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.
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!
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!
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.
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.