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. Unrest is mostly contained to certain areas, as noted in those chapters. Most crime, such as pickpocketing, is preventable by taking precautions.
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.
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, organising it. Make a copy of your passport in case of loss or theft.
Con artists are widespread. Well-dressed young women flock along Shànghǎi’s East Nanjing Rd, the Bund and Běijīng’s Wangfujing Dajie, asking single men to photograph them on their mobile phones before dragging them to expensive cafes or Chinese teahouses, leaving them to foot monstrous bills. ‘Poor’ art students haunt similar neighbourhoods, press-ganging foreigners into art exhibitions where they are coerced into buying trashy art.
Taxi scams at Běijīng’s Capital Airport are legendary; always join the queue at the taxi rank and insist that the taxi driver uses his or her meter. Try to avoid pedicabs and motorised three-wheelers wherever possible – we've received a litany of complaints against pedicab drivers who originally agree on a price and then insist on an alternative figure (sometimes 10 times the sum) once you arrive at the destination.
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.
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 600 traffic deaths per day. On long-distance buses, you may find there are no seatbelts, or that the seatbelts are virtually unusable through neglect or are inextricably stuffed beneath the seat. Outside of the big cities, taxis are unlikely to have rear seatbelts fitted.
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. Crossing only when it is safe to do so could keep you perched at the side of the road in perpetuity, but don’t imitate the local tendency to cross without looking. 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 & Trade (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)
- British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade (http://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories)
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)
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.
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.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Country code (China/Hong Kong/Macau)||86/852/853|
|International access code||00|
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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
Apart from visa-free visits to Hong Kong and Macau and useful 72-hour visa-free transit stays (for visitors from 51 nations) to Běijīng, Shànghǎi (144-hour visa-free transit), Guǎngzhōu, Xī’ān, Guìlín, Chéngdū, Chóngqìng, Dàlián and Shěnyáng, among others, you will need a visa to visit China. Citizens from Japan, Singapore, Brunei, San Marino, Mauritius, the Seychelles and the Bahamas do not require a visa to visit China. There remain a few restricted areas in China that require an additional permit from the PSB. Permits are also required for travel to Tibet, a region that the authorities can suddenly bar foreigners from entering.
Your passport must be valid for at least six months after the expiry date of your visa (nine months for a double-entry visa) and you’ll need at least one entire blank page in your passport for the visa. For children under the age of 18, a parent must sign the application form on their behalf.
At the time of writing, the visa application process had become more rigorous and applicants were required to provide the following:
- a copy of flight confirmation showing onward/return travel
- for double-entry visas, flight confirmation showing all dates of entry and exit
- if staying at a hotel in China, confirmation from the hotel (this can be cancelled later if you stay elsewhere and often just showing the first night is enough)
- if staying with friends or relatives, a copy of the information page of their passport, a copy of their China visa and a letter of invitation from them.
At the time of writing, prices for a standard single-entry 30-day visa were as follows:
- UK£85 for UK citizens
- US$140 for US citizens
- US$40 for citizens of other nations.
- UK£85 for UK citizens
- US$140 for US citizens
- US$60 for all other nationals.
Six-month multiple-entry visas:
- UK£85 for UK citizens
- US$140 for US citizens
- US$80 for all other nationals.
A standard, 30-day single-entry visa can be issued in four to five working days. In many countries, the visa service has been outsourced from the Chinese embassy to a compulsory Chinese Visa Application Service Centre (www.visaforchina.org), which levies an extra administration fee. In the case of the UK, a single-entry visa costs UK£85, but the standard administration charge levied by the centre is an additional UK£66 (three-day express UK£78, postal service UK£90). In some countries, such as the UK, France, the US and Canada, there is more than one service centre nationwide. Visa Application Service Centres are open Monday to Friday.
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. Travel visas of 60 days and 90 days are harder to get but possible just by applying. To stay longer, you can extend your visa in China.
Visa applications require a completed application form (available from the embassy, visa application service centre or downloaded from its website) and at least one photo (normally 51mm x 51mm). You generally 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, which offers prompt service. The procedure takes around 10 to 14 days. CIBT (www.uk.cibt.com) offers a global network and a fast and efficient turnaround.
Hong Kong is a good place to pick up a China visa. China Travel Service (CTS; 中国旅行社; Zhōngguó Lǚxíngshè) will be able to obtain one for you, or you can apply directly to the Visa Office of the People’s Republic of China.
Be aware that American and UK passport holders must pay considerably more for their visas. You must supply two photos. Prices for China visas in Hong Kong are as follows:
- Standard visa One-/two-/three-day processing time HK$500/400/200
- Double-entry visa One-/two-/three-day processing time HK$600/500/300
- Multiple-entry six-month visa One-/two-/three-day processing time HK$800/700/500
- Multiple-entry one-, two- or three-year visa One-/two-/three-day processing time HK$1100/1000/800.
You can buy a five-day, Shēnzhèn-only visa (¥168 for most nationalities, ¥469 for Brits; cash only) at the Luóhú border (Lo Wu; 9am-10.30pm), Huángǎng (9am-1pm & 2.30-5pm) and Shékǒu (8.45am-12.30pm & 2.30-5.30pm). US citizens must buy a visa in advance in Macau or Hong Kong.
