China in detail

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Accessible Travel

China is not easy to navigate for travellers with limited mobility, but travel in a wheelchair is possible in the large cities at top-end accommodation (with lots of preparation and pre-booking). Even still, expect plenty of stares.

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

Bargaining

Haggling is standard procedure in markets and shops (outside of department stores and malls) where prices are not clearly marked. There's no harm in coming in really low, but remain polite at all times. In touristy markets in Shànghǎi and Běijīng, vendors can drop as low as 25% of the original price.

Dangers & Annoyances

China is relatively safe and non-violent. Most crime, such as pickpocketing, is preventable by taking precautions.

  • Foreigners cannot stay at any hotel of their choosing but need to stay at one that is authorized by the Public Security Bureau to accept foreign guests.

Crime

Travellers are more often the victims of petty economic crime, such as theft, than serious crime. Foreigners are natural targets for pickpockets and thieves – keep your wits about you and make it difficult for thieves to get at your belongings.

High-risk areas in China are train and bus stations, city and long-distance buses (especially sleeper buses), hard-seat train carriages and public toilets.

Women should avoid travelling solo. Even in Běijīng, single women taking taxis have been taken to remote areas and robbed by taxi drivers.

Loss Reports

If something of yours is stolen, report it immediately to the nearest Foreign Affairs Branch of the Public Security Bureau (PSB; 公安局; Gōng’ānjú). Staff will ask you to fill in a loss report before investigating the case.

A loss report is crucial so you can claim compensation if you have travel insurance. Be prepared to spend many hours, perhaps even several days, organizing it. Make a copy of your passport in case of loss or theft.

Scams

Watch out for the any solicitations to go to teahouses or expensive cafes in cities such as Shanghai as you could be left with a huge bill.

Taxi scams at Beijing’s Capital Airport are frequent; always join the queue at the taxi rank and insist that the taxi driver uses his or her meter. Try to avoid pedicabs and motorized three-wheelers wherever possible – there are widespread complaints against pedicab drivers who originally agree on a price and then insist on an alternative figure once you arrive at the destination (language complications will work against you).

Watch out for itinerant monks asking for donations to their temple as a fair number are bogus. If you wish to donate to a temple, visit the temple and do so there.

Be alert at all times if you decide to change money or buy tickets (such as train tickets) on the black market, which we can’t recommend.

Always be alert when buying unpriced goods (which is a lot of the time): foreigners are frequently ripped off. Always examine your restaurant bill carefully for hidden extras and if paying by credit card ensure there are no extra charges.

Transport

Traffic accidents are the major cause of death in China for people aged between 15 and 45, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there are 700 traffic deaths per day in China (with 60 percent being vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorbike riders). The proliferation of fast e-bikes (electric bikes) added to the mortality rate (so much so that several cities, including Shenzhen, have either restricted their use or banned them).

Seatbelt use on long-distance buses has improved greatly over recent years however and on-board announcements and checks ensure passengers have their seatbelts fastened. Taxi drivers continue, however, to insist you don't need to use seatbelts, while it can often be impossible to find seatbelts in the rear seats of taxis; sit in the front if there is space.

Your greatest danger in China will almost certainly be crossing the road, so develop 360-degree vision and a sixth sense. Electric cars and "hoverboards" can approach quite silently. Note that cars frequently turn on red lights in China, so the green "walk now" figure does not always mean it is safe to cross.

Government Travel Advice

The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots.

● Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)

● British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)

● Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories)

● US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)

Discount Cards

Seniors over the age of 65 are frequently eligible for discounts and 70-and-overs get free admission, so make sure you take your passport when visiting sights as proof of age.

An International Student Identity Card (ISIC; www.isic.org; GBP £12/USD $25) can net students half-price discounts at many sights, but you may have to insist – and you may have as much luck with your home country's student card.

Electricity

There are three types of plugs used in China – three-pronged angled pins, two flat pins (the most common) or two narrow round pins. Electricity is 220 volts, 50 cycles AC.

Embassies & Consulates

Embassies are located in Běijīng, with consulates scattered around the country. There are three main embassy areas in Běijīng: Jiànguóménwài, Sānlǐtún and Liàngmǎqiáo. Embassies are open from 9am to noon and 1.30pm to 4pm Monday to Friday, but visa departments are often only open in the morning. For visas, you need to phone to make an appointment.

