A visit to China should be on everyone’s bucket list. China is an ancient and huge country that you could spend a lifetime learning about and exploring without ever fully understanding it. It’s also in the middle of the most prosperous time in its history and now is the perfect time to see it.
As is the case with any other international travel you’ll need to spend some time preparing for it and making sure that you’re safe and comfortable during the trip.
China is a Cashless Economy
China is one of the first countries in the world to become a cash economy. It has a complicated payment system that runs rather smoothly. You can pay with a card or with an app provided with your card. Most locals, however, pay via social media since it’s already connected to their name and bank.
This is something to be aware of when you’re planning your trip since most venues won’t use cash. You can (and should) still withdraw some cash at an ATM so that you’re covered in case you run into a rare business that uses it.
No International Permit
In most countries in the world, foreigners need an international permit issued by the InternationalDriversAssociation to drive. This document is also needed to rent a car and get insurance for it. However, China won’t accept international permits and has its own system put in place.
Instead, foreigners can get a specialized license that’s issued for a limited time only. These are easier to get than the local ones so you don’t need to worry about going through training and passing tests. The permit will keep you covered for a year.
It’s best not to use tap water when in China. Locals don’t do it either and it’s customary to stock up on bottled water. It’s rather cheap and there are countless brands with little to no difference between them that you could use instead. It’s still fine to cook with tap water and to use a bit of it to bathe and wet your toothbrush.
If you have no other option (which will be rare) it’s fine to drink a small amount of it, but it is proven that it contains trace elements of dangerous chemicals and long exposure is rather dangerous.
Haggling in The Markets
As is the case in most Asian countries, it’s customary to haggle over the price at the market. It’s even expected and in many cases, the seller will actually lower the price after a while. As long as you’re respectful you’ll do fine even if you don’t get a better deal.
It’s not acceptable to do so when you’re in shops, restaurants, or other more formal establishments. It’s best not to try since you may find yourself in an awkward and unpleasant situation. This goes for small-time and rural hotels, shops, and restaurants as well.
Documents to Carry Along
There are a few documents that you need to have with you at all times. The authorities can ask you to show these documents at all times and there’s a fine and a procedure if you don’t have them on you.
For a foreigner, the proper ID is a passport and a copy of your visa. Hotels are required to ask you for these once you check-in. A police officer can stop and ask for your ID but this isn’t that common unless you’re in some sort of legal trouble.
Using a taxi in China can be a bit chaotic. There are no commonly set prices and the cost of the ride can therefore vary a bit depending on which taxi you’re using. It’s also not common to wear a seatbelt when in a taxi and there are drivers that drive recklessly since they are very much familiar with the route.
You can also use the services of a ride-sharing app and it is paid for via the Chinese mega-app called We-Chat, that’s also used to pay for most things in China, via a QR code.
Be Careful with Hard Liquors
It’s a good idea to be careful when buying spirits in bars and restaurants in China. In some less reputable bars, hard liquor comes from local vendors that can’t be trusted and there have been cases of alcohol poisoning and other medical issues caused by this. It won’t happen in high-end and reputable places.
This won’t happen with beers and wines so if you’re not sure if you can trust the bar you’re in, just go with these and you’ll be fine. There’s also no issue with alcohol you could buy in stores and shopping centers.
Western Tourists Are Still a Rarity
Even now when China is going through such a prosperous time western visitors are still rather and chances are that you’ll get noticed and treated somewhat differently when out and about. This can be a bit difficult for introverts so it’s important to be aware of it beforehand.
In most cases, if not in every case, you’ll get treated as a minor celebrity and get better service or a complimentary meal just for being a foreign person visiting China at the moment. You may even get your picture taken.
One trip Won’t be Enough
One trip won’t be enough to visit and see everything you’ve planned when in China. This is something you’ll need to accept and make cuts to your itinerary accordingly. It’s best to give up on certain tours and locations so that you could spend enough time on those that you decide to visit.
Keep in mind that both visas and tourist driving licenses expire after a certain amount of time and that you should factor that in. Anyone that goes to China once makes a promise that they’ll come back and most do – usually coming to a different and changed city due to the speed of growth in the area.