99 Things To Know Before Visiting China
MONEY AND PAYMENT
China uses it’s only currency, the Chinese Yuan, or RMB. Generally speaking, no other currencies are accepted on the mainland, so there’s no point bringing USD etc. Hong Kong, Macau and Tacau use their own currencies.
Finding an ATM is rarely a problem in China in big cities, and isn’t much of a problem in smaller cities either. All of the major bank ATMs offer an English interface, although some smaller local banks may not. Generally speaking, most internationally-issues Visa and Mastercards are accepted at ATMs
3. Mobile Payment
These days in big cities it’s rash to see either cash or credit cards, with almost all payment being made through one of the two major mobile payment systems, Alipay and Wechat Pay. Unfortunately this makes it quite inconvenient for travelers, although there are ways to make these work with foreign credit cards, it’s probably not worth the effort.
4. Credit Cards
Credit/debit cards were never universal in China, and are becoming less important now as the country increasingly moves towards mobile payment. Having said that all large and medium shops will accept credit cards, although many only accept local cards, this included lots of 3 and 4 star hotels. So it helps to always carry cash as backup.
If you’re traveling through rural parts of China and paying with cash, having enough small change might be a problem. Nothing much you can do about this though, just try to keep some small notes for these times.
Chinese don’t tip, ever. There is absolutely no need to tip waiters or anybody that serves you, and many people won’t understand what’s happening if you try to do so. The one exception is probably for organized tours, where people normally tip their guide and driver, although it’s certainly not a requirement.
7. Notes and Coins
For small denominations, but notes and coins exists, e.g. 1 RMB, 5 Jiao, 1 Jiao. For some unknown reason, different parts of the country use different ones. For example in Shanghai
, you’ll almost never see the small denomination notes, it’s coins only. If fact, people may even refuse to take them.
Banks can be found virtually everywhere, and in large cities such as Shanghai
, there is usually at least one person who can speak English if you ask.
9. Exchanging money
As with most currencies, you can pick up some RMB in your home country before you leave, at the airport when you arrive, or your hotel can also help you exchange money. For the best rates you can also find a money changing service or bank, although this may be difficult with the language barrier.
10. Taking money out
Only 20,000RMB per person can be taken out in cash when you leave the country. If for some reason you need to take more, no need a special clearance.
1. By plane
Getting to China is relatively easy with multitudes of flights from all over the world, the vast majority of which enter via one of the big four cities: Shanghai
, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Having said that you’ll also find flights entering and transferring in smaller lesser known cities as well. If you’re looking to fly with a Chinese carrier the big three are Air China, China Eastern and China Southern, however most major international airlines also fly direct into the big four. Flying via Hong Kong is also a popular option, as people from most countries don’t need a visa and it makes an excellent stopover for a few days.
2. By train
There are several international trains entering China, mainly from the north at Mongolia, and via south-east Asia. You can also take a train from the Hong Kong area, which requires immigration procedures.
3. By ferry
There are ferries from both Hong Kong and Macau which dock in southern Guangzhou. In fact this is a great way to start your China journey, by flying into Hong Kong, spending a few days there and then taking the ferry to Guangzhou.
4. By cruise ship
Many international cruise ships dock in both mainland China (Shanghai
) as well as Hong Kong.
5. On foot
From both Hong Kong and Macau you can literally walk across the border if you desire.
1. On foot
Without a doubt, one of the best ways to explore Chinese cities in on foot, particularly if you’re staying in an older area. Newer areas tend to have wider roads and be less pedestrian friendly in general, having been designed for cars. If you’ve never been to Asia before there’s nothing like exploring on foot, especially the small alleys full of food and interesting items to buy. The great thing about China is that its completely safe to do so, so make sure to take advantage of that!
