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Before You Go To China – The Travel To China Checklist


by Ina Wold


Passport and Visa Requirements

When planning your trip to China, one of the most important steps is to ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your intended departure date. It is also crucial to check the visa requirements for your nationality before traveling, as obtaining the necessary visa is a mandatory step for entry into the country.


China has different visa categories, including tourist visas, business visas, and student visas, among others. The type of visa you need will depend on the purpose of your visit and the duration of your stay. It is advisable to apply for your visa well in advance to allow for processing time.


You can apply for a Chinese visa at the nearest Chinese embassy or consulate in your home country. The requirements may vary depending on your nationality, but generally, you will need to provide a completed visa application form, a recent passport-size photo, your passport, and supporting documents that prove the purpose of your visit, such as hotel reservations or an invitation letter from a business partner or educational institution.


Additionally, it is important to keep a copy of your passport and visa with you at all times while in China. This will serve as proof of your identity and visa status. Consider storing digital copies in a secure location, such as a cloud-based storage service or your email, in case of loss or theft.


It is worth noting that some areas in China, such as Tibet and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, have additional permit requirements for foreigners. If you plan to visit these regions, be sure to research and obtain the necessary permits before your trip.


Remember to also check for any travel advisories or restrictions that may be in place at the time of your visit. The information can be found on your government’s official travel website or by consulting with a travel agency specializing in China travel.


Health and Safety Preparations

Prior to your travel to China, it is important to prioritize your health and safety by taking certain precautions and making necessary preparations.


Firstly, it is highly recommended to consult with your healthcare provider or a travel medicine specialist at least several weeks before your trip. They will provide guidance on any required vaccinations or medications based on your medical history, the duration of your stay, and the specific regions you plan to visit. Common vaccinations for China include hepatitis A and B, typhoid, and Japanese encephalitis.


It is essential to have adequate travel insurance that covers medical expenses in case of illness or injury during your trip. Be sure to carefully review the policy coverage and understand any limitations or exclusions. Additionally, ensure you have access to emergency medical services by researching and noting down the contact details of hospitals and clinics in the areas you’ll be visiting.


When it comes to personal safety, it is advisable to stay informed about the current situation in the country and any potential risks or emergencies. Registering with your embassy or consulate before your trip can help them reach out to you in case of an emergency or if there are any updates or travel advisories issued.


China is generally a safe country for travelers, but like any other destination, it is important to take precautions to protect yourself and your belongings. Remember to always be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded areas, and keep a close eye on your personal belongings at all times. Use a money belt or a secure bag to carry your passport, cash, and other valuables, and be cautious of pickpockets in busy tourist areas.


It is also wise to familiarize yourself with the local laws and customs in China to avoid any unintentional misunderstandings or cultural faux pas. Respect the local traditions, customs, and values, and always ask for permission before photographing individuals or religious sites.


Lastly, remember to drink safe and clean water during your trip. It is recommended to drink bottled water or use water purification methods such as boiling or using water purification tablets.


By taking these health and safety preparations, you can enjoy a worry-free and enjoyable trip to China.


Currency and Banking

When traveling to China, it is important to familiarize yourself with the local currency and banking system to ensure a smooth financial experience during your trip.


The official currency in China is the Chinese Yuan (CNY) or Renminbi (RMB). It is advisable to exchange some currency before your departure, especially if you are arriving in a smaller city where currency exchange services may be limited. You can exchange your currency at banks, exchange offices, or even at the airport upon arrival.


China is gradually becoming more cashless, with mobile payment apps such as Alipay and WeChat Pay widely accepted in many establishments. These apps are convenient and widely used by locals and tourists alike. To use these mobile payment methods, you will need to link your international credit card to the app or set up a local bank account, which may require additional procedures.


ATMs are readily available throughout China, and major international debit and credit cards are accepted in larger cities and tourist areas. However, it is advisable to carry some cash for smaller establishments, markets, or remote areas where card payments may not be accepted.


