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13 USEFUL THINGS TO KNOW

BEFORE GOING TO CHINA

China attract more and more international visitors every year

China attract more and more international visitors every year

China is a huge and fascinating country, attracting more and more international visitors every year. Whether you intend to travel here for business or tourism, it's not without its share of challenges. In this article I am going to share with you few tips that will make your trip to China easier.

1 - The language barrier

Don't come to China expecting people to speak English, even if nowadays many young Chinese from big cities learn English at school, they are not the majority and very few are able to speak it fluently. When traveling around China it is recommended to know few basic Chinese words or at least to use Google translate for android or apple.

 

Most suppliers are able to speak basic English related to their business, but when it comes to the details you'll face the language barrier. It is recommended to hire an interpreter to avoid future complications.

Foreigner trying to communicate with a Chinese retailer

The language barrier is everywhere

2 - How to get your visa

If you plan to visit the mainland of China for business purpose then you must apply for a business (M) entry visa through the Chinese embassy of your area. You need to provide them with :

 

     • An application form (V.2013) with a recent color picture

     • A valid passport with at least 6 months of remaining validity and at least 1 blank visa page

     • A photocopy of the name page of your passport

     • A proof of legal stay if you apply from a third country

     • An invitation letter issued from a Chinese company or from a trade fair such as Canton Fair

     • A photocopy of the Chinese company's business licence (not necessary but can help)

     • Photocopies of your hotel booking and your flights informations (not necessary but can help)

     • The application fees

 

The application fees depend of your nationality and the number of entries you ask.

The processing time depend of the period of the year, your nationality and if you choose or not the "express service" in the application form.

 

Travellers whose country is part of the Schengen visa-free area can travel to Hong Kong and Macau without visa. You are allowed to stay in these two cities up to 90 days.

 

For further information I invite you to contact the Chinese embassy of your area.

 

Important notice : For safety regulations, carry your passport with you all the time when staying in China. During an inspection, if you don't have your passport you'll be taken to the police station. You may also be detained few days for breaking the law.

Carry your passport with you all the time

Carry your passport with you all the time

3 - Payment methods

When traveling around China you'll notice that most Chinese use their smartphone to pay for just about everything : restaurant, groceries, transportation, etc. While in the countryside cash is still preferred, in the urban area cash is becoming obsolete.  Everyone is using Wechat or Alipay.

 

As a foreigner, you can also use your smartphone to pay. You can install Wechat on your phone and ask someone to transfer money to your Wechat account.

 

Credit Cards are accepted only with some hotels, high-end restaurants and foreign brand shop. Therefore, you should always bring cash with you during your travel.

 

Don't forget to inform your bank before visiting China, some banks will block your credit cards if they notice unusual transactions.

 

China's currency has two names : Yuan and RMB. RMB (Renminbi) is the official name for the currency, it means "the people's currency". Yuan (¥ or CNY) is the main unit of the currency, in mandarin every day uses it is also referred to as "kuài".

 

You can exchange currency with your bank before departure, at the airport with a currency-exchange shop or you can withdraw money from some Chinese ATM Machine such as HSBC and ICBC.

Always bring cash with you

Always bring cash with you

4 - Transport solutions

Car : In china you can rent a car with driver from ¥400 to ¥1000 per day, the price varies according to the city and the class of the hired vehicle. Foreign driving licences are not valid in China.

 

Taxi : They are cheap, plentiful and available 24h/24h. But taxi drivers don't speak English, then it is recommended that you have with you the phone number and the address of your destination written in Chinese. The price usually start at ¥12, it depends of the city, then ¥2.5/km. Some drivers may want a flat rate, if you don't agree and they don't turn on the meter then get out or insist that they do so. Always ask for the receipt, there is the taxi's plate number on it. You can call the taxi company's phone number in case you lost something or if you have any complaints.

 

Metro : Most big cities offer a modern metro system and it is the best solution to avoid traffic jams during rush hours. The bags are inspected with an X-ray machine at each station before entry. The price varies from ¥2 to ¥10, it depends of the distance travelled. The operating hours for most metro stations usually starts between 5:00 to 6:00 in the morning and ends between 22:30 to 23:00. In every station there is a map in English to help guide you.

 

Bus : Public bus are everywhere and often the cheapest transport solution. ¥1 or ¥2 that you can pay directly to the bus entrance. They are usually available from 6:00 to 22:30, you can also find some bus at night in the largest cities. It may be difficult to use them, everything being written in Chinese characters. Take a map with you to know where to go.