Hiring a bike can be a double edged sword, and depends how comfortable you are with traffic. If you’re in the countryside, hiring a bike for a leisurely pedal is practically a must, and will give you a closer insight to how to the locals live than if you were in a car. In big cities bikes can also be great with many roads having dedicated bikes lanes, but you’ll have to share them with scooters, motorbikes, food stalls, cars, buses and whoever else has decided to stop there. If you’ve got plenty of time and a good temperament though, taking a ride can be quite pleasant.
Probably the recommended way of getting around in China, taxis can get you where you need to go with little hassle. While taxi scams definitely exist, generally speaking they are not as prevalent as in many parts of the world. The situation varies by city, but drivers are usually happy using the meter and don’t need any prompting to do so. The only major problem you’re going to find is that drivers don’t speak or read English, and a lot can’t even read maps. It’s therefore very important that you always have the address of where you want to go written down in Chinese. Payment can be made in cash. Some taxis in big cities also accept credit cards, but it’s unlikely they’ll accept anything but China Unionpay cards, your Visa and Mastercard aren’t any use here!
If you were hoping to use Uber when you’re in China your out of luck. In was acquired some years ago by Chinese company Didi, which is now by far the dominant ride-hailing app in China. You can download an English version before you go and bind it to your international credit card, although people have tried this with limited success. The other things to watch out for is that it’s unlikely anyone will speak English, and drivers typically call to ask where you are which can lead to some awkward conversations. Nevertheless, it’s still very much possible with a bit of effort, and is a little bit cheaper than getting a taxi.
Local buses are, unfortunately, not particularly foreigner friendly and vary from city to ciyy. For example in Shanghai
, the announcements on the busses at each stop often have English, but no English timetables exist. So if you know where you are going they can present a good option but probably aren’t recommended for the adventurous. Cost is typically 1-3 rmb depending on what kind of city you are in.
If you’re in a big city and like to get around by yourself, the metro is BY FAR the easiest way to go. With 15+ lines in Beijing
, 90%+ of tourist attraction are right near or within easy walk of a metro station. More importantly, are the information is typically dual language, including the names of the stations, the ticket vending machines, and the PA announcements. If you’re just in town for a few days its easiest just to purchase individual tickets from the machines, but if you’re going to be around a bit longer you can approach the counter to get a rechargeable card, usually for around 20rmb + the value you load onto it.
1. By Plane
Domestically it’s also easy to get around, with the big three taking around 50% of the flights, and the other 50% made up of smaller regional airlines including some low cost carriers. Generally speaking, staff at airports and on planes will speak at least reasonable, if not fluent English.
2. By Train
Traveling China by train comes highly recommended, whether it be by the high-speed network which already connects all major cities, or low-speed sleeper trains which offer a cost effective way to get around the country while saving on accommodation at the same time. With trains traveling between 300-350km/h, China’s high-speed rail network is by far the world’s largest. While it’s not 100% foreigner friendly, it’s easily manageable by yourself, and simply must be experienced at least once while you’re in China. Check out our China Train Guide for more information and for how to book tickets.
3. By Bus
Traveling China by bus certainly wouldn’t be recommended unless there is no train, which is in very few places. Buying tickets will be 100% in Chinese, so unless you’re prepared to brave the language barrier is probably not worth it unless you’re really looking to travel on the cheap.
4. By boat/cruise
There are several domestic cruises you can take in China, with the most popular being the Yangtze river cruise. These operate both upstream and downstream, however upstream is the more classic tourist route. Usually boats will start in the Chinese city of Yichang, although sometimes as far away as Wuhan. They the pass through the incredible Three Gorges Damn, and then over the next few days the Three gorges themselves, before finishing in Chongqing
, typically around 3 days in total. You get what you pay for with these cruises with the cheapest ones being downright nasty, right through to luxury vessels with bars, pools and reasonably sized rooms.
5. Hire a car
Do a quick Google and you’ll find a few different services offering drivers/cars for hire on a daily basis. Particularly the families not traveling as part of a group tour, this can often represent good value for money. Prices normally start from around 700RMB, or 100 USD. Often tourist attractions are located significantly outside of the city and are difficult to access, making a privately hired car an attractive option, especially if you are looking to visit more than one attraction in the same day.