Australian Embassy Běijīng, Hong Kong, Shànghǎi, Guǎngzhōu

Canadian Embassy Běijīng, Hong Kong, Shànghǎi, Chóngqìng, Guǎngzhōu

French Embassy Běijīng, Hong Kong, Shànghǎi, Chéngdū, Shěnyáng, Guǎngzhōu, Wǔhàn

German Embassy Běijīng, Hong Kong, Shànghǎi, Chéngdū, Guǎngzhōu

Indian Embassy Běijīng, Hong Kong

Irish Embassy Běijīng, Hong Kong, Shànghǎi

Japanese Embassy Běijīng, Hong Kong, Shànghǎi, Qīngdǎo

Kazakhstan Embassy Běijīng, Ürümqi

Kyrgyzstan Embassy Běijīng, Ürümqi

Laotian Embassy Běijīng, Hong Kong, Kūnmíng, Jǐnghóng

Mongolian Embassy Běijīng (has a separate visa section). Other offices are located in Hohhot and Erenhot.

Myanmar Embassy Běijīng, Kūnmíng

Nepalese Embassy Běijīng, Hong Kong, Lhasa.

Netherlands Embassy Běijīng, Hong Kong, Shànghǎi, Guǎngzhōu

New Zealand Embassy Běijīng, Hong Kong, Shànghǎi, Guǎngzhōu

North Korean Embassy Běijīng, Shěnyáng

Pakistan Embassy Běijīng, Chéngdū

Russian Embassy

South Korean Embassy Běijīng, Shěngyáng, Qīngdǎo

Thai Embassy Běijīng, Shànghǎi, Kūnmíng

UK Embassy Běijīng, Hong Kong, Shànghǎi, Chóngqìng, Guǎngzhōu

US Embassy Běijīng, Hong Kong, Shànghǎi, Chéngdū, Guǎngzhōu, Shěnyáng

Vietnamese Embassy Běijīng, Hong Kong, Kūnmíng

Emergency & Important Numbers

Ambulance120
Fire119
Police110
Country code (China/Hong Kong/Macau) 86/852/853
International access code00
Directory assistance114

Entry & Exit Formalities

No particular difficulties exist for travellers entering China. Chinese immigration officers are scrupulous and highly bureaucratic, but not overly officious. The main requirements are a passport that’s valid for travel for six months after the expiry date of your visa, and a visa. Travellers arriving in China will receive a health declaration form and an arrivals form to complete.

Customs Regulations

Chinese customs generally pay tourists little attention. ‘Green channels’ and ‘red channels’ at the airport are clearly marked. You are not allowed to import or export illegal drugs, or animals and plants (including seeds). Pirated DVDs and CDs are illegal exports from China – if found they will be confiscated. You can take Chinese medicine up to a value of ¥300 when you depart China.

Duty free, you’re allowed to import:

  • 400 cigarettes (or the equivalent in tobacco products)
  • 1.5L of alcohol
  • 50g of gold or silver.

Also note:

  • Importation of fresh fruit and cold cuts is prohibited.
  • There are no restrictions on foreign currency, but you should declare any cash exceeding US$5000 or its equivalent in another currency.

Objects considered antiques require a certificate and a red seal to clear customs when leaving China. Anything made before 1949 is considered an antique, and if it was made before 1795 it cannot legally be taken out of the country. To get the proper certificate and red seal, your antiques must be inspected by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage in Běijīng.

Passports

You are required to carry your passport (护照; hùzhào) with you at all times; police in China may carry out random checks, all hotels require it for check-in and many sightseeing spots and museums require passports for entry. It is also mandatory to present your passport when buying train tickets.

The Chinese government requires that your passport be valid for at least six months after the expiry date of your visa. You’ll need at least one entire blank page in your passport for the visa.

Take an ID card with your photo in case you lose your passport and make digital or photocopies of your passport: your embassy may need these before issuing a new one. You must report the loss to the local Public Security Bureau (PSB), who will issue you with a 'Statement of Loss of Passport'.

