5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to China

If you’re planning to travel to China, you've probably got a laundry list of things to do in order to prepare for your journey.

Dress warmly for the Great Wall in winter, it's cold!

There are, however, some things you may not have even considered. And these things can only be learned after you've already experienced China.

So, we asked the nomads that have been there, and done it all, to share their tips.

1. Translate the Hotel Name

It's always good to have the name of your hotel written in Chinese characters on a slip of papter to give to the taxi driver. That way you'll avoid any mis-communication.

– Nueva Gacutan

2. Learn a Bit of Chinese

Learn how to say "Cesuo zai nali", which translates to "Where is the toilet?" Very important stuff when you're travelling around remote areas of China.

And remember when having soup, it's best to make a slurping sound – a sign of satisfaction, and compliments your host and the chef. Silence while having soup might insult your host and the cook.

 Linus Lopez

3. ET Phone Home

Get a mobile phone there. It's very cheap and easy to get a Chinese sim card.

You can either text or call a service and they'll translate whatever you want to say from English to Chinese (or vice versa).

You can call the service and ask for directions to anywhere, and they will either send you a text message with the address in Mandarin, or they will ask you to pass the phone to the taxi driver and they will explain the driver how to get to wherever you want to go.

 Gabriel Nunes Saraiva

4. Check Your Notes

Be careful when you hand banknotes over to shop owners. In return, they might give you some Ancient East German or Mongolian money. Not ideal when you're in China.

 Tufan Sevincel

5. Taxis, Haggling & Coffee

When you hop into a taxi, hold on for dear life!

Always remember when you're crossing the street, cars have the right of way – not pedestrians, so be careful.

Haggle prices, and dress warmly for the Great Wall in winter, it's cold!

Oh, and don't drink the coffee at Starbucks... it sucks!

 Paula R. Montgomery

What do you wish you knew before going to China?

Related articles

Couple eating food with chopsticks and smiling

Win a destination do-over for 2

Enter now

18 Comments

  • sam said

    Lot of great comments here! I definitely have some opions.

    1. Take your hotels business card as well as a picture of it on your cell phone.
    2. Have a copy of your passport scanned, saved, and printed out somwhere
    3. Asking for the toilet is good. Often people refer to it as "Xi Shou Jian" (washroom). This may be easier to say than "Ce suo." Again taking a picture of the "toilet sign" is also a good way to show people what you're looking for.
    5. You don't need to slurp when eating soup.
    6. Cell phone is critical! Smartphone is even better. Check out the only ones in China at en.trip-per.com. They'll do live translation for you, as well.
    7. Stick with Chinese money
    8. Don't take a black cab unless you know the price. By taking a regular, authorized taxi you'll be able to get the standard, cheap fare.
    9. Don't drink the rice wine, unless you want to get really drunk.

  • Arthur said

    Great comments, but one thing, the soup one is incorrect. In japan, making slurping sounds is respectful. In china, people will actually interpret slurping as a sign that you think you're better than everyone else, and will take it as disrespect
    Take it form me, i was born here, even though im american, and lived here all my life.

  • Eduardo Prata said

    Gostaria de informações de como entrar na China de carro, pretendemos passar por lá em 2015. entrando pela Mongolia e saindo pelo Vietnã.

  • Eduardo Prata said

    Would you like information on how to enter China by car, we intend to go there in 2015. entering and leaving the Mongolia by Vietnam.

  • Ella said

    When you are in China, it is respectful to try every food at the restaurant or home. Take a little bite of everything, otherwise the host may find it offensive or that you don't feel welcome there

  • CantBeleeveUGuys said

    What in the world?
    Change your default browser search engine to baidu or bing(not sure if the latter is banned too)
    and sign up for a VPN software as well or the Internet will be pretty useless for many of you who rely on it

  • Rocky said

    China is strictly a BYOTP country so invest in those individual tissue packs you can get at 7-11 and carry two with you at ALL times - ALWAYS. The other thing you should have with you at all times besides your passport is the business card of the hotel where you are staying to show the cab driver. If I get directions I have that person send them to me in Chinese to my Wechat account - I love Wechat! - again to show to the cabby. BTW Family Mart has Oral B dental floss in 50 meter spools.

  • sumera jamil said

    please tell me about muslim/halal food in beijing. is it available at hostels?
    how are hostel for foreigners in beijimg?

  • Locomote said

    Great tips, thanks for sharing. China can be a very different (but thrilling) place. Doing business there is especially interesting to navigate! Have a read of our article and let us know what you think, 'Preparing Your Team for a Chinese Business Trip'. You can find it on our blog.

  • Tarryn Wright said

    My top tip is to remember that the atm gives you your cash first and then you have to tell it to return your card (only a few banks in China do it the other way around). If you are used to getting your card and then your cash then it is all too easy to leave your card in the machine and the next person in line can help themselves to your account or it gets swallowed up.
    There is counterfeit money so if paying the taxi driver make a show of remembering the last 4 digits in the serial number so that if they tell you it's a fake you can be sure to get your original "fake" note back and not have it swapped out for an actual fake. Also worth checking your notes after they come out of the ATM as they have been known to spit some out.
    100 Yuan is the largest note (about $15USD) so be prepared to lug around quite a few of them
    .Also as someone else said it's a bring your own toilet paper country and often you will need to use the squat toilets although the main cities frequently have a seated option. Barter hard in the markets (tourist and jewellery etc) they start very high so please feel free to start very low, just allow them to save face by coming up in small amounts. Download WeChat as you can translate on it, just remember that it's not as private as you might expect such a service to be.

