China Travel Tips: 15 Things to Do Before You Go
I count myself very lucky to have been able to visit China, not once, but twice in the past few years. After having just returned home after spending a few weeks bouncing around China on a work trip, and I’ve prepared a list of 15 very important things you’ll want to do before you go!
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1. Renew Your Passport & Apply for a Visa
This might seem like an obvious one, but if you’re planning a trip to Mainland China, you’ll need your current passport (that has more than 6 weeks before it’s expiration date on your planed return flight) and a visa in order to enter the country.
Applying for a visa sounds more complicated than it really is if you’ve never done it before. The main thing is just to allow yourself enough time before your trip to ensure you get all of the paperwork back in time. (You’re dealing with the government, which has never been known to do literally anything quickly)
You will also need to know your exact travel dates and have accommodation booked BEFORE you apply. I realize this sounds a little backwards - what if your plans change, right? Make sure you book flights and hotels that have free cancellation.
Learn more about it here:
For the official US / China Embassy website, click here:
To Break it Down, Do This:
1. Download a visa form and submit your application to the Visa Office of Chinese Embassy/ Consulate General based on which state you live in. If you live in the Midwest like I do, the closest US Embassy is Chicago. Not in the Midwest? Find the full State list Here
2. Mail your physical application form with valid glossy photo attached, current passport and application fee (all together) to your nearest embassy.
If you google ‘Chinese Visa’ you’ll see a million ads pop up that claim to do this for you - but Sister, I wouldn’t trust that *ish! If the website you’re clicking on doesn’t have .GOV or .ORG at the end, don’t send them your freakin’ passport! I know the government websites aren’t pretty or that easy to navigate - which is why I just did all the work for ya. I got you.
2. Keep Your Passport with You
While you’re in China, you’ll need your passport handy to check into your hotel and if you plan to do any traveling within the country. You’ll also need it to purchase any train tickets and to get through security (just like at the airport!)
I found that airport security was a lot more strict in China than in the US, and had to hand my passport over more times than I could count before boarding the plane. It was helpful to have a dedicated spot for all of my important documents so I could easily get them in and out of my bag.
Once you’re all checked into your hotel, then feel free to tuck your passport away into a more secure location.
You’ll also need to keep your immigration forms with you for when you leave the country! Save yourself the hassle of having to get out of line and fill the paperwork out again, and just store your documents in a safe (easy to remember) place.
3. Sign Up for Global Entry
This isn’t a requirement by any means, but it will make your travel life so much easier, I promise!
Global Entry is a program of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service that allows pre-approved, low-risk travelers to receive expedited clearance upon arrival into the United States. Basically, that’s a fancy way of saying you get to skip the line at customs. And bonus, Global Entry comes with TSA Pre-Check! Yay for skipping lines!
Unfortunately, having Global Entry really is not helpful while IN China, but it’ll help speed things up on your return. And trust me, when you get home after 30 hours of travel with several hundred other people, you’re gonna wanna skip that line.
4. Ladies, Prepare yourself for the Bathroom Situation
The bathroom situation in China is about as foreign to our Western ways as it gets. The public restrooms are, to put it politely, barebones. Essentially, imagine yourself going out in the woods except that you’re straddling a ceramic hole in the ground, delicately trying to balance and not touch anything and/or pee on yourself, all the while thanking the gods that you practice yoga occasionally…or maybe that’s just me.
If you’re lucky, there will be a Western style toilet to use, but I can confirm that’s not necessarily any better. Imagine being the only sober person who needs to use the restroom at bar close - on St. Patrick’s Day.
It’s also worth mentioning that it is common practice in China to throw away toilet paper, not to flush it. I was very confused by this the first time I went to Shanghai - but most plumbing systems are not built to deal with TP. Usually there will be a sign (with illustrations) on the bathroom door as to whether or not it’s OK to flush the toilet paper.
In my experience, most public restrooms had at least some toilet paper and a sink, but no soap or hand dryers. Best to just BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper) and hand sanitizer.
I recommend these biodegradable personal wipes
If all else fails, wear a skirt and get a Go Girl.
5. Download a VPN
If you plan to use any social media, read the news, watch your favorite show or just generally have some idea of what’s happening back at home while in China, you’ll need to bypass their strict social media bans with a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
Keep in mind - you’ll need to do this BEFORE you arrive in China. Or you know, it will most likely be blocked.
I used Express VPN and it worked great for me!
6. Get a Pocket Wifi
On my most recent trip to China, I was so thankful to have my Teppy, a personal Wifi hotspot from Tep Wireless along for the journey.
Even though we were staying in nice hotels, the Wifi connection was really hit or miss. I also spent a lot of time traveling around the country, so it was really nice to have a personal hotspot in the car, train, taxi, wandering around outside… you get the idea.