Long-stay visitors should register their passport with their nation's embassy.

Visas

Needed for all visits to China except Hong Kong, Macau and 72-hour-and-under trips to Shànghǎi, Běijīng, Chángshā, Chéngdū, Chóngqìng, Dàlián, Guǎngzhōu, Guìlín, Harbin, Kūnmíng, Qīngdǎo, Shěnyáng, Tiānjīn, Wǔhàn, Xiàmén and Xī’ān.

Applying for Visas

Visa Extensions

Residence Permits

The ‘green card’ is a residence permit, issued to long-term foreign residents in China. Besides needing all the right paperwork, you must also pass a health exam, for which there is a charge. Green cards are valid for five or 10 years. If you lose your card, there's a hefty fee to have it replaced.

Visa-Free Transits

Citizens from 51 nations (including the US, Australia, Canada, France, Brazil and the UK) can stay in Běijīng for 72 hours without a visa as long as they are in transit to other destinations outside China, have a third-country visa and an air ticket out of Běijīng. Similarly, citizens from the same nations can also transit through Chángshā, Chéngdū, Chóngqìng, Dàlián, Guǎngzhōu, Guìlín, Harbin, Kūnmíng, Qīngdǎo, Shěnyáng, Tiānjīn, Wǔhàn, Xiàmén and Xī’ān for 72 hours visa-free, with the same conditions. Visitors on such three-day stays are not allowed to leave the transit city, with the exception of Chángshā, Chéngdū, Guǎngzhōu and Qīngdǎo, where visitors are given more movement and are not allowed to leave the transit province. Dàlián and Shěnyáng also allow movement between the two cities.

Similarly, citizens of the 51 nations arriving in Shànghǎi, Nánjīng or Hángzhōu can now stay even longer (144 hours) without a visa. An added benefit is that visitors on such six-day stays can move between Shànghǎi, and Zhèjiāng and Jiāngsū provinces – regardless of the transit city of entry. Also, in addition to airports, visitors may enter by ports and train stations.

For visa-free transit:

  • You must inform your airline at check-in.
  • Upon arrival, look for the dedicated immigration counter.
  • Your transit time is calculated from just after midnight, so you may actually be permitted a little over 72 or 144 hours.
  • If you are not staying at a hotel, you must register with a local police station within 24 hours of arriving.
  • Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are eligible third countries.
  • Visitors on the 72-hour visa-free transit must leave the country from the same airport of entry.

Check your eligibility as the rules change quickly and new cities are being added.

Hǎinán has a complicated, 15-day visa-free policy for tour groups of five or more citizens of 21 countries. See this website for details: http://en.visithainan.gov.cn.

Etiquette

China is a pretty relaxed country regarding etiquette, but be aware of a few things:

  • Greetings and goodbyes Shake hands, but never kiss someone’s cheek. Say ‘Nihǎo’ for hello and ‘Zàijiàn’ (or increasingly just 'Bye bye') for goodbye
  • Asking for help To ask for directions start with ‘Qǐng wèn….’ (‘Can I ask…’); say ‘Duìbuqǐ’ ('Sorry') to apologise.
  • Religion Dress sensitively when visiting Buddhist (especially in Tibet) and Taoist temples, churches and mosques.
  • Eating and drinking Help fill your neighbour’s plate at the dinner table; toast the host and others at the table; at the start of dinner, wait till toasting starts before drinking from your glass; offer your cigarettes around if you smoke; always offer to buy drinks in a bar but never fight over the drink/food tab if someone else wants to pay (but do offer at least once).
  • Gestures Don’t use too many hand movements or excessive body language.

LGBTQI+ Travelers

Greater tolerance exists in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai than in the more conservative countryside, but even in urban areas, public displays of affection can raise an eyebrow. You will often see Chinese friends of the same sex holding hands or putting their arms around each other, but this usually has no sexual connotation. There are LGBTQI+ bars and clubs in the major cities, but it is far more common for people to socialize on apps. A same-sex couple staying in a hotel room with only one bed will rarely attract any resistance or comments (at least not to their faces).

There is certainly an increasingly confident scene in Shanghai, as indicated by the numerous bars and the annual event-stuffed Shanghai Pride (www.shpride.com).

