Travelling to China can be a rather memorable experience. It’s a destination that feels like you’re travelling to a whole other planet. Whenever I get asked, have I travelled to China, I’m always reluctant to say yes.
I have a love/hate relationship with visiting China as it’s not a comfortable place to travel around. But please, don’t let this put you off your trip entirely, it’s a good thing.
I guess I love it more for this very reason, that it is a challenging country to travel around. And it is for this very reason I’ve put together this blog post as I wanted to share my top Useful things to know before you travel to China.
If only I had known these few things before I departed on my first trip to China, I feel I would have enjoyed my first trip a lot more. It is a country that grows with you over time.
I do hope that this information helps you to navigate around China A lot better from the get-go.
China offers many incredible destinations to travel too, such as:
- See pandas in Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Center.
- Exploring the forbidden city of Beijing.
- Taking on the dangerous challenge of the plank walk on Mount Hua.
- Unearthing the Terracotta Army outside of the ancient city of Xi’an.
- Walking along the Great Wall of China.
- Exploring the busy hustle of Shanghai city.
- Relaxing on the tropical island paradise of Hainan.
Simply put, China covers a lot of ground for travellers with much to see and do.
After all, China is one of the world’s most populous countries. Did you know that you can find 102 cities in China with a population of over 1 million people? Now that’s a lot of people.
Nothing wrong with a challenge, In fact, I would prefer a challenge whilst travelling, It’s always a nice change to get lost on your own without an understanding of where you might end up.
Always be prepared before you travel, jump into the deep end and most importantly, have fun. However, I can give you a few tips I wish I knew before travelling to China.
You will have moments throughout your trip to China when all you can simply say is “oh China”! It is a special place, and you will stumble across the most bizarre of situations.
And a brief word of warning, health and safety is a whole different ball game in China. So do be on guard where ever you go and be sure to take out reliable travel insurance before your trip to ensure you’re covered.
You will need to arrange a VPN before your trip to China
The great firewall of china, nothing gets in, nothing gets out. It doesn’t bother locals that much that everything is blocked, as they have their own Chinese versions of popular services and apps.
Blocked websites in China:
- Google (Gmail, Maps, translate)
ALL BLOCKED! You have been warned.
Need not fear; you can quickly get around this blocking problem by downloading a popular virtual private network service called a VPN.
It’s essential that you find a VPN that works in China, and you set it up on your laptop and mobile smartphone before you arrive.
Once it’s set up, you can access all the above-blocked sites easily in China. Meaning you can stay connected with the outside world and carry on like usual.
We recommend ExpressVPN, it is one of the few VPN’s that reliably work in China. They have a 30-day money-back guarantee, plus they give you 3 months free when signing up for their 12-month plan using this link.
Don’t damage your electronic devices
Make sure you have the correct voltage and adapters to charge your electronic devices. It’s a good idea to get a plug with a surge to be on the safe side. You have been warned.
Stick with tea and bottled water in China
Coffee is not a good idea in China; after all, they do so well as a nation to create incredibly tasty tea, why would you drink coffee?
Coldwater isn’t a thing; you’re more likely to see hot water on offer around China as many locals like to either add tea leaves or drink it on it’s own hot.
Avoid drinking tap water at all costs and purchase sealed bottled water when you need. Instead, Switch your coffee for tea, and you won’t be disappointed.
For an emergency brew, China does have Starbucks. Not that Starbucks is a great coffee, it’s just available just in case you do need your caffeine fix in the morning.
Otherwise, I would get a flask to fill up with hot water to add your tea leaves to in the morning. Do as the locals do and enjoy the excellent tasting tea on your trip to China.
You don’t need a Visa to enter China
Did you know that you don’t need a visa to enter China? I didn’t know this either, but British tourists flying from London to Hainan directly can enjoy a 30-day visa-free entry.
For the majority of trips to China, you are required to apply for a tourist visa to enter. But there are few exceptions where UK passport holders don’t need a visa.
Another example is an international traveller who is transiting through China within 72 hours. You need to reach another country within 72-hours to be eligible for the transit visa.