If you plan to use your credit card in China, notify your card issuer in advance about your travel plans to avoid any potential issues with transactions being flagged as suspicious. Additionally, keep a record of your card numbers and contact information for lost or stolen cards.


It is worth noting that currency exchange rates and fees may vary depending on where you exchange your money. It is advisable to compare rates and fees to get the best value for your exchange. Avoid exchanging money with street vendors or unauthorized dealers to ensure the legitimacy of the currency.


In terms of banking services, Chinese banks typically have limited English support, especially in smaller cities. It is recommended to carry out any necessary banking activities, such as withdrawing cash or resolving banking issues, in larger cities or at banks with English-speaking staff.


Overall, while China is embracing digital payment methods, it is still advisable to have a mix of cash and cards to cater to different situations and establishments. By familiarizing yourself with the local currency and banking system, you can navigate your financial transactions smoothly and enjoy your time in China.


Communication and Internet Access

Staying connected and having access to the internet while traveling in China is vital for communication, navigation, and accessing important information. Here are some essential tips to ensure smooth communication and internet access during your trip.


Before you depart for China, contact your mobile service provider to check if your phone is compatible with Chinese networks and inquire about international roaming packages. In many cases, international roaming can be quite expensive, so it might be more cost-effective to purchase a local SIM card upon arrival.


Chinese telecom operators, such as China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom, offer affordable prepaid SIM cards with data packages. You can purchase these SIM cards at airports, convenience stores, or official stores of the telecom operators. Keep in mind that you will need your passport to register your SIM card.


Free Wi-Fi is widely available in hotels, restaurants, cafes, and even on public transportation in major cities. However, keep in mind that access to popular international websites and social media platforms may be restricted due to China’s internet censorship, commonly known as the Great Firewall. To bypass these restrictions, you can use a virtual private network (VPN) service to securely access the internet with an encrypted connection and gain access to blocked websites.


Popular messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Google Hangouts are also blocked in China. However, you can use WeChat, China’s dominant messaging and social media platform, which is widely used by locals and expats. WeChat offers messaging, voice and video calls, as well as a range of other features such as mobile payment, ride-hailing, and food delivery services.


If you need to make international calls during your stay in China, it is advisable to use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype, Google Voice, or WhatsApp calling, as traditional international calling can be expensive.


Lastly, it is important to note that English proficiency among the general population in China is limited, especially outside major cities. It can be helpful to have a translation app or phrasebook on your phone to assist in basic communication. Learning a few common Chinese phrases can also go a long way in bridging the language barrier and showcasing your effort to connect with the locals.


By familiarizing yourself with these communication and internet access tips, you can stay connected, navigate your way through China, and make the most of your travel experience.


Transportation Arrangements

When traveling in China, having a good understanding of the transportation options available will greatly enhance your journey and help you move around efficiently. Here are some essential tips for making transportation arrangements in China.


China boasts an extensive and efficient transportation network, which includes various options such as planes, trains, buses, and taxis. The country has a well-developed domestic flight system, making air travel a popular choice for long distances or reaching remote areas. Booking flights in advance is recommended to secure the best prices and availability.


The railway system in China is one of the most extensive in the world. High-speed trains, known as “G” and “D” trains, are a popular and convenient mode of transportation for domestic travel between major cities. Tickets can be purchased in advance online or at train stations. It is advisable to book your train tickets as early as possible, especially during peak travel seasons, to secure your preferred seats or cabins.


For shorter distances or reaching more rural areas, buses are a common and affordable option. China has an extensive bus network, and tickets can be purchased at bus stations or through online platforms. It is important to note that long-distance bus rides can be time-consuming, so plan your itinerary accordingly.


In urban areas, taxis and ride-hailing services are readily available. Taxis are an affordable option for short trips, and most drivers in major cities are familiar with basic English phrases and popular tourist destinations. Ride-hailing services such as Didi are widely used in China and can be booked through mobile apps. Be sure to download the relevant app and set up your payment options before your trip.