6. Rent a car
Generally speaking, hiring a car in China is difficult unless you’re willing to jump through some hoops. The main reason being that China does not recognize driver’s licenses from your home country or even international driver’s licenses. While there is a way to get a temporary license while you are visiting China, it’s probably more trouble than its worth.
7. Plane vs Train
One of the most commonly asked questions about traveling in China is “Should I take a train or the train?”. My personal preference is to always choose the train! There are some caveats to this though, for journeys longer than 5 hours I’d probably recommend taking a plane. As the China Railway system works on a per distance basis, longer routes don’t really stack up economically, and flying is often cheap. But for journeys of a couple of hours, trains are cheaper, much more comfortable, and when you take into account boarding time etc., often don’t take any longer than a plane. Check out our China Train Guide here.
1. Chinese visas
The short answer is that unfortunately you’ll most likely need a visa to visit China. At the time of writing this tourists visas aren’t available due to COVID-19. In normal times though you will need to submit payment for the visa along with paperwork detailing exactly where you are going on each day, as well as the usually kinds of documents.
2. Visa-free programs
China operates a number of visa-free programs, although with some restrictions. Generally speaking you need to fly into a major city, the visa will be time-limited e.g. 7 days, and may have some restrictions on where you can travel to. For the most up-to-date regulations it’s best to visa your local consulate’s website as they information is constantly changing – generally speaking the restrictions are getting looser.
3. HK visa
For most western countries, you will not need a visa to enter HK for a period of up to 30 days. Be aware though that even if you land in HK and cross into the mainland by foot/bus/train etc., you will still need a valid mainland visa.
4. Macau visa
A similar situation to Hong Kong, as above. A visa is not needed for direct travel between Hong Kong and Macau.
5. Provincial restrictions
Generally speaking, you don’t need any special permits for cross-provincial travel. When moving between provinces, there is typically a toll-booth and checking station, however this is only for toll payment, and the occasional police check. The only exception is in Tibet, where a valid travel permit is required for foreigners to enter and must be obtained in advance.
1. Mandarin or Cantonese
Foreigners are often taught there are two kinds of Chinese, Mandarin and Cantonese, but this couldn’t be further from the truth, in fact there are hundreds of different dialects. When the Chinese talk about speaking Chinese, they mean Mandarin, which is spoken by almost everyone if the country. Cantonese is a dialect spoken in southern China in Hong Kong, Guangzhou and the surrounding area. Interestingly it’s not even the second most spoken, with the Wu dialect from around the Shanghai
area being spoken by more people.
2. Local dialects
Yes, almost every area has their own dialect, some of which are extremely similar to mandarin, and others like Cantonese which are completely different. If you look like a foreigner, people will always speak to you in Mandarin if they can, as they would with anyone when they are visiting another city anyway. Occasionally, you will come across elderly people or those from rural areas who don’t speak Mandarin or something closely resembling it, although it’s quite rare.
3. Best way to learn
As with any language, getting out there are speaking with locals is the key!. If you want to do some study online first, ChinesePod is without a doubt your most valuable resource and comes highly recommended.
4. Apps to get
Start with “Pleco” – the best free dictionary for Chinese. If you’re looking to learn seriously, consider a paid-service such as Chinese Pod – which has 1,000’s of lessons and an established reputation.
5. English levels
This varies immensely from region to region, however overall, English levels in China even in big cities remain poor. If you get stuck, it’s best to look for someone university age for help, and failing that someone who looks like they do business. This definitely doesn’t work all the time though, so be prepared to try a few times first. If you’re outside of the major cities, finding someone who speaks reasonable English will be quite a challenge, there are plenty around, but as a percentage the number is quite small. If you’re staying in a 4 star hotel, there’s probably staff who speak English, if you’re staying somewhere 5 star they will definitely speak English.. Anything 3-star or lower, it’s unlikely staff will speak English unless they see a significant number of foreigners staying there.
