Bargaining

Bargaining is common in shops (apart from supermarkets), and expected in markets. But there are no hard and fast rules. In shops, you'll only be able to knock a small amount off the asking price, but in markets – especially souvenir markets – you can bargain your socks off. Remember to keep negotiations lighthearted, and be prepared to walk away; that's usually when you'll hear the genuine 'last price'.

Dangers & Annoyances

Generally speaking, Běijīng is very safe compared to other similarly sized cities. Serious crime against foreigners is rare, although on the rise.

  • Guard against pickpockets, especially on public transport and in crowded places such as train stations.
  • Use a money belt to carry valuables, particularly on buses and trains.
  • Hotels are usually secure places to leave your stuff and older establishments may have an attendant watching who goes in and out.
  • Staying in dormitories carries its own risks, and while there have been some reports of thefts by staff, the culprits are usually other guests. Use lockers as much as possible.

Loss Reports

If something of yours is stolen, report it immediately to the nearest Foreign Affairs Branch of the Public Security Bureau (PSB). Staff will ask you to fill in a loss report before investigating the case. If you have travel insurance, it is essential to obtain a loss report so you can claim compensation. Be prepared to spend many hours, perhaps even several days, organising it. Make a copy of your passport in case of loss or theft.

Road Safety

The greatest hazard may well be crossing the road, a manoeuvre that requires alertness and dexterity. It can seem like a mad scramble on the streets as vehicles squeeze into every available space. Traffic often comes from all directions (bikes, in particular, frequently ride the wrong way down streets), and a seeming reluctance to give way holds sway. If right of way is uncertain, drivers tend to dig in their heels. Ignore zebra crossings; cars are not obliged to stop at them, and never do. And take care at traffic-light crossings: the green ‘cross now’ light doesn’t necessarily mean that traffic won’t run you down, as cars can still turn on red lights and bicycles, electric bikes and motor bikes rarely stop at red lights.

Scams

  • Teahouse Invitations Refuse invitations to teahouses from sweet-talking girls around Tiān'ānmén Sq or Wangfujing Dajie – it's an expensive scam.
  • Art Exhibitions Similar invitations by 'art students' see tourists pressured into buying overpriced art.
  • Rickshaws Riders at the North Gate of the Forbidden City are particularly unscrupulous. The ¥3 trip really is too good to be true – it'll end up costing you ¥300!
  • Taxis Always use official taxis. If any city-centre driver refuses to dǎ biǎo (use the meter), get out and find another taxi. Note, for long journeys, such as to the Great Wall, you'll have to negotiate a nonmetered fee.
  • Departure Tax Note that there is no departure tax at the Capital Airport, so ignore fraudsters who try and sell it to you.

Be Forewarned

  • Air quality can be a problem, especially if you're particularly sensitive to pollution. Consider wearing a smog mask, and check the air-quality index (www.aqicn.org).
  • Try to avoid visiting during national holidays (especially May Day and National Day) as the main sights can get ridiculously crowded. Conversely, Chinese New Year is relatively quiet, as most people spend time with their families.

Discount Cards

Student Cards An International Student Identity Card (ISIC; www.isic.org) may be useful as you could get half-price entry to some sights. Chinese signs at most sights clearly indicate that students pay half price – so push the point. If you are studying in China, your school will issue you with a student card, which is more useful for discounts on admission charges.

Seniors People over the age of 65 are frequently eligible for a discount, so make sure you take your passport as proof of age when visiting sights.

Free Sights Tickets must be purchased for most sights in Běijīng, although more and more museums are now free (you will need to show your passport, though).

Museum Pass The annual Běijīng Museum Pass gets you into more than 112 sights, including 61 museums, and is a good investment.

Travel Card (交通一卡通; jiāotōng yīkǎtōng; refundable deposit ¥20) Saves you 50% on all bus fares. Can be used on the subway for convenience, but without any discounts. Obtained from subway stations.

Beijing on a Budget Smartphone app for cost-conscious travellers.

Embassies & Consulates

Embassies (大使馆; dàshǐguǎn) in Běijīng are open from 9am to noon and from 1.30pm to 4pm Monday to Friday. Visa departments, which are often in separate, usually adjoining, buildings (check the embassy website), are sometimes only open in the morning. There are three main embassy areas: Jiànguóménwài, Sānlǐtún and Liàngmǎqiáo.

It has become increasingly common in recent years for embassies to turn down visa applications from foreigners who do not live in China. It’s always best to arrange visas in your home country.