Get your own Teppy for your next adventure!
7. Bring All the Snacks
Here’s the thing, I love snacks. So to me it really doesn’t matter if you’re going to China or La Crosse, Wisconsin, you’re gonna need to stock up on supplies.
Don’t get me wrong. The food in China was AH-MAH-ZING, but you might not always have time to sit down to a 20 course Dim Sum meal. And if you’re running around from one crowded train station to your next tourist trap, you might just need a quick bite!
However, the snacks in China are, well, in Chinese. With the help of a translate app you’ll hopefully be able to read the label on things, but my personal life motto is it’s never a bad idea to just have some granola bars with you.
8. Download WeChat
WeChat is one of the most popular tools of social communication in China and you would be remised without it! It’s also a great way to stay in touch with friends and family back home - for free!
Not to mention, I’m sure you’ll make some new friends on your trip to China - Get WeChat so you can stay in touch with them too!
9. Don’t Forget Your Portable Battery
I recently went to LA and every coffee shop, restaurant and generally any indoor space had an abundant amount of outlets for you to charge your phone. This, my friends, is not at all the case in China.
You’re going to want to make the most out of your trip, which probably wont include constantly running back to your hotel room to charge your phone. Instead, just make sure you have a portable battery with you. Problem solved!
Put your phone on airplane mode to help save the battery. You can still use iMessage and Wifi while not using cellular service.
10. Get Local Currency
Most credit cards come without foreign transaction fees, but they can’t guarantee the shop or restaurant you’re trying to purchase goods from will have a machine that can read your international card.
Most younger Chinese people just use WeChat Pay (think Apple Pay) to purchase everything, so some places I visited didn’t even have credit card readers. For this reason, I think it’s always worth having some cash with you. Especially if you plan to go to any traditional markets and want to barter. Cash is King.
It’s best to order RMB from your bank ahead of time, but if you forget, you can exchange currency at the airport. It’s also worth noting not to rely too heavily on being able to use an ATM while in China. I got lucky and found one that worked for me at a Western hotel chain, but a few others that I tried didn’t work.
11. Let Your Bank Know You’ll Be Out of the Country
Give your bank the heads up you’ll be out of the country so they don’t freeze your card! It happened to me once while I was in Vegas. While I appreciated the caution on their part, apparently what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas.
So yeah, just let them know a head of time it’s YOU spending your money in a way you normally don’t.
12. Download Google Translate
It can be difficult traveling to a place where you don’t speak the language, but you’d be amazed at how well you can get by with hand gestures and a smile. You know what’s even easier? Having an app that can translate for you.
Google Translate is free and works on IOS devices, translating over 100 languages.
Two things to keep in mind:
1. You will need to download the language you want to translate to (Mandarin) before you plan to use it
2. You will need a VPN while in China to run any Google devices.. you know.. those damn media bans an all
I also found it extremely helpful to get things written down in Mandarin for me by a local. The best way to do this is to just ask your hotel clerk!
Even if you’re not staying at a hotel, you can go into any and politely ask for help!
13. Get an Outlet Converter
This is an easy thing to forget - but you’ll need an outlet converter if you plan to stay charged abroad.
Some newer / nicer hotels have USB ports to easily charge your phone, but if you need to bring your laptop, blow dryer, electric razor, etc with you, it’s not a bad idea to have a converter just in case.
14. DMB Said it First…Don’t Drink the Water
If you’re thinking, did this girl really just make a Dave Matthews Band reference..? You’d be right!
All jokes aside, you really shouldn’t drink the tap water in China. Some public spaces like shopping malls and airports have drinking water stations, but from what I could tell it was mostly hot water for tea.
I really hate having to buy bottled water, but you know what I hate more? Shitting myself. Yeah, I’d say that’s worse than any guilt I feel about using plastic bottles. So to be on the safe side, plan on using nothing but purified water for consumption.
If you really have guilt about buying plastic water (and really, we should ALL feel some guilt about this…) you can stock up on water purifying tabs or invest in a water purifying bottle before your trip.
15: Know that Things will be Different, and That’s What Makes it FUN!
This is true for just about any international travel, but certain things in China are going to be different from your ‘normal’ in North America, and that’s what is so amazing about traveling to the other side of the world! Literally!
Don’t be afraid to immerse yourself into a culture that isn’t yours. Try the food, learn a couple of words if you can, and talk with a few locals. It’s OK to recognize that things are different, but don’t be so stuck in your own ways that you’re unwilling to try something new.
You’re going across the world! Have Fun!
If you have more suggestions on things you need to do before visiting China, I’d love to hear them! Leave your comments below!
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