6. Basic greetings
你好 – Ni hao – Hello
再见 – Zai jian – Goodbye
拜拜 – Bai Bai – Goodbye
对不起 – Dui Bu Qi – Sorry
谢谢 – Xie Xie – Thank you
Overall Chinese is extremely safe, much safer than most western countries. Walking home, even late at night by yourself, never presents any problem, and you are unlikely to be hassled, apart from people calling out hello and asking to take a picture with them. Unprovoked violent crime is vary rare, but of course it pays to keep your sense especially around bar areas. What you do need to watch out for though is traffic! Crossing the road can be a nightmare for people from western countries, especially in lower-tiered cities. Unlike say south-east Asia, never assume a car will stop. Also there’s plenty of bikes and scooters of the footpath, as well as odd car, so you always need to stay alert.
Dial 110 if you need police assistance in anywhere is China. Big cities will be able to offer you assistance in English are possibly other languages, and most cities can probably offer service in English.
3. Cost of traveling in China
The cost of travelling in China is like asking how long a piece of string is. It completely depends on what your standard is. Big cities are quite expensive, sometimes exceeding the cost of western cities. If you really want to live a good life in Shanghai
you’re looking at 2000-3000rmb a night for your hotel, and a similar amount for entertainment. However if you’re traveling on a shoestring, you can pick up a dorm-room for 50rmb, and fee yourself for 15rmb for each meal. Once you get outside the major cities the prices start dropping quite quickly, and sometimes you will simply be amazed at how cheap things are. Having said that one thing it is generally fairly expensive in China are attraction tickets.
4. Scams in China
The major scam in China revolves around friendly individuals or groups (usually students) asking you to join them for a ‘tea ceremony’ or some kind of traditional Chinese meal. While their they will order some very expensive overpriced things, and you’ll be left with a bill of around 2,000rmb. You will be threatened if you refuse to pay. For this reason, it’s advisable not to ever follow anyone who asks you too, no matter have innocent they might seem.
1. Internet Access
Unfortunately, a large number of websites, services and apps are blocked in China. For Chinese there’s usually a local equivalent, but this doesn’t help you as a tourist.
There are a large number of commercially available VPN services available which can help you bypass the restrictions. See here for a list of recommendations. If you’re going to need one make sure you install it and confirm it’s working before you come, because VPN apps can’t be downloaded from the app store once you’re in China.
3. Must-get apps (Wechat etc.)
If you’re planning on making friends when your over here you’re going to need to get WeChat. For Chinese people, WeChat is the most common way to communicate with people, whether they be friends of business associates. It’s commonplace to exchange Wechat IDs at the end of meeting with someone. In terms of functionality, it’s much like Whatsapp, Facebook messenger etc, and is available across the world for both Android and iOS devices.
EAT AND DRINK
1. Bars in China
Bars are nowhere near as numerous in China as they are in Western countries, however they definitely exist. It’s best to jump of a website like SmartShanghai
.com if you’re looking for places to go out, as you might be hard-pressed to find something your style.
2. Best place to find restaurants
Apart from on the side of the road, it might help to check out shopping centers. Particularly on the upper levels, Chinese shopping centers are often made up of a significant proportion of restaurants – and they tend to be middle-end.
3. Availability of Western food
In big cities, Western food is easily available, including fast-food. But once you venture to smaller cities it becomes harder to find – but rest assured it’s definitely there. For small tourist towns in Yunnan and Yangshuo, western food is available at lots of places.
Definitely best to brush up on your chopstick skills at home first if you aren’t particularly confident, as very few places will have anything else. If you really find that you can’t do it, the best bet is to bring your own fork along with you. No need to laugh – tourists do it all the time.
Tea is China’s traditional drink of choice and will usually be served with all meals – much like water. Remember, we’re talking about “Green tea”, not black tea (which is actually referred to as Rea Tea in Chinese”.