Jiànguóménwài Area

Sānlǐtún Area

Liàngmǎqiáo Area

Other Areas

Emergency & Important Numbers

Ambulance120
Fire119
Police110
Police / Emergency (English language hotline)010 6525 5486

Entry & Exit Formalities

Customs Regulations

Chinese customs generally pay tourists little attention. There are clearly marked ‘green channels’ (nothing to declare) and ‘red channels’ (something to declare) at the airport.

Duty Free You’re allowed to import 400 cigarettes or the equivalent in tobacco products and 1.5L of alcohol. Importation of fresh fruit and meat is prohibited. There are no restrictions on foreign currency; however, you should declare any cash that exceeds US$5000 (or its equivalent in another currency).

DVDs Pirated DVDs and CDs are illegal exports from China as well as illegal imports into most other countries. If they are found, they will be confiscated.

Antiques Objects considered antiques require a certificate and red seal to clear customs. To get the proper certificate and seal, your antiques must be inspected by the Relics Bureau, where no English is spoken. Anything made before 1949 is considered an antique and needs a certificate, and if it was made before 1795 it cannot legally be taken out of the country.

Passports

Chinese law requires foreign visitors to carry their passport with them at all times; it is the most basic travel document and all hotels (and internet cafes) will insist on seeing it. You also need it to buy train tickets or to get into some tourist sights, particularly those which are free.

It’s a good idea to bring an ID card with your photo in case you lose your passport. Even better, make photocopies, or take digital photos of your passport – your embassy may need these before issuing a new one. You should also report the loss to the local Public Security Bureau (PSB). Be careful who you pass your passport to, as you may never see it again.

Visas

Passengers in transit are allowed 72 hours without a visa. Otherwise, visas are required for almost all nationals. A 30-day visa is standard. One extension is usually possible.

Applying for Visas

Citizens of 51 countries, including Australia, France, Germany, the UK and the USA, are allowed to stay for up to 72 hours in Běijīng without a visa, as long as they have an onward travel ticket to another country. However, if you are staying longer, citizens of every country, bar Japan, Singapore and Brunei, require a visa. Note that visas do not allow you to travel in areas of China, such as Tibet, that require special permits to visit.

Your passport must be valid for at least six months after the expiry date of your visa and you’ll need at least one entire blank page in your passport for the visa. You may be required to show proof of hotel reservations and onward travel from China, as well as a bank statement showing you have $100 in your account for every day you plan to spend in China.

At the time of writing, prices for a single-entry 30-day visa were as follows.

  • £85 for UK citizens
  • US$140 for US citizens
  • US$30 for citizens of other nations

Double-entry visas:

  • £85 for UK citizens
  • US$140 for US citizens
  • US$45 for all other nationals

Six-month multiple-entry visas:

  • £85 for UK citizens
  • US$140 for US citizens
  • US$60 for all other nationals

Most Chinese embassies abroad can issue a standard 30-day single-entry visa in three to five working days. Express visas cost twice the usual fee. In some countries (eg the UK and the US) the visa service has been outsourced from the Chinese embassy to a Chinese Visa Application Service Centre, which levies an extra administration fee. In the case of the UK, a single-entry visa costs £85, but the standard administration charge levied by the centre is a further £66.

A standard 30-day visa is activated on the date you enter China, and must be used within three months of the date of issue. The 60-day and 90-day tourist visas are reasonably easy to obtain in your home country but difficult elsewhere. To stay longer, you can extend your visa in China at least once, sometimes twice.

Visa applications require a completed application form (available at the embassy or downloaded from its website) and at least one photo (normally 51mm x 51mm). You normally pay for your visa when you collect it. A visa mailed to you will take up to three weeks. In the US and Canada, mailed visa applications have to go via a visa agent, at extra cost. In the US, many people use the China Visa Service Center (www.mychinavisa.com), which offers prompt service. The procedure takes around 10 to 14 days.

Hong Kong is a good place to pick up a China visa. However, at the time of writing only Hong Kong residents were able to obtain them direct from the Visa Office of the People’s Republic of China. Single-entry visas processed here cost HK$200, double-entry visas HK$300, while six-month/one-year multiple-entry visas are HK$500. But China Travel Service (CTS) and many travel agencies in Hong Kong can get you a visa in two to three working days. Expect to pay HK$650 for a single-entry visa and HK$750 for a double-entry. Both American and UK passport holders must pay considerably more for their visas.

Be aware that political events can suddenly make visas more difficult to procure or renew.

