China is one of those countries that keeps on fascinating people. From it’s rich culture and history to the completely different lifestyle. Arriving in China for the first time can be a bit of a culture shock. And no, I don’t mean Hong Kong, cause that city isn’t even considered China!
So to prepare you for your first visit to China, here are my best tips that will help you along the way!
Apply for your Visa on time!
This is the part that gave me a headache and I strongly advise you to start preparing for your Visa two months ahead of time. For Europeans (and more specifically Belgians) there are several documents that you need to provide to the embassy.
- Two official passport photos – They have very strict rules for these photos! Make sure that your ears are visible without any earrings. Your hair should be in a ponytail and you need to wear dark clothing against a white background that keeps your neckline completely visible.
- Passport – It needs two blank pages next to each other and has to be valid at least 6 months upon entry of the country
- Proof of stay – You need to give them your full hotel itinerary, including address of the hotels
- Flight itinerary
- Introduction letter from your employer (this is mandatory in Belgium!). This letter has strict rules! You should just copy this example and complete it with your own information.
- Application form – This one can’t be handwritten!
Important! If you’ve previously stayed in Turkey and you have stamps from Turkey in your passport, disclaim this in a separate letter. They are very tough on handing out visa’s if you’ve visited Turkey and with me the process took several days longer because of this and I almost didn’t have my passport back in time.
China is known for blocking several apps: Facebook, Instagram, Google and Whatsapp won’t work. The best way to avoid this problem is buy installing a VPN. During my stay in China I used Express VPN and was really happy with their service. The connection never failed and I was able to use all of my apps the entire time.
If this is your first time visiting China and you don’t speak the language you should start with more touristic areas such as Beijing and it’s surroundings. If you’re planning to go outside of the main cities I definitely suggest you to pick up a few words of Mandarin. They will come in very handy cause the locals almost only speak Mandarin. I also visited Guilin but to be fair, I was able to because my friend Caroline is a bad ass who is fluent in Mandarin.
In Beijing on the other hand public transportation is super easy and clear and locals are slowly picking up English.
Sign language to help explain what you want to say or do will get you a long way!
You will have one, let me tell you that but you have to keep in mind that you always have to stay polite. You’re a guest in their country, not the other way around.
Things that are common in China
- There will be almost no toilet pots – The exception here will be if you’re staying in a nice hotel. So start practicing your squats!
Let me start by reassuring you, it’s way easier than it looks! Just make sure to carry a roll of toilet paper with you or some tissues and hand sanitizer. I was used to it after 1 day!
- Waiting in line is pretty unheard of – Although this is changing drastically with the younger generation. But to be fair, I have never seen a plane board faster anywhere else than in China.
- Spitting on the street is pretty normal. The best thing you can do is just ignore it.
- Eating will be done with chopsticks.
- It can get pretty loud if you’re travelling by train so if you want to get some shut eye make sure to bring some ear plugs with you.
- There isn’t much sense for personal space. Expect people to lean against you or grab you by the arm to take a photo with you.
Book your trains in advance
There are several high speed trains that go through mainland China. What you do need to do is book these a few weeks in advance. This shows again the importance of preparing your trip to China ahead of time!
If you have to make a booking at a local train station, make sure to ALWAYS BRING YOUR PASSPORT! Otherwise you won’t be able to get a ticket.
You might be the tourist attraction
Even in the big cities you can’t escape the fact that as a Westerner you stick out from the crowd. Plus a lot of locals aren’t used to seeing us or sometimes even never met someone from a more Western country.
So what will happen is that they will love taking photos with you. For a brief moment they won’t care that they are standing in the Forbidden City, all they want is a photo with you. If you feel comfortable doing so, put on your biggest smile. But be aware that this usually turns out in a full on photoshoot 😉
Anyway for me it’s double, when I am in the mood I will let them snap as many photos when they want. When it’s early morning and I didn’t have breakfast or a coffee, yeah… don’t ask me then :p.
- Only drink bottled water!
- Take hand sanitiser with you
- If you have lung or breathing problems either avoid the big cities or wear a mask
- Bring some Immodium with you if you’re stomach isn’t used to foreign food!
Avoid taxi’s in the big cities
You have to realise that for instance in Beijing alone, live more than 21.5 million people! It is safe to say that traffic is a big problem. If you take a taxi you might get stuck and loose a lot of precious time. Plus, the meter will keep on running and you will end up at a steep price.
Public transportation in Beijing is very clear, even if you don’t speak a word of Mandarin!
The Forbidden City is closed on Mondays!
This one you have to keep in mind when planning for a visit to Beijing! There is so much to see and you really don’t want to miss out on this!
For the “Top 10 things to know for visiting the Forbidden City” click here.
Indulge in the local cuisine
You’re probably thinking… I can have Chinese food any time I want when I am at home. WRONG! You are so damn wrong! I used to think like that, until I actually ate Chinese food! And let me tell you, it’s unlike anything you can order at home!
It’s not greasy at all and oh yeah ‘Nasi Goreng’, that’s an Indonesian dish. So don’t ever bother ordering it in China!
What you should absolutely try is Hot Pot, dim sum, Beijing duck, buns (apparantly the red beet ones are delicious according to Caroline), local fish dinner from Guilin!
When dining at a restaurant, Chinese customs are also very different to ours:
- It’s totally normal to raise your hand at a waiter and start yelling if you want to order.
- All of your orders might come at the same time and your friends might be on the table 20 minutes later.
- Slurping and chewing loud means that you’re enjoying your food. So if you can go to town anywhere, do it here!
- Tipping isn’t done in China
Cash is King
While the locals all pay with their phone (helloooo WeChat), you’ll find it rather difficult to pay by card in a lot of places! Especially if you go outside the big cities having enough cash on you is a must! So definitely make sure to inform your bank that you will be visiting China. You don’t want your credit card to be cancelled and not be able to take out any money.
Also, China only recognises it’s own currency. So don’t expect your Dollars or Euros to get you very far.
Important to know is that the Chinese don’t tip, you aren’t expected to do so either.