6. Rice or Noodles
Historically, people in the north of China ate noodles and people in the south ate rice. However as China has developed more that’s changing a lot, and you can usually find but rice and noodles no matter where you are.,
If it’s spicy food you crave, heading to west is your best bet, but there’s also plenty of spicy food to be found in the north. For an authentic hotpot, find a spot in Chengdu
8. Different Places, Different Tastes
Remember that Chinese food is very regional, so what people eat in one area is completely different to what they eat on the other side of the country.
9. Drinking water
The locals would never drink the tap water without boiling it and neither should you. Luckily bottled water is readily available at convenience stores and carts at tourist attractions and are typically priced from 1-7 RMB.
10. Hotel food
Hotel food is generally fairly good, although tends to be a little bit expensive. Hotel’s also typically have a room-service menu which operates in the usual fashion.
11. Fast food
If the local food isn’t to your liking and you’re just craving some fast food you’re in luck as it’s readily available in all major cities. McDonalds and KFC are the most popular chains, however Pizza Hut, Burger King and a whole lot of others can also be found in small numbers around the place.
12. Food delivery
Food delivery is massive in China. In fact, one of the first things people often comment on is the number of delivery drivers they see on the streets. Unfortunately these services are only available in Chinese which will make it difficult for tourists to order from.
13. Snacks/Convenience stores
Convenience stores can be found on almost every corner in big cities, and stock all the usually snacks and drinks, including a lot of brands you’re probably familiar with. The brand-name stores are usually most expensive, but offer a better range and a much cleaner store compared to some of the individual stores. As with most other things, none of them will accept western credit cards so prepare cash in advance if possible.
14. Technology in restaurants
When you dine at a lot of restaurants in China, you might find that ordering of food and even the menu itself is accessed through a QR code which needs to be scanned through WeChat. This can be difficult for foreigners to navigate so it’s best to directly ask for a menu from the waiter, they still usually have one 90% of the time.
15. Strange food/parts
It’s true, you might come across some strange food or parts you might not be so accustomed to at home. Give them a go if you’re game, they’re probably fairly tasty!
1. Group tours
Group tours still represent a large number of tourists coming to China and with good reason. The first, undoubtably, is the language. Getting around by yourself without speaking Chinese can definitely be difficult, although it’s far from impossible.. The other thing is that China is a huge country and the attractions are very spread out meaning that transport becomes an issue. Luckily this is getting easier everyday with improvements to the high-speed railway system, and new airports regularly opening to service previously difficult-to-access tourist areas. They can also be particularly cost-effective, with the price coming in at well under what you would pay if you organized it yourself. And, it you get a knowledgeable guide, they are worth their weight in gold. There are downsides of course, but they are no different than group travel in any other country.
2. Must-see metropolis
The four main so-called “big-4” cities in China in Shanghai
, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. However you need to bear in mind that Chinese cities, even the smaller ones, are probably much bigger than the ones you are used. Other major metropolises included Chengdu
in the western side of the country.
3. Must-see historic sites
When most people think of classic Chinese attractions, they are thinking of things in the north of the country. Start in Beijing
for a healthy does of history including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. Also check out Xi’an for the Terracotta Warriors, while smaller cities like Datong are worth a visit if you’re craving that “authentic” Chinese feel.
4. Must-see cities for food
A difficult question to answer as Chinese food differs from region to region. If you’re craving something like the Chinese you get at home (in a Western country), you won’t be in much luck, although the southern regions (Guangdong) will probably best match your expectations. If you’re looking for something spicy then head Western to Chongqing
, and if you’re looking for something a little sweeter then check out some traditional Shanghai
5. Typical tourist routes
Traditional routes includes Beijing
and surrounds plus Shanghai
and surrounds (Suzhou
etc.), plus Xi’an is also tacked on. For a more comprehensive look at China don’t forget to head west, Chongqing
should definitely be on your itinerary.
