How to Prepare for a Stress-free Trip to China
(Days 716 – 717)
Unfortunately, our first two days in Beijing was mostly a waste a lot of time. So that you don’t experience the same, we have collated some tips on how to prepare for a stress-free trip to China.
The first thing to do, even before getting your Chinese visa, is to decide where you are going, how you are travelling and where you will be staying. I will leave destinations for you to decide.
Train tickets: If you choose to travel by train, we highly recommend China-DIY-Travel. The train tickets were not released before we needed to get our visa, so we placed our order with China-DIY-Travel and they did the rest. As soon as the tickets were available, they purchased them, sent us e-tickets, pick up instructions (in Chinese and English), and a link to their video explaining station layout. Throughout the process, they were extremely helpful.
When you receive the breakdown of the tickets to be purchased, print this out for your Visa Application.
Once we arrived in Beijing we got a Metro card which has been brilliant. Cheap, efficient and easy to get around.
Accommodation: Now book your accommodation. We used Booking.com with free cancellation in case we changed our minds where to stay. Make sure everyone’s name is included in the booking. Print out the confirmation to include with your Visa Application. You may also want to print out the Chinese version. Once in China, most taxi drivers don’t speak English or read our alphabet.
In my wisdom, after we received our Chinese visa, I found cheaper accommodation on Airbnb and cancelled some of our original bookings, feeling very chuffed with myself. Oh dear – DO NOT DO THIS.
All foreigners need to register with the Public Security Bureau at the nearest police station within 24 hours of arriving in each location. If you stay in a hostel or hotel, they do this for you; Airbnb hosts tend not to, which we discovered to our detriment. I won’t go into too much detail, but after going to Beijing’s Public Security Bureau which turned out to be a museum, then two other police stations and finally to the one nearest to our accommodation we found out that we needed our host’s ID card, Passport and copy of their Residence Property Certificate.
It transpired, after we met him at the Police station the next day, that our host was renting the apartment, so shouldn’t have accepted us, foreign visitors. Finally, with Airbnb support not being too much of a help, we arranged for our host to cancel the rest of our stay and then booked into an International Hostel. (Since then, I have contacted our other Airbnb accommodation and one by one they are cancelling our booking!)
If you do not register, then you could be fined at the border and band from the country. We didn’t want this!
It was a shame as the apartment was very comfy with a fabulous view overlooking a tree-laden park. However, our new cosy room is in one of the old hutongs in the Dashilan Residential District within walking distance to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
There you have it – book into a Hotel or Hostel.
Visa Application - It takes quite a time to collate all the information and complete the online visa form. You need to add details of:
· your accommodation, including city, address, date of arrival and departure
· your parents (even if no longer alive) and your children
· Current and previous employers, including the name of the manager and phone number
· Any education after high school
· Annual Income (no need for bank statements. For a Russian visa, you need the last 3 months)
Once complete, book an appointment online. Get there early as the queues to first check that you have everything can be very long. Take with you (each person):
· Your appointment confirmation
· A print of your application and sign this
· Passport and copy of your passport
· Details of travel, into China, in China and departing China (this can include the confirmation email from China DIY Travel)
· Printed details of all accommodation which includes the dates, addresses and all names staying as well as your ongoing accommodation for the next country (if not your home)
· A patient disposition!
Money - We recommend that you take some Chinese Yuan (CNY) with you. Luckily we did, but our fellow train travellers spent ages trawling around Beijing trying to find an ATM which accepted foreign Cards.
Cash is King in China; most places, even top tourist spots, do not take cards from tourists, so always have money on you. Remember before you leave home to tell your bank you're visiting China.
Internet – China has two famous walls, the Great Wall and the Great Firewall. This blocks sites such as Google, including Google Maps, YouTube, Facebook and most other social media sites. To get around this, you can purchase, or get 30 days free access to a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Make sure you get access to the VPN before entering China.
We are using ExpressVPN. It is a bit hit and miss. To be on the safe side, we also downloaded NordVPN and Vyper and a friend who lives in China uses GoTrusted. (It would have been sensible if we’d asked him this before we arrived here!). Whichever one you use, check that it covers China.
If you have a googlemail or Gmail email, then you won’t have access to this either unless you have a VPN working. Download any documents such as train or plane tickets and have access offline to these before entering the country.
Essentials to Bring – Toilet paper for the squat toilets, soap and anti-bacterial gel, napkins (when you have noodle juice dripping down your chin, it’s handy to have one).
Bring a towel. We have been given towels everywhere else in the world until here. Luckily I read this, so our lovely friend Bahar gave me one of her Turkish Towels. A handy scarf as well.
Don’t drink tap water here, bring a filtered bottle, this is much better for the environment and for your pocket.
Mobile – Unlock your mobile before you arrive, and buy a relatively inexpensive Sim card. There are a few companies here, we went with China Mobile and our one month sim with 56 GB cost £10 each.
Few other tips:
· There is only one time-zone in China
· No need to tip
· Use your haggling skills
· Have your passport with you always. Sometimes you need this for entering tourist sites
· You will often hear people bringing up phlegm and spitting this out
· Personal Space is about 1 cm, in queues people stand very close to you
· Use an offline translator, even in Beijing, not many people know English and you can always learn a few words such as ni hao (hello) and xiexie ni (thank you). This goes a long way with initially connecting with people.
We hope these tips help you have a very enjoyable and frustration-free trip to China.