Just in case you’re too lazy to flip through a guidebook, here’s a quick rundown of etiquette, Wifi info, cash exchange, SIM cards…and more!
Things to avoid:
- Avoid shoving and pushing back since you’ll most likely encounter crowds in public places and the Chinese will forfeit personal space, which isn’t necessarily considered rude in local culture.
- Don’t go anywhere without a travel pack of tissues or Kleenex, since many public restrooms won’t have toilet papers.
- Don’t misbehave when visiting temples.
- Avoid eating at street vendor carts. Hygiene can be an issue especially in smaller villages, in order to NOT be sick, avoid eating raw foods or food carts on the side of streets.
- Avoid visiting famous landmarks during Chinese holidays, unless you love huge crowds to the point where you literally can’t move.
Because China is so vast, most of its regions experience all four seasons in clarity: snow, rain, sun and humidity. So check the regional weather of where you’re visiting prior to your trip. It’ll be much more accurate than what we tell you.
Although China covers 5 geographic time zones, the country follows one standard time zone: UTC+08:00.
You don’t need a visa to travel to Mainland China if you’re a citizen of the following countries:
For 15 days: Brunei, Japan and Singapore.
For 30 days: Seychelles, Mauritius, Bahamas, Fiji, and Grenada.
Residents of: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cuba, Georgia, Guyana, Laos, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, North Korea, Pakistan, Serbia, Tajikstan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam must have their passport endorsed as “For public affairs” by the Chinese government in order to enter visa free.
Citizens of: Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic,Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico,Montenegero, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden,Switzerland, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and United States/American Samoa, you are allowed a visa-free, 72-hour stopover in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Chongqing provided you meet several conditions including:
- You must have a confirmed, onward ticket to a third country before you board your flight to China. Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are “international flights” so you may fly there on a non-stop flight after your time in China.
- You cannot have a return ticket to the country you came from, even if the cities are different (i.e. New York-Beijing-Los Angeles would not work).
- You also must fly into and fly out of the same city and airport. Note: In Shanghai you can fly into or out of either airport, I.e. into Pudong and out of Hongqiao or vice-versa.
- You may not leave the metropolitan area of the city you arrive in. For example: You cannot fly into Beijing, take another flight to Shanghai or Guangzhou and leave China from there under the 72-hour transit rule.
Taiwan citizens will need to acquire a special Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan Residents (臺灣居民來往大陸通行證, or 臺胞證).
Although China has 297 living languages, the official language in China is Mandarin, and characters are written in simplified format.
Make sure to greet the oldest person before the youngest, and always stick to handshakes rather than kisses on the cheeks or hugs.
NEVER put chopsticks upright in your bowl, that’s a symbol of death in the Chinese culture.
At temples and religious monuments, be respectful and not be loud or inappropriate.
Keep calm when dealing with police or government officials. China is still a communist country, even in big cities like Shanghai or Beijing, be sure to not raise your voice or overreact.
Safety in China varies from city to city since it’s a country that covers massive regions. In general, beware of pickpockets so guard your belongings especially in high tourists areas.
Scam artists are also known in China, if you encounter strangers approaching and trying to speak English to you while inviting you to a coffee/tea house or offer to show you around the city. We recommend you steer away from such situations, since many travelers have been shown to local teashops where scam artists may coerce you to pay for everything consumed at a much higher price.
ATM & Money exchange:
Renminbi (RMB) or locally known as “yuan” is used in China. USD $1 = 6.7 yuan (as of 2016.) In most tourist areas, ATMs can easily be found. If you run out and need to get more, Chinese banks are usually crowded but make sure to keep all receipts when you exchange money at a bank or retrieve cash at the ATM for safety and security purposes.
In any case, bring adequate amount of RMB prior to the trip, cash will work anywhere.
China uses “Union Pay” credit cards which are popular in restaurants and boutiques. Visa, MasterCard or American Express are not as widely accepted but are okay at hotels, luxury shops and restaurants.
Tipping is not part of the Chinese culture, so it’s not necessary. If you’re in a taxi or restaurants, tipping is not highly advised.
The country code for China is +86.
Internet surveillance is a huge issue for travelers in China, so Skype, Google Hangout or Facebook video will NOT work there, unless you download VPN. For the best VPNs to download, check out: The Best Free VPN App You Should Download In China. Once you download a VPN that works well, then you can use iMessage, Whatsapp and other apps you typically use to connect with people back home.
The process of getting a SIM card in China is pretty painless, but we still suggest getting one at one of the kiosks at the airport or in an official shop in the city. If you want to get one sold on the street, then be sure your SIM card works before you leave the vendor so you can still make sure everything is activated and operating.
By going to an official shop, don’t expect the store clerks to speak English. Ask for a “SIM ka” (ka = card) and show your phone. A smaller size official shop don’t typically read foreign passports for ID, so we recommend going to a flagship store of the providers (hence airport kiosks are great options,) where they will accept your passport as you purchase a SIM card.
There’s zero initial charge for new SIM cards, and the minimum initial credit is 100 RMB then you’ll need to choose a package that typically starts at 8 RMB/month with no inclusive minutes or SMS. You can pay more for better options depending on the package of service you prefer.
Wi-Fi is a huge issue for any foreign traveler in China since internet surveillance is heavily monitored. Say goodbye to Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp…etc. But download VPN on your phone, then you’re good to go! SEE: The Best Free VPN App You Should Download In China.
The electricity in China is 220V, 50HZ, AC.
Always drink from bottled water, since tap water is not considered safe to drink.
Taxis in China are reasonably priced, ranging from 10 – 50 RMB (approximately USD $1.5 – $7.48) in trips within the cities, depending on which city you’re in of course. There shouldn’t be any additional charges for luggage and tips are not expected.
If you realize that the driver is taking a longer route, which does happen at times, then speak up. To avoid these situations, get your hotel to call a cab for you which can be more reliable than hailing one yourself on the streets.
Guided tours in China vary depending on which city so you may need to do your own research. But these tour companies cover most parts of China: China Odyssey Tours, China Discovery, Travel China Guide.
Photos: Wendy Hung
Have you ever been to China? Share your experience with us in the comments.