6. Tickets to tourist attractions
Tickets to most tourist attractions can be purchased on the spot. Be aware that they often won’t accept western credit cards though so the best option for foreigners is often cash. Alternatively, many attractions can be pre-booked through website such as www.trip.com, which specializes in China travel.
1. What’s the weather like
China is a huge country, so this question is impossible to answer. The north experiences deep snowfalls throughout winter, the south is humid and subtropical, and western deserts of Xinjiang are as hot as they come. In Shanghai
temperatures in July and August often reach 37 or 38 degrees Celsius, and fall below zero in the wintertime. Further north in Beijing
, big snowfalls occur in the winter, although it still gets just as hot as Shanghai
in the summer, if not hotter. In the south, Guangzhou and Shenzhen experience a subtropical climate, with temperature in the 20s and low 30s all year around.
2. What to pack
In terms of clothes, simply pack for the weather. Just keep in mind that if you’re visiting both the north and south of the country to weather is likely to be quite different. Bring an appropriate power adapter, and it’s also best to get a little bit of RMB in advance, just in case you can’t withdraw money from the Chinese ATM.
3. Air pollution
You’ve all seen the news, and know that China suffers from some of the worst air pollution in the world. The good news is that in the last 2-3 years there has been significant improvements in this area thanks to government efforts to close high-polluting in-efficient industries and move towards a more service-based economy. For most people, you will see the pollution but it won’t affect you. If you’re particularly sensitive though we recommend you wear a mask. These are available in all convenience stores, or purchase one before you leave. If you in a more remote or wilderness area though, generally you won’t really need to worry about this.
4. Best time to visit
I would suggest the best time to visit depends of your preferred weather. Check out our city guides for the average temperature for each month of most of the major cities. The times not to travel however are during the two annual week long holidays for the spring festival and national day. Spring festival changes according to the lunar calendar so is slightly different every year, National day occurs on October 1st, so the holiday usually lasts from October 1st to 7th or thereabouts. If you choose to travel during these times tourists attractions will be extremely crowded and you’ll likely have to wait in line for several hours – definitely not an enjoyable experience!
1. What not to say
Try not to openly criticize Chinese culture or the Chinese government in open. While not illegal it’s likely to make people quite comfortable and is best to be avoided. Don’t assume that people can’t understand you when speaking English either, as a large number of Chinese can at least tell what you are talking about, although most will choose not to get involved in any conversation you have.
2. What not to do
Generally speaking just act like you would at home, there’s no need to very particular about your behavior. Just don’t be tempted to imitate any bad behavior you might see. For every Chinese person you see “behaving badly” there’s 10 you condone that behavior – don’t let yourself slip to that level!
3. What’s appropriate to wear
Generally speaking China isn’t very conservative in this regard at all, and you are fairly free to dress as your please. As usual, it’s probably polite to dress slightly more conservative in temples and places of worship but it’s rarely enforced anywhere. Just wear whatever is comfortable for you!
WHERE TO STAY
1. Older Areas
Although fewer and fewer by the year, there are some older neighborhoods which you can stay in throughout China, although generally you’ll be restricted to hotels as it’s difficult to rent out other accommodation. In Beijing
you can find lots of hostels and some cheaper hotels hidden amongst the various hutongs for a more authentic feel, while in Shanghai
there are lots of places in the French concession if you have an interest in that era of history.
Accommodation is in no short supply anywhere in the major cities, with all major hotel chains being present in almost all the cities. CBD’s can be the most convenient place for business but may not be that good for sightseeing depending on what city we are talking about – so check out where you want to go first! The other thing you might find disappointing is that the cities don’t feel very “authentic Chinese”, although you’d be hard pressed to find much of that in the suburbs anyway.
An excellent choice is to book a hotel near a train station, especially if you are planning to do several day-trips to nearby cities. There are always lots of hotels within walking distance of train stations, but just make sure the train you need is leaving from that train station – there are often multiple stations in bigger cities!