When asked about your itinerary on the application form, list standard tourist destinations; if you are considering going to Tibet or western Xīnjiāng, just leave it off the form. The list you give is not binding. Those working in the media or journalism should profess a different occupation; otherwise, a visa may be refused or a shorter length of stay may be given. There are many different categories of visa. The eight most common are listed here (most travellers will enter China on an 'L' visa).

C

English name

flight attendant

Chinese name

chéngwù; 乘务

D

English name

resident

Chinese name

dìngjū; 定居

F

English name

business, student or person on exchange program

Chinese name

fǎngwèn; 访问

G

English name

transit

Chinese name

guòjìng; 过境

J

English name

journalist

Chinese name

jìzhě; 记者

L

English name

travel

Chinese name

lǚxíng; 旅行

X

English name

long-term student

Chinese name

liúxué; 留学

Z

English name

working

Chinese name

gōngzuò; 工作

Visa Extensions

The Foreign Affairs Branch of the local PSB – the police force – handles visa extensions. The visa office at the PSB main office is on the 2nd floor, accessed from the North 2nd Ring Rd. You can also apply for a residence permit here. You should apply for your visa extension at least seven days before your current visa expires, but this rule is not always enforced.

First-time extensions of 30 days are usually easy to obtain on single-entry tourist visas; further extensions are harder to get, and may only give you another week. Travellers report generous extensions in provincial towns, but don’t bank on this. Popping south to Hong Kong to apply for a new tourist visa is another option.

Extensions to single-entry visas vary in price, depending on your nationality. At the time of writing, US travellers paid the most, ¥960, while Canadians and Australians paid ¥160. Expect to wait up to five days for your visa extension to be processed. You may be asked to prove that you have adequate funds (US$100 per day, or the equivalent in other currencies) for the time you are staying in China.

The penalty for overstaying your visa in China is up to ¥500 per day. Some travellers have reported having trouble with officials who read the ‘valid until’ date on their visa incorrectly. For a one-month travel (L) visa, the ‘valid until’ date is the date by which you must enter the country (within three months of the date the visa was issued), not the date upon which your visa expires.

Residence Permits

Residence permits are available – normally issued for a period of one year at a time as a sticker in your passport – to people resident in China for work, who are married to Chinese citizens (although that doesn't guarantee you will be allowed to work while in China) and long-term students. Requirements are stringent; you will need to be sponsored by a Chinese company or university, or a foreign company with an office in China, and undergo a health check. Long-term residency permits, valid for five years and known as 'green cards', are available but are issued under even more stringent conditions.

Etiquette

Generally speaking, China is pretty relaxed when it comes to etiquette.

  • Greetings and goodbyes Shake hands, but never kiss someone's cheek. Say 'nǐ hǎo' to greet someone, and 'zài jiàn' to say goodbye.
  • Asking for help To ask for directions, say 'qǐng wèn…' ('can I ask…'). Say 'duìbuqǐ' ('sorry') to apologise.
  • Eating and drinking Help fill your neighbour's plate or bowl at the dinner table. Toast the host and others at the table. At the start of dinner, wait until toasting begins before drinking from your glass. Offer your cigarettes around if you smoke. Always offer to pay for the meal, or for drinks at a bar, but don't fight too hard over the tab if someone else wants to pay.

LGBT Travellers

Although the Chinese authorities take a dim view of homosexuality, which was officially classified as a mental disorder until 2001, a low-profile gay and lesbian scene exists in Běijīng. For an informative and up-to-date lowdown on the latest gay and lesbian hot spots in Běijīng, have a look at Utopia (www.utopia-asia.com). Another useful publication is the Spartacus International Gay Guide (Bruno Gmunder Verlag), a bestselling guide for gay travellers.

Insurance

It is essential to take out travel insurance before you travel. Běijīng is a reasonably healthy place and foreigners are rarely targeted in thefts, but accidents happen and things do disappear, so a policy that includes comprehensive medical coverage, including evacuation back to your home country, and the loss or theft of your possessions is a good idea. There are any number of potential policies out there, some of which will cover you for just one trip, while others are annual policies which cover you no matter how many trips you make. When deciding on a policy, don't just look at the cost of the policy itself: check to see what exactly you are insured for (some policies won't cover you for certain activities or sports, such as rock climbing) and also if the insurer will deduct an amount of money before settling any claim. It is always sensible to get a couple of quotes before deciding on a policy. Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you are already on the road.