In 2016, China banned the depiction of LGBTQI+ people on television.

Surprisingly, networking app Grindr isn't blocked in China, neither are local apps Blued or Aloha. While Blued (mostly for hookups) and Aloha are aimed at men, for the women, there's Lespark (拉拉公园) and Rela (热拉).

Danlan (淡蓝; www.danlan.org) Chinese-only news and lifestyle.

Spartacus International Gay Guide (www.spartacusworld.com/en) Best-selling guide for gay travelers; also available as an iPhone App.

Utopia (www.utopia-asia.com/tipschin.htm) Tips on traveling in China and a complete listing of LGBTQI+ bars nationwide.

Insurance

Carefully consider a travel insurance policy to cover theft, loss, trip cancellation and medical eventualities. Travel agents can sort this out for you, although it is often cheaper to find good deals with an insurer online or with a broker.

Some policies specifically exclude ‘dangerous activities’ such as scuba diving, skiing and even trekking/hiking. Check that the policy covers ambulances or an emergency flight home.

Paying for your airline ticket with a credit card often provides limited travel accident insurance – ask your credit-card company what it’s prepared to cover.

You may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than reimbursing you for expenditures after the fact. If you have to claim later, ensure you keep all documentation.

Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.

Internet Access

Wi-fi accessibility in hotels, cafes, restaurants and bars is generally good. The best option is to bring a wi-fi equipped smartphone, tablet or laptop or purchase a local SIM card on arrival. Chain restaurants and cafes with free wi-fi sometimes still require a Chinese phone number to receive a login code.

The Chinese authorities maintain strong controls on internet access. Around 10% of websites are blocked; the list is constantly changing but includes sites and apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google-owned sites (YouTube, Google Maps, Gmail, Google Drive), Whatsapp, Dropbox and many international media outlets, so plan ahead.

Many users have gained access to blocked websites by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service such as VyprVPN (www.goldenfrog.com). However, China's cyber security laws are changing rapidly, including controls on the use of VPNs, so check the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology's website (www.miit.gov.cn, Mandarin only) to ensure you are adhering to local laws. A VPN must be installed on devices before departing for China.

Media

  • Newspapers The standard English-language newspaper is the (censored) China Daily (www.chinadaily.com.cn). China’s largest-circulation Chinese-language daily is the People’s Daily (Rénmín Rìbào); it has an English-language edition on http://english.peopledaily.com.cn. Imported English-language newspapers can be bought from five-star hotel bookshops.
  • Internet Radio & TV Listen to the BBC World Service or Voice of America in an app such as Apple Music; however, the websites themselves may be blocked. Chinese Central TV (CCTV) has two English-language channels: CCTV9 and CCTV NEWS. Your hotel may have ESPN, Star Sports, CNN or BBC News 24.

Money

ATMs in big cities and towns. Credit cards less widely used; always carry cash.

ATMs

Bank of China and the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) 24-hour ATMs are plentiful, and you can use Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus, Maestro Plus and American Express to withdraw cash. All ATMs accepting international cards have dual-language ability. The network is largely found in sizeable towns and cities.

The exchange rate on ATM withdrawals is similar to that for credit cards, but there is a maximum daily withdrawal amount. Note that banks can charge a withdrawal fee for using the ATM network of another bank, so check with your bank before travelling. Bank of Nanjing ATMs waive the withdrawal fee for members of the Global ATM Alliance (enquire with your bank).

If you plan on staying in China for a few weeks or more, it is advisable to open an account at a bank with a nationwide network of ATMs, such as Bank of China or ICBC. HSBC and Citibank ATMs are available in larger cities. Keep your ATM receipts so you can exchange your yuán when you leave China.

To have money wired from abroad, visit Western Union or Moneygram (www.moneygram.com).

Cash

The Chinese currency is the rénmínbì (RMB), or ‘people’s money’. The basic unit of RMB is the yuán (元; ¥), which is divided into 10 jiǎo (角), which is again divided into 10 fēn (分). Colloquially, the yuán is referred to as kuài and jiǎo as máo (毛). The fēn has so little value these days that it is rarely used.

