33 Best Things To Know Before Visiting China 2024

As an avid traveller who has explored extensively across Asia, I was filled with equal parts excitement and anxiety when planning my first ever trip to China. Even as an experienced globetrotter.

I knew China would be totally different from anywhere I had ventured before. And it was! Those initial weeks in China definitely involved some hilarious missteps, confusing mishaps and newbie mistakes on my part.

Things To Know When Travelling To China

Looking back now after dozens of return trips, it makes me chuckle remembering my earliest China adventures.

I can share hard-won advice to help first timers avoid the same snafus I made. Having proper expectations about China before you embark, my definitive China pre-travel guide highlights key things every new visitor should know beforehand – from vital apps to download like WeChat, packing tips like “BYOTP” (bring your own toilet paper), to navigating bizarre-but-tasty foods, transportation tricks and more.

Best Things To Know Before Visiting China

thing to before you go to China

This comprehensive guide is packed with 30+ essential things to know before visiting China. From cultural nuances to practical tips, each point is detailed with real-life examples and local stories with these China travel tips, offering an engaging and insightful read for everything you need to know on how to prepare for a trip to China.

1. Understanding Chinese Visa Requirements

Before you go to China, it’s crucial to familiarise yourself with their visa policies. Unlike some destinations, China requires most travellers to obtain a visa before arrival.

The process involves filling out an application form, submitting a passport-sized photo, an itinerary or an invitation letter. Remember, the type of visa you need depends on the nature of your visit.

Whether it’s a tourist, business, or student visa, each has its specific requirements and validity periods. Planning a trip to China without a proper visa can result in being denied entry, which is a situation best avoided.

2. Understanding the Language Barrier

One of the most important China travel tips is to prepare for the language barrier. While Mandarin is the official language, dialects vary widely. English is taught in schools, however proficiency varies greatly.

Carry a translation app or a phrasebook to help with basic communication. Interestingly, learning a few Mandarin phrases not only eases interactions but also endears you to locals.

Learn how to say basics like “hello,” “thank you,” “how much does this cost” and “where is the bathroom.” Be sure to practice proper tonal pronunciation too. Apps like Pleco can translate menus or signs in a pinch too, these are a must know before visiting China. Locals appreciate when visitors try their language.

3. Cash is King

This is one of the top things to do before going to China. In China, cash still reigns supreme, especially in smaller towns and rural areas.

While larger cities have embraced digital payments through WeChat Pay or Alipay, always carry some cash for small vendors, taxis, and in places where digital payments aren’t accepted.

Understanding China’s currency, the Renminbi (RMB), and keeping smaller denominations handy can make transactions smoother.

As a first-time visitor to China, carry some cash, but set up a digital wallet if possible. I learned this the hard way when I couldn’t buy a train ticket with cash at a small station.

4. Use Alipay Over Credit Cards

alipay scaled

Instead of stressing about whether your credit card will work abroad or dealing with foreign transaction fees, simply use Alipay. As a traveller, setting up these apps can be tricky due to the need for a Chinese bank account.

However, for foreigners visiting China, Alipay now offers a short-term feature known as Tour Pass.It serves the same purpose as WeChat Pay, allowing cashless payments through your mobile device, but has wider merchant acceptance internationally.

Set up Alipay and link your credit card before departure, this is one of the best things to know when going to China. Carrying small amounts of local currency in a money belt as backup is still wise though.

5. Brace for Culture Shock

Beijing China

Even seasoned travellers experience some degree of culture shock when first visiting China. The language barrier alone makes things challenging, while pushing and spitting indoors, questionable hygiene practices, absence of queues, smoking everywhere, and other cultural differences can surprise newcomers.

Come mentally prepared to embrace an utterly alien world where little makes sense at first. But that’s part of the fun and appeal too!

6. Get a VPN Before You Go – Navigating the Great Firewall of China


One of the must-knows before visiting China is about its internet censorship, famously known as the Great Firewall. Popular websites and apps like Google, Facebook, and Twitter are inaccessible.

It’s wise to download a reliable Virtual Private Network (VPN), set up before you go is essential, so you can access the sites and apps you rely on for travel planning, maps, communications and more.

Make sure to research VPNs that currently work well in China. Going without access to so much of what you’re used to online will be a major hassle otherwise, this is one of the top tips for travellers to China. However, be cautious as the use of VPNs is a gray area in Chinese law.

7. Public Transportation Tips

Travel tips in China must includes mastering their public transportation. China’s public transportation system is extensive and efficient, making it an ideal way to travel between cities and regions.

The high-speed train network, in particular, is a marvel, connecting major cities with comfort and speed. In cities, metros and buses are convenient and affordable, though they can be crowded.

It’s a great way to immerse yourself in local life. Remember to have your transportation card or change handy, as digital payments may not always be an option on buses.

Crowds and Etiquette: Trains and buses can be crowded, especially during rush hour or holidays. Practice patience and be prepared for close quarters.

