But there are a few important points to consider and some handy tips if you are visiting China for the first time.
To enter, you’ll need a visa and a word of warning, the process takes time and has a fee attached (as of 2017, AUD $110 per person). It can take up to two weeks to process and you need to hand over in person, or post, your passport to your closest Chinese Visa Processing Centre.
- Application form: Chinese Visa application forms can be downloaded here. http://www.visaforchina.org/ These forms need to be handed in with your passport at the time of application with your payment.
You may be requested to provide the past two years of travel on a separate form if your passport is less than two years old. The processing centre will advise this at the time of application.
To apply for your visa in person, Chinese Visa Processing Centres are located in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Perth.
72-hour Transit Free Visa
If you are connecting through China to a different country within 72-hours of arrival, there is a new visa-free option to consider. To access this option, passengers need a confirmed onward ticket presented at the time of check-in and arrival.
The major cities have large, efficient subway systems plus high speed trains connecting towns and cities at speeds of over 200 kilometres per hour.
Expect the trains to be crowded at all times of the day. It’s not uncommon to have to wait to board due to the sheer volume of people. Avoid peak working hours if you can.
Before departing, download a subway app such as the free “China Metro” (IOS and Android). Most transport apps can be used offline without wifi or cellular access and are invaluable in helping to plan your journey.
In larger cities, the subway wall maps are usually in both Mandarin and English.
The roads are also congested at all hours of the day in the major cities but taxis are plentiful and cheap compared to Australian prices.
Ensure that the meter is turned on when you enter a taxi though to avoid any surprises or unpleasant ‘negotiations’. As taxis are generally inexpensive, for shorter rides it can be difficult to find a willing driver at times.
Often cabs do not have seatbelts in the back seat but they do in the front. They may not always be the cleanest forms of transport but they do provide a cheap and convenient way to get around.
TIP: Take your hotel or accommodation business card with you to show the taxi driver. Often the business card has a map, or at the very least, the address in Mandarin as the majority of drivers will not speak English.
While there is Uber cars in China, you need a Chinese credit card and mobile phone to be able to access the ride-share service. But with taxis being so cheap, you won’t generally require Uber services.
At restaurants, a 10% service charge is generally included, or added to your bill, so tipping is not required. While it’s not expected, if you do receive exceptional service, a small tip is appreciated.
Most major credit cards are accepted throughout China. Hotels, larger restaurants, shopping malls and tour operators all widely accept credit cards. If you’re not sure when visiting a smaller restaurant, it pays to ask first to avoid any issues. Generally speaking, cash is king and recommended where possible.
If it’s a name brand or label, then China will stock it. In main shopping malls and stores, you will pay a similar price to what you would in Australia. But expect in markets and hutongs (traditional shopping alleyways scattered throughout cities) that you are not buying the real deal. So, in these cases, haggle your heart out.
TIP: When bargaining, start by offering 10% of what they ask. If you don’t get the price you want, simply walk away and they will chase you if they want the sale. If they don’t come after you, then you know you went too low. But never fear, there is always another vendor close by selling the same items. It always pays to shop around.
Always watch your money when transacting, and don’t use anything larger than a 100 Yuan note (about AUD $20). On occasion, it has been reported that a vendor will hand back the 100 yuan note and say it’s no good but in fact they have kept your good note, and switched it for a counterfeit. As with travel everywhere, stay vigilant when transacting.
Due to the language barriers, organised tours are the most popular and recommended way to get around and see the sights in China.
Wi-Fi and internet
You will have no access to Google, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Other sites may also be blocked. While major hotels will have TV networks such as CNN and BBC on occasions, the content may be blacked out or censored.
Air quality and pollution
It’s a fact of life in China that some days are going to be heavy with pollution and you may need to wear a face mask to walk outside. It could be fine and clear skies in the morning but the air may thicken to become a health hazard in the afternoon.
Download a free air quality App before you leave (Beijing Air Quality has several cities listed) so you can monitor pollution levels daily. Anything under pollution level of 80-90 AQI (Air Quality index) is generally acceptable but may cause irritation to the eyes and throat. Having eye drops can help flush the eyes if required. (By comparison, Brisbane for example averages 25-30 AQI each day).
Airports: As with most airports around the world, security is always tight. China may be a little more strict with additional checkpoints for tickets and passports. Even for domestic flights, only ticketed passengers can enter the gate area.
Subways: It’s not unusual to have an x-ray machine in subways that scan bags and backpacks. Attendants with metal detector wands often scan you as well. This is a very quick process though and not as stringent a check as you would find at an airport.
Main tourist attractions: As with subways, x-ray machines for bags, security officials, armed guards, military or general uniformed or undercover police presence will be visible. They do blend in after a while and although it’s very rare that a Western tourist would be stopped, it can happen.
Streets: There will be times where you will be approached in the street, especially around the main tourist areas and asked where you come from and ‘do you speak English?’
A friendly conversation may start at which time you could be asked to go for coffee or a drink. DO NOT accept these invitations. They can lead to back alleys, illegal shops selling fake goods, fake art studios or worse. Simply say “no drinks thanks” and keep walking.
TIP: Always carry your passport with you (concealed). Some larger sites and attractions, such as the Forbidden City and parts of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, will require a passport to enter and purchase tickets.
Published under license from Well Travelled.