  • PJ said

    Although I don't speak a word of Mandarin, I never had a problem finding public toilets, in Beijing. I just followed the flies.

  • N said

    I definitely agree with all of those things, but I think there's a few that I would add as well.

    #1) Get a VPN before arriving. If you want to use Google (including Gmail), Fbook, Youtube or most other forms of social media while in China, you definitely need to get a VPN before.

    #2) People tend not to really wait in lines so know that you will never get anywhere if you don't push a little.

    #3) This is probably one of the most important ones.... don't forget about the visa! Basically everyone needs a visa to China and it takes some time/planning so make sure to prepare for it. Some of the big cities (such as Beijing and Shangai) have 72-hour visa-free allowances.... so if you don't have time to get the proper visa, this could be something to consider.

    There's a whole bunch of other things (China really is a country full of surprises!) but my husband and I actually wrote an article about 25 things to know before you visit on our website so I'll just leave the link here instead of repeating all the info: http://outofyourcomfortzone.net/25-things-to-know-before-visiting-china/

    Also, sumera jamil - I can't tell you much about muslim/halal food in Beijing (although I know you can find plenty of it if you go the Xinjiang Province in western China), but I can tell you that the quality of hostels varies considerably in Beijing. You can definitely find some cheap nice hostels, though. I recommend you check out booking.com or hostelworld... just make sure you read the reviews before you book so you know what you are getting in to!

    Oi Eduardo Prata, tudo bem? Para ser honesto, eu não gostaria de dirigir na China; os outros motoristas são um pouco loucos e muitas placas de rua são apenas em Chinês. Mas se você ainda quer dirigir, o que eu ouvi é que você tem que arranjar um guia Chinês e não podem ir sozinhos. Não sei exactamente como vc pode fazer isso. Uma coisa mas - se você quer mas informação/dicas de viajar em China, você pode clicar em nosso site link acima. Temos alguns artigos sobre China. Escrevemos tudo em Inglês e Português porque meu marido é do Brasil (e ele escreve melhor Português do que eu :-) ... vc só precisa clicar na bandeira Brasileira para Português. Boa sorte com sua viagem!



  • Lucy said

    Having spent 7 years in China - 2004 - 11 my
    Top tips would be;
    Take a pocket size English/ Chinese

    Always carry small packs of tissues
    Be careful with fake money usually it is 50 yuan notes.
    Always openly count out your money when you pay and receive money.
    Learn to bargain it is expected - and fun,
    No need to slurp soup.
    Try all dishes and smile but always leave some or host will think you need more.
    Pedestrians have right of way but cars and motorcycles can come from all directions including from behind and on the footpath.
    Learn basic language and signage it is essential. Writing addresses is good but make sure driver can read have had to lend them my glasses. Getting a bus is good to learn routes. Can always get off and change if going in wrong direction.
    Keep handbags on front of your body even when eating.
    Dress for the weather - never get cold.
    Always use bottled or boiled water - including when doing teeth.
    Wash all fruit and veges thoroughly, no raw veges, peel fruit.
    Each city is different so be vigilant re local practice.

  • traveler said

    Don't get Shanghai(d) in Shanghai like I did! I was there a few days before the Chinese New Year. I was approached by a nice young couple who said they would like for me to experience a tea ceremony in honor of the new year. (Actually, the conversation went longer than that and II got business cards from both of them.)

    We did go to a very nice tea ceremony and I found it very interesting. However, I was presented with the bill and it came to the equivalent of abut $200!

    In retrospect, I guess it could have been worse - they could have kidnapped me!

  • Kai said

    Thank you for all the great tips. I landed a job teaching english in Beijing, i really only worry about the pollution and strange eating habits. I would not want to eat something by accident for example. I expect to wear a mask when about on my daily business and take all of your advice to heart. Probably not the advice about the soup 😁Thank you

  • Kyle Schutter said

    I just wrote a post on this from the logistics point of view rather than cultural.Expat in Shenzhen (https://medium.com/@kyleschutter/expat-in-shenzhen-47659759ea15)
    Here are a few key items:
    BEFORE traveling: read this at least two weeks before you travel
    * VPN: ExpressVPN is the best I have found that work on Android, iPhone AND laptop. Otherwise nearly every website you care about is blocked in China(e.g. gmail, facebook, netflix, slack, dropbox, etc.)
    * Phone service: I use Google Project fi for my Nexus 6p which was one of the best decisions on made on the trip. Basically Google has their own SIM card which enables you to make calls from 130+ countries as soon as you land and enables you to use the local mobile data as soon as you connect to WiFi (presumably so that you can get the local network settings). fi costs $40 per month including 2GB of data. fi only charges you for the data you use (and refunds the rest). It also seems to have a built in VPN as I don’t need to use a VPN to access banned content in China.
    * Phones: I have an iPhone with a China Unicom SIM and WeChat and Nexus with a Google Project fi SIM, which has me covered… mostly.

  • Johny Bolt said

    Can you give me an idea if Astrill works fine within the Great Wall right now? Any feedback on the internet service?

  • hilary said

    Hi, sorry to ask this question. I am a smoker. I am stopping over in Shanghai next week on my journey from Australia to Wales UK. I am trying to find out what brand of cigarettes and rolling tabacco are available in China. Would prefer Marlborough lights in cigarettes and drum or longbeach in tabacco. Thankyou. Have found your other tips very helpful

Add a Comment