As I am currently planning my second trip to China, I decided I should share a few things with you. While some may seem incredibly obvious to the “seasoned” traveler if you are a casual traveler taking your first trip to China this little guide might come in handy. Some of this I didn’t know prior to my departure and I really wish I did, it would have caused a lot less stress.
I have also found there are lot of misconceptions when it comes to China so I am hoping this guide will help you be prepared when you go, you will be taking an memorable vacation and even with the culture shock you will have an amazing time if you are prepared.
Unless you are visiting for 72 hours or less, you need a Chinese Visa.
Whenever I mentioned that I was running out of time to get my visa paperwork, I find that people were shocked I needed to pre-arrange a visa. I often forget that most of the bloggers I read are incredibly well traveled and visas often go without saying but the casual traveler who is planning a trip to China may not realize this. I will write an entire article on the Chinese visa process but give yourself plenty of time and be prepared to pay a fair amount. It costs $140 and if you are not lucky enough to live near an embassy expect to shell out more money, because it has to be HAND delivered by someone to the Chinese Consulate.
CASH IS KING.
Sure I have my credit card but good luck using it in the small mom and pop hole in the wall restaurant you just found. It is best to have cash on you. While we are at it, no one is going to accept your USD or travelers checks. I know in some countries specifically Caribbean & Central American countries may take the USD this is so not the case in China. Make sure you have plenty of yuan on you at all times and stop using travelers checks no one takes them anymore. My typical rule is I get some currency from my bank (almost all banks will order foreign currency for you). I typically always get enough to last two days more if I am going somewhere that will be hard to get to an ATM.
Let your bank know you are traveling.
Pretty self explanatory. 🙂 Let your bank know so they don’t lock your card up in China, which by the way is impossible to get on the internet especially if you are trying to access an AMERICAN bank.
Coming from America where it is pretty standard I always feel guilty not tipping but I had one bartender in China tell me it is almost insulting to tip. So save that money. This rule does not apply to tour guides.
Get to the Beijing airport about 4 hours early.
Why 4 hours? Well first they won’t even let you check in and check your bags until 4 hours before the flight (at least in Beijing). Second, you will go through SOOOOO much security it will take 2-3 hours to get through it all. It is stressful and I can honestly say I have never been through so many check points at an airport.
Don’t check your electric toothbrush.
The Chinese have a strict list of items that you are allowed to check, we had to go and hunt for our electric toothbrushes because we didn’t pay attention and they are very clear you will not have your bags when you get back home if you have something in your bag you shouldn’t. In fact, two people didn’t have their bags when we arrived back in Texas so I feel that is likely true.
That being said, check your liquor.
Think you are going to save money by buying miniatures for the plane. Ha! The Chinese will take them from you and it will be a very sad day, you may get through one check point but you will not get through all 4 with the liquor. This goes for water too. I had to chug a liter of water before boarding the plane… it was water I bought at the gate too. The Chinese are not playing with liquids on planes.
Don’t book a Great Wall Tour BEFORE you arrive in country.
To be honest, if you are a budget traveler this goes for every country. It is always 100% cheaper to book the big tourist things upon arrival vs prior to departure. It is always cheaper. We were going to have to spend $150 each for the exact tour we took while our cost in country was$50 for both. Huge Savings.
It is polluted in Beijing
Ok I knew this and honestly everyone might know this but when I arrived it was bright blue skies and honestly beautiful. I thought pollution was just exaggerated. Then the infamous pollution moved in. It is bad to the point your boogers will be black. I am not kidding. Sorry if that if is TMI but knowledge is power. Luckily if you need one you can easily purchase a mask to help with breathing.
Bring toilet paper and sanitizer.
This is a common tip because the public bathrooms do not have it. Don’t make your life awkward just bring it. Even the locals bring their own so don’t feel weird.
You will need to present your passport every where.
Again, I never carry my passport I truly have a fear I will get robbed and I will loose my stamps (yes I am THAT girl) but if you want to get into any sort of attraction in China you will have to show it. Don’t do what I did and wait for a hour to go to Tiananmen Square only to find out I needed my passport. I am going to have a passport hideaway this trip so I don’t have to worry about loosing it. Plus there are random check points in the subway, just have it on you.
Taxis are cheap, BUT not near tourist attractions.
I always dread the taxi from the airport because I worry I am going to bust my budget before I even get started. The taxi ride from PEK to the hotel was $13.00. That being said when we were looking for a taxi to take us back to our hotel after touring the Forbidden City it was $40.00. We walked a couple of blocks down and caught a taxi and the ride was about $4.50. How do you know if you are getting scammed? ALWAYS get in a taxi that uses the meter, never one that tells you the cost up front.
