The following sections will give you a good idea of what practical issues to expect in-country so that you can prepare accordingly.
Most visitors will need a visa. Visas are not available on arrival (yet).
The regulations for Chinese visa applications change frequently and it is well worth applying some time in advance or through a visa service to be sure of having time to comply with any special requirements. Do not apply too early. Most visas are issued with a validity for entry within 90 days.
Most travellers on one of our Journeys will manage on a single entry tourist visa valid for 30 days. If you plan on leaving the mainland and returning (see Special Cases: Hong Kong and Macau below) you will need either a double or multiple entry visa.
Officially you are supposed to have a return air-ticket to get a Chinese visa. You are unlikely to need proof of this any more but you may have an issue whilst checking-in to your international flight if you cannot demonstrate compliance.
You are required to register your place of residence with the local Public Security Bureau within 24 hours of arrival. Chinese authorities actively enforce this requirement. If you are staying in a hotel, registration is done on your behalf as part of the check-in process.
Hong Kong and Macau remain separate geographic entities in terms of visas. This is as a result of the handover agreements.
Most travellers do not need a visa to enter Hong Kong but should be aware that a visit to Hong Kong counts as leaving mainland China. If your travel plans require you to return to mainland China after Hong Kong then you will need a double (or multiple) entry visa.
If you request a double entry visa in your application you should check that this has been issued when your passport is returned.
You should take out an appropriate insurance policy to cover any journey abroad. It is one of ourthat you have a suitable policy before joining one of our Journeys.
You should consider what policy is best for you carefully. Look especially at the cover for accidents abroad. You will want all medical costs to be covered, including repatriation if necessary. Other matters such as lost luggage and delays are nice but less vital. Read the small print to be sure that all the activities that you are planning to undertake are covered. It is better to declare all relevant medical conditions rather than risk having your policy declared invalid when you need it most.
The territory of China is vast and the weather varies accordingly. The following patterns are typical but we have put recommendations to more accurate representations on our Links page.
The North experiences extremely cold winters with little precipitation. The south is sub-tropical. A monsoon moves northwards from about May reaching the north in late June/early July. Summers are therefore hotter but wetter. This leaves Spring and Autumn as the two most pleasant seasons, with Autumn the best.
The east coast experiences a milder climate whilst the centre and far-west experience more extremes. Tibet, being of a considerably higher elevation, is generally colder.
Cold weather can come unexpectedly from the north-west (Siberia) at any time. Sand and dust storms can seriously hinder transportation in the Spring in the far-west and sometimes affect the north, including Beijing.
We strongly recommend that you travel light. You should be able to manage with a small wheelie-bag and a daypack. If you find you have much more than this then review every item and query when you will need it. If the answer is 'Just in case' then take it out.
There is much good writing on this subject. We have included pointers to some of the most appropriate on our Links page.
The currency is known by various terms: internationally it is known as the Chinese Yuan (CNY); by the government as Renminbi (People's Money) and colloquially as kuai (like 'quid').
Notes are produced in 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 yuan denominations. There are several series in circulation though most of the old larger notes have been replaced now. Coins exist for 1 yuan and smaller amounts. You will probably find these an inconvenience as they are almost worthless.
Counterfeit money has been a serious problem. Visitors are often targeted as they know less about the features that exist to aid detection. If in doubt ask your guide for some pointers.
Cash and traveller's cheques can be exchanged only at certain branches of the Bank of China (not to be confused with other banks with similar names). ATMs with connections to the international banking system are becoming widely available and make for a convenient means of obtaining local cash. It is best to carry several alternatives, including emergency funds.
Credit cards will rarely be accepted by any of the places you are likely to spend money.
China is generally a very safe place for visitors. There is very little street crime though there are some opportunists so it is always necessary to keep your valuables safely within view. Many passports are lost each year in bag snatches and, since these are required to prove your identity for flights and hotels, the inconvenience caused can be considerable. It is well worth having one safe place to keep this item as it is not as easily replaced as cash.
Part of the check-in process at hotels is to register your presence with the PSB. This is automatic and you need do nothing special. It is worth bearing this in mind because, if there is an incident, this registration will help identify you and to put the authorities in touch with our local agents who will then be in a position to help you.
The best way to stay in touch with home is by email. Internet cafes are easy to find and cheap, and many hotels offer some form of connection in the room or business centre.
Many mobile phones with a roaming service will work in-country. Check with your provider before leaving home. SIM cards are reasonably cheap and you could get a local number if appropriate.
To make calls by land-line you have several options:
Ask your guide for specific guidance on the two types of card as there are both provincial and national style cards, and expiry dates to consider.
Posting cards, letters and parcels is relatively easy from any major post office. Items going into parcels must be inspected by the counter clerk so it is usually best just to take these to the post office and allow the clerk to do the packing as well; they are experienced and do a good job. For important documents and parcels you may want to use the EMS service which can be tracked on-line.
