China is a fascinating country with a rich history and culture. Because of its rapid development in recent years, China has become one of the top travel destinations. Traveling to China, you will experience very different situations, from the skyscrapers in big cities to the stone houses in remote villages, from mountains to plateaus, from the underprivileged areas to prolific areas, from modern to ancient, etc. When you travel to this country, you will realize that things do not behave in the same way as in your home country or other countries.
Sometimes I hear funny comments from those who have made either business trips or private trips to China. Once my colleague went to a fast-food restaurant in Shanghai to buy two burgers. Instead of two, he got eight burgers. In western countries, people present number 2 using the thumb and index finger. Two fingers make an ‘L’ and the other fingers closed with the palm facing the observer. But the same sign means 8 in Chinese! Not speaking single Chinese, my colleague presented his order in a western way.
Similar cases could lead you to an awkward situation. The list of things to know before traveling to China in this post could help you to reduce the frustration during your trip. The list may not include all cases, but it is a good start for your trip preparation. If you have any other point, please let me know so I can add to the list.
The visa application is outsourced to other service centres. You need to be well prepared before you apply for a tourist visa. Check the site to gain updated information for a visa application.
By travel insurance
If your home country insurance does not cover the overseas part, I would recommend you to buy extra insurance for your overseas travel. In China, in some big cities, there are several international hospitals. Most travel medical insurance plans can be accepted for direct billing by these medical centers, while others can be used to get reimbursement after treatment based on receipts and doctor reports. Make sure what is covered and what is not in order to reduce the risk of your well-being.
The official name of the Chinese currency is Renminbi (人民币), or Yuan(元). The symbol of the Chinese money is ¥, which is somehow similar to the Japanese currency symbol. Do not mix the two currency signs.
Always carry some cash and coins
Many local shops in China don’t accept credit cards but WeChat payment, a Chinese App which you probably do not have.
If you take the local buses, you need coins, sometimes the exact amount of coins or cash for the ride. Locals use a prepaid card or other Chinese payment methods to take public transportation. Most buses don’t have ticket sellers but a ticket machine. Some bus drivers do sell tickets, but they don’t give your exchange if you pay more.
You also need to pay cash for using public toilets in some places.
Buy a data SIM card at the Airport
If you plan to stay in China longer than a week, it is reasonable to buy a data SIM card for your mobile phone before your trip. With a data SIM Card, you can stay connected with your friends and family.
You can also buy one at Shanghai International Airport. The price is variable depending on your usage. In Shanghai Pudong International Airport, the SIM card counter is right next to the exit.
Avoid national holidays and school holidays in China
Chinese have several major public holidays. During these holidays, most people do not work and travel around at the same time. The three main holidays are the Chinese Spring Holiday, 1st May, 1st October. Chinese Spring Holiday usually lasts two to three weeks.
The Spring Festival takes place on a different day each year. So you need to check the exact date when you plan for a trip. The other two holidays last one week long. They always take place during the first week of May and October. If you travel to China during these periods, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to see anything through the crowds.
Social media platforms are not accessible
You cannot access many websites in China because of strict internet censorship. Usually, you cannot access the sites you use in your home country. Facebook, Instagram, or Google, etc., are among those that are not accessible in China. You should download VPN software in your home country and set it up before you travel to China. You can read some articles from Quora to get to know more details.
Important telephone numbers
Use 120 to call an ambulance, use 112 to call the fire brigade, and use 110 to call the police.
Kids stay in parent bed
When booking a hotel in China, it is usual that kids stay in the parent bed. You need to read the details of how many beds are available. Sometimes the hotels can set up a bed for your kid on request, but this may add extra costs to your bill.
The same hotel room might offer different conditions, depend on where you book. Our family usually book hotels via an international booking platform, such as Booking.com. Or, you can book a room on www.HotelsCombined.com, .which has prices from different hotel booking platforms. You can get a good overview of the hotel situation.
One breakfast per room
If you use local websites to book a hotel, sometimes only one breakfast is included even you book a room for two. The second person has to pay for breakfast on site. Ask the price upfront to avoid a potentially high cost.
In Shanghai, for example, the local’s breakfast has a large variety.
Deposit payment during the hotel stay
Sometimes you pay a hotel when you checkout. When you check-in, the hotel will block a certain amount on your credit card to make sure that they can charge you upon checkout. The amount is somewhat higher than the hotel costs. The extra amount is the deposit for any potential damage caused during your stay.
