Although China has the second strongest economy on the planet it only opened up to the world in the late 70s when Deng Xiaoping enforced an economic reform. Since then, millions of tourists have been able to visit China and indulge in its vast history and culture. China has many great experiences to offer but there are somethings you should know if you have never been before.
Before you go
If you’re certain there’s no reason why you would be denied a visa for China then go ahead and book your flights and such. There are many flight companies that fly to China, in my case from the UK, so here are the ones I would recommend;
Air China| Prices vary from £400 (economy) upwards depending on how far in advance you book. They do direct flights to Beijing from London and to Shanghai too. Flights to Shanghai have a very short layover though. However, the reviews for Air China are very varied and inconsistent but if it is a cheaper option for a one way flight you’re looking for they may be your best option. You’re allowed 1x23KG suitcase and a carry on. Read some trip advisor reviews before considering this airline. >>https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Airline_Review-d8729000-Reviews-Cheap-Flights-Air-China
British Airways | British Airways has one of the most expensive starting prices for direct flights. Their prices usually begin at £500/£600. You’re allowed 1X23KG carry on and you can choose your seat 24 hours before you fly. You can also have one handbag/laptop bag as well as a cabin bag too. There’s entertainment, a free 3 course meal and you can check in via app or online.
Emirates&Etihad | Although they’re different airlines, their routes are similar. Both companies fly from major cities with a layover in Dubai or Abu Dhabi with the final destination being Shanghai. Prices also vary from £400 upwards. Depending on the type of fair you have paid for your Emirates flight you can check in up to 35KG and up to 30KG on Etihad.
These four airlines tend to and seem to be the quickest with fewest stops, if there are any at all.
If you’re travelling within China be sure to weigh out all options such as flights, trains and buses. Sometimes flying is a lot cheaper. Again, this depends on how far in advance you have booked things.
A Place To Stay
When I was living in China I already had accommodation set up for me but my tenancy ended earlier than my departure so I booked a hotel for a few days. There are thousands of hotels in Shanghai let alone China itself so you have many options. Make sure you do research on the areas you want to visit with a city like Shanghai so you’re not too far away from where you’re staying. Booking.com has the most and best options. You can compare prices and there are so many hotels that can be paid for upon arrival and cancelled for free. Make sure to have your address in romanised Chinese and Chinese characters. Make sure you have your passport ready and copies of your passport. The hotels can usually copy it for you but having copies at hand makes it easier and quicker.
If you don’t want to stay in a hotel booking.com also offers a range of hostels that are very cheap. There’s also Air Bnb. Shanghai prices for Air Bnb are varied and so have some cheap options. However, it is better if you have a good level of Chinese because I have noticed that many people who are hosting their properties on Air Bnb only speak Chinese and the reviews tend to be in Chinese too.
This is actually the most important thing to do but the reason I didn’t mention it first is because when going through the Visa process everything tends to go a lot smoother when they know you have a place to stay and how long you will be staying for. This isn’t always the case but its better to be safe than sorry. If you’re a tourist in China the visa you will be applying for is (L Visa).
- The main thing to do first is make sure you have your passport and that it is valid.
- Get some passport photos printed. You will need this for you visa application and just in case. There were many occasions I was living in China and they wanted/needed a passport photo. Your usual 4/8 may not be enough. Better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them.
- Print out the visa application form and fill it out carefully and correctly. Otherwise you may have to do it all over again and it is four pages. You can download it here >>https://www.visaforchina.org/LON_EN/generalinformation/downloads/263875.shtml
- You should also print out proof of where you’ll be staying just in case and a photocopy of your passport to take to the application centre with you.
- As soon as you have filled out your form along with a passport photo you can visit your closest Chinese Visa Application Service Centre and have them check and send your passport off. You can book appointments online but it isn’t necessary. There’s a good chance you will still be waiting longer than you expected anyway.
- They will send off your application and passport and when it is posted back to the centre you pay and collect. Depending on you time frame prices will vary and they aren’t cheap. Look here. >>https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/uk/visa-application-procedure.htm
Another thing which is better to have and not need than need and not have. Worst case scenario you end up in hospital/need to see a doctor in China. (which is not nice, believe me. They’re packed and overcrowded like a train station at peak time) Seeing a doctor in China is effort not foreigner really wants to go through and it can get pretty expensive depending on how serious the illness or injury is. If anything does happen, make sure you’re insured.
Vaccinations should usually be done 4-6 weeks before travelling. The recommended vaccinations are Hepatitis A and B, polio and Typhoid.
Currency and Banking
The currency in China is RMB (Renminbi) which is Yuan in English. Exchanging money is a very common thing before travel but if you’re going to/travelling in China you may want to have more exchanged than usual. Have at least 300RMB ready if you’re getting a taxi from the airport because it takes a while to get to more central zones. Alternitvately, you can get the underground which is in the airport. There will be a machine where you can change your 100RMB notes into smaller ones because the ticker machines do not take 100RMB notes. Using cards isn’t too common in China. It is either cash or through Wechat or Alipay. Make sure you tell your bank you’re travelling to China too or they could cancel your card for unusual transactions.