When using public transportation, it is advisable to have the names of your destinations written in Chinese characters or have a map with clear markings to show your desired location. This will help you communicate effectively with drivers or station staff who may have limited English proficiency.


If you plan to drive in China, be aware that a foreign driver’s license alone is not sufficient. You will need to obtain a temporary Chinese driver’s license, which can be obtained through specific procedures at designated locations. It is recommended to familiarize yourself with local traffic laws, as driving conditions and regulations may differ from your home country.


Lastly, keep in mind that travel times and road conditions can vary across different regions in China. Be prepared for possible delays due to heavy traffic or unforeseen circumstances.


By understanding and making appropriate transportation arrangements, you can navigate the vast landscape of China with ease and make the most of your travel experience.


Accommodation Reservations

When planning your trip to China, securing suitable accommodation is an essential aspect of your travel preparations. Here are some tips to help you make successful accommodation reservations in China.


China offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit different budgets and preferences. From luxury hotels to budget hostels, guesthouses, and homestays, you can find accommodations to fit your needs.


Before making reservations, consider the location and proximity to the attractions or areas you plan to visit. In major cities, it is advisable to choose accommodations near public transportation, making it convenient to explore the city.


Research and compare accommodation options online on reputable travel websites or use booking platforms that are commonly used in China, such as Ctrip, Qunar, or Booking.com. These platforms allow you to compare prices, read reviews, and make reservations in advance.


When booking accommodation, it is important to check the cancellation policy, as some hotels may have strict cancellation fees or non-refundable rates. It is advisable to book refundable or flexible cancellation options, especially if your travel plans may change.


Communicating your needs and preferences to the hotel staff is crucial. If you have any specific requirements, such as a non-smoking room, a certain bed type, or any accessibility needs, it is recommended to mention them during the reservation process or contact the hotel directly to ensure your needs are accommodated.


Consider the amenities and facilities offered by the accommodation, such as Wi-Fi access, breakfast options, laundry services, and 24-hour reception. These factors can greatly enhance your stay and provide convenience during your travels.


For a more immersive and authentic experience, you may consider staying in a traditional guesthouse or opting for a homestay. These options allow you to experience local culture and interact with locals, providing a unique perspective on your visit to China.


It is worth noting that during peak travel seasons, such as national holidays or major festivals, accommodations tend to be in high demand. Therefore, it is advisable to book well in advance to secure availability and better rates.


If you are unsure about the best areas to stay or need assistance in selecting accommodations, consider reaching out to local travel agencies or consulting with experienced travelers who have previously visited China.


By carefully researching and making accommodation reservations that suit your needs, you can enjoy a comfortable and pleasant stay during your time in China.


Language Basics and Cultural Etiquette

When traveling to China, understanding some basic language and cultural etiquette can greatly enhance your interactions with locals and help you navigate the cultural nuances of the country. Here are some language and cultural tips to keep in mind:



  • While Mandarin Chinese is the official language of China, there are numerous dialects spoken across different regions. However, Mandarin is widely understood and spoken, especially in major cities and tourist areas.
  • Learning a few basic Chinese phrases can go a long way in communication. Greetings such as “ni hao” (hello) and “xie xie” (thank you) are always appreciated. You can also use translation apps or carry a pocket dictionary to help bridge any language barriers.
  • English proficiency among the general population in China may be limited, especially outside major cities. It is helpful to have a translation app or phrasebook on your phone to assist in basic communication.
  • When speaking to someone who may have limited English skills, speak slowly and clearly, and use simple sentences or gestures to convey your message.

