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China is a beautiful country that offers amazing sights and unique experiences. It does, however, have a tendency to intimidate travellers. China is sometimes viewed as a country that is so unlike others that it is difficult to know where to begin when planning a trip. Knowing what to expect before you visit China does a lot to help ease the nerves.
China does not have to be an intimidating country. If you know what to expect before you visit China, it makes the entire trip easier.Did you know that the newest Disney park is located in Shanghai?! It is a super unique park and is fun to visit while in China.
Here are 20 things you should know before you visit China that will make you’re trip easier, less confusing, and more fun!
1. Get a Visa
Getting a visa is one of the most important things you need to do before you visit China. While some nationalities have the right to stay in large Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai for up to 72 hours without a visa, having a visa before you leave is easier than getting one when you land.
Oftentimes the lines to get a 72-hour visa upon arrive are incredibly long. You can stand in line for over an hour in some instances.
The advantages of having a visa before you visit China are numerous. It will help you cut down on waiting in lines, and the entire immigration process will be smoother.
For many nationalities, including Canadians, if you apply for a visa before you visit China, you are able to receive a multi-visit visa that is valid for up to ten years. This is the best option for anybody that is planning on visiting China more than once.
2. Your Credit Card Probably Won’t Work
Foreign credit cards often don’t work in China, so always carry cash. You should get some Yuan before you visit China. However, you are able to take money out of an ATM if you run out of cash. I recommend only taking money out of a bank ATM just to be safe.
3. Always Carry Your Passport
It is your responsibility as a tourist to always have your passport. Police officers and people selling you entrance tickets to a sight can ask to see your passport. This is especially true for students or seniors that are getting a discounted rate on an entrance ticket.
It is extremely rare to be asked to show your passport, but it is always better to be safe and have your passport on your person at all times.
4. Squat Toilets
Squat toilets are common in China. Standing toilets can be difficult to get used to using- especially if you’re a female and not used to peeing while squatting.
If you’re a female and not used to peeing while squatting, you may want to consider getting a urine funnel to ensure your urine goes where you want it to.
You also need to bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
5. Get a VPN
China has the Great Fire Wall. Many websites popular websites will be blocked., and you need a VPN to access any sites that are blocked by the firewall.
Blocked sites include Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Gmail, Wikipedia, and countless other sites.
My preferred VPN is SurfEasy. Your monthly fee allows you to install a VPN on up to 5 different devices, so it is perfect for sharing with family and friends.
There are free VPNs that work just as well as SurfEasy. Do your research and get the one that works best for you.
Get a VPN and install it on your devices before you visit China to make sure the site you are getting your VPN from is not blocked in China.
6. Don’t Drink the Water
It is not safe to drink tap water in China. Bottled water is easily accessible and very cheap.
If you are ecologically-minded, you can purchase a SteriPen to take with you. It is a portable water purifier that will allow you to purify up to 1L of contaminated water at one time. I use my SteriPen whenever I travel somewhere with unsafe tap water. It is incredibly simple to use, and it effectively purifies water.
7. No Tipping in China
It is not customary to tip in China. This means the price you see for food is the price you will pay! So there is no need to do the math and figure out how much of a tip is appropriate.
8. Be Prepared to Haggle
Haggling is common in China. You can haggle at markets but not at stand-alone stores. You’ll be able to tell where it is appropriate to haggle and where it isn’t by watching the locals.
There are tons of articles all over the internet that have haggling tips for China. The most important thing to remember is that the seller will never agree to a price that loses them money. So start low and work your way up to get the best price.
9. Get to the Airport Early When You Leave
Everybody has to go through customs when taking an international flight out of China- even Chinese nationals. This leads to extremely long queues when leaving the country.
Get to the airport three hours before your flight to ensure you don’t miss your flight!
Psst. Check out this article for airport security tips.
10. Pay Before You Receive Your Food
In many Chinese restaurants it is common to order food, pay for the food, and then receive your food. You will be brought a bill shortly after you order, so be prepared and have your cash out to pay.
Paying before you receive your food is convenient because it allows you to simply leave the restaurant when you are done eating.
11. Spitting is Normal
Spitting in public is normal in China. You will see and hear it basically all day, everyday.