I used this transit visa whilst on a trip from London to Bangkok via Beijing, and I went hiking along the Great Wall of China within 72-hours and was able to enter China without the need for a visa.
Eat first, ask later, China will remain a mystery when it comes to food
My best advice for eating food in China is to order the set meal or the recommended dish and then eat before asking what it is.
Food in China can be an adventure in itself; the best advice is not to ask what you’re eating and just eat it. Eat first, then ask later.
You might be surprised by what you’re eating. China is a fun culinary destination, and I’ve enjoyed some incredible dishes having no idea what it is.
Also, Mock food is popular in China, such as Mock Duck or Mock Chicken as China perfected fake meat way before the impossible burger. This is mostly down to cost as meat can be expensive for locals and the mock version is much cheaper and has a similar taste and texture.
If you happen to have a dietary requirement, preference or allergy, it might be a little tricky to get across your requests in China. A good idea would be to translate these words in advance so you can have them on hand to work out with the restaurant what’s in the meal before eating.
I must warn you that they may say that the dish doesn’t contain an item when it does. This is entirely down to the language barrier and the ingredient being more used for a stock than being a key ingredient.
Jodi from Legal Nomad has put together some useful cards for those looking for Gluten Free options that will help with the translation issue. I’d highly recommend sorting this out before you travel to China.
Make sure you carry cash whilst travelling around China
Most payments in China are made through QR payment with digital wallets using apps such as WeChat Pay or Alipay.
It’s challenging to get a local sim card and activate these apps; travellers should withdraw local cash from an ATM as card payments such as American Express, Mastercard or Visa are not a common form of payment, especially for smaller transactions with local vendors, cash is your best option.
I’d recommend trying to locate and find an HSBC ATM to withdraw your cash in China and be sure to inform your bank ahead of time that you’re travelling to China to avoid your account being cut off.
Gobbing, Spitting and farting are all common practices in China
Trump, toot, bottom burp, One-Cheek Squeak or how about a Breezer? Fart to your hearts contents in China as locals don’t seem to mind openly in public.
I don’t think I will ever forget the moment a local dropped a tune whilst standing next to me. It was like getting permission to finally allow my body to unleash the orchestra performance of a lifetime out in public without any shame.
Please don’t get offended as it doesn’t fix anything, you’re in China now. Join in with the local customs.
However, it was the sound of the gobbing noise on almost every street corner of China that got to me. It’s again, relatively common practice and one that can’t be avoided.
Welcome to China, Spitting is relatively common; you will simply have to get used to it.
Another custom to get used to is the art of queuing. It doesn’t exist really; you might end up waiting a long time if you get in line.
A word of warning, Some toilets don’t have doors. Always carry a packet of tissues for when nature calls and practice the art of squatting before your trip to China, you will need to learn.
You will stumble across a language barrier in China
Good luck trying to speak English, you will have to learn Chinese; after all, you’re in China now.
Even some international hotels will struggle with language barriers so be prepared.
I’ve also noticed that some Chinese signs with English translations, usually don’t make any sense at all. You will be on your own when it comes to understanding the local language.
My best advice would be to download a translation app before your trip to China. Write down essential landmarks and the name of your hotel on your phone to show to taxi drivers just in case you get lost.
Another idea to understand your destination a lot better, would be to hire a local guide to help you navigate around the language barrier and understand China a lot better.
Most importantly, Chinese locals are super friendly
I first heard horror stories about how locals in China were mean and not friendly towards tourists; this was simply not the case from my experience.
I found China to be a friendly place to travel around and found locals filled with curiosity and interested in finding out more about your personal trip around China.
Especially in the remote areas of China that hardly see any tourists at all, locals will want to know what you’re up to and stop to take a photo with you.
Embrace your visit to China, take photos on every occasion, learn a few essential words to allow a connection and a smile, randomly hold babies for selfies (This is a thing!) and be prepared for friendly nods and smiles all round.
China is incredible, and you have to take it for what it is. After all, this is China.