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, this article will be very helpful to make your China trip much 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.
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.
The language barrier is everywhere
2 – 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.
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
3 – 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.
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 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.
Train : The high-speed train also called “Bullet train” is one of the fastest train in the world and is very comfortable. 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.
Taxi are cheap and plentiful
4 – 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.
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.
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.
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
5 – 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
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
6 – 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.
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.
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
7 – Chinese national holidays you should avoid
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.
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.
National Holiday : 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
Welcome to China and I hope you have a pleasant trip in China!