While most spitting takes place outside, I would recommend you take a quick peak at the ground before you choose a train seat or public toilet to squat in. You normally won’t find spit, but it is always best to take a quick peak just to be safe.
12. Taxis are Cheap
Taxis in China are inexpensive. They are also convenient for getting to your hotel from the airport or train station if you have a lot of baggage and don’t want to navigate the subway system.
Be sure you’re taking a legitimate taxi and be sure to get a receipt when you exit the cab. I once dropped the equivalent of $200 on the seat of a taxi when I was paying. The taxi driver did not give me a receipt when I left the car. Even though I had the taxi number and a picture of the driver’s credentials from the back seat, there was no way to get ahold of the taxi to get my money back because I didn’t have an official receipt.
Learn from my mistakes. Always ask for a receipt when leaving a taxi. It is better to be safe than sorry.
13. Beware of the Tea House/Student Scam
In big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, the tea house/student scam is fairly common. People will approach you and say they are a student, and ask if they can practice speaking English with you. You’re a kind tourist, so you agree.
The person will then take you to a tea house, order tea, and then stick you will the bill. Since the scammer works with the tea house, the bill will be ridiculously high. When this happened to me, the bill was $400USD for tea and cans of coke.
Be cautious of people that approach you on the street asking to practice English. It is quite possibly a scam.
If you are approached and believe the person is genuine, you should suggest a place to have tea. If they insist on going to their tea house, that is a major red flag, and that person is probably trying to scam you.
14. Bring a Translator
More and more people are able to speak basic English in China. That being said, English is not widely spoken. If you want to communicate with the locals, be sure to have a translator. I use Google Translate in China, and it works well enough. Test your translator before you visit China to get used to it and ensure the translations are accurate.
Have your hotel address written in Chinese characters to show a local in case you get lost or take a taxi to your hotel. This is another safety precaution that you probably won’t need to use, but it will help you infinitely if you do happen to need it.
15. China is Safe
China is a safe destination for tourists. The country as a whole does have a number of human rights violation concerns; however, China is no more dangerous for tourists than any other country.
Just like anywhere you go, your safety is your responsibility. If you don’t feel safe in a situation, leave. Be aware of your surroundings and don’t do anything stupid.
Chinese police officers are more than willing to help tourists if you need them (and you most likely won’t).
16. Try the Street Food
China has a lot of street food offerings. Eating at street food vendors allows you to try a number of unique dishes!
Eat food that is freshly prepared. Cooked street food that has been sitting out for a hours can make you ill.
17. Be Careful When Crossing the Street
You may think you have the right away to cross a street in China because there is a walk sign, but you still need to be cautious. Chinese traffic is busy and chaotic.
People riding scooters and bicycles quite often go through an intersection when there is no traffic even if the light is red. Always check both ways before stepping off the curb and before stepping onto the curb on the other side of the street. If someone on a scooter of bicycle is coming, either walk quickly or let them pass before you continue.
18. You’ll Feel Like a Celebrity
People will not so subtly take your picture while you’re in China. Some people will ask to take a picture with you. But the majority of people will simply take your picture from a distance without asking.
It can be annoying, but you will get more used to it the longer you are in China. You never know when you’re picture will be taken, so make sure you’re always smiling!
19. High-Speed Trains can be Expensive
China has a large network of high-speed trains. They are convenient, comfortable, and fast. The downside of high-speed trains is that they are often quite expensive.
When booking transportation between cities in China, look at all your options. Flying from one city to another can be cheaper in some cases. Look at your options and decide what mode of transportation is best for you. It can be beneficial to look at prices before you visit China; however, it can be cheaper to buy ticket when you are in the country.
Psst: Click here if you want to learn about the subway system in China.
20. The People are Friendly
The people in China are friendly. They are often shy and won’t come up to talk to you, but if you need help, they are more than happy to help.
If you are respectful of Chinese culture, use a few basic Mandarin phrases, and generally act friendly, you will receive friendliness in return.
I hope this list helps you feel more at ease and know what to expect before you visit China. It is a beautiful country with an incredible history. It should definitely not be left off your bucket list.
Knowing what to expect before you visit China and keeping these tips in mind as you travel through China will help make your trip go smoothly.