8. Street Food: A Culinary Journey

Guangdong Province China

Exploring street food is a must when visiting China for the first time. Each region offers its specialties, from spicy Sichuan skewers to the sweet, doughy treats of Shanghai.

Street food markets are not only a place to savour delicious bites but also to observe the hustle and bustle of local life. Be cautious about hygiene and choose stalls with high turnover and fresh ingredients is another of my top tips for visiting China.

9. Tipping Culture in China

Tipping is not customary in China. In restaurants, hotels, and taxis, it’s not expected to tip for services. This can be a pleasant surprise for travellers used to tipping cultures. However, if you receive exceptional service or are on a guided tour, a small gratuity is appreciated but not mandatory.

In a restaurant in Shanghai, I observed tourists insistently tipping a confused waiter, highlighting the importance of understanding such cultural nuances.

10. Shopping and Bargaining

Shanghai China scaled

Shopping in China can be an exhilarating experience, especially in local markets where bargaining is part of the culture. Sellers often start with higher prices, especially for tourists, so don’t be shy to negotiate.

However, do it respectfully and with a smile. For unique souvenirs, local handicrafts, and electronics, China offers a plethora of options. Travel tips in China – be cautious with too-good-to-be-true deals, as they might be counterfeit products.

11. Be Mindful of National Holidays

Beijing Peking China scaled

China’s tourist spots can be incredibly crowded, especially during national holidays and can significantly impact travel plans. Millions of people travel during these periods, leading to crowded transport and tourist sites.

Travelling to China tips – It’s advisable to plan your trip around these holidays or book well in advance. These periods also offer unique cultural experiences, with festive decorations, traditional events, and a bustling atmosphere.

12. Drinking Water Safety

Tap water in China is not safe to drink. Always opt for bottled water, which is widely available and inexpensive.

Even in hotels and restaurants, it’s better to use bottled water for drinking and brushing teeth. This precaution is a must-know before visiting China, ensuring you avoid any health issues during your trip.

13. Air Quality and Health Precautions

Air Quality and Health Precautions

If it’s your first time in China, air pollution in major Chinese cities can be a concern, especially for those with respiratory issues.

Check the Air Quality Index (AQI) regularly and consider wearing a mask on high pollution days. Also, carry a basic first-aid kit with essential medicines, as pharmacies in China might not always stock what you’re used to. This is an important tip for travellers to China concerned about health.

14. BYOTP (Bring Your Own Toilet Paper)

What to know before travelling to China, carrying pocket packs of tissues or toilet paper is a China travel must-do.

While overall infrastructure and development has improved drastically, public bathrooms can still lack basics like toilet paper or soap. When nature calls, pull out your BYOTP so you’re prepared to handle business. Keeping hand sanitizer and face masks on hand is also wise.

15. Use a China SIM Card

Staying connected is easy in China. Purchasing local Chinese SIM cards for your unlocked smartphone upon arrival ensures affordable connectivity throughout your trip for calls, texts, maps and data.

China SIM cards can be purchased at airport shops after you disembark and show passport/visa. Top phone carriers are China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom. This keeps travel communications way cheaper than pricey international roaming fees from your provider back home.

16. Respect Local Traditions and Customs

Gusu District Suzhou Jiangsu China

Knowing the local customs is a must know before visiting China. China is a land of diverse customs and traditions. Simple gestures like removing shoes before entering someone’s home, not sticking chopsticks upright in a bowl, and avoiding sensitive topics like politics can show respect for local customs.

Try to learn about the local traditions of the places you visit. This cultural sensitivity enhances your experience and deepens your understanding of China’s rich heritage.

17. Explore the Richness Beyond Cities

While cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou are fascinating, China’s true beauty lies in its diverse landscapes and rural areas. Visit the terraced rice fields of Longsheng, the ancient town of Lijiang, or the karst mountains of Guilin.

These areas offer a glimpse into traditional Chinese life and stunning natural beauty. Be prepared for less English spoken and fewer western amenities but expect a more authentic and rewarding experience.

18. Safety in China

China is generally a safe country for tourists. However, like anywhere, it’s important to stay vigilant, especially in crowded areas to avoid pickpockets.

  • Personal Safety: Petty crimes like pickpocketing can occur in crowded areas. Always be mindful of your belongings.
  • Health Safety: While healthcare facilities are adequate, it’s wise to have travel insurance and carry a basic first aid kit.

19. Health Care for Travellers

While China has good health care facilities, especially in major cities, it’s advisable to have travel insurance. Pharmacies are plentiful, but communication can be a challenge, so learn basic health-related Mandarin phrases.

20. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

TCM is widely practiced in China. Experiencing acupuncture or a traditional massage can be a unique aspect of your trip. However, be sure to visit reputable practitioners.

21. Photography: Capturing the Moments

China offers endless photographic opportunities, from bustling cityscapes to serene landscapes. Always ask for permission before photographing people, as a sign of respect.

22. Use WeChat for Almost Everything


WeChat is the super app of China – it’s used for messaging, payments, reservations, ordering taxis and so much more. Downloading WeChat before arrival and setting up WePay for payments is crucial.

