Even for veteran business travelers, visiting China can be a disorienting experience. From navigating all the entry requirements to finding your way around a country where little English is spoken, a trip to the People’s Republic requires extra preparation and patience. For tips on how to make your trip there a successful one, read on.
Passport and visas
Your flight and hotel may be booked, but you’ll be going nowhere if your passport is set to expire within the next half-year. Visitors to China must have a passport with at least six months validity remaining. You also will need two blank pages available for the visa and entry stamps, so if your passport is full from all your business travels, get it renewed.
With the exception of citizens of Singapore, Brunei and Japan, you’ll need a visa to enter mainland China. Business travelers have two options: The F visa is issued to foreigners invited to China on a noncommercial exchange — such as scientific-technological visits, cultural exchanges, health or sports activities, etc. The other type of business visa — M — is issued to travelers who are visiting for commercial and trade activities.
Visas can be obtained in person at the Chinese embassy or consulate or through a passport/visa expediter (check out our partners Travisa and CIBT). In addition to a passport photo and itinerary information, you will need to provide an invitation letter from an authorized Chinese business or a letter of introduction from your company.
When in China, do not overstay your visa as this may result in denied service by hotels, airports and train stations, fines up to renminbi (RMB) 10,000 per day (the equivalent of USD 1,450) and detention. Carry your passport and visa at all times since the police, transportation officials and hotel staff may ask to check your travel credentials at any time.
Visitors also must register with the police within 24 hours of their arrival. This can be done at the hotel or a local station if you are staying in an alternative accommodation. Failure to do so can result in fines and deportation.
In the main cities of China, there are plenty of convenience stores that are open late in case you forgot any provisions at home, but here are a few essential items you’ll be grateful to have along:
- A pollution mask and lubricating eyes drops to combat the effects of China’s air quality problem
- A universal adapter that can handle China’s 220 Volt 50 Hz AC electricity supply
- Antidiarrheal medicine to ease an ill stomach from sampling foreign foods your stomach isn’t accustomed to
- A double supply of your usual health and toiletry products, which may be hard to track down in China
- Antibacterial hand sanitizer to use in the public restroom and after all the hands you’ll be shaking at meetings
- Earplugs to help you tune out the noise of construction and traffic
- A gift for your Chinese business associates, particularly items they may covet from your country and cannot easily get themselves
Making it even easier for Westerners to get around, Didi Chuxing, China’s equivalent of Uber, is now available in English and accepts international credit cards. Its real-time text messaging translation also can help ease the language barrier between driver and passenger.
Take precautions if you take a taxi, especially from the airport. Avoid unlicensed “black cabs,” insist that the driver use the meter and get a receipt. Ask the driver to remove the bags from the trunk before you get out of the taxi and pay. When you arrive at your hotel, take a business card from the front desk, which will have the hotel’s address in both English and Chinese, to show to taxi drivers.
Because traffic can be a nightmare in larger cities, the subway may be your best bet. Thanks to the 2008 Winter Olympics, the metro systems in Beijing and Shanghai have been upgraded, include English signage and are clean and efficient.
A word of caution when traveling by foot: Be super-careful when crossing the streets, especially in congested cities. Even if the “walk” sign is flashing for you to go, look both ways to make sure it’s all clear. Scooters and impatient drivers are known to weave around slower-moving vehicles without much regard for who’s in the crosswalk.
Not lost in translation
Since English is not widely spoken, even in China’s top business destinations, we recommend learning a few words to get by. FluentU is a great tool for beginners. And remember: Mandarin is spoken in Beijing or Shanghai but it’s Cantonese in Hong Kong, Macau or Guangzhou.
To understand signage, menus and other items displaying Chinese characters, download Pleco, a Chinese-English dictionary with an integrated document reader. Simply snap a photo of the writing you wish to understand and it will translate the phrase for you.
And to correspond with your Chinese business associates, use WeChat, a popular Chinese social media app that also has message translation.
Hotels and restaurants in the larger cities will accept most major credit cards (carry two types just in case) but you’ll also want to have the local currency, renminbi (aka yuan) on hand for smaller shops and purchases.
Because counterfeit money is a concern in China, ask for small bills when exchanging money and use only ATMs at trusted financial institutions.
Note: Hong Kong and Macau both have their own currencies (the Hong Kong dollar and pataca, respectively), which won’t be accepted in most parts of mainland China.
We always recommend using a virtual private network (VPN) on business trips but even more so in China. Not only can the secure internet connection help maintain cybersecurity, but you also will be able to access sites that the Chinese government restricts its citizens from using, such as Twitter, Dropbox, Gmail and Facebook.
In China, you’ll also want to take additional precautions. According to CountryReports, security personnel may place your activities under surveillance. Hotel rooms, meeting rooms, offices, cars, taxis, telephones and internet use (including WeChat) may be monitored onsite or remotely without your knowledge or consent.
When you’re traveling to China — or any other country for that matter — we always suggest encrypting your hard drive and using dual-password protection in case your device lands in the wrong hands. And just as you do on the airplane or when back in the office, be mindful of your activities and act under the assumption that someone is looking over your shoulder while working on your device.