4. Accommodation standards
For expensive international brand hotels, they generally operate to a fairly world-wide standard, so you won’t see a lot of difference in their operations. But for cheaper international brands as well as most of the local hotels chains you can expect a bit of lower standard. Most hotels which advertise themselves as a 4-star hotel in China are much more like a 3 or 3.5 star in western countries.
1. Is China a good destination for kids?
Yes, China is great destination to take your kids to immerse them in another country’s culture.
2. Are Chinese friendly towards foreigners?
Yes, generally speaking, Chinese are friendly towards foreigners, and it’s unlikely that anyone will say or do anything to particularly offend you. Having said that, the vast majority of people don’t speak English, so don’t expect lots of people to strike up a conversation. Instead they are likely to take photos of you, shout “hello” as well as stare. There’s nothing much you can do about this, in their minds their not being rude – so just learnt to go with the flow!
3. Is China a good destination for backpackers?
Unlike Europe, China isn’t particularly easy for backpackers. The first problem is getting a tourist visa, you need to spell out exactly where you are going to stay every night, which will put off anyone looking to go to China and “wing it”. Secondly, there’s not a lot of backpacker hostels, although they definitely do exist. The lack of English may also put people off, although of course other people will embrace the challenge. Finally, you definitely can’t work legally on a tourist visa, to throw the idea of picking up some part time work right out the window.
4. How to make the most of any China trip?
It’s important to tackle the trip with an open mind. Chinese people are very friendly but some of the behaviour may come across as odd or even rude to those from Western countries. Just learn to go with the flow and not let small things get to you – that’s the key to making the most of your China trip!
1. Power adapters
For some strange reason, there are two different types of power outlets in China. One consists of two vertical prongs, and the other in where there are three prongs (two diagonally facing inwards and one vertical one at the bottom. In hotels, you’ll often find that power outlets can accept both types of plugs, however you’ll definitely find outlets that don’t which can be a pain, even to the locals. Luckily hotels are fairly aware of this and can usually supply you with an adaptor.
2. Mobile phones
While it’s possible to get a Chinese SIM-card as a foreigner from one of the major carriers, it’s probably not worth the hassle, not to mention it’s most probably going to be very difficult to do if you can’t speak Chinese. Either get an international roaming package for your own phone, rely on the country’s Wi-Fi, or pickup a SIM card from the airport from a company like www.trip.com.
At some of the major tourist attractions around the country there will be outlets where you can purchase and send postcards. If you’re looking to purchase and postcard and send it yourself at a post office it’s probably not worth the hassle.
4. Crossing the road
It’s important to be aware that while China had similar driving laws to most countries around the word, enforcement is another issue. Always be aware when crossing the roads for cars, motorbikes and any other vehicles which could potentially be coming from not just the direction they are supposed to, but also from the other way. Cars often won’t stop for pedestrians even though they are supposed to, so always keep an eye out.
5. Getting sick in China
Pharmacies around China are the front-line against sickness and can be found everywhere. Just be aware that you might not be able to get the medicine you’re used to at home. There’s not really any individual doctors in China like in the west, so if you’re sicker than that you’ll need to head to a Chinese Hospital.
6. Smoking in China
Around 50% of men in China smoke, and just a few percent of women. While most cities have strict anti-smoking laws, they are often not followed. They are much more likely to be adhered to in big cities though, for example it’s rare to see people smoking is restaurants, a big change from just 5 years ago. If you are staying in anything but high-end accommodation its also quite likely that your room smells at smoke, especially outside of the big cities. In China, every hotel is required to have at least one non-smoking floor, so it’s best to ask if you’re sensitive in this regard. However don’t necessarily expect it to smell good, but the chance is definitely higher.
One thing which is impossible to get used to in China are the large crowds. It’s not to say that everywhere you walk down the street is crowded, because it’s not. However tourist attractions can get particularly crowded at times, with weekends and public holidays often being unbearable. The best way to avoid this is to make sure any attractions you really want to see are scheduled for weekdays when it’s much more quiet.
