive money in your home currency, as well as in Yuan. Your employer may have a preferred bank so check with them first. It’s all a good idea to check with your home bank and verify if they have any sister banks in China, this could save money on international transfers.
Before arriving, it’s encouraged to open a PayPal account. Most major banks in China will allow you to link you online banking to PayPal. This will make it easier to transfer money to and from your Chinese bank account. Western Union and wire transfers are also available but the fees are a bit more expensive.
Without your pay stubs the limit on foreign money exchange for a foreigner is $500USD/day, so don’t wait until the last day if you plan to take a lot of money home with you. Another option is to also have a Chinese friend convert the money for you, they are allowed up to $50,000USD/year.
As for credit cards, MasterCard, VISA and Discover all work in the mainland. They have an arrangement with Union Pay, which is the authority for all banking in China. This means you can use your credit card in many, but not all places. Be sure to contact your banking provider ahead of time to inform them of your travels. This will prevent any issues or restrictions that can be considered fraud charges or etc.