Cultural Etiquette:

  • Respect for elders is highly valued in Chinese culture. Addressing someone as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” followed by their last name, or using proper titles such as “Lao” for older individuals, shows respect.
  • Physical contact, such as hugging or kissing, is not common in Chinese culture. Instead, a handshake or a slight bow is more appropriate when greeting someone for the first time.
  • It is polite to wait for your host or the most senior person to initiate the start of a meal before you begin eating. Additionally, it is customary to leave a small amount of food on your plate at the end of the meal to show that you have been well-fed.
  • Public displays of affection, such as kissing or holding hands, are generally not common in Chinese culture. It is advisable to be mindful of cultural norms and act respectfully when in public.
  • When visiting temples or other religious sites, dress modestly and avoid wearing revealing clothing. Be aware of any signs or instructions regarding appropriate behavior and photography.
  • Chinese culture places a strong emphasis on saving face and maintaining harmony. Avoid confrontations or raising your voice in public. Instead, approach disagreements or issues calmly and respectfully.
  • When visiting someone’s home, it is customary to bring a small gift or token of appreciation, such as fruit, pastries, or a souvenir from your home country.

By being mindful of language basics and cultural etiquette, you can show respect for local customs and traditions, fostering positive interactions and memorable experiences during your time in China.


Weather and Packing Essentials

Understanding the weather conditions and packing appropriate essentials are crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable trip to China. Here are some tips to help you prepare for the varying weather conditions you may encounter:




China is a vast country with diverse climates due to its size and topography. It is essential to consider the specific regions and seasons you plan to visit when packing for your trip.

  • Spring (March to May): Spring in China can vary in temperature, with cool mornings and evenings and warmer afternoons. Pack layers such as light jackets, sweaters, and long-sleeved shirts, along with a light raincoat or umbrella as there may be occasional showers.
  • Summer (June to August): Summers in China are generally hot and humid, especially in the southern regions. Pack lightweight, breathable clothing such as t-shirts, shorts, and dresses. Don’t forget essentials such as sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and insect repellent.
  • Autumn (September to November): Autumn offers pleasant weather with mild temperatures. Pack versatile clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, light jackets, and jeans. Layers are useful as temperatures can vary throughout the day. It is also advisable to pack a light raincoat or umbrella.
  • Winter (December to February): Winters in China can be cold, especially in the north. Pack warm clothing such as sweaters, coats, gloves, scarves, and thermal underlayers. It is essential to have sturdy, insulated footwear for walking on potentially icy surfaces.

Packing Essentials:

  • A comfortable and sturdy pair of walking shoes is essential for exploring the various attractions and navigating the often busy streets in China.
  • A daypack or a small bag is useful for carrying your essentials during day trips or sightseeing excursions.
  • Electrical adapters and chargers are necessary to ensure your electronic devices can be used and charged in China. China operates on a 220V electrical system.
  • It is advisable to carry a small medical kit containing essentials such as pain relievers, band-aids, and any necessary prescription medications.
  • A reusable water bottle is handy for staying hydrated, especially during long days of sightseeing.
  • Travel-sized toiletries are useful for your personal hygiene needs. Remember to carry tissues or toilet paper as some public restrooms may not provide them.
  • A valid ID or a copy of your passport and visa should be carried with you at all times.

It is also worth considering the cultural norms and modesty when it comes to clothing choices. In more conservative areas, it is advisable to dress more modestly and avoid revealing clothing.


By being prepared and packing the appropriate essentials, you can stay comfortable and adapt to the varying weather conditions during your travels in China.


Travel Insurance

Obtaining travel insurance is a vital aspect of your trip planning when visiting China. It provides financial protection and peace of mind in case of unforeseen events or emergencies. Here are some key points to consider when choosing travel insurance for your trip to China:




Make sure the travel insurance policy you select provides comprehensive coverage for medical expenses, emergency medical evacuation, trip cancellation or interruption, baggage loss or delay, and personal liability. It is advisable to carefully review the policy and understand the coverage limits, exclusions, and any additional options or add-ons available.


Medical Coverage:


China has both western-style hospitals and traditional Chinese medicine hospitals, but medical costs can be high for foreigners. Ensure that your travel insurance policy includes adequate medical coverage, including hospitalization, doctor visits, medical treatments, and emergency medical evacuation if needed. Check that the coverage also includes pre-existing medical conditions if applicable.


Emergency Assistance:


Look for a travel insurance policy that offers 24/7 emergency assistance services. This can be valuable in case of medical emergencies, lost or stolen passports, or other travel-related emergencies. Having access to a dedicated hotline that provides multilingual assistance can make a significant difference in stressful situations.