Generally speaking, China is very safe are there are very few serious crimes reported against foreigners. Having said that being on guard is also a good idea, so watch out for things like pickpockets, as well as people trying to swap out your real money for fake cash.
9. Time zones
Despite the enormous area, China operates on a single time zone, Beijing
Time, which is UST+8, this included Hong Kong and Macau. What this means in reality is that while the daylight hours are relatively normal along the eastern seaboard where the majority of the population lives, they are significantly different in the west in Xinjiang province. There’s also no daylight savings.
10. Photos/having photos taken
While in China, it’s likely that at least a few times locals will ask you to take a photo with them. This will happen more if you’re particularly interesting-looking, tall or good looking in general, but still happens to everyone regardless. While you’ll never get this from say, local Shanghai
nese who are used to foreigners, you might get it on the Bund in Shanghai
, which is full of out-of-town tourists, and you’ll definitely get it in rural areas. If you don’t want to a polite no usually does the trick, although sometimes people will just take the photo without your permission anyway. If you want then of course go ahead, there’s no scams doing this like in other countries.
11. Construction in China
Everything is under construction, always. And if it was built just 3 years ago, it’s probably time for a renovation. Whether it’s new housing, shopping malls, road or railway stations, things in China are in a constant state of flux – what’s there one day might be there the next. It’s also not uncommon for there to be construction around your hotel, so it helps to check out Google maps first to scope out the situation, although this is far from foolproof.
Despite what you might think, shopping isn’t necessarily that heap in China. In fact, it’s often significantly more expensive than in the west, but just like anything in China, it entirely depends on what you’re buying and where you’re buying it. Most international brands have worldwide set pricing, so brand names aren’t going to be cheaper than at home, in fact they’ll quite likely be more expensive. For non-brand items there are definitely some bargains to be had, but just because you haven’t heard of the brand don’t just assume it’s cheap. Chinese brand items in department stores in particular are often very expensive.
If you’re living in China permanently, you might be disappointed to know that you’ll probably never end up using your bargaining skills, expect for when negotiating your rent. Generally speaking China operates on a fixed price system, with prices usually prominently displayed. In addition all taxes are included in the price. As a tourist however you might find some opportunities to bargaining, unfortunately thought the main reason is due to people trying to rip of tourists. Tourist stalls will often not display a price at all, and when asked will give a majorly inflated price. With some good negotiation you can expect to pay about 20% of that amount, sometimes even 10% of less. Don’t even feel bad if you think the price is too cheap, the sellers will never sell to you if they’re not making money, despite the looks on their faces that might say otherwise. In terms of bargaining, the age-old pretend to walk away trick is without a doubt the best advice. And just remember that almost all of the cheap tourist stuff you can find anywhere in the country, you will see it again, don’t panic!
Tourist attractions typically have official gift shops with the usually quite-expensive goods to take home as souvenirs. At outdoor attractions you’ll probably also find a few outdoor vendors trying to sell you goods, these are usually much cheaper but the quality is often questionable – remember to bargain hard!
4. Buying fake goods
If you’re looking for fake goods you’re probably going to be disappointed. As China gradually improves its IP laws it’s almost impossible to find fakes at any old store on the street, especially in major cities like Shanghai
. That being said, cities often have a “Fake Market” where for some unknown reason, IP laws seem no to apply. Do a bit of googling as you can soon find the right address. Even these fake market though often have brands they won’t display publicly, typically high-end European brands. Having said that if you ask the right people, they often have something hidden away which they can show you, so it never hurts to ask. Typically, a significant proportion of the shop owner can speak English, although don’t expect everyone to.
5. Buying from the internet
China wholeheartedly embraces ecommerce, especially in major cities where going to shops has already become old hat. As a tourist though it’s going to be hard to take part. If there’s something in particular you’re looking for though and you’re part of a tour group, asking them to order it for you often works.