Be prepared to walk, a lot.
I am so American. I do not walk anywhere. I drive to the store up the street. I know the world doesn’t act this way but I am always shocked by how much walking I do when I travel. Walking around Beijing is beast though, even if you use the subway you will do a ton of walking. Wear appropriate footwear.
While on the subject of footwear, leave the flip flops behind.
Or you can do what I did and wear them and have every other person staring at your feet. I am talking flat out staring with out shame for minutes at a time. I am the girl that normally doesn’t let this sort of thing bother me, but it was really embarrassing. It is considered very lower class/trashy to wear flip flops in public so just don’t do it. Believe me millions live in Beijing and I am pretty sure millions stared at my feet.
Street food won’t kill you.
I say this time and time again, I am not a foodie. I am not someone that has to have the greatest “name the dish” here. I am not a foodie at all and I am just not adventurous when it comes to food. So every time the person I was with had a dish from the streets I waited to see if he died, he didn’t. So I started to venture out a bit and I am here still. Try to venture out. I am getting better with every trip but I need to take this advice myself.
Personal space does not exist in China.
Next to people staring at my flip flopped feet this was the next thing that made me uncomfortable. They have no issues getting within inches of you and being in your face. I like my bubble but that bubble is popped in China.
The Great Firewall of China is real.
If you are wanting to get on social media invest in a good VPN, mine sucked and to be honest I am not even to bother for my one week trip coming up, I am going completely offline. I will just post once I get back home, but if you are going for an extended period of time you might want to strongly consider researching all of your options. There is no social media… no GOOGLE just be prepared. I was a bit taken back when I tried to google map directions and couldn’t. I knew I couldn’t get on facebook but google??? Yeah that was a valuable lesson.
Don’t expect everyone to know the English names of hotels or tourist attractions for that matter.
I highly recommend you get directions to your hotel in Chinese and any attraction you want to visit in Chinese characters, with a Chinese character address. I bought a book that had both the English and Chinese name of all the attractions. Linked below. I can’t tell you how many times I just pointed to the name in the book, and was pointed in the right direction
Beijing and Shanghai (Eyewitness Travel Guides)
Knowing how to play frogger could save your life.
Crossing the streets is no joke and you will feel like you are playing a human version of frogger. Even the dogs are street smart and look both ways before crossing, and you are not just dodging cars. You are dodging all modes of transport that could come from any direction.
At least in Beijing it is safe to assume you will not eat dog.
Not to sound culturally insensitive or anything but I feared I would eat dog and not know it so I googled how to avoid eating dog… well in Beijing it is pretty frowned upon and like wearing flip flops. Trashy. I can’t say this about other parts of China.
Yes you will have to use a squat toilet.
Or hold it all day and go at the hotel. I suppose that decision is up to you.
Don’t drink the tap water.
Again pretty self explanatory but just don’t drink it. It is safe to brush teeth with though, at least I brushed my teeth with the water and I am still alive.
There are signs in English but that doesn’t mean English is really spoken.
It wasn’t really easy to find people that spoke English so you really have to go with your gut on a lot of things. That being said people will take every opportunity to practice their English with you.
You will get stared at.
Not just when you have flip flops on (ha) but if you have some unique quality. If you are African you will get stopped, I witnessed this first hand. If you are exceptionally tall you will get stared at. If you have a unique trait you will get stared at. Don’t be offended people are just curious.
The Chinese DO NOT queue. I repeat they DO NOT queue
This can cause some conflict. In fact, if you do not pay attention you will get line jumped many times. Be aggressive and stay focused. I am not saying sucker punch a person that line jumps you, just keep inching and moving forward because it is safe to assume people will be coming from all angles and you will get line jumped. I am not telling you how to handle it I am just telling you it will happen and to not get too pissed over it. Just expect it to happen be patient and remember you are in freaking China. Chill out.
Do remember things are different in China and DON’T listen to other people about China. Make your own opinions.
I have wanted to go to China for YEARS it was always the destination I dreamed about going to. That being said whenever I brought it up to some people the first thing they would say “you are not going to like it there” and I would immediately just shut down and not talk about places I wanted to go because who needs that negativity.
Well I finally went to china and guess what I FREAKING LOVED CHINA.
I LOVED China, to the point it is my second favorite country I have visited. Yes it is polluted, it is chaotic, people spit and you have to use a squat toilet and you have no clue what the hell you are eating half the time BUT it has so much culture, it pushes you out of your comfort zone, the people are friendly and it is home of the freaking GREAT WALL and it is so easy to get mesmerized by this vast country. You have to look past all the “reasons” you shouldn’t like China and find the ones that make this country remarkable.
Just don’t wear flip flops.