 

You can also travel around China by bus. You must buy a ticket directly at the "long distance" bus station with your passport. While being the cheapest solution to visit China, it is also the least comfortable and the slowest one.

 

Train : There is the traditional train and the high-speed train. Despite being cheaper, the traditional train loses ground to the high-speed train every year. The high-speed train also called "Bullet train" is one of the fastest train in the world and is very comfortable, it's speed varies between 200 and 350 km/h. By way of indication, a Guangzhou-Shenzhen ticket cost around ¥75 in second class, ¥95 in first class and ¥195 in business class. It is recommended to make a reservation, at least 1 day before departure.

 

Plane : To travel around China by air is the fastest solution. There is plenty of domestic airlines, including China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Air China, etc. In the aiports, the announcements are made in Chinese and English.

Taxi are cheap and plentiful

Taxi are cheap and plentiful

5 - Phone & Internet

In China you will want to use your phone to make calls and access internet. But unless you have subscribed an international plan, your SIM Card won't work here. One of the first thing you want to do once in China is to get a chinese SIM Card.

 

But first you need to make sure that your phone is unlocked. When you purchase a phone, it is often "locked" to the carrier you signed a contract with. It means you can't use a SIM card from another provider.

 

The easiest way to unlock your phone is to get the unlock code. Contact your phone carrier, they will help you so long as you explain that you planned a trip to China.

 

After landing in China, you can easily buy a SIM Card at the airport. You'll just have to provide the retailer with your passport.

 

I recommend to buy a SIM Card to make your stay more comfortable, but it's not an obligation. In China, internet is available everywhere. Free Wi-Fi connections can be found in hotels, restaurants, coffee shop, airports, metro, etc. in every big cities and tourist towns.

 

Be aware of the Great Firewall, it is the government's solution to censor and regulate the internet in order to protect its citizen. In China you'll not be able to access websites such as Google, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. while others will be significantly slowed down. Some mobile apps and emails are also included.

 

I recommend to buy a VPN if you still want to use them. A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, disguises your IP address so it looks like you are connected from an other country, allowing you to get through the Great Firewall and to secure your internet connection. It is not perfect but it worth it. The best VPN to use in China right now is Express VPN.

In China, Internet is available everywhere

In China, Internet is available everywhere

6 - Everyone use Wechat

Wechat, or Wēi Xìn in Chinese, is the most widely used mobile app in China with it's 1.08 billion active users monthly. Wechat is not just a messaging mobile platform, it is a concentrate of Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, Paypal and Instagram. It also offer one million third-party mini programs within the platform.

 

Some of you maybe like to use WhatsApp, but the Great Firewall of China block most western mobile apps. It is possible to find people in China using a VPN for their business, but a VPN is not 100% reliable. To make sure you can always communicate with your business partner, and avoid any trouble, I recommend you to download Wechat on your phone. Because everyone in China use Wechat.

 

You'll be able to send text and voice message, make audio and video calls, share photos and videos, and use it as means of payment.

 

You can find Wechat on Apple and Android.

Wechat is on every Chinese smartphone

Wechat is on every Chinese smartphone

7 - Hospitals & Pharmacies

If you need to see a doctor, then I recommend you to go to an international hospital. The doctors working there are usually foreigners or Chinese who have trained overseas. They will be able to understand your problem easier and their English skills are excellent. They are much more expensive but it worth it.

 

Chinese hospital are cheaper but there is downsides :

 

     • Chinese hospital are always crowded, expect to spend lot of time waiting

     • Most doctors don't speak English

     • Most doctors don't have the occidental medecine's knowledge

 

If you go to a Chinese hospital it would be wise to bring an interpreter with you.

 

Based on where you are, you may be able to find some occidental medecine in pharmacies. You could also use Chinese medecine. My personal recommendation is that you bring your own medecine when travelling in China, at least you know your country's medecine. Most pharmacist also don't speak English.

Chinese hospitals are always crowded

Chinese hospitals are always crowded

8 - Chinese dining etiquette

In china everyone share the same meal, eating is a community activity. The dishes are disposed in the middle of the table and everyone pick the food with their chopstick to eat with their bowl or rice. It's a little like eating a buffet.

 

In restaurant, not fast-food, Chinese prefer to fill up with food they don't always eat at home, therefore, rice is rarely served. If you want a bowl of rice then you should order one with your meal, by saying : mifan (me'fan).

 

Don't worry if you don't feel comfortable using chopsticks, some restaurants can provide you with knifes, forks and spoons. Don't hesitate to ask if you need them.