Limited leg space in local buses
Some buses have limited leg spaces. Many local buses serve as public transportation in big cities, towns, or between cities. It is very cheap and quite convenient to reach places. But some buses are minivans. In order to carry as many people as possible, bus companies place more seats inside.
There is a very small leg space between rows, in most cases, only the locals can fit into the spaces. Take a look before you get on. You might think you can just stand inside, but this also not possible. You will have to bend down yourself during the entire journey. Or there is no place to stand at all
Difficulty to call a taxi
In some big cities, it is very difficult to call a Taxi, such as in Shanghai. Locals use Apps to call Taxis. Many taxis on the roads are either ordered by someone or have guests in. When it is raining or during the rush hours, there is nearly no chance to flag one roadside. You should ask the hotel staff to try to get one for you, if possible.
Remember to bargain at a much lower price.
When visiting open markets and some privately owned shops, you should start to negotiate at a much lower price. If the price is, for example, 100 yuan, then start to negotiate at 20 yuan. You might get the deal done at 30-40 yuan. Of course, you have to judge case by case, and sometimes you might only get a little discount.
Food is distributed by the host when being invited.
If you are invited by the Chinese to have a Chinese meal, you will have to share dishes with other guests from the big plates. The Chinese host will order the food for everyone and usually also distribute the food to your plate. Don’t feel strange if you encounter the situation. It is a typical table manner in China. If you prefer to take food from the big plates yourself, then mention it to the host so that you can do it yourself.
Leave some food on your plate when you finish eating
If the Chinese invite you to a Chinese meal, make sure you leave some food on the plate when you finish the meal. This way, the host knows that you don’t want anything anymore. Otherwise, the host will keep offering food to you.
Expect flight delays
Some domestic flights can have hours of delay. If you have a tight schedule in China and have followed up connections, you need to take the situation into consideration. Sometimes it is wise to take high-speed trains because the trains are nearly always on time.
Go to Train Station or Airport early enough
You should arrive at the airport at least 3 hours before the departure of an international flight and at least two hours before the departure of a domestic flight. Sometimes in an international airport, you have to pass the first security check at the entrance.
The second one before the border control is the usual airport security check. You should also arrive at large train stations two hours before the departure of a train.
In large train stations, there are many passengers even on usual working days. You might need to queue in front of the security check, in restaurants, or even in front of toilets. Allow yourself to have enough time to get around at these places.
Bring some toilet paper with you
In some big cities and ultra-modern shopping centres, public toilets provide many items, such as toilet paper, washing detergent, paper to dry your hands, towels to clean your faces, etc. But others have not even toilet paper! Sometimes you can buy some in front of the door, other times not. So don’t let you get embarrassed in such situations.
Don’t drink tap water
Water from the tap is processed and contains some chlorine. You need always carry a bottle of water with you. Bottled water is very cheap in the local supermarket but can be very expensive in tourist areas.
Use local tourist information
It is always good to check some information at local tourist information centres to get updated travel information. Changes in the opening times and entrance ticket policies can happen quite often.
Use a passport to buy a train ticket
You have to use your passport to buy a train ticket for yourself. You are not allowed to purchase tickets for others using the same document.
Don’t eat at street stalls
Most of them have no licenses to sell foods. Hygiene is an issue, and the quality of food is also inferior. Don’t risk your health. If you buy food from them, you will not get an official receipt either.
No tip is required
In general, there is no need to tip the service personals. But an up-level restaurant or a hotel charges an extra service fee, up to 20% of the total cost. However, in luxury hotels, you need to tip the person who takes your suitcases up to your room for you. The person usually also helps you to get your luggage out of the taxi and into the hotel.
Huge geographical differences
Be aware of geographical differences in terms of income level and service standard. There exist huge differences between cities and areas. The service standard is quite different. One classic example is the local hotel industry. Unlike international hotel chains, many local hotels belong to individuals. A 3-star hotel in one location is not necessary to have the same service and quality as a 3-star hotel in another place.
Don’t make any deals with people near tourist sites
Sometimes when you walk out of train stations, someone will approach you and offer you a taxi ride for a lower price. In most cases, these taxis are not officially registered. In the end, you would probably pay much more than expected. Always look for official travel service to avoid potential distress.
Be aware of thieves
Thieves are very active in the major train stations and tourist areas. Because of the large difference between poor people and rich ones, such crime scenes could happen from time to time.