Getaway Compass

Important Things to Know For Your Visit to China: Visa, Accommodation, Transportation, Food, Staying Healthy and More

Yuyuan Garden Shanghai

China is a big country with busy cities, beautiful nature, and interesting culture. Because China is such a big country planning a trip here can be overwhelming. This guide will walk you through how to prepare for your trip and things to know for your visit to China. Follow the guide to learn about how to stay connected in China, the best applications to download, what to pack, and much more to help you prepare. Then continue to learn about tips while in China regarding transportation, the food, how to stay healthy, and more details.

How to Prepare for Your Trip to China

Check the China Visa Requirements for Your Country

China requires a visa for most countries. Make sure to check the requirements for your country before booking your trip.

How to Get a Chinese Visa (for US citizens):
China offers a 10 year, multiple entry visa for United States citizens for $140. You are required to apply directly at a Chinese embassy or use a visa service. If you apply directly at the Chinese Embassy you must pickup your passport with the visa when it is ready. The typical processing time is about 4 business days and express service is available with additional cost. If you do not live near a Chinese embassy, I recommend using a service such as China Visa Service Center (CVSC). You will send them all the necessary forms, passport, and visa photo and they will go to the embassy for you. These services do have an additional fee which can change, so make sure to check the updated fee directly on the website.

  • You need to book all flights and hotels before applying for the visa so you can include your bookings with your visa application forms.
  • You will need to provide a picture following the China Visa requirements specified on the website. The common places that people get their picture taken is at CVS, UPS or Fedex. The picture taken in these places is not the correct size, but you can cut it to the required size. If you use a visa service, most services will cut the picture to the right size for you.
  • You need to include a clear copy of your passport in addition to your original passport.
  • Some consulates in the US have additional requirements and some also have specific forms for that consulate so make sure to check the requirements for your specific location.
  • You need to fill out the visa application form on your computer and print it out to bring with you to the embassy. You are unable to save the draft of the form but you can save the form as a PDF.

Book Your Accommodation in China

Wangfujing Street Beijing

We used booking.com for all our accommodations in China. This site has many hotel options with a lot of reviews and it automatically provides you with both an English and Chinese version of your itinerary (which will come in handy if you take a taxi or need directions to your hotel). I would highly recommend the below hotels in Beijing and Shanghai.

Beijing
Park Plaza Beijing is really nice and comfortable. This was definitely the nicest place we stayed in during our trip. There is a train station right around the corner, a Starbucks across from the hotel, and many local restaurants a short walk away. The hotel also offers concierge services and will book trips for you like a Great Wall tour.

Sunworld Dynasty Hotel is right on Wangfujing St, a main shopping street in Beijing, and not a far walk from Forbidden City. This big hotel also has concierge services where they can help you book your tickets to the Forbidden City.

Shanghai
Campanile Shanghai Bund Hotel is located a short walk from Yuyuan Garden train station, Nanjing Rd, and the Bund. You get a really great price for the location. We stayed a couple nights here and really enjoyed our stay.

 

Booking.com

Get Your Vaccinations for China

Vaccinations are typically recommended for China. Make sure to check the CDC website for the recommended vaccinations, and if you are missing any you should make an appointment at your nearest travel clinic. Most insurance companies will cover travel vaccinations if you visit a clinic that is in-network, since vaccinations are considered preventative. 

Stay Connected in China

Most hotels offer WiFi, however outside of the hotel it is difficult to get WiFi without having a local phone number or understanding Chinese. Even with the hotel WiFi, many websites are blocked in China including Facebook, Instagram, Google, and YouTube. In order to continue to use these sites you would need to purchase a VPN prior to entering China. We purchased Express VPN which is easy to download and use on your phone.

Best Applications to Download for Your Trip to China

Make your trip to China easier by downloading these helpful applications to help you get around, understand the metro, and try to communicate with people.

Explore Metro: This app has detailed metro maps and is interactive so you can search for the specific station. You need to download individual apps for each city.

Ulmon City Maps to Go: You can download and use this app without WiFi. It is more accurate than google maps in China, however not always completely accurate. Note that hotel locations in Beijing/Shanghai can often be incorrect.

Google Translate: Download the app and the Chinese translation so that you can use it offline. This is helpful to communicate with people as many people in China do not speak English.