Checking insurance quotes…

Internet Access

Hotels Almost all hotels and guesthouses provide free wi-fi, with only a few charging a daily rate. Some older hotels have broadband wired internet. Youth hostels have free wi-fi as well as computer terminals, but usually levy a small internet charge (around ¥10 per hour) to use them.

Internet Cafes Internet cafes (网吧; wǎngbā) are generally easy to find, although some are tucked away down side streets and above shops. They are generally open 24 hours. Standard rates are ¥3 to ¥5 per hour, although there are usually different priced zones within each internet cafe – the common area (pǔtōng qū) is the cheapest. Many internet cafes do not allow the use of a USB stick.

Internet cafes are required to see your passport before allowing you to go online, and a record of your visit may be made. You will be filmed or digitally photographed at reception by a rectangular metal box that sits on the counter of each licensed internet cafe in town. Usually you will then be given a card with a number (zhèngjiànhào) and password (mìmǎ or kǒulìng) to enter into the on-screen box before you can start.

Wi-fi Cafes Almost all cafes and most Western-style bars offer free wi-fi. Be prepared for occasionally slow connections and the sudden disappearance of sites for periods of time.

Censorship Some politically sensitive websites and many of the most popular social-media websites, such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, are blocked in China, as is Gmail. To access such websites while here you will need to run your laptop or smartphone through a VPN (virtual private network). Bear in mind that some popular VPN services are themselves blocked, so ask around or check online before committing to a service.

Media

  • TV & Radio China has a dedicated English-language channel – CCTV News – as well as the English-language China Radio International. Both follow the CCP line and are an uncontroversial mix of news, current-affairs shows and documentaries.
  • Newspapers China has two state-run, daily English-language newspapers, China Daily and Global Times, on sale at newsstands throughout the capital and sometimes distributed for free in hotels and airports. Both carry a similar range of vetted China and world news, although Global Times is regarded as more of a tabloid, known for its strongly pro-China editorial voice.

Money

Most ATMs accept foreign cards. Most large banks change money. Credit and debit cards are now used more widely than before, especially in hotels, shopping malls and upmarket restaurants, but cash remains king in Běijīng, so carry money with you at all times.

ATMs

Most ATMs (取款机; qǔkuǎnjī) in Běijīng accept foreign credit cards and bank cards connected to Plus, Cirrus, Visa, MasterCard and Amex; a small withdrawal charge will be levied by your bank.

The following banks have extensive ATM networks.

Bank of China (中国银行; Zhōngguó Yínháng)

Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC; 工商银行; Gōngshāng Yínháng)

China Construction Bank (中国建设银行; Zhōngguó Jiànshè Yínháng)

Agricultural Bank of China (ABC; 中国农业银行; Zhōngguó Nóngyè Yínháng)

ATM screens almost always offer the choice of English or Chinese operation. There are ATMs in the arrivals hall at Běijīng Capital International Airport, and in many large department stores and hotels.

Banks

Bank of China One of dozens of branches around Běijīng with money-changing facilities.

HSBC One of around 15 branches in the capital, not including several standalone ATMs.

Changing Money

Foreign currency can be changed at large branches of banks, such as the Bank of China, CITIC Industrial Bank, ICBC and the China Construction Bank; and at the airport, hotel money-changing counters and at several department stores, as long as you have your passport. You can normally change foreign currency into rénmínbì at foreign-exchange outlets and banks at large international airports outside China, but rates may be poor. Hotels usually give the official rate, but some will add a small commission. Some upmarket hotels will change money for their own guests only.

Keep at least a few exchange receipts if you want to change any remaining rénmínbì back into another currency at the end of your trip.

Counterfeit Bills

Counterfeit notes are a problem across China, Běijīng included. Very few shopkeepers will accept a ¥50 or ¥100 note without first running it under an ultraviolet light or through a machine. If you receive a note that doesn't seem right, hand it straight back.

Credit Cards

Credit is not big in China. The older generation doesn’t like debt, however short-term, and while it is increasingly fashionable for young Chinese to use credit cards, numbers remain low compared to the West. In Běijīng, credit cards are relatively straightforward to use, but don’t expect to be able to use them everywhere, and always carry enough cash. Where they are accepted, credit cards often deliver a slightly better exchange rate than in banks. Money can also be withdrawn at most ATMs on credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard and Amex. Credit cards can’t be used to buy train tickets, but Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC; 中国民航; Zhōngguó Mínháng) offices readily accept international Visa cards for buying air tickets.

How Much?

