7 Things You Need to Know Before Traveling to China

Ever since China embraced tourism in the late 70s, the country has experienced incredible growth and change. And while there are some western amenities and services available for the millions of tourists visit every year for incredible sites such as The Great Wall of China and The Terracotta Army, there are still some significant hurdles to overcome that many visitor are unprepared for. Before traveling to China, here are some essential things you need to know to feel less cultural shock.

The Terracotta Army should definitely be on your 'must' list for China. Traveling to China
The Terracotta Army should definitely be on your ‘must’ list for China.

After travelling to China earlier this year, I put together a small list of tips I wish I’d known before I went. Take them on board and your trip to China will be that little bit more comfortable and enjoyable!

7 Things to Know Before Traveling to China

1. MasterCard and Visa are not widely accepted

Don’t expect to be able to pay for your meals or your shopping with a credit or debit card. In China, many establishments accept UnionPay, cash and little else. So best play it safe and withdraw a few Yuan from a trusted ATM before you go off spending.

2. Not everyone speaks English

No matter which continent of the world you’re in, you’re almost guaranteed to find someone who speaks pretty good English. This is totally not the case in China. Even in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, it’s pretty common to find receptionists and restaurant servers who don’t speak a word of English. Try learning a few key phrases before you go and be prepared to point and mime a lot!

Don't anticipate everyone to speak English in China. In fact, expect the opposite. Traveling to China
Don’t anticipate everyone to speak English in China. In fact, expect the opposite.

3. Have your hotel name written in Chinese

Most taxi drivers won’t speak or read Chinese, either. So if you plan on travelling by taxi, it’s vital you have your hotel name written in Chinese or there’s no way you’ll get back. Even if you’re just going for a walk around the local area, having your hotel name written in Chinese will make the odds of someone being able to point you in the right direction much better.

4. Tipping is unnecessary and unexpected

Locals in China don’t tip their servers, bar tenders or taxi drivers and they don’t expect you to, either!

Not tipping makes your travelling budget stretch a lot further! Traveling to China
Not tipping makes your travelling budget stretch a lot further!

5. You need to arrange a visa in advance

China doesn’t offer visas on arrival. You need to organise them well in advance. I’ve had to get visas for many different countries and traveling to China was by far one of the most difficult. To make the process go as quickly and smoothly as possible, get your paperwork through a visa organiser, like Visa First.

6. The air pollution is as bad as you think

Some days the pollution is so dense that you can barely see 100 metres in front of you and a short 30-minute walk outside can leave you covered in a layer of grime. The pollution isn’t restricted to the major cities, either. It spreads out into surrounding towns and villages, too. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about it, except wear one of the surgical-style masks like the locals do.

Cross your fingers that the air pollution isn't bad when you visit The Great Wall of China or you won't be able to see it! Traveling to China
Cross your fingers that the air pollution isn’t bad when you visit The Great Wall of China or you won’t be able to see it!

7. Be prepared for the toilets

The majority of public toilets in China are squatting toilets and very few (if any) provide toilet paper or hand soap. So while you might not be able to get around the squatting part, you can bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitiser to make it feel a bit more like home.

About Nicola Quinn

Website: http://www.happyhealthymotivated.com

Nicola is a travel and food writer living in the Canary Islands who loves exploring far-off places, pushing herself to the limit and trying local eats wherever she goes.

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11 Responses

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  8. Avatar for Nicola Quinn

    Julia Hammond

    Hi Nicola, well it’s actually been around since 2016, and a three-day transit visa available even before that, but perhaps not for Beijing, so maybe that’s where you entered? This blog post explains in more detail:

  9. Avatar for Nicola Quinn

    Julia Hammond

    Hi Nicola, actually, for some nationalities, including Brits, a free transit visa is an option, as reported by The Independent this week. It would seem many tour operators, including cruise lines, still know nothing about this. This is a quote from the article:
    “Both Beijing and Shanghai now allow a visitor to stay almost a week without formality, so long as they fulfil a few conditions for what is in effect a free transit visa. They must arrive from outside China; stay no more than six days from midnight on their day of arrival; and depart to a different destination outside the People’s Republic.”
    Six days would be more than ample to explore Shanghai or Beijing in my experience.

    • Avatar for Nicola Quinn

      Nicola Quinn

      Hi Julia. Thanks so much for sharing this info! When I travelled to China earlier this year, a 6-day transit visa definitely wasn’t an option. It’s great to see China making their amazing county more accessible to the people who want to visit!


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