The Essential Things to Know Before You Visit China
Nearly 130 million overseas visitors came in China in 2008, according to the China National Tourism Administration, despite a small decline from 2007 attributed to security measures related to the Olympics.
China’s popularity is hardly surprising, because it offers world class tourist attractions such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, archaeological treasures such as the Terracotta Warriors, and some of the planet’s most varied and spectacular landscapes.
Because China does not issue visas on arrival, arrange to get yours in advance. A visa can be obtained at any Chinese embassy or consulate. If there is none in your area, many travel agencies offer mail-in visa services.
While Hong Kong offers 90-day arrival visas to nationals of almost every Western nation, getting into Hong Kong won’t get you into the rest of China – you will need a separate visa. An alternative to applying for a Chinese visa in your home country is to fly into Hong Kong and apply for a visa with the China International Travel Service.
Tourist visas are issued for 30 days and may be extended twice within China. The fee for Americans is $130 (USD) for the initial visa as well as each extension, while the fee for nationals of most other Western nations is $30 (as of 2010).
- The Chinese RMB is still a “soft” currency, meaning that it is difficult to change it into major world currencies such as the US dollar except in Hong Kong.
- If you change money from your home currency into RMB, make sure to keep the bank receipt so that you can change any leftover RMB back into your home currency when you leave China.
- If you are leaving China through Hong Kong, however, you will be able to change RMB into your home currency at any local bank without producing a receipt.
Since China is approximately the size of the United States, the most convenient way to get from Point A to Point B is by air. Although China has an extensive, efficient and economical array of local airlines, if you travel by air you will miss the beauty of the Chinese countryside.
China also boasts an extensive rail network that is cheap and reasonably comfortable, although far from luxurious. Be sure to book soft sleeper beds for overnight journeys.
Book well in advance if you intend to travel during Chinese holidays such as Spring Festival (a week-long public holiday that is celebrated during the first week of the lunar calendar, sometime between late January and mid-February).
Dangers and Inconveniences
Except in Hong Kong, most Chinese speak little or no English, although major tourist venues take pains to accommodate visitors with English signs and English-speaking staff.
If you find yourself unable to communicate verbally, try writing it down, because most Chinese can read more English than they can speak. Major cities tend to be congested and polluted, and traffic is dangerous and chaotic everywhere.
Although violent crimes against foreigners are rare in China, petty theft is extremely common, especially in and around railway stations.
China is a land that has consistently captured the imagination of travelers from across the world, and a visit can be an exhilarating and worthwhile experience for the adventurous soul. In order for this to happen, however, it is important to anticipate possible problems and prepare for them in advance.