  • Bāozi (steamed dumpling) from street stall: ¥2
  • One hour in internet cafe: ¥3 to ¥5
  • Large bottle of local beer from a shop: ¥4
  • Small bottle of local beer from a bar: ¥20
  • Half-litre bottle of mineral water: ¥2
  • Lamb skewer: ¥2 to ¥3
  • Bananas from a market stall: ¥4 per jīn (500g)
  • Bicycle rental per day: ¥30 to ¥50
  • Repairing a puncture: ¥5

Money Transfers

If you need cash in a dash, Western Union arranges money transfers that arrive in just 15 minutes. Counters can be found all over town at branches of China Post and the Agricultural Bank of China.

Tipping

Tips are never asked for, or expected. The only time you should ever consider tipping is in top-end luxury hotels or in top-end international restaurants, although they usually tack a 10% to 15% service charge onto the bill anyway. Taxi drivers don't expect tips. Don't be pressured into tipping tour guides – giving them extra on top of their fee is entirely optional.

Travellers Cheques

Travellers cheques cannot be used everywhere; as with credit cards, always ensure you carry enough ready cash. You should have no problem cashing them at top-end tourist hotels, but they are of little use in budget hotels and restaurants. Most hotels will only cash the cheques of their guests. If cashing them at banks, aim for the larger banks such as the Bank of China or ICBC. Some banks won’t change travellers cheques at the weekend.

Sticking to the major companies such as Thomas Cook, Amex and Visa is advisable, particularly if you plan to travel outside Běijīng. Keep your exchange receipts so you can change your money back to its original currency when you leave.

Snapshot 2

ATMs are everywhere, and many accept foreign bank cards. Visa and MasterCard are most readily accepted. Don't expect to be able to use a foreign card to make purchases (the exceptions are at hotels, upmarket restaurants and modern shopping malls) – always carry cash too.

Opening Hours

China officially has a five-day working week, but much remains open at weekends.

Banks, offices and government departments Normally 9am to 5pm or 6pm (some close for two hours at midday), Monday to Friday. Some banks open weekends.

Museums Most close Mondays. Museums stop selling tickets half an hour before closing.

Parks 6am to 9pm or later, shorter hours in winter.

Shops 10am to 9pm.

Restaurants 11am to 11pm, some close 2pm to 5.30pm. Some open for breakfast (6am–8.30am).

Internet cafes Usually 24/7.

Bars To 2am, sometimes later. Some bars close one day of the week.

Banks & ATMs

Bank of China branches are generally open weekdays from 9am to noon and 2pm to 4.30pm. Foreign-card-friendly ATMs are plentiful. Travel agencies, foreign-exchange counters in tourist hotels and some of the local branches of the Bank of China have similar opening hours, but are generally open on weekends as well, at least in the morning.

Post

Large post offices are generally open daily between 9am and 6pm. You can post letters via your hotel reception desk, or at green post boxes around town.

Letters and parcels marked ‘Poste Restante, Běijīng Main Post Office’ will arrive at the International Post Office, 200m north of Jianguomen station. Outsized parcels going overseas should be sent from here (packaging can be bought at the post office); smaller parcels (up to around 20kg) can go from smaller post offices. Both outgoing and incoming packages will be opened and inspected. If you’re sending a parcel, don’t seal the package until you’ve had it inspected.

Letters take around a week to reach most overseas destinations. China charges extra for registered mail, but offers cheaper postal rates for printed matter, small packets, parcels, bulk mailings and so on.

Express Mail Service (EMS; 快递; kuàidì) is available for registered deliveries to domestic and international destinations from most post offices around town. Prices are very reasonable.

Courier Companies

Several private couriers in Běijīng offer international express posting of documents and parcels, and have reliable pick-up services as well as drop-off centres.

DHL This branch, beside Běijīng’s 798 Art District, is one of five, all on the outskirts of town.

FedEx Also has self-service counters in Kodak Express shops around town.

Public Holidays

China has 11 national holidays:

New Year’s Day 1 January

Lunar New Year January or February

International Women’s Day 8 March

Tomb Sweeping Festival 5 April

International Labour Day 1 May

Youth Day 4 May

International Children’s Day 1 June

Birthday of the Chinese Communist Party 1 July

Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Liberation Army 1 August

Moon Festival end of September

National Day 1 October

Travel during Holidays

Many of the national holidays are nominal holidays that do not result in leave. The 1 May holiday is a three-day holiday, while National Day marks a week-long holiday from 1 October; the Lunar New Year is also a week-long holiday for many. It’s not a great idea to arrive in China or go travelling during these holidays as the country tends to grind to a halt. Hotel prices rapidly shoot up during the May and October holiday periods.

