Planning a trip to China is exciting.
It’s home to the Great Wall, the panda sanctuary and the intriguing Terracotta Warriors.
While it’s good to research the places we’ll visit before we get there, we often skip the most important stuff.
Things like obtaining a visa, knowing how to use local transport, and staying connected while we’re overseas are crucial to having an enjoyable and stress-free time.
China travel guru, Josh Summers, has laid out all this need-to-know information in a fantastic new book that will make your trip a whole lot easier.
It’s called Travel to China: Everything you need to know before you go.
Available as an e-book or paperback, it’s the antithesis of your regular guidebook.
I’ve highlighted below some parts of the book specific to people going to China to teach English. This should help you with your preparations.
Can you work on a tourist visa in China?
No, you can’t.
Summers explains that if you get caught working on a tourist visa, there will be punishment both for you and the employer.
Any legitimate school in China should provide you with a work visa. Also known as the Z visa, it allows you to legally work in China (Hello Teacher! only works with schools that provide a Z visa.)
Summers points out that as recently as 2018, China has thrown foreigners in jail for working with illegitimate organizations. So it’s really not worth the risk.
Summers' new China travel book is out now.
What items are difficult to purchase in China?
While China has come a long way in recent times with regard to availability of consumer items, there are still a few things that are hard to find.
Summers’ must-bring items include:
- Deodorant: This is not commonly used in China (a fact which you’ll quickly discover if you travel on a crowded city bus!) so the choices - if there are any - are quite scarce.
- Antacid (like Pepto Bismol): Chances are, at some point your stomach will not appreciate Chinese food so having some antacid handy can be a lifesaver.
- Hand sanitizer: Not many bathrooms in China offer soap, so you’ll want to bring your own hand sanitizer as it’s not commonly sold in stores.
- Sunscreen: As the Asian culture values white skin over tanned skin, all of the sunscreen available in China comes with a skin-whitening ingredient.
Deodorant can be hard to find in China.
Special foods are also hard to find in China. So if you have dietary restrictions like gluten intolerance or lactose intolerance, you have quite the challenge ahead of you!
How do you buy a train ticket in China?
Summers’ book clearly set outs how you can buy train tickets while in China.
Essentially, there are two options – you can buy tickets online or at the train station.
The official website to buy tickets, www.12306.cn, is the most efficient way to purchase tickets. However, the website is in Chinese. (Note: you also need a Chinese phone number and a Chinese bank account, which your school will help you set up when you arrive).
So what do you do?
Unless you can get a Chinese friend to help you navigate the 12306 website, the alternatives are using a third party ticket provider or buying tickets at the station.
Ticket provider China Highlights not only allows you to purchase tickets in English and use your foreign credit card, they’ll also arrange to have the tickets delivered to your home!
There are two ways you can buy train tickets in China - in person or online (Photo: Mr Thinktank on Flickr).
Buying tickets at the station can be both time consuming and difficult, particularly if you can’t speak Mandarin. Bring a Chinese friend if you can.
When buying tickets at the station, Summers has a great tip – approach the ticket booth with a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. This is in case you don’t get what you want (tickets can sell out fast). And have all your options written down in Chinese to make your life easier.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to bring your passport to the station. You’ll need it to buy tickets and pass the security check.
What are the best ways to communicate with family and friends back home?
Avoid costly international calling rates on your mobile phone.
Instead, try these things:
- Skype – If the connection is poor, connect through a VPN.
- FaceTime – Your family and friends will need to have iPhones.
- Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp – these are blocked in China so make sure you’ve got a VPN.
- WeChat – Ask your loved ones to download WeChat (but remember, Chinese Big Brother could be listening!).
You can communicate on Facebook while in China but you'll need a VPN.
How do you survive in China without speaking Chinese?
Summers assures that you don’t need to be able to speak Mandarin to go to China. Most major cities are fairly easy to navigate without being able to speak a word of the language.
However, the trouble comes when you want to travel outside the city, into the countryside, or anywhere where foreigners aren’t as common.
In these situations you’ll need to be prepared. Using an app on your smartphone, like iTranslate, is the way to go.
Once you set up the Mandarin language, all you have to do is speak into your phone, and the app will provide immediate voice translation.
It works in reverse as well, where a Chinese person can speak into the phone, and it will dictate the translation to you in English.
Brace yourself for some interesting conversations!
Are you ready for China?
For more great travel preparation tips for China, grab a copy of Summers’ new book now. It’ll make your planning a whole lot easier.