Trip Cancellation or Interruption:


Life is unpredictable, and unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family emergencies, or natural disasters can disrupt your travel plans. Ensure that your travel insurance policy covers trip cancellation or interruption, allowing you to recoup non-refundable expenses such as flights, accommodations, and tour bookings.


Personal Belongings:


While in China, it is essential to protect your personal belongings such as your passport, electronics, and valuables. Ensure that your travel insurance includes coverage for baggage loss, damage, or theft. Take note of any specific limitations, such as the maximum reimbursement for single items or valuable items.


Financial Protection:


In the event of unexpected travel mishaps or emergencies, travel insurance can provide financial protection and reimbursement for expenses incurred. It safeguards you from significant financial losses and allows you to travel with confidence and peace of mind.


Policy Details:


Before purchasing travel insurance, carefully read and understand the policy details, including the terms and conditions, coverage limits, deductibles, and any exclusions. It is advisable to compare quotes and coverage from different insurance providers to choose the policy that best suits your needs and budget.


Having valid travel insurance is not only a smart financial decision but also a crucial aspect of responsible travel. It ensures that you are well-protected and prepared for any unexpected situations that may arise during your trip to China.


Vaccinations and Medications

Prior to your trip to China, it is important to take precautions to protect your health and well-being by ensuring that you are up to date on vaccinations and carrying any necessary medications. Here are some key points to consider:




Checking with your healthcare provider or a travel medicine specialist is crucial to determine which vaccinations are recommended for your trip to China. The specific vaccinations required may vary depending on factors such as your current vaccination status, the duration of your stay, and the regions you plan to visit. However, there are certain vaccinations that are generally recommended for travelers to China:

  • Hepatitis A and B: These vaccines protect against viral infections that can be transmitted through contaminated food, water, or bodily fluids.
  • Typhoid: This vaccine protects against typhoid fever, which can be contracted through contaminated food and water.
  • Japanese Encephalitis: This vaccine is recommended for travelers planning to visit rural areas or during the peak transmission season of this mosquito-borne disease.
  • Tetanus and Diphtheria: Ensuring that your routine vaccinations, such as tetanus and diphtheria, are up to date is important before any travel.

It is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional at least several weeks before your trip to allow sufficient time for vaccinations to take effect.




If you have any underlying medical conditions or require specific medications, it is important to ensure that you have an adequate supply for the duration of your trip. Consider carrying a little more medication than you would typically need and keep them in their original packaging, labeled with your name and dosage instructions. Some additional points to consider:

  • Prescription Medications: If you take prescription medications, carry a copy of your prescriptions or a letter from your healthcare provider, especially for controlled substances.
  • Over-the-Counter Medications: It is wise to carry a basic travel medical kit containing over-the-counter medications, such as pain relievers, antihistamines, diarrhea medication, and any other medications you commonly use.
  • Allergies: If you have any known allergies, especially to medications or food, ensure that you have appropriate medication, such as epinephrine auto-injectors, readily available.
  • Altitude Sickness: If you plan to visit high-altitude regions, consider discussing with your healthcare provider about medication options for altitude sickness prevention or treatment.

It is important to note that the recommendations for vaccinations and medications may change over time. Stay updated with the latest information by consulting with your healthcare provider or checking the official websites of health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO).


By taking the necessary precautions and ensuring that you have the appropriate vaccinations and medications, you can minimize health risks and enjoy a safe and healthy trip to China.


Important Contact Information

Having access to important contact information while traveling in China is essential for your safety, convenience, and peace of mind. Here are some key contacts to have on hand during your trip:


Emergency Services:

  • Police: In case of any emergency or if you need assistance, contact the police by dialing 110.
  • Ambulance: For medical emergencies, dial 120 to reach an ambulance.
  • Fire Department: If there is a fire or any other fire-related emergency, dial 119 to contact the fire department.