Smoking

  • Smoking While the dark days of people lighting up in hospitals are mostly a distant memory, and many venues in Běijīng are much more rigorous about enforcing the no-smoking law, China has an estimated 400 million smokers and some people do still smoke in bars and restaurants.

Taxes & Refunds

China does have a value-added tax (VAT), but it is always included in the price of any item you buy and you won't see a separate mention of it on the receipt. Visitors are not able to claim tax refunds on items bought in China when they leave.

Telephone

International and domestic calls can be made easily from your hotel room or from public telephones, which are plentiful. Local calls from hotel-room phones are usually free, while international calls are expensive. If making a domestic phone call, public phones at newspaper stands (报刊亭; bàokāntíng) and hole-in-the-wall shops (小卖部; xiǎomàibù) are useful; make your call and pay the owner (a local call is around 5 jiǎo). Most public phones take IC (Integrated Circuit; IC kǎ) cards.

When making domestic long-distance or international calls in China, it’s cheapest to use an IP (Internet Phone; IP kǎ) card. Domestic long-distance and international phone calls can also be made from main telecommunications offices or ‘phone bars’ (huàbā).

The country code to use to access China is 86; the code for Hong Kong is 852 and Macau is 853. To call a number in Běijīng from abroad, dial the international access code (00 in the UK, 011 in the USA and so on), dial the country code (86) and then the area code for Běijīng (010), dropping the first zero, and then dial the local number. For telephone calls within the same city, drop the area code (qūhào).

Important city area codes within China include the following:

Běijīng

Area code

010

Chéngdū

Area code

028

Chóngqìng

Area code

023

Guǎngzhōu

Area code

020

Hángzhōu

Area code

0571

Hāěrbi

Area code

0451

Hong Kong

Area code

852

Jǐnán

Area code

0531

Kūnmíng

Area code

0871

Nánjīng

Area code

025

Qīngdǎo

Area code

0532

Shànghǎi

Area code

021

Shíjiāzhuāng

Area code

0311

Tiānjīn

Area code

022

Xiàmén

Area code

0592

Mobile Phones

Local SIMs can be used in unlocked phones. Local phones are cheap. Smartphones can use China’s 3G and 4G networks (with roaming charges) or Běijīng's many free wi-fi spots.

More Information

Mobile-phone shops (手机店; shǒujīdiàn) such as China Mobile and China Unicom sell SIM cards, which cost around ¥100 and include ¥50 of credit. Bring your passport, as you'll be registered when you buy a SIM. Note that numbers containing 4s are avoided by the Chinese, making them cheaper. You can top up credit with ¥20 to ¥100 credit-charging cards (充值卡; chōngzhí kǎ). Those cards are available from newspaper kiosks and corner shops displaying the China Mobile sign.

The mobile phone you use in your home country should work (as long as it has not been locked by your network – check with your phone company before you go) or you can buy a pay-as-you-go phone locally (from ¥300). China Mobile’s local, nonroaming city call charge is 6 jiǎo per minute if calling a landline and 1.50 jiǎo per minute if calling another mobile phone. Receiving calls on your mobile is free from mobile phones and 6 jiǎo from landline phones. Roaming charges cost an additional 1 to 2 jiǎo per minute and the call-receiving charge is the same. Overseas calls can be made for ¥8 per minute plus the local charge per minute by dialling 17951 – then follow the instructions and add 00 before the country code. Otherwise you will be charged the International Dialling Code call charge plus 6 jiǎo per minute.

Mobile phones are particularly useful for communicating messages to non-English speakers. You can phone restaurants and other venues from a taxi and hand the phone to the driver, so he knows where to go, or phone a Chinese-speaking friend and ask them to communicate your message.

Phonecards

For domestic calls, IC cards, available from kiosks, hole-in-the-wall shops, internet cafes and China Telecom offices, are prepaid cards in a variety of denominations that can be used in most public telephones. Note that some IC cards can only be used locally while other cards can be used in phones throughout China, so check this when you purchase one.

For international calls on a mobile phone, or hotel phone and for long-distance domestic calls, buy an IP card. International calls on IP cards are ¥1.80 per minute to the USA or Canada, ¥1.50 per minute to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, and ¥3.20 to all other countries; domestic long-distance calls are ¥0.30 per minute. Follow the instructions on the reverse; English-language service is usually available. IP cards come in various denominations, typically with a big discount (a ¥100 card should cost around ¥40). IP cards can be found at the same places as IC cards. Again, some IP cards can only be used locally, while others can be used nationwide, so it is important to buy the right card (and check the expiry date).

