Next week, I'll be heading to Shanghai for CES Asia. Although I travelled to various parts of Asia before, this will be my first trip to China. And, it turns out, there's a bunch of stuff I had to learn along the way to prepare for the trip.
As a journalist, there are a few extra hoops I need to jump through but there are plenty of tips people have shared with me along the way. Here's what I've learned about travelling to China.
Get the right visa
China has some quite strict visa requirements depending on your reason for travel.
There are some visa-free entry options for China from Australia but if you're planning to do anything business-related you'll need the right type of visa.
There are 16 different visa types for entry into China from Australia. Many of the business-related visas require a letter of introduction from a Chinese company. That letter is critical.
There's a summary of each Chinese visa type.
In my case, as I am planning to make a single entry into China as a journalist, I needed a J2 visa. I had to provide a bunch of information to the people inviting me and they submitted paperwork to the Chinese visa processing centre I was planning to go to. Depending on the visa type, there are also strict timing requirements.
For example, and these are probably the most stringent rules, I had to enter China within 30 days of the visa being issued and stay for no more than 30 days. I had to provide a detailed itinerary of my travel and accommodation arrangements, as well as a photocopy of my passport ID page and other documents.
When I arrived to apply for my visa, there was already paperwork waiting with my name and passport details. I provided the documentation that was needed, handed over my passport and a couple of days later I returned to the processing centre to pay the fees and retrieve my passport with the visa permanently added.
The TL;DR - pay close attention to the visa requirements, choose the right type of visa and have all the required paperwork.
I'll also be carrying copies of all the required documents with me just in case there's a problem at customs.
Plugging in my various gadgets - I'm planning to take a laptop, smartphone and tablet - means ensuring I have appropriate power adaptors.
Power in China is delivered at 220v and 50Hz.
The two flat-pin plug is most common but I've been warned to look out for Australian and European outlets as well.
I have a couple of multi-adaptors. I always carry one in my carry-on luggage as well my checked baggage (along with a change of clothes in carry-on just in case of a luggage SNAFU)
Good phrases to know
Fortunately, my hosts provided my with a list of words and phrases that will help me get around.
- Ni hao -hello!
- Nǐ hǎo ma - how are you?
- Wǒ jiào… - My name is…
- Xièxiè - thank you!
- Zàijiàn - goodbye
- Hǎo - good
- Bù hǎo - bad
- Yao - want
- Bu yao - don’t want!
- Duì bu qǐ - I’m sorry
- Nǐ huì shuō yīng yǔ ma? - Do you speak English?
- Zhè ge duō shao qián? - How much is it?
- Xǐshǒujiān zài nǎlǐ? - Where is the bathroom?
But I'll also be taking a translation app with me.
Although I've travelled quite a bit, I've learned to take the time to understand local customs and expectations. On my first trip to Japan, I was told to ensure I dressed in smart business attire (jacket and shirt, no denim). Other journalists didn't pay attention to that instruction and found that local officials we me with were reticent to talk with them.
Researching local business etiquette is critical for ensuring people will want to engage with you.
Some of the "rules" for this trip are:
- Return applause when applauded
- Be sure to show up on time. Punctuality is considered a virtue in China
- Greet others by using a handshake or a nod
- Address the eldest or most senior person first. This is done as a sign of respect to those in a more senior position
- Business cards are exchanged after the initial introduction. Make sure to accept business cards with both hands and have a good supply of your own cards to reciprocate
- Be patient, as Chinese people tend to take more time to communicate their point. Raising your voice or showing anger or frustration may result in you being completely ignored
- Receive compliments humbly, with responses such as "Not at all" or "It was nothing"
- Make an effort to keep discussion harmonious and balanced
Of course, criticising the local culture or government are big no-nos, as are actions such as pointing at someone in conversation, handshaking too hard or raising your voice.
Listen to the locals
Although I've been reading up on Chinese culture I'm not an expert. Paying attention to local guides and taking the advice of the people who invited me are critical. I expect that I will be asking my hosts and local colleagues for advice along the way.
Score a cheap flight
When it comes to travel packages, China consistently offers some of the biggest savings around. You can get big discounts on Chinese flights, hotels and tours by monitoring the specials on travel merchants' websites.
Here are some good places to bookmark and compare. (Note: The following links will take you directly to each site's current China deals.)