The Bank of China issues RMB bills in denominations of ¥1, ¥2, ¥5, ¥10, ¥20, ¥50 and ¥100. Coins come in denominations of ¥1, 5 jiǎo, 1 jiǎo and 5 fēn. Paper versions of the coins remain in circulation.

Hong Kong’s currency is the Hong Kong dollar (HK$). The Hong Kong dollar is divided into 100 cents. Bills are issued in denominations of HK$10, HK$20, HK$50, HK$100, HK$500 and HK$1000. Copper coins are worth 50c, 20c and 10c, while the $5, $2 and $1 coins are silver and the $10 coin is nickel and bronze. The Hong Kong dollar is pegged to the US dollar at a rate of US$1 to HK$7.80, though it is allowed to fluctuate a little.

Macau’s currency is the pataca (MOP$), which is divided into 100 avos. Bills are issued in denominations of MOP$10, MOP$20, MOP$50, MOP$100, MOP$500 and MOP$1000. There are copper coins worth 10, 20 and 50 avos and silver-coloured MOP$1, MOP$2, MOP$5 and MOP$10 coins. The pataca is pegged to the Hong Kong dollar at a rate of MOP$103.20 to HK$100. In effect, the two currencies are interchangeable and Hong Kong dollars, including coins, are accepted in Macau. Chinese rénmínbì is also accepted in many places in Macau at one-to-one. You can’t spend patacas anywhere else, however, so use them before you leave Macau. Prices quoted are in yuán unless otherwise stated.

Credit Cards

In large tourist towns, credit cards are relatively straightforward to use, but don’t expect to be able to use them everywhere, and always carry enough cash. The exception is in Hong Kong, where international credit cards are accepted almost everywhere (although some shops may try to add a surcharge to offset the commission charged by credit companies, which can range from 2.5% to 7%). Check to see if your credit card company charges a foreign transaction fee (usually between 1% and 3%) for purchases in China.

Where they are accepted, credit cards often deliver a slightly better exchange rate than banks. Money can also be withdrawn at certain ATMs in large cities on credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard and Amex.

Mobile Payment Apps

Exchange Rates

AustraliaA$1¥4.90
CanadaC$1¥5.10
Euro zone€1¥7.40
Hong KongHK$1¥0.80
Japan¥100¥6.30
New ZealandNZ$1¥4.70
UKUK£1¥9.70
USUS$1¥6.60

For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.

First Time

  • Credit cards Credit and debit cards are increasingly accepted in tourist towns and big cities, particularly Visa and MasterCard. Ask if bars and restaurants take cards before ordering.
  • ATMs There are 24-hour ATMs available at Bank of China and ICBC branches.
  • Changing money You can change money at hotels, large branches of Bank of China, some department stores and international airports. Some towns don’t have any money-changing facilities, so make sure you carry enough cash.

Moneychangers

It’s best to wait till you reach China to exchange money as the exchange rate will be better. Foreign currency and travellers cheques can be changed at border crossings, international airports, branches of the Bank of China, tourist hotels and some large department stores; hours of operation for foreign exchange counters are 8am to 7pm (later at hotels). Top-end hotels will generally change money for hotel guests only. The official rate is given almost everywhere and the exchange charge is standardised, so there is little need to shop around for the best deal.

Australian, Canadian, US, UK, Hong Kong and Japanese currencies and the euro can be changed in China. In some backwaters, it may be hard to change lesser-known currencies; US dollars are still the easiest to change. Lhasa has ATM-style currency exchange machines that can change cash in several currencies into rénmínbì 24 hours a day, with your passport.

Keep at least a few of your exchange receipts. You will need them if you want to exchange any remaining RMB you have at the end of your trip.

Tipping

  • Restaurants Tipping is never expected at cheap, and many midrange, restaurants. In general there is no need to tip if a service charge has already been added, so check your bill for one.
  • Hotels Porters may expect a tip.
  • Taxis Drivers do not expect tips.

Travellers Cheques

With the prevalence of ATMs across China, travellers cheques are not as useful as they once were and cannot be used everywhere, so always ensure you carry enough ready cash. You should have no problem cashing travellers cheques at tourist hotels, but they are of little use in budget hotels and restaurants. Most hotels will only cash the cheques of guests. If cashing them at banks, aim for larger banks such as the Bank of China or ICBC.