Clothing, Weather in Shanghai and What to Pack
December to February are really cold in Shanghai. I didn’t bother to research this before I moved there and I completely regretted it. It was freezing. Jumpers, heavy clothing and warm coats are ideal for this time of year.
March to June is spring time. It can be a little brass during this time of year with some days that are warmer. Bring clothes that can be layered to keep you warm but taken off if you get too hot. For example, shirts, t-shirts, long sleeved tops, jackets, thin coat.
July to November are very warm in Shanghai. It is hottest in July until the beginning of September and then gradually gets cooler. For this time of year it is better to pack light clothing and a jacket or coat for the evening.
Trainers are a must|If you’re planning on seeing the sights, make sure bring some trainers. I didn’t realise how much walking I did just living in there in general. There is so much to take in, in terms of architecture, culture and history that it is just better to walk around.
Mosquito Repellent| Try and find a strong one. The mosquitos in China can be quite persistent the first few days. I made the mistake of forgetting mine.
Particular Hygiene Products | Pack your own deodorant aerosols because you will not find them in most superstores. Similar to this, tampons. Sanitary towels are more common than tampons. I saw no tampons in any pharmacy or shop when living in Shanghai. You will also want to pack painkillers, allergy medicine, medicine for an upset stomach because they’re not easy to come by.
A VPN is a virtual private network. This is just a must before you go to China because the majority of not all apps that are popular in the Western world are banned in China. For example;
- Google and anything created by Google
- A lot of news sites such as,
- The BBC
- The Economist
- The Independent
- The New York Times
- Wall Street Journal and plenty more.
You can download them to mobiles tables and laptops. The best free ones for mobile I used are Touch VPN and VPN Monster. I would download two to your mobile because there were many occasions when the VPN was down or simply not connecting. Once I downloaded another one though I rarely had an issue.
The most popular VPN is Express. It isn’t free but tends to do a very good job. Once you have paid for a plan of 1/6/12 months you can download to two or three devices.
When You’re There
Taxis or Underground
Taxi drivers in Shanghai tend to use the sat nav on their mobile phones to get to places. Shanghai is too big to know everywhere off by heart so getting to your location shouldn’t be a problem. Make sure you have the address of your accommodation in Chinese because the drivers tend not to speak English. When you get in a taxi, whether it is to/from the airport or around China, look for a metre so they cannot overcharge you. If you are foreign they will try to take the absolute piss out of you and have you paying more than you should. If they don’t have a metre or refuse to put it on, get out and look for another taxi. There are taxis everywhere. Just stand on a main road and stick your hand out.
The Shanghai underground is easy to use and fast. 9 million people use it everyday and there are 387 stations and 15 lines. It is rare you will be somewhere in Shanghai that isn’t close to the underground. The times vary depending on what stop you’re going to or what line you’re using but the general hours are 6AM – 11PM.
ATMs are everywhere in Shanghai and some of them take non Chinese cards but the majority of them don’t. If you do withdraw money, there is a fee each time that varies so be careful. Also, Chinese ATMs give cash first then your card. So don’t forget your card! If you bank with HSBC you should have less problems regarding cash machines.
Don’t Drink the Tap Water
You can wash in it, shower in it, brush your teeth but don’t drink it.
If you’re buying things from street markets such as souvenirs or something for yourself try and get the price down. If they know you’re foreign, like I said, they will try to take the piss and make you pay more than they would charge natives.
Manners in China were of a whole new world to me. There is no decorum or discretion whatsoever.
- Burping and farting. It happens in public places more than you think.
- Spitting. Whether you hate it or do it yourself, you will at some point hear someone gathering up phlegm and spitting. This happens mainly on the street but sometimes people do it in the bins in the underground or malls.
- Personal space. You can say goodbye to this in China. Especially on public transport and most public places. If you’re foreign you’ll stand out so people will want to take close look at you, especially if you’re of the darker tone.
- Pushing. People will push past you if you’re in their path and not say excuse me or sorry. People will also push in queues. If you’re not paying attention, you will lose your space.
- Staring. If you don’t look like you’re from East Asia you will be the centre of attention 24/7. White, black or brown people will ask you questions about where you come from, why you’re there, touch your skin, ask for pictures. The lot.
There are certain times you will need/want to have your passport at hand such as;
- If you decide to get a local sim
- Travelling within the city
- Checking into your hotel
Always carry tissues with you. Public restrooms in most places whether its university or a restaurant don’t have toilet paper a lot of the time, both in and out of the toilet.
China is an interesting place but there is much to consider and prepare before going.