Time

All of China runs on the same time as Běijīng, which is set eight hours ahead of GMT/UTC (there’s no daylight saving time during summer). When it’s noon in Běijīng it’s 4am the same day in London; 5am in Frankfurt, Paris and Rome; noon in Hong Kong; 2pm in Melbourne; 4pm in Wellington; and, on the previous day, 8pm in Los Angeles and 11pm in Montreal and New York.

Toilets

  • Over the last decade the capital has made its toilets less of an assault course of foul smells and primitive appliances, but many remain pungent. Make a beeline for fast-food outlets, top-end hotels and department stores for more hygienic alternatives.
  • Toilet paper is rarely provided in street-side public toilets so keep a stash with you.
  • Toilets are often squat versions, although most public toilets will have one sit-down toilet for disabled users (and inflexible Westerners).
  • As a general rule, if you see a wastebasket next to the toilet, that’s where you should throw the toilet paper.
  • The symbol for men is 男 (nán) and women is 女 ().

Tourist Information

Tourist information offices are aimed at domestic tourists. Foreigners are better off using hotels or, better still, hostels.

Běijīng Tourist Information Centres have branches around the city, including at Běijīng train station and Capital Airport. English skills are limited and information is basic, but you can grab a free tourist map of the city and handfuls of free literature; some offices also have train-ticket offices.

More Information

Staff at the chain of Běijīng Tourist Information Centers generally have limited English-language skills and are not always helpful, but you can grab a free tourist map of town, nab handfuls of free literature and, at some branches, rustle up train tickets. Useful branches include the following:

The China National Tourist Hotline has English-speaking operators available to answer questions and hear complaints. CITS is more useful for booking tours, China-wide.

Hotels can offer you advice or connect you with a suitable tour, and some have useful tourist information desks that can point you in the right direction.

The best travel advice for independent travellers is usually dished out at guesthouses and hostels, although be aware that they will sometimes try to sign you up to one of their tours rather than give you impartial advice. Tours run by hostels are generally pretty good, though.

Travel with Children

The Chinese have a deep and uncomplicated love of children and openly display their affection for them. Běijīng may have less child-friendly facilities than equivalent-sized cities in the West, but the locals will go out of their way to accommodate your kids.

Toddlers

  • Parks

Toddlers will love running around Běijīng's parks, exploring their dinky pathways and dancing along to bands of local singers. They’re also perfect for family picnics. Try Temple of Heaven Park, Jǐngshān Park, Rìtán Park or Cháoyáng Park.

Young Kids

  • Lakes

Historic Běihǎi Park has a large boating lake. The lakes at Hòuhǎi also provide pedal-boat action and, come winter, they freeze over and become central Běijīng’s biggest playground. Rent ice skates, ice bikes and even ice bumper cars. The rest of the year, try Le Cool Ice Rink inside the China World Shopping Mall.

  • Swimming

For water slides, try the outdoor pools at Cháoyáng Park, Tuánjiéhú Park with its minibeach, or Qīngnián Hú Park. For something bigger, head to the huge indoor Happy Magic Water Park.

  • Toys

Head to Wangfujing Dajie for big toy shops selling gadgets that whiz, whir, beep and flash.

  • Arts & Crafts

Take them to Jīngchéng Bǎixìng where they can have a go at painting, or even making, their own traditional Chinese clay figures.

  • Kite Flying

Buy a handmade kite at Three Stone Kite Shop and head to one of the parks to join Běijīng’s legion of kite-flying enthusiasts.

  • Museums & Shows

Try the vast China Science & Technology Museum or the Běijīng Natural History Museum, which has dinosaurs. Kids will love the China Puppet Theatre or an acrobatics show.

Teenagers

  • Hiking & Cycling

Older kids will love the adventure of hiking along the Great Wall; just be sure they know the dangers. Cycling tours around the hútòng (narrow alleyways) can also be fun. Try hooking up with Bike Běijīng.

Need To Know

Discounts Kids often half price; or free if shorter than 1.2 metres.

Nappies Supermarkets stock baby essentials.

Smoking Some restaurants are smoky. Sit outside, or near the door.

Bike seats Rent baby seats and helmets from Bike Běijīng.

