When you hear this name, you feel the desire to travel inside you. What adventures wait to be experienced in this vast country of 1.4 billion inhabitants with a history spanning several thousand years? Whatever your passion – authentic local cuisine, exploring pristine wilderness or immersing yourself in local culture – China will confuse and delight you. Before leaving for China, there are several important things you need to know to make your stay as successful as possible. Here are some tips to follow:
You will need to apply for your visa in advance
China does not issue visas upon arrival; you will need to apply well in advance. To apply for a tourist visa, you will need to provide a letter of invitation from a friend or family member in China, or provide a detailed itinerary from your tour operator. This should include confirmed bookings and return flights. The visa can be obtained at a Chinese embassy in your country of origin.
Here is a guide with more detailed information on how to get your visa to China. The tourist visa allows you only one entry and must be used within three months of the date of issue. Remember that if you leave the mainland to visit Hong Kong or Macau, you will need a multiple-entry visa to return to mainland China.
Don’t be afraid to bargain
Apart from shopping in a chain of stores or a shop where prices are clearly marked, it is possible to bargain the price down and negotiate a better offer. In fact, the seller will probably expect to bargain with you, and the first price he indicates will probably be high. This is an essential thing to know when you go to China’s various fascinating markets.
Just smile friendly to the seller and offer a lower price. Offers and counter-offers will follow one another until agreement is reached on a country that satisfies both parties. If the price doesn’t go down enough in your opinion, you can always say no and leave. Sometimes when you leave, the seller changes his or her mind and offers you a better price.
Be aware of the Great Firewall
You probably know the Great Wall of China, but did you know that there is a Great Firewall of China? Because of Internet restrictions, you will quickly notice that many of your favourite social networks and websites are blocked – including Facebook, Instagram and Gmail.
However, it is possible to bypass this blockage and stay connected. All you need is an international SIM card. If you use a foreign SIM card when you are in China, you can bypass the firewall completely, and use the Internet as if you were in the country that issued the SIM card. TravelSim for example, is a good solution for this, as it will allow you to save up to 95% on roaming charges and send free SMS messages anywhere in the world. You will save even more with data plans.
No personal space? Don’t take it personally
China is a densely populated country, so it is common to find yourself in a tight spot, whether on the street or on public transport. People in the West are used to having far less personal space than we do, and it is not a problem for them to be against each other in the subway or bus.
Queues are not always organized, and if you want to order food or buy something, you will often have to make your way through the crowd and get the seller’s attention. If someone pushes you to the front or pushes you when you are waiting in line, don’t get angry and don’t take it personally. Understand that it’s just part of Chinese culture.
You will always need to carry your passport with you at all times.
Did you know that you will have to show your passport when you arrive at the hotel reception, or when you buy train or bus tickets in China? You will also sometimes have to present it when you change money or use a foreign credit card in a department store. That’s why it’s better to invest in a protective cover for your passport and have a secure pocket in your bag to carry this precious document.
These are some of the most important things you should know before you visit this beautiful and fascinating country.