China is one of the largest countries in the world. Its immense territory has caused this nation to have one of the most complex and influential cultures of human history. It is only natural to feel curious about this foreign country, nevertheless a China trip can seem intimidating for most tourists.
We are here to tell you not to worry, here’s everything you need to know before booking your travel to China.
1. Fill out the China tourist visa application
China is a country that welcomes millions of tourists each year from all around the world . A lot of people don’t know that in order to enter Chinese territory most tourist need to get a visa. Unless you are from certain countries in Asia or only staying in China for less than 72hrs, you’ll need to get a tourist visa.
The process to fill out your China tourist visa application might sound tedious and complicated, but it really isn’t.
You just have to get in contact with the local Chinese Consulate and present the necessary documents. Another very comfortable option is to process your visa through an agency. These agencies take care of everything, you’ll only need to pay the extra agency fee and send them your official documents prior to your trip.
Check out our post "How to get your China tourist visa" to to learn the details about this easy process.
2. Purchase a VPN prior to your China trip
China has a closed digital network, this means that have internet censorship on sites like Facebook, Google, and Twitter, and these sites are blocked inside Chinese territory. Most locals don’t mind this since they have their basic online services. However, for most tourist, tools like Google can be a lifesaver.
To navigate these blocked websites freely you will need to purchase a Virtual Private Network or VPN for short. You can purchase your VPN service online. Some very popular VPN companies are Nord VPN, Vanish IP, or Tunnel Bear.
Please note, you must purchase a VPN before getting to China. The China Firewall blocks all VPN companies’ websites, so you probably won’t be able to purchase it from inside Chinese territory.
3. Not everyone speaks English
Even though English is the language of globalization the percentage of Chinese people who speak it is very low. So when you arrive to China you might encounter a huge language barrier.
Nevertheless, locals are always keen to help foreigners, and you might be able to communicate through hand gestures or pictures. But it still is a good idea to learn some basic Mandarin and download a translation app on your phone.
Pro tip: Translate your hotel’s name and write it on a piece of paper. This way taxi drivers and helpful locals will be able to take or guide you there safely.
4. Not all businesses take foreign credit or debit cards
Throughout the years the economy of China has become more open to the world. This has allowed stores and businesses to modernize their payment methods. Today a lot of businesses have a wide range of options to perform your payments.
However, you still need to be aware that small stores and some restaurants do not accept foreign debit or credit cards, but don’t worry all ATMs do.
The best way to explore China unbothered is to bring cash wherever you go.
5. Only haggle at markets
Negotiating prices is part of Chinese culture, some may even say that it is an art. Haggling for products might be common in food stands and markets, but like anywhere else in the world it is considered extremely rude to do it in stores where the products already have a price. If you really want to get good products at low prices then you must visit the cities local markets.
6. You don’t need to tip
Unless you are in Hong Kong, there’s no need for leaving a few extra bills on the table when you finish a meal. In the rest of the world tipping is seen as customary, but in China, your kind gesture may cause distress between the staff of an establishment. If you really want to express your gratitude for the service, just say it. Thanking a member of the staff for a job well done might be a little more valuable for the locals. Always remember, you should only tip private tour guides or drivers.
7. Don’t stick your chopsticks in your food
It’s actually pretty comfortable to stick our chopstick in our bowl of food between bites. However, in China doing this is extremely rude. This is usually associated with funerals, so doing this in any other situation is deemed as an offense.
8. Don’t accept gifts or compliments
Modesty is one of the key values of Chinese culture. This is why accepting any kind of compliments is seen as rude or vain. If someone offers you a compliment during your China trip you should respond to it with another one. You will be seen as nice and humble.
9. Hot water and tea
Legend says that one day a tea leaf fell into the Chinese emperor’s cup of hot water, the emperor proceeded to drink the tea. Since then tea spread around the world and Chinese people grew more in love with the product. This tea craze developed into the costume of drinking hot water instead of cold. If you crave something refreshing you will need to ask specifically for something cold or bottled.
10. Don’t drink tap water
In China, even locals don’t drink water from the tap, since a lot of water streams have been polluted with heavy metals. This means that tap water is not safe to drink. Still, it is important that you stay hydrated so stack up in some water bottles.
11. The food will not be what you are expecting
Keep in mind that Chinese food in other parts of the world has been modified to satisfy the western palates. Be prepared to experience a whole new variety of flavors and textures. For example: thousand year old eggs are a very popular Chinese delicacy, these are curated eggs that have rested for long periods of time. The best way to describe their flavor is very salty, bitter, soy sauce. Without a doubt tasting, Chinese cuisine will be an entire adventure on its own.
12. People will take pictures of you
Every year China is visited by millions and yet locals are still fascinated by foreign faces. If you are a westerner you will feel like a celebrity. Always be picture ready since in popular tourist attractions people might approach you to take pictures of or with you.
13. Bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer
One of the biggest cultural clashes westerners have when visiting the China are the bathrooms. Squatting toilets are still used at the other side of the world, plus instead of using toilet paper to cleanse, water streams wash you off. So before you get there, buy toilet paper and hand sanitizer for your trip, and it might be a good idea practice your squats.
14. Prepare for harsh weather
The climate in China is incredibly varied. The whole country overheats in mid-summer and freezes during the winter. Although tourists visit throughout the year, it’s advisable to book your trip during spring when the weather is bearable. However, even when you book your trip in the best season it’s important to pack accordingly to weather reports.
15. Carry your passport everywhere
It’s always a good idea to carry some form of identification whenever you are out in public during your China trip. Consequently, Chinese hotels are required to register guests with the police. Managers and hotel staff will require your passport to do so.
As you can see your trip to China will be an unforgettable and unique experience.
This country is so different from every other place in the world. But there is no reason to be intimidated. We are sure that with these tips you will be able to navigate the busy streets of Beijing or trek the sacred mountains with with ease.