Taxis are generally the best option for sightseeing. It pays to have the place you want to go written in characters. Do not assume that a taxi driver will be able to read a map.
Taxis are metered, with the rate clearly displayed on a label on a rear window. It is not normal to pay extra for luggage. All taxis have a number to call if there is a problem. Often the threat of taking this number down is enough to solve minor disputes.
Public buses are crowded and, since routes are rarely written in English, can be difficult to use. This means that few visitors bother to even try despite them being the cheapest option.
Many of the major cities have a metro system, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. These are all modern and relatively simple to use. Fares are generally of the order of just a few yuan for any route you are likely to use. In most cases you can buy tickets at an office. Sometimes you need to use a machine but in such cases there are always staff around to help.
The mainland gets a poor press when it comes to health issues. You are unlikely to suffer stomach problems, other than those associated with a change of diet, and perhaps the biggest risk is of some form of respiratory problem; a minor infection or reaction to pollution in some of the more industrial cities. You do not need to carry a huge array of medicines as many standard western ones are available over the counter at pharmacies.
If you have a medical condition that requires attention you should disclose this when booking and to your Journey Guide. If you are taking medication then ensure you have sufficient stock to last for your entire trip, with spares. If any medication requires needles then it is best to have a note from your doctor to explain these both for your flight and in case of an issue in-country.
You may be tempted to try Traditional Chinese Medicine whilst in-country. This can be a good experience and you should keep an open mind.
See In An Emergency below for advice about help should you suffer from something more serious.
There are no specific health requirements for travellers arriving in China. However, the Chinese authorities are concerned about the spread of H1N1 Avian Flu and many travellers have been quarantined on arrival if they or another passenger on their flight has shown symptoms.
You can read more about this and other health issues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Travel Advice for China.
You should consult your physician before travelling to China to obtain the most recent recommendations for innoculations and other measures to keep you healthy during your journey. It is always worth showing your physician your itinerary so that they can get specific details of the places you will visit.
The food should be a highlight. We have included most meals in our Journeys such that your guide can select a good range based on their local knowledge whilst taking account of the group's expressed preferences and actual consumption.
A phrasebook can be useful for ordering when it comes to other meals and snacks. Otherwise, it is perfectly acceptable to point at either the raw ingredients, pictures on the wall or other customer's dishes to get the message across. Prices should be displayed, and these often seem cheap by comparison. Only western foods in tourist spots may seem expensive.
There will be many opportunities to try snacks in the street. Do not hesitate to try these on health grounds; the traditional styles of cooking use fresh ingredients and high temperatures so you have a very low risk of becoming sick.
The standard of public toilets in-country is poor though improving. Almost all public toilets are of the 'squat' variety.
Ensure that you have your own paper and dispose of this in the bin not down the hole as it will block the pipes.
There should be a wash basin outside the toilet though rarely with soap. It pays to take your own soap or, better still, one of the alcohol gel products designed for travellers.
There will be opportunities for shopping throughout the trip - though we never take you shopping for the purpose of collecting commissions.
You may well choose to purchase local items for gifts or souvenirs. In many cases you will need to bargain to reach an acceptable price. Please see our comments onfor guidance on bargaining.
You will either have to carry the items you buy or post them onwards. Posting is more convenient but always involves some risk of breakage or loss.
The electricity supply in China is 220V. A typical wall socket will have multiple pin slots as shown below:
Older hotels (and other buildings) may only have the 2-round-pin sockets.
Earthing is not used and fuses are rarely appropriate. It is wise to avoid high-current appliances.
The supply in Hong Kong is largely based around the UK 3-square-pin system though the supply is 220V. Shaver sockets with 2-round-pins can also be found, usually with both 110V and 220V in the same outlet.
Should you be unfortunate enough to be involved in an emergency it is essential to get help. For your peace of mind at this stage, the list below identifies those who have a duty to help you and points out some of the limits of those duties. You will be given relevant telephone numbers before joining one of our China Journeys.
The key to dealing with an emergency effectively is to remain calm. Try to organise your thoughts and then call for help. If you can decide where to seek the most appropriate help and can communicate your location and problem then a solution is not far off.
If you can't find a standard holiday to suit, or a combination that gives you exactly what you would like, then let us put together a tailor-made package just for you.
Small-group travel has cost advantages but it cannot be as flexible as you may require. If you want the freedom to design your itinerary, and even to make changes once in country, then the best solution is to opt for a Tailor-made Journey.
Choosing an itinerary can be quite daunting. We recommend that you contact us early on in your planning. We will help draw out your goals and then offer recommendations based on those.
If you prefer to start an email conversation then please write to Tailor-made Journeys