Often even street food vendors or small shops will prefer payment via WeChat over cash. Having it set up ahead of time saves hassle, as you cannot link international credit cards once within China.

23. Bring Proper Power and Tech Adapters

While adapter plugs may seem like a small issue compared to VPNs and WeChat, not having the right power adapters can cause big headaches by draining your precious device batteries. China uses 220-volt electricity with socket types A, C and I.

So don’t forget your travel adapters and power converters, which allow devices from other countries work properly and charge safely.

24. Use DiDi Instead of Local Taxis

Hailing taxis off the street in China used to be common for travellers, but now apps like DiDi (essentially China’s version of Uber) offer safer, more reliable rides. Download and set up DiDi ahead of arrival.

Local taxis still exist too but are notorious for overcharging foreigners and taking “the long way” to destinations. With DiDi, you order cars to your exact location, pay securely through the app, and no money changes hands.

25. Respect the Long Lines

Whether it’s to see Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum, visit historic sites like the Great Wall, or even buy food at popular restaurants, be prepared for epic lines.

The large population means tourist queues get very long everywhere. Come equipped with patience, snacks, umbrellas for rain or sun, portable chargers, and anything else to make waiting in line more bearable. Going with a guide can help bypass some lines too.

26. Use a China-Based Travel Agency

While travel in China has gotten much easier for independent travellers, it can still be beneficial booking tours, guides or transportation through domestic Chinese agencies instead of global ones.

China-based companies have better local knowledge, contacts and resources that provide unique experiences most western companies don’t offer. From hiking the Great Wall to exploring minority villages in Yunnan or Xinjiang, domestic tour companies lead to more authentic adventures.

27. Avoid Certain Political Statements

Best Things To Know Before Visiting China

This is one of the top thing to before you go to China. China has strict laws restricting speech on sensitive topics that oppose government policies or undermine unity. These include any talk supporting independence movements in Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang or references to protest events like Tiananmen Square.

Avoid these conversations completely while visiting. While the odds of getting arrested are low, saying the wrong thing could lead to detention or deportation. Don’t risk your trip unnecessarily.

28. Watch Where You Walk

If this is your first trip to China, pedestrian accidents can happen easier across China if you don’t pay attention, due to local traffic customs. Jaywalking lackadaisically is commonplace, drivers get priority, sidewalks have gaping holes and pop-up street vendors spread everywhere.

Elderly electric bikes whisk by without warning too. Don’t stare at sights while strolling – watch where you walk instead. That distraction could make you trip, crash or get hit by something unexpected from the wrong direction.

29. Perfect Your Chopstick Skills

Before you go to China, practice using chopsticks before your inaugural China trip, especially if you’ve never used them before. While forks may be available at some tourist restaurants, don’t expect to encounter knives at all.

Chopsticks are typically the sole utensil option across eateries nationwide. Learning proper form to grasp food avoids fumbled meals and embarrassment. Playing with Chinese takeout back home using only chopsticks speeds the familiarity curve too.

30. Pack Layers Regardless of Season

In this guide to visiting China, you should note that China’s vast landscape spans subarctic to subtropical climates, so packing appropriate apparel means dressing in adaptable layers. Northern areas by Russia range far colder than southern tropical zones by Southeast Asia.

Tips for China even if visiting one region, fluctuating temperatures between indoors and out or day and night means layering up is key. Additionally, super modern buildings blast arctic AC much colder than the steaming outdoors.

31. Be Decisive Using Roads

When crossing streets along China’s chaotic roadways, act swiftly and decisively – do not hesitate. Traffic flows appear anarchic to visitors, with vehicles swerving everywhere haphazardly. But locals navigate fluidly with an intuitive rhythm.

Match their boldness when on foot yourself. Don’t timidly stop mid-crossing if surprised by oncoming bikes, cars or buses – just maintain your chosen trajectory assertively. Indecisiveness causes accidents.

32. Pack Prescription Medications

Things to know before going to China is to bring more than enough medications in their clearly labelled original packaging if you take prescriptions or typically use over-the-counter healthcare products.

While pharmacies exist nationwide, don’t expect easy access equivalents for what you’re accustomed to back home, or anyone who speaks English. Trying to mime symptoms to find suitable medical substitutes rarely works well. Play it safe so health issues don’t ruin your trip.

33. Expect the Unexpected

travelling in China

When travelling in China, go with the flow when encountering the unexpected. Frustrations or complaints about unforeseen situations will not help you overcome problems any easier.

Language and cultural gaps mean you won’t always know what’s happening or why. Try to relax and remember this is all part of the adventure. You’ll laugh about it later. China’s magic lies in those unplanned moments where you must surrender to spontaneity.

Things To Know When Travelling To China

After reviewing these 32 vital China travel tips that I wish I had known before my own first trip, first-timers can now arrive far better equipped. By getting your VPN, WeChat, power adapters and other tech necessities handled ahead of time, you skip so much frustration.

Understanding important cultural differences – from long lines and spitting to jaywalking dangers and lack of queues – helps brace for Reverse Culture Shock too.

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