Three-day visas are also available at the Macau–Zhūhǎi border (¥168 for most nationalities, ¥469 for British, US citizens excluded; 8.30am to 12.15pm, 1pm to 6.15pm & 7pm to 10.30pm). US citizens have to buy a visa in advance in Macau or Hong Kong.
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 media or journalism may want to profess a different occupation; otherwise, a visa may be refused or a shorter length of stay than requested may be given.
For Hong Kong
At the time of writing, most visitors to Hong Kong, including citizens of the EU, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada, could enter and stay for 90 days without a visa. British passport holders get 180 days, while South Africans are allowed to stay 30 days visa-free. If you require a visa, apply at a Chinese embassy or consulate before arriving. If you visit Hong Kong from China, you will need a double-entry, multiple-entry or new visa to re-enter China.
Most travellers, including citizens of the EU, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada and South Africa, can enter Macau without a visa for between 30 and 90 days. British passport holders get 180 days. Most other nationalities can get a 30-day visa on arrival, which will cost MOP$100/50/200 per adult/child under 12/family. If you’re visiting Macau from China and plan to re-enter China, you will need to be on a multiple- or double-entry visa.
There are 12 categories of visas (for most travellers, an L visa will be issued).
Business or student
Journalist (more than six months)
记者1; jìzhě 1
Journalist (less than six months)
记者2; jìzhě 2
Commercial and trade
Family visits (more than six months)
亲属1; qīnshǔ 1
Family visits (less than six months)
亲属2; qīnshǔ 2
Visits to foreign relatives/private (more than six months)
私人1; sīrén 1
Visits to foreign relatives/private (less than six months)
私人2; sīrén 2
Student (more than six months)
学习1; xuéxí 1
Student (less than six months)
学习2; xuéxí 2
The Foreign Affairs Branch of the local Public Security Bureau (PSB) deals with visa extensions.
First-time extensions of 30 days are usually easy to obtain on single-entry tourist visas, but must be done at least seven days before your visa expires; a further extension of a month may be possible, but you may only get another week. Travellers report generous extensions in provincial towns, but don’t bank on this. Popping across 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 ¥185, Canadians ¥165, UK citizens ¥160 and Australians ¥100. Expect to wait up to seven days for your visa extension to be processed.
The penalty for overstaying your visa in China is up to ¥500 per day, and you may even be banned from returning to China for up to 10 years if you overstay by more than 11 days. 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.
For Hong Kong
For tourist-visa extensions, inquire at the Hong Kong Immigration Department. Extensions (HK$160) are not readily granted unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as illness.
If your visa expires, you can obtain a single one-month extension from the Macau Immigration Department.
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.
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.
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.
Greater tolerance exists in the big cities than in the more conservative countryside, but even in urban areas, gay and lesbian 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 gay bars and clubs in the major cities, but it is far more common for people to socialise 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).
Dànlán (淡蓝; www.danlan.org) Chinese-only news and lifestyle.
Spartacus International Gay Guide (www.spartacusworld.com/en) Best-selling guide for gay travellers; also available as an iPhone App.
Utopia (www.utopia-asia.com/tipschin.htm) Tips on travelling in China and a complete listing of gay bars nationwide.
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.
Checking insurance quotes…
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.
China does not officially recognise dual nationality or the foreign citizenship of children born in China if one of the parents is a PRC national. If you have Chinese and another nationality you may, in theory, not be allowed to visit China on your foreign passport. In practice, Chinese authorities are not switched-on enough to know if you own two passports, and should accept you on a foreign passport. Dual-nationality citizens who enter China on a Chinese passport are subject to Chinese laws and are legally not allowed consular help. If over 16 years of age, carry your passport with you at all times as a form of ID.
Gambling is officially illegal in mainland China, as is distributing religious material.
China takes a particularly dim view of opium and all its derivatives; trafficking in more than 50g of heroin can lead to the death penalty. Foreign passport holders have been executed in China for drug offences. The Chinese criminal justice system does not ensure a fair trial and defendants are not presumed innocent until proven guilty. If arrested, most foreign citizens have the right to contact their embassy.
- 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.
ATMs in big cities and towns. Credit cards less widely used; always carry cash.
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).
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.
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.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
Paying for purchases with a smartphone app or a phone itself has become a common practice in the larger cities in China, particularly in large stores and chains. Plenty of convenience stores, fast-food restaurants, cafes, ride-sharing cars and online stores accept electronic payments from digital wallets paid through apps such as WeChat and Alipay.
For a visitor, the only accessible system that allows foreign cards is Apple Pay, accepted where you see the Apple Pay or QuickPass logos. Payments are made by holding your compatible device against the payment machine and verifying with your fingerprint.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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|
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.
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.
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).
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).
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 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 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.
- Supplies Baby food, nappies and milk powder are widely available in supermarkets.
- Restaurants Few have baby chairs.
- Train Travel Children shorter than 1.4m can get a hard sleeper for 75% of the full price or a half-price hard seat. Children shorter than 1.1m ride for free, but you have to hold them the entire journey.
- Air Travel Infants under the age of two fly for 10% of the full airfare, while children between the ages of two and 11 pay half the full price for domestic flights and 75% of the adult price for international flights.
- Sights & Museums Many have children’s admission prices for children under 1.1m or 1.3m in height.
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.
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.