Ten things that would have made trav­el­ing to Chi­na a lot eas­i­er on my first trip. It can be excit­ing dis­cov­er­ing them on your own, or it can be a big headache. So hope­ful­ly my frus­tra­tions will make things just a lit­tle eas­i­er for you. Here are ten Chi­na Trav­el Tips you must know before you vis­it China.

1. WeChat — The must-have App

Of all the Chi­na Trav­el Tips WeChat is per­haps the most impor­tant. WeChat, it’s a mix of Mes­sen­ger, Face­book, Apple pay, and a host of oth­er small­er apps. And vir­tu­al­ly every Chi­nese cit­i­zen has it. If you want to make friends and be able to mes­sage them then this app is a must. Anoth­er great fea­ture is that you can trans­late text mes­sages from Chi­nese. Hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ties talk­ing to some­one? Add them to WeChat and chat away. Though with all trans­la­tion apps, keep it to sim­ple word­ing oth­er­wise you might get some pret­ty odd translations.

Pro Tip: Down­load WeChat BEFORE you get to Chi­na. At the Inter­na­tion­al Air­ports, you should be able to get free WiFi, but you MUST have WeChat on your phone already to access it. So down­load it and set it up before you arrive in China.

WeChat can be down­loaded from the apple or Android app store and you don’t need a VPN to use it (unlike most of the oth­er mes­sag­ing apps) but I’d rec­om­mend down­load­ing it before going to Chi­na as you won’t be able to access the Android app store with­out a VPN. And that brings us to point #2.

2. Best VPN for China

Google it”, it’s become syn­ony­mous with look­ing any­thing up online. Well, not in Chi­na. “Baidu it” will work bet­ter, but only if you can read and write Chi­nese. For rest of us, we’ll need a VPN. Gmail, Google (all Google prod­ucts) Face­book, Insta­gram, What­sApp, Line etc. are all blocked. Get a VPN and the inter­net is open again.

Vir­tu­al Pri­vate Net­work: it’s a piece of soft­ware that tells the inter­net you’re actu­al­ly in a dif­fer­ent coun­try rout­ing all of your infor­ma­tion to the serv­er in that country.

There are var­i­ous free VPNs but they are all lim­it­ed in some way and not reli­able. I’ve used a hand­ful and the best one I’ve found is Express VPN. Hav­ing a reli­able VPN for your Chi­na trip is so impor­tant and I rec­om­mend you get a good one.

There are a few oth­er apps I’d rec­om­mend you get before you vis­it Chi­na. Full post com­ing soon.

3. Spitting, Shoving and Cutting — Manners in China

I’m in line for the bus, but as soon as it arrives all hell breaks loose. Every­one turns into an ani­mal in an every-man-for-him­self atti­tude buried some­where deep with­in all of us. Chi­nese peo­ple push and shove, old and young. I’m shocked and out of instinct look back to see what they’re run­ning from. It’s the scene from a zom­bie apoc­a­lypse movie. I’ve nev­er seen a group of seem­ing­ly well-behaved peo­ple devolve into a fanat­i­cal crowd so fast. An old lady in front of me is get­ting smashed in the crowd as she too tries to aggres­sive­ly elbow her way onto the bus.

A pret­ty Chi­nese girl walk­ing down the street in Cheng­du. Sud­den­ly out of nowhere she puts her fin­gers on her nose and blows a snot rock­et right in front of me.

It’s nor­mal in Chi­na to spit (almost every­where) cut, shove and just gen­er­al­ly lack what we in the West­ern World call “man­ners”. It’s not every­one but it’s so com­mon that you should brace your­self for it. That being said, Chi­nese peo­ple are gen­er­al­ly very friend­ly and hos­pitable to for­eign­ers. Keep this in mind when you vis­it Chi­na and take bad man­ners with a grain of salt, it’s not personal.

4. Hot Water and Availability

Ask for water any­where and it’ll like­ly be boil­ing with the cup being too hot to touch (god only knows why they haven’t adopt­ed cups with han­dles so you can actu­al­ly pick it up with­out burn­ing your fin­gers) Ask for cold water and be amused by the clus­ter of con­fu­sion you send the wait staff into.

One should also real­ize that hot water is a panacea to all that ills you in Chi­na. Or so most peo­ple will tell you. I won­der if they have hot water on ambulances.

The plus side of this is that on every train, train sta­tion and most pub­lic areas have a hot water dis­penser and might also have a room tem­per­a­ture water spig­ot as well.

So if you’re on a bud­get pack some instant noo­dles on that 20-hour train ride as you’ll have an end­less sup­ply of hot water.

5. Toilet Paper and Napkins

Always bring your own. Even some­times in hos­tels. And just remem­ber, when you go to use the squat toi­let the toi­let paper (if they have it at all) will prob­a­bly be in the log­i­cal place, out­side the stall, so col­lect what you need before enter­ing. Because every­one knows exact­ly how much tp to use ahead of time. And a final note on toi­let paper: DON’T  flush it down the toi­let! Put it in the small trash can (usu­al­ly) next to the toi­let. Oth­er­wise, you will prob­a­bly clog the toilet.

Chi­nese peo­ple like things they don’t have to pay for” my Chi­nese friend tells me after I see a woman being stopped at the restau­rant as she’s walk­ing out with an unopened box of tis­sues, with­out pay­ing. (I love free things too! Don’t we all?)