 

When eating, it is considered rude to play with your chopstick, to point at food with it, to suck the sauce from it, to dig around with it and to pick food with your hands. It is also an offense if you stuck your chopstick in your bowl of rice, the visual looking like incense sticks burned as offerings to dead ancestors.

 

Leaving your chopstick on top of your plate means that you have finished eating. If you just want take a break and don't want the server come to remove your plate, then use the chopstick rest or lay them tidy on the table.

 

In some restaurants you can request an adjoining room if you want some intimacy.

 

Chinese usually drinks warm water, tea or beer with their meals. When drinking tea, leave the cover of your teapot half open if you want it to be refilled with boiled water. Chinese sometimes also drink some rice alcohol called Baijiu, during a meal it is a tradition to toast with everyone each time you want to drink.

 

At the end of the meal you'll often see Chinese fighting over who is going to pay the bill, it can be verbal and physical. This game is very important if you don't want to be seen as stingy or having bad manners. If you lose to pay the bill, you should absolutely pick the tab next time.

 

You are expected to fight over paying the bill most of the time, especially if :

 

     • You are the one inviting

     • You have the highest social status

     • You are the senior of the group

     • You are the only man of the group

     • You want to get in someone's good graces.

 

Chinese often pretend going to the bathroom near the end of the meal to go pay the bill. Don't let them do it if you don't want to lose face.

Chinese meals are a little like eating a buffet

Chinese meals are a little like eating a buffet

9 - Never drink tap water

Tap water in China is not safe to drink, you should at least boil it before consumption. Even so, some people say it is still unhealthy. You don't want to ruin your trip because of sicknesses like diarrhea. For your own safety I recommend to drink, cook and brush teeth only with bottled water.

 

Be careful when buying juice with ice cubes, you should always make sure they were not made from tap water.

Tap water is not safe to drink

Tap water is not safe to drink

10 - Hotel booking

Many hotels in China refuse foreigners, don't forget to ask when you are looking for a room.

 

Before check-in, the hotel will ask for your passport. It is an obligation to register your stay in China to the police station and the hotel will do it for you.

 

Make sure to ask for a non-smocking room if you don't want the smell of stale smoke. Many Chinese smoke and it is not forbidden to smoke in hotels and restaurants.

 

In China lot of hotels have a KTV (karaoke) or Mahjong floor, these two activities are very noisy. if you are sensitive to noises, I recommend you to avoid these hotels. You can also ask to see the rooms before choosing one.

Many hotels in China refuse foreigners

Many hotels in China refuse foreigners

11 - The climate can be harsh

In china summer is often boiling hot and winter is freezing. But it is a huge country and the climate between Guangzhou and Beijing, for instance, is very different. In the north of China everyone is wearing heavy coats starting October when in the south of China it is not a rare sight to see people wearing only short sleeves during the same period.

 

Check the weather before departure and bring with you the outfits you'll need during your stay in China.

A summer in Shanghai

A summer in Shanghai

12 - Be aware of the knock-offs

It could be very tempting to buy some brands at cheaper price while being in China. Be aware that knock-offs from prominent brands can be seized at the airport upon your return home, as well as the possibility to get a fine. Every country having their own rules about knock-offs, the sanctions may vary from case to case.

 

Brands bought directly from any supplier in China are also considered as knock-offs.

Wanda Plaza in Shenyang city

Wanda Plaza in Shenyang city

13 - Chinese national holidays you should avoid

Here in China most of us can't schedule our holiday time, instead we have the Chinese national holidays and we all take our vacation at the same time. When planning a trip to China, you should avoid coming during any of these periods. It's hundreds million of people traveling at the exact same time. The price of tickets and hotels will sky rocket, while roads, airport and train station will be over-crowded.

 

There is 2 major Chinese national holidays you should avoid :

 

Chinese New Year is the most important holiday and the most crowded travel season. We all hurry to our hometown to reunite with our families while some of us think it is the perfect time to travel.

 

Learn more about suppliers during Chinese New Year here.

 

Period : The exact date varies each year since it's based on the Lunar Calendar, but it's usually around January and February. It usually last 30 days, 10 days before Chinese New Year and 20 days after.

 

Golden Week is a holiday that commemorate the founding of People's Republic of China (PRC). Most of us will travel to popular cities and tourist places.

 

Period : It is celebrated every year from October 1 to October 7.

Guangzhou train station during Chinese New Year

Guangzhou train station during Chinese New Year

December 03, 2018 by Nicole

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