Stick to the major companies such as Thomas Cook, Amex and Visa. In big cities travellers cheques are accepted in almost any currency, but in smaller destinations, it’s best to stick to big currencies such as US dollars or UK pounds. Keep your exchange receipts so you can change your money back to its original currency when you leave.

Opening Hours

China officially has a five-day working week; Saturday and Sunday are public holidays.

  • Banks Open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm (or 6pm); may close for two hours in the afternoon. Many also open Saturday and maybe Sunday. Same for offices and government departments.
  • Post offices Generally open daily.
  • Restaurants Open from around 10.30am to 11pm; some shut at around 2pm and reopen at 5pm or 6pm.
  • Bars Open in the late afternoon, shutting around midnight or later.
  • Shops Open daily 10am to 10pm. Same for department stores and shopping malls.

Post

The international postal service is generally efficient, and airmail letters and postcards will probably take between five and 10 days to reach their destinations. Domestic post is swift – perhaps one or two days from Guǎngzhōu to Běijīng. Intracity post may be delivered the same day it’s sent.

China Post operates an express mail service (EMS) that is fast, reliable and ensures that the package is sent by registered post. Not all branches of China Post have EMS.

Major tourist hotels have branch post offices where you can send letters, packets and parcels. Even at cheap hotels you can usually post letters from the front desk. Larger parcels may need to be sent from the town’s main post office.

In major cities, private carriers such as United Parcel Service, DHL, Federal Express and TNT Skypak have a pick-up service as well as drop-off centres; call their offices for details.

If you are sending items abroad, take them unpacked with you to the post office to be inspected; an appropriate box or envelope will be found for you. Most post offices offer materials for packaging (including padded envelopes, boxes and heavy brown paper), for which you’ll be charged. Don’t take your own packaging as it will probably be refused. You will also need to show your passport or other ID.

Public Holidays

The People’s Republic of China has a number of national holidays. Some of the following are nominal holidays that do not result in leave. It’s not a great idea to arrive in China or go travelling during the big holiday periods as hotel prices reach their maximum and transport can become very tricky. It is also possible to contact a hotel and ask when large conferences occur in the area.

New Year’s Day 1 January

Chinese New Year 16 February 2018, 5 February 2019, 25 January 2020; a week-long holiday for most.

International Women’s Day 8 March

Tomb Sweeping Festival First weekend in April; a popular three-day holiday period.

International Labour Day 1 May; for many it’s a three-day holiday.

Youth Day 4 May

International Children’s Day 1 June

Dragon Boat Festival 18 June 2018, 7 June 2019, 25 June 2020

Birthday of the Chinese Communist Party 1 July (not a public holiday)

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

Mid-Autumn Festival 24 September 2018, 13 September 2019, 1 October 2020

National Day 1 October; the big one – a week-long holiday.

Smoking

Smoking can happen everywhere in China, even around children, in elevators and in supposedly non-smoking hotels. It is easier to try and avoid it rather than show annoyance. For example, take the high-speed trains, which strictly enforce no smoking.

Smokers can buy cigarettes everywhere, though visitors might find Chinese brands very strong.

Taxes & Refunds

When shoppping, tax is already included on the displayed prices. Nearly all of the major cities offer a tax refund for foreign tourists on purchases made in the previous 90 days; the list of provinces keeps expanding.

The 11% tax is refunded at the airport and all items must leave China with you. Goods have a minimum purchase of ¥500 from the one store.

Telephone

Nearly everybody in China has a mobile phone (you may be judged on your model). Landlines and calling cards are rare. Some hotels will give you unlimited local or national calls.

Country code (China/Hong Kong/Macau)%86/852/853
International access code%00
Directory assistance%114

Mobile Phones

A mobile phone should be the first choice for calls, but ensure your mobile is unlocked for use in China if taking your own. SIM cards can be bought at the arrivals area at major airports.

More Information

Many international messaging apps, including Whatsapp and Viber, are inaccessible in China, though some people are able to access Skype (www.skype.com). Communication through Chinese app WeChat (微信; Wēixìn; www.wechat.com), which boasts half a billion users, is standard practice between both friends and small businesses and is not considered unprofessional. (Note that although Chinese also use the word 'app', they spell it out as 'a-p-p'.)