Embassy or Consulate:

  • Make a note of the contact details (phone number, address, and email) of your country’s embassy or consular services in China. This information can be crucial in case of passport loss or theft, issues with legal matters, or if you need assistance from your home country’s government during your stay.

Local Assistance:

  • Hotel Reception: Keep the contact information for your hotel reception readily available. They can assist with local inquiries, arranging transportation, or providing assistance in case of any issues during your stay.
  • Tourist Police: Many popular tourist destinations in China have a dedicated tourist police force. These officers can assist tourists with any safety concerns or incidents related to tourism. Inquire about the tourist police contact information at your destination or through the local tourist information center.

Consular Services:

  • Foreign Embassy or Consulate: If you require assistance from your home country’s embassy or consulate, having their contact information readily available is crucial. Be sure to include both the phone numbers and email addresses of the relevant embassy or consulate.

Travel Insurance Company:

  • Emergency Assistance Hotline: Keep the emergency assistance hotline number for your travel insurance company with you at all times. This number can be contacted in case of medical emergencies, travel-related emergencies, or any other incidents covered by your travel insurance policy.

Language Assistance:

  • Translation App or Phrasebook: Install a reliable translation app on your phone or carry a handy phrasebook to assist with communication in case of language barriers.

It is advisable to store these contact numbers in your phone, write them down in a travel journal, or have them easily accessible in case of emergencies. It is also helpful to share this information with a trusted travel companion or a family member back home.


By having important contact information readily available, you can ensure quick and efficient assistance in case of any emergencies or unforeseen circumstances during your travel in China.


Travel Itinerary Planning

Planning your travel itinerary for your trip to China allows you to make the most of your time and experience the diverse attractions and cultural highlights the country has to offer. Here are some tips to help you plan an efficient and enjoyable travel itinerary:


Research and Prioritize:


Start by researching the top attractions and destinations in China. Consider your interests, whether it’s historical sites, natural landscapes, cultural experiences, or culinary delights. Make a list of must-see places and prioritize them based on your time constraints and personal preferences.


Duration of Stay:


China is a vast country with much to explore. Determine how much time you have available for your trip and allocate sufficient time in each destination. Take into account travel distances, transportation options, and the days you may need for acclimatization or rest.




Consider the transportation options available and plan your itinerary accordingly. Determine whether you will be traveling by plane, train, or bus, and factor in travel times, checking for any pre-booking requirements or potential delays. Optimize your itinerary to minimize backtracking and ensure smooth transitions between destinations.




Avoid cramming too many destinations into a short period, as this can leave you feeling rushed and exhausted. Aim for a balance of activities and allow sufficient time to explore each place. Consider including a mix of bustling cities, serene rural areas, and historical sites to get a well-rounded experience of China.


Local Festivals and Events:


Check if there are any local festivals or events taking place during your visit. Incorporating these cultural celebrations into your itinerary can provide unique and memorable experiences. Plan ahead for any special events or ticket reservations that may be required.


Local Customs and Holidays:


Take into account any significant holidays or local customs that may impact your travel plans. Some attractions or businesses may have altered operating hours or be closed during holidays. Researching and considering these factors will help you plan accordingly and make the most of your visit.




While it is good to have a well-planned itinerary, allow for flexibility. Leave room for unexpected discoveries or spontaneous detours. Don’t be afraid to deviate from your original plan if you hear about interesting local recommendations or opportunities for unique experiences.


Travel Documents and Reservations:


Ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your intended departure date and that you have obtained any necessary visas. Make copies of your travel documents, including passports, visas, and travel insurance details. Keep a digital copy stored securely as well.


Consult Local Resources:


Consult online travel forums, guidebooks, or seek advice from experienced travelers who have visited China. Local tourism information centers or travel agencies can also provide valuable insights and assistance in itinerary planning.


Remember, the purpose of your itinerary is to provide structure and enhance your travel experience, but don’t feel pressured to adhere strictly to it. Allow for flexibility and embrace the spontaneous moments that may arise during your journey through this captivating country.