Tips for Smooth Travel to China

When in China do as the Chinese do! To get the most out of your visit to China and make the experience as effortless and enjoyable as possible, it’s worthwhile to do some homework first to be able to embrace the local, accepted norms of behavior. Moreover, there’s a treasure trove of cultural riches that may tap into one of your passions. It could possibly be calligraphy. Or it might be lavender jade! Excavate the fertile layers and discover what strikes a chord. By sharing this newfound knowledge with your hosts, you will garner their respect and appreciation. This familiarity with their culture and sensitivity to their ways will give you a definite edge, and doors will open unexpectedly.

Since the language is often the biggest challenge for most foreign visitors to China, it makes sense to learn at least the basics of Mandarin. While you can certainly bring a phrasebook to indicate the relevant words and Chinese characters in a particular situation, ask staff at your hotel to write down addresses, this cannot compare to the pleasure of engaging in a simple dialogue with a local Chinese person. Although the Chinese are learning English by leaps and bounds, most locals have mastered just a handful of English phrases.

Forewarned is forearmed; therefore, don’t be offended by particular public behavior that you may be unaccustomed to in your home country. Specifically, belching, expectorating on the street, smoking indiscriminately and staring at foreigners are fairly common. Also, the Chinese notion of comfortable personal space may be somewhat closer than you are used to, and you may even be pushed and shoved in a line. Vive la difference!


A valid passport and a Chinese visa are required to enter China.

Visitors traveling to China on a single-entry visa should be reminded that trips to Hong Kong or Macau Special Administrative Regions are treated as a visit outside Mainland China. Re-entry requires a new visa. To avoid problems visitors should request the standard visa which allows multiple-entry for a 12-month period.

Scheduling of trips

It is wise to avoid scheduling business trips and meetings during Chinese holidays

January 1 – New Year’s Day

Late Jan / early Feb. Spring festival and Chinese New Year

May 1 – Labor Day

Mid Sept /early Oct – Mid-Autumn Festival

October 1 -National Day

International flights

Travellers should note that international flights departing China are routinely overbooked. Travellers are advised to reconfirm departure reservations and check in early at the airport. It is recommended that you reconfirm your ticket 72 hours in advance.

The two main airports are Beijing Capital International Airport, located 30 minutes outside the city, and Shanghai’s Hongqiao International, also 30 minutes from the city center. Both are reached most easily by taxi.


The local currency is the reminbi which is referred to as RMB. It literally means “the people’s money”. The currency is also called yuan or kuai. The safest places to exchange currency are at the airports or hotels.


International driver’s licenses are not recognized in China. If you want to drive in China, you will have to apply for a Chinese driver’s license, which is only available to certain visa holders. Taking a taxi, a convenient and fairly inexpensive means of transport, is recommended instead. Taxis are plentiful and can be hailed along most main streets, especially near hotels and major sightseeing attractions. Transportation is easily arranged at the front door of the hotel. The hotel concierge can write down your hotel’s address along with the address of your destination in Chinese to help Chinese cab drivers.


The country code for calling is 86. In China dial the 7-digit number preceded by 01 for Beijing, 020 for Guangzhou and 021 for Shanghai. International and domestic phone calls can be made with little difficulty in China, particularly in the major cities. Telephone calls can be easily made from hotel rooms. Phone cards and pre-paid cellular phone chips are also widely available. Cell phones can be rented at the airport arrival terminals for short term use. When calling from outside China, you drop the first 0. Internet access is widely available in hotels and numerous internet cafe throughout the country.

Time zone and dates

The time zone in China is 8 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) and 13 hours ahead of EST (Eastern Standard Time) in the US.

Dates are written beginning with the year, followed by the month and day. For example, May 8, 2008 is written as 2011 年 5 月 8 日 in China.


The crime rate in China is quite low; however, pickpockets often thrive in crowded markets and foreigners are primary targets. Although petty theft from hotel rooms is uncommon it’s advisable not to throw caution to the wind. It’s best to use safe deposit boxes or safes in rooms where provided.

Foreigners may be approached by individuals who wish to sell pirated or counterfeit products, such as compact discs, watches and designer accessories. Steer clear as these transactions are illegal and are in violation of intellectual property rights laws.


As far as shopping needs are concerned, try bargaining in an open market rather than shopping in a supermarket or department store. Such an experience may help hone your negotiation skills. Keep in mind that the Chinese are tend to be shrewd negotiators so stand your ground. You might begin by offering 20% of the initial asking price and see where it leads!


Tipping is not required for services.

Bring some small gifts (representative items from your country or local specialty products) for your new Chinese friends. Do not wrap any gifts  in advance because they may be opened by the customs authorities upon arriving in China.

Health Concerns and Medical Facilities

It’s not recommended to drink tap water. Bottled mineral water or boiled water would be a safer choice.

Sophisticated medical facilities with international staffs are available in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and a few other large cities. Many other hospitals in major Chinese cities have VIP wards, known as gaogan bingfang in Mandarin.

In rural areas, only rudimentary medical facilities are typically available. Rural clinics may be reluctant to accept responsibility for treating foreigners, even in emergency situations.


Do take with you a first aid kit and any medicines you might need during your trip.

Do consult your physician prior to your visit to China to determine the effects that seasonal smog and heavy air pollution may have on you.

Do consult with your medical insurance company prior to your trip to China to confirm whether your policy applies and if it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. If not, seriously consider buying foreign medical coverage and medical evacuation insurance.

Do obtain a list of modern medical facilities in China from the Chinese Embassy’s Web site.

Do ask doctors and dentist to use sterilized equipment and be prepared to pay for new syringe needles in hospitals or clinics.

Do bring an interpreter with you in the event of a medical emergency since many do not have an English-speaking staff.

Do be advised that many Chinese physicians and hospitals require you to post a deposit in cash prior to providing service to cover the expected cost of treatment.


Do not assume that hospitals in China will accept medical insurance from a foreign country.

Do not expect Chinese physicians and hospitals to supply you with complete copies of your Chinese hospital medical records, including laboratory test results, scans, and x-rays.

Do not expect ambulances in all Chinese cities to have well trained personnel and carry sophisticated medical equipment. (If you are seriously ill or injured take an immediately available vehicle or taxi to the nearest major hospital.)


 Register for our on-line programs