Anyone contemplating a business trip to China who is not familiar with the country might benefit from the following tips.
The tips are from Coley Dale of Ctrip, an online travel company in Shanghai.
Money and Credit Cards
Arrive with cash on hand so that you can exchange it for local currency, which you will need for incidentals like cabs and other transportation. Money is easily exchanged at the airport and most hotels. American ATM cards connected to major networks work in most large Chinese cities. Hotels, restaurants, tour companies, and shops in the larger cities will accept most major credit cards, but it is wise to carry two different types such as a Visa and MasterCard to be safe. Also, be aware that many businesses impose a surcharge for the use of foreign credit cards so paying cash can provide a cost savings.
If you try to use credit cards while traveling yet haven’t told the issuers when you will be in China, you might have your card suspended for suspicion of fraud. To avoid this hassle, call your credit card companies before you depart so they know that you’ll be in China. Still, even with such precaution, some ATMs might not permit you to make withdrawals with credit cards and you’ll have to shop around to find one that does. Also, it pays to check with your credit card and ATM issuers to see what rates they charge for usage in China since fees and percentages vary considerably.
Even if it is possible to use your existing cell phone and carrier while in China, such usage can be expensive due to high roaming charges. Check your carrier’s rates from China before traveling. If you have a China-compatible SIM card phone (call your carrier to check), you can easily buy a prepaid SIM card to replace your current SIM card. A more expensive option is to buy prepaid phone cards which are sold throughout China and can be used from most phones. One of the most economical communications tools is Skype which works over most Internet connections in China.
High-speed Internet access is available at most hotels with business customers. Fast WiFi is increasingly common throughout China and can be used for free in many coffee shops and restaurants. And while some U.S. websites like Facebook and Twitter are blocked, accessing and using the Internet in China will seem quite familiar for the most part. However, if you try to use Google and don’t understand Chinese, you will likely be frustrated since searches are routed through Google in Hong Kong and the buttons appear in Chinese characters.
90% of the hotels in China are not brand names that most Westerners recognize. Yet the country offers a wide range of accommodations that compare quite favorably with options found in Western countries. Ctrip, China’s largest online travel provider, features the country’s most comprehensive online hotel database and a best price guarantee.
The best airfares to China from U.S. cities can often be found with Chinese airlines, which are growing dramatically and offer some of the world’s newest planes and experienced flight crews. Within China itself, increased competition amongst airlines means that there are many discounts offered for domestic flight tickets.
It’s not necessary to speak Mandarin to travel comfortably in China – especially in the big cities where there are many English speakers. However, learning basic conversational terms can go a long way to demonstrating your genuine interest in Chinese culture which will make a positive impression on those you meet. Two excellent Mandarin learning tools are ChinesePod (online language lessons) and Rosetta Stone (interactive CDs). Or, consider downloading free or low-cost Mandarin languages apps for your smart phone such as those from Odyssey Translator and WorldNomads which translate basic words and phrases from English into Mandarin.
For additional tips on planning a successful business trip to China, click here.