Data SIM card plans start at under ¥70 for 500MB of data and 200 minutes of China calls per month. You will be warned about cancelling this service before leaving the country to avoid a hefty bill should you return. For this reason and the language barrier, it can be more convenient (if more expensive) to pick up a SIM card on arrival at an airport in the major cities. Though more expensive, 3G Solutions (www.3gsolutions.com.cn) offers a range of mobile data and voice packages with pre-booking online, and will have the SIM card delivered to your accommodation on the day you arrive in China.

If you want to get a SIM card independently, China Unicom offers the most reliable service with the greatest coverage. China Mobile or China Unicom outlets can sell you a standard prepaid SIM card, which cost from ¥60 to ¥100 and include ¥50 of credit. (You'll be given a choice of phone numbers. Choose a number without the unlucky number 4, if you don't want to irk Chinese colleagues.)

When your prepaid credit runs out, top up by buying a credit-charging card (充值卡; chōngzhí kǎ) from outlets. Cards are also available from newspaper kiosks and shops displaying the China Mobile sign.

Buying a mobile phone in China is also an option as they are generally inexpensive. Make sure the phone uses W-CDMA, which works on China Unicom and most carriers around the world, and not TD-SCDMA, which works only on China Mobile and not international carriers.

Landlines

If making a domestic call, look out for very cheap public phones at newspaper stands (报刊亭; bàokāntíng) and hole-in-the-wall shops (小卖部; xiǎomàibù); you make your call and then pay the owner. Domestic and international long-distance phone calls can also be made from main telecommunications offices and ‘phone bars’ (话吧; huàbā). Cardless international calls are expensive and it’s far cheaper to use an internet phone (IP) card.

Public telephone booths are rarely used now in China but may serve as wi-fi hot spots (as in Shànghǎi).

Phone Cards

Beyond Skype or Viber, using an internet phone card on your mobile or a landline phone is much cheaper than calling direct, but they can be hard to find outside the big cities. To use one you simply dial a local number, punch in your account number followed by a PIN number, and finally the number you wish to call. English-language service is usually available.

Some IP cards can only be used locally, while others can be used nationwide, and some can't be used for international calls – make sure you buy the right card (and don't forget to check the expiry date).

Time

The 24-hour clock is commonly used in China. Despite China's breadth, there is one single time zone in China: UTC+8. (You can also find UTC+6 used in Tibet and Xīnjiāng, though it is not official.)

Toilets

Toilets in China can be a challenge for visitors, especially the common squat style (it may help to keep in mind that they're actually healthier for the body.) On trains and in some restaurants and hotels, you will find the option of Western-style seated toilets or squat style.

It is useful to carry around tissues with you as paper is often not supplied in public toilets. Public toilets are either very cheap or free.

Tourist Information

Tourist information continues to improve, with modern booths with pamphlets springing up even in smaller cities. The quality of spoken English can be hit-and-miss, though.

  • China National Tourist Office www.cnto.org

Travel with Children

More comfortable in the large cities of Hong Kong, Běijīng and Shànghǎi, children are likely to feel out of place in smaller towns and in rural areas. With the exception of Hǎinán, China is not famous for its beaches.

Ask a doctor specialising in travel medicine for information on recommended immunisations for your child.

Best Regions for Kids

China for Kids

Children's Highlights

Journeys

The Great Outdoors

Adventure

Planning

Feature: The Chinese & Children

Volunteering

Large numbers of Westerners work in China with international development charities such as VSO.

  • Joy in Action (http://jiaworkcamp.org/) Establishes work camps in places in need in south China.
  • World Teach (www.worldteach.org) Volunteer teachers (mostly for English, but also computer skills and social studies).
  • VSO (www.vso.org.uk) Provides you with useful experience and the chance to learn Chinese.

Weights & Measures

  • Weights & Measures China officially uses the international metric system, but you will also encounter the ancient Chinese weights and measures system that features the liǎng (两; tael; 50g) and the jīn (斤; catty; 0.5kg). There are 10 liǎng to the jīn.