7 Tips To Help You Prepare For Your Trip To China
Heading to China? Here are some essential tips to help you prepare for the exciting journey ahead!
Especially if you are from a Western country and have never been to China, you'll definitely want to ensure you read through this post as it covers the basics of this complicated, exciting, and very unique place in the world.
(Please keep in mind that I am writing this from the perspective of having visited main cities like Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai!)
1. Get your visa
If you need a tourist visa - chances are, you do - provide plenty of time beforehand to get one. You'll need to drop off or send in your passport to the embassy or consulate to get your visa inserted.
One of the cool things about being a U.S. Citizen is that the Chinese visa lasts 10 years! That makes the price not seem so bad, knowing you can return within the decade.
2. Know the address of the first place you're staying
You will need this for your departure card at customs. The woman sitting next to me on the plane was filling her card out and didn't know the location since she was going on a tour. Make sure you know the address so you can smoothly move through customs.
3. Have the address of your hotel written out in Chinese characters, if possible
Not many people in China speak English, especially cab drivers. Having a printed out version of the characters will make it a lot easier to show a cab driver where your hotel/place of accommodation is upon arrival. You can find the character version on the hotel's website.
4. Learn basic Chinese phrases
Hello (ni hao) and thank you (xixi) go far in any country. Also try to learn the words for any foods you may have allergies to so you can communicate that at restaurants. Mandarin is an extremely difficult language to learn and pronounce for non-native speakers, so don't beat yourself up if you can't learn a whole lot prior to departure.
5. Prior to leaving, download VPN apps
Jokingly referred to as "The Great Firewall of China," you'll notice that many popular websites are censored in China. If you'd like to have access to blocked sites such as Google, Gmail, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, etc. you will need to download a VPN prior to arriving in China.
There are a number of free or paid VPNs you can find. I used Hola on both my desktop and iPhone, and also SurfEasy on my iPhone. I recommend having a backup VPN on each device - my Hola stopped working on my desktop and there was no way for me to download a new VPN after that (because the sites to download a VPN are also blocked, obviously). I used the paid 1-month version of SurfEasy for $5 and then canceled my subscription after I got home.
VPNs I currently use when traveling (updated 2017):
Also, since this post was originally published I am aware that Netflix and Hulu do not allow you to access their sites in other countries, even if you are using a VPN that changes the appearance of your country location (found out about this in Europe!). I personally haven't had issues with the other sites on VPNs, though.
6. Get plug adapters
China and Australia have same/similar electrical outlets, so make sure if you're not from there to get an adapter. The voltage in Chinese outlets is 220V, so also check your electrical appliances to make sure they're the correct voltage.
VIDEO: How To Use Travel Adapters!
7. Be open-minded
If you come across something completely different than what you're used to at home, try to be open-minded and go with the flow. For example, as an American I had never used a squat toilet or been to a public bathroom without toilet paper. However, there are both squat and throne-style toilets in China that may or may not have TP and soap. Instead of complaining, be prepared by keeping pocket tissues on hand as well as a small bottle of hand sanitizer.
If you've never been to China you may experience many cultural differences in China in terms of food, social norms, and communication. Embrace it and enjoy it!