Seatbelts Only in the front of taxis, so sit there with your child on your lap.

Getting lost Always arm your child with your hotel's business card.

Cots Only available in top-end hotels.

Běijīng Zoo

A long way from being the most ethically sound zoo on the planet, Běijīng Zoo does, nevertheless have pandas…and what kid doesn’t love pandas?

Accessible Travel

If you are wheelchair-bound or have a mobility disability, Běijīng can be a major obstacle course. Pavements are often crowded and in a dangerous condition, with high curbs often preventing wheelchair access. Many streets can be crossed only via underground or overhead walkways with steps. You will also have to stick to the main roads, as parked cars and bicycles often occupy the pavements of smaller alleys and lanes, forcing others on to the road. Escalators in subways normally only go up, but wheelchair lifts have been installed in numerous stations (although you may have to send someone down to find a member of staff to operate them). Getting around temples and big sights such as the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace can be trying for those in wheelchairs. It is recommended that you take a lightweight chair so it can be collapsed easily when necessary, such as to load it into the back of a taxi. Most, but not all, hotels will have lifts, and while many top-end hotels do have rooms for those with disabilities as well as good wheelchair access, hotel restaurants may not.

Those with sight, hearing or mobility disabilities must be extremely cautious of the traffic, which almost never yields to pedestrians.

Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.

Volunteering

Large numbers of Westerners work in China with international development charities such as the following:

VSO (www.vso.org.uk) Provides you with useful experience and the chance to learn Chinese.

Go Overseas (www.gooverseas.com) Places volunteer teachers in Běijīng and elsewhere in China.

Joy in Action (www.joyinaction.org) Establishing work camps in places in need in south China.

World Teach (www.worldteach.org) Volunteer teachers.

Weights & Measures

  • Weights & Measures China employs an approximation of the metric system, using kilometres instead of miles, for example. The most common unit of weight travellers will encounter is the jīn (斤). One jīn is roughly half a kilo.

Women Travellers

Women travellers generally feel safe in Běijīng. Chinese men are not macho and respect for women is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture. As with anywhere else, you will be taking a risk if you travel alone.

Tampons (wèishēng miántiáo) can be found almost everywhere. It may be advisable to take supplies of the pill (bìyùnyào), although you will find brands like Marvelon at local pharmacies.

Work

Over the past decade it has become easier for foreigners to find work in Běijīng, although having Chinese-language skills is now increasingly important.

Teaching jobs that pay by the hour are usually quite lucrative. If you have recognised ELT qualifications, such as TEFL, and/or experience, teaching can be a rewarding and profitable way to earn a living in Běijīng. International schools offer salaries in the region of ¥10,000 and up per month to qualified teachers, with accommodation sometimes provided. More basic (and plentiful) teaching positions will offer around ¥200 per hour. Schools regularly advertise in expat magazines, such as The Beijinger; you can visit its classified pages online at www.thebeijinger.com. Also hunt for teaching jobs on www.teachabroad.com. You could also try approaching organisations such as the British Council (www.britishcouncil.org), which runs teacher placement programs in Běijīng and beyond.

There are also opportunities in translation, freelance writing, editing, proofreading, the hotel industry, acting, modelling, photography, bar work, sales and marketing, and beyond. Most people find jobs in Běijīng through word of mouth, so networking is the key.

Doing Business

Difficulties for foreigners attempting to do business have eased up, but the China work environment can still be frustrating. Renting properties, getting licences, hiring employees and paying taxes can generate huge quantities of red tape. Most foreign business people who have worked in China say that success is usually the result of dogged persistence and finding cooperative officials.

If you are considering doing business in China, plenty of preliminary research is recommended. In particular, talk to other foreigners who are already working here. Alternatively, approach a firm of business consultants for advice, or approach one of the following Běijīng business associations.

American Chamber of Commerce

British Chamber of Commerce

Canada-China Business Council

China-Australia Chamber of Commerce

China-Britain Business Council

European Union Chamber of Commerce in China

French Chamber of Commerce & Industry

US-China Business Council

Business Cards

Business cards are essential in China. Cards are exchanged much in the same way as handshakes are in the West. To be caught without a card in a business setting is like attending an official function in jeans and trainers. Try to get your name translated into (simplified) Chinese and have it printed on the reverse of the card. You can get name cards made cheaply at local printers, but it’s better to have some made before you arrive (try your local Chinatown). When proffering and receiving business cards, emulate the Chinese method of respectfully using the thumb and forefinger of both hands.