What to Pack for China

Beijing China Forbidden City

The weather in China varies largely depending where you visit. Make sure to check the weather for each destination in China you will be visiting to ensure that you pack the right clothes. Bring comfortable shoes because you will be doing a lot of walking especially if you are visiting the big cities. Most hotels will automatically provide you with toothbrushes, toothpaste, a comb, and a vanity kit in your room, so don’t worry if you forgot some of these items.

Tips for Traveling in China

Beijing Forbidden City 3

Good to Know

  • Carry your passport safely with you at all times. You will be required to show your passport at many tourist sights, some train stations, and all hotels.
  • Always have cash as many places do not take card. Make sure to have small change for the metro as the kiosks do not take large bills.
  • Take money out at an ATM when you arrive in China. It is usually cheaper to use an ATM than to exchange your currency to RMB.

Transportation

Transportation in China

Airplane: As China is a huge country, flying is the fastest way to travel across far cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Note that the carry-on size restrictions are smaller than in the United States, but most airlines allow at least one free checked bag at 20 Kg. Some popular airlines are China Eastern, China Southern, Hong Kong Airlines, and Cathay Pacific. Make sure to get to the airport 2-3 hours before your flight as the airports get very busy.

High-Speed Train: There are many high speed train routes in China connecting numerous cities. This is a great option if you are not traveling too far as they are typically a little cheaper than flights and are less likely to have delays due to weather conditions. The fastest trains travel about 300 km/hour.

Inner City Metro: Most metro systems are very easy to use to get around and have maps and information in English. The machines to purchase tickets also have an English option. Make sure you carry small change because they typically do not take bigger bills. Download Explore Metro app to help you navigate the metro system.

Busses: Busses in China are difficult to use if you do not speak Chinese as the destination of the bus is typically only in Chinese. If you are brave and took busses, let me know how it went in the comments below!

Food in China

Food in China

Not all restaurants have menus in English. If you are adventurous with food it shouldn’t be a problem, but if you want to know what you are eating look for a restaurant with an English menu. Typically restaurants in malls can be very good and almost always have English menus. Shanghai has many western food options especially in Xintiandi which has a large variety of cuisines. 

Dietary Constraints: The most common food in China is pork, noodles, and dumplings. If you do not eat pork your food options will be very limited, however, many restaurants in tourist areas do have vegetarian options which typically consists of plain noodles or vegetable dumplings. Bring protein bars as it will be hard to get protein from the vegetarian options available.

Practice Food Safety: Don’t eat raw fruit or vegetables in case they were washed with tap water and be careful with street food. Take Travelan with your meals, which is a natural dietary supplement that can reduce the risk of Travelers Diarrhea. You can purchase Travelan through Amazon and some travel clinics.

Stay Healthy in China

Prevent Getting Sick: China cities can be very crowded. Try not to get sick by washing your hands when possible, and make sure you bring hand sanitizer as many places do not have soap. Be careful not to get sick especially if you are flying throughout China. The airports in China have stations where they monitor body temperature and can quarantine you if you have a fever.

Air Pollution: Consider bringing masks in case the pollution is bad, like this 3M mask we purchased on Amazon. You can check the air quality conditions online each day here.

Water: The tap water is not safe to drink so stick to bottled water even when brushing your teeth. You can buy big bottles of water in most convenience stores. Whenever you first get to a new location get a big bottle to save money as it will be a lot cheaper than buying several little bottles. Most hotels will provide each person one bottle a day so you can refill these bottles.

Toilets in China

The bathroom can be one of the biggest shockers when visiting a new country. In China, most cities have both toilet bowl and squat toilet. If there are many stalls there will most likely be at least one toilet bowl especially at main tourist sights. In more rural areas you will most likely only find squat toilets. Some restrooms have a toilet paper roll near the entrance to the restroom before you enter the stalls, however, most restrooms don’t have any toilet paper, so always carry some with you. Many restrooms don’t have soap either so make sure you bring hand sanitizer.

Markets in China

There are many markets throughout China, especially in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Make sure to bargain down at least half of the initial price and try a few different shops to understand the prices more before buying. Be careful when buying art from places that look like galleries, sometimes you can find this same art in the markets for significantly less money.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links for products and services I recommend. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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