When you go out to eat be pre­pared with your own nap­kins. Or if you go with a Chi­nese friend ask them for theirs that they’ll inevitably be pre­pared with.

6. Deodorant in China

On my ini­tial for­ay into a large super­mar­ket, the first time trav­el­ing to Chi­na, my hunt for deodor­ant devolved into buy­ing a pack of lemons. It’s an amus­ing sto­ry for anoth­er time but suf­fice it to say that it can be quite dif­fi­cult to find so I rec­om­mend you bring a good sup­ply. Wat­son’s is a store that will most like­ly have deodor­ant, it if you can find one.

7. Trains, Tickets and Ctrip (Trip.com)

Buy­ing a train tick­et is as sim­ple as show­ing up at the train sta­tion and wait­ing in line at the tick­et counter (though some­times there are mul­ti­ple lines so you have to fig­ure out which one is cor­rect by ask­ing peo­ple unless you can read Chi­nese). This becomes a prob­lem how­ev­er when it’s a busy time and the train is like­ly to be sold out if you arrive short­ly before departure.

So you have a few options of buy­ing your tick­et ahead of time. The first is to buy it at the train sta­tion ahead of time. This works if you know your exact sched­ule while you’re at the train sta­tion. If you aren’t near the train sta­tion or don’t want to trav­el there you can buy it via an app called Trip.com by Ctrip (it used to be just Ctrip). They will charge a per­cent­age fee (which can get more cost­ly if you are buy­ing an expen­sive tick­et) and you will still need to wait in line at the train sta­tion to pick it up. The ben­e­fit of using this app is that you can check the train sched­ules and reserve it ahead of time. It’s also help­ful just to look at the train sched­ules ahead of time even if you aren’t buy­ing a tick­et. For this point alone I high­ly rec­om­mend you install this app on your phone before arriv­ing in China.

8. Language

It’s an inter­est­ing phe­nom­e­non. Every Chi­nese per­son gets an aver­age of ten years of Eng­lish class­es (if they go to col­lege, less if they don’t) but many places you go, espe­cial­ly out­side of big cities you’ll be hard-pressed to find some­one who can speak it. You’ll have bet­ter luck with the younger pop­u­la­tion But don’t count on it.

To make your life eas­i­er use a trans­la­tion app such as Google Trans­late (You’ll need to be run­ning your VPN) or a phrase book. Baidu Trans­late can be used with­out a VPN.

Keep in mind that more Chi­nese peo­ple speak Eng­lish than they let on at first. So speak slow­ly and enun­ci­ate and they just might under­stand but be too shy to reply. In some of the larg­er cities, you might also ask oth­er peo­ple stand­ing around if they speak Eng­lish. They might be too shy to offer their help but if direct­ly asked, will do what they can.

9. China SIM Cards

Get­ting a SIM card in Chi­na is not as straight­for­ward as it is in oth­er Coun­tries. You can’t just walk into any store and buy a SIM card, you’ll need to go to a larg­er store from one of the mobile car­ri­ers and fill out a form (don’t for­get to bring your pass­port). There are only 3 car­ri­ers: Chi­na Mobile, Chi­na Uni­com and Chi­na Telecom.

There is more infor­ma­tion here. Your hos­tel or hotel should be able to help you as well. If you’re in Chi­na for more than a week or two I’d def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend get­ting a SIM card and get­ting it as soon as you can after arriv­ing. It will make your trip a lot eas­i­er being able to find your way and com­mu­ni­cate with peo­ple (some­what) through a trans­la­tion app.

10. China Visa

Every­one needs a Visa when trav­el­ing to Chi­na so start think­ing about it at least a month or two before your Chi­na trip.

I’m a US cit­i­zen and I got my ten-year mul­ti­ple entry (60 days at a time) visa (first time trav­el­ing to Chi­na) real­ly eas­i­ly through a Visa Agency called “For­ev­er Bright” after arriv­ing in Hong Kong (I know, it sounds like a den­tal office).

You can go to a Chi­nese Embassy and fill out and file all the paper­work your­self but real­ize that they are very spe­cif­ic and you’ll need to write exact­ly where you’re going and stay­ing on each date. I’ve heard of peo­ple book­ing all of their hotels and giv­ing their itin­er­ary just for the visa only to can­cel their hotels and fol­low a dif­fer­ent itin­er­ary. It’s fine and will most like­ly work but just real­ize the Chi­nese can be very strict about writ­ing very clear­ly with no mis­takes on the form as well as very strict about the pass­port pho­tos you submit.

To do it your­self you will need to find the Con­sular Office of the Embassy or Con­sulate-Gen­er­al in your coun­try Pro­ce­dure for Chi­nese Visa Appli­ca­tion for US cit­i­zens can be found here.  If you decide to get the Chi­na Visa your­self and not use an agency ensure you have enough time before your trip in case your visa gets reject­ed the first time. Did I men­tion that they are very strict?

To find the Chi­nese Embassy in your coun­try click here.

Zhangjiajie National Park, China

Zhangji­a­jie Nation­al Park, China

With so many places to vis­it in Chi­na, it can be a daunt­ing task try­ing to fig­ure out where to go and how to get there. Add to that the lan­guage bar­ri­er and cul­tur­al dif­fer­ence and it can make things even more dif­fi­cult. But don’t let these things ruin your vis­it to Chi­na. Fol­low these Chi­na Trav­el Tips and may you have a great trip!