If you are planning a trip to China, here are 26 things to know before you go- everything from accommodations to whether or not you should wear a mask in the cities.
Booking.com has thousands of properties in China, including hotels, apartments, and hostels. You get free cancellation on most rooms. Their book now, the pay-at-check-in system allows you to lock down rates with some flexibility. Check out your options here.
Chinese sites such as C-Trip don’t require a deposit to book accommodation. Once your Visa is approved, you can cancel without penalty.
Get to the airport three hours early for international flights to China and two hours early for domestic flights. Chinese airports are chaotic and crowded, and you’ll need the extra time. However, be prepared to wait in the airport (or even on the plane) when flying from a Chinese airport, they rarely leave on time.
Skyscanner is a terrific sight to compare flights. I use it all the time.
Buses and Trains
China has a terrific network of buses and trains, including the high-speed G-Trains. They can shuttle you across the country in hours. Rates are fair. Bring your passport when booking. You can only book one ticket per passport. Chinese booking sites such as eLong and C-Trip often offer discounted rates.
Chinese hospitals can be overwhelming. Some cater to foreigners living and working in China. Even in crowded public hospitals, many doctors will speak English.
Don’t Drink the Water
Most tap water in China is not drinkable. Bottled water can be purchased inexpensively at most stores or restaurants.
The Chinese don’t tip. Enough Said.
Download WeChat (or Weixin)
China’s premier messaging app is Weixin (WeChat). Everyone will have it. Download the free app and it’s a great way to keep in touch with locals.
I do not recommend self-driving. The roads are chaotic, crowded and hazardous!
Don’t be afraid to explore the road less travelled. Sure Beijing and Shanghai are impressive, there is so much more of China to see. The country is rich with history, diverse cultural groups, a plethora of landscapes to explore.
Get your game face on. Don’t accept the marked price or first price offered at a market. The Chinese expect you to haggle. Beware of bargains too good to be true. Knock-offs of well-known brands may be seized at the airport.
Money, Money, Money!
The official currency of China is the Yuan, (RMB), aka ‘Quai.’ Denominations come in 1,10, 20, 50, and 100 RMB. They do have coins in smaller denominations. The Chinese only recognize their currency and cash trumps. Although a few large hotel chains and expensive restaurants accept Visa and Mastercard, the most accepted card is UnionPay. But when you are traveling in China, you’ll need to pay mostly with cash.
Most Chinese banks do not accept foreign cards. Larger chains can be used to withdraw local currency from foreign bank accounts. International ATMs are also available in all major cities but can be hard to find. Remember to notify your bank of your travels. You don’t want your card canceled for out of country activity.
Your personal space will be invaded. China is crowded and they have become accustomed to much smaller intimate spaces. Jostling and pushing is a common practice when queuing.
Chinese pharmacies offer both Western and Eastern medicinal options at very reasonable rates. Most reasonable prescription medications can be purchased without a prescription. You will need to provide the pharmacist with your identification.
Don’t expect Chinese wait staff to be as engaged as they are in the West. Flag your Fu Wu Yuan if you need service. Don’t be surprised if your appetizer, entree, and dessert arrive at the same time while your friends wait for their first course. If you are a budget traveler, $15-20 a day will be plenty to feed you.
Mail souveniers home using China Post’s surface mail. It’s reasonable way to send items home even if it takes a month or two.
SIM cards can be purchased at the airport or most corner stores, and the credit is reasonable. However, keep in mind that most Chinese SIMs are locked to the province in which they are purchased. You’ll pay roaming charges when texting, calling, or using data outside of that particular province. Nonetheless, the rate is cheaper than international roaming. China’s two major carriers are China Telecom and China Unicom.
The Chinese do not use tissues to clear their noses; they snort and spit. Yep, customs are different that way.
Chinese street food is delicious and everywhere! To master the art of eating street food click here.
The Chinese love to take photographs, and if you are blond-haired and blue-eyed, you might be a novelty. You may even have a few people wanting to take their picture with you. Ask permission before snapping a person or a government building.
Taxis in China are inexpensive and plentiful. However, most drivers do not speak English. Have your destination address written in Chinese by the hotel clerk.
Toilet Paper and Hand Sanitizer
Chinese toilets do not have toilet paper or soap so carry your own.
The truth is, if you can’t afford insurance, you can’t afford to travel. Allianz Travel Insurance is a leader in travel insurance for Americans. World Nomads also covers travelers from all over the world, make sure to insure your valuables like cameras and laptops. It will be worth every dollar when you need it.
Before you travel to China, you’ll need to arrange your Visa. You’ll need to provide a detailed itinerary of your intended trip. Your itinerary should include return flights and confirmed reservations for your hotel reservations. If you have family or friends in China, they will need to write a letter of invitation. Visas can be applied for in-person at the Chinese consulate or ordered through the mail. Check into it here.
China’s ‘Great Firewall’ blocks sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Google. If you want to access these while you’re visiting China, you’ll need to purchase a VPN. Make sure they cover China – as most free options do not.
Wear the Mask
Most large industrialized Chinese cities have severe problems with air pollution, especially Beijing. Wear the mask. Locals do it. On especially smoggy days pick an indoor activity.
What advice do you have for traveling to China? Share in the comments below.