Tips for Traveling China
Everyone in China, including visitors, must register their address with 24 hours (72 hours for rural areas) with the local police station. We didn’t know this and ran into some unwanted attention when the local community officers did a spot check of our apartment building. We were dragged in to the Nanjing police station for questioning and while we weren’t fined, the experience was not a fun one. From what I understand you usually get away without a fine but if you’re staying for longer than one week in an Airbnb or with a friend I recommend looking into registration. Note that hotels take care of this requirement for you. Registering may be very difficult if you don’t speak the language, so ask your host for help.
Sim cards can be obtained from China Unicom and China Mobile stores. Make sure to bring along your passport for identification. If you’re staying in the Shanghai area, use China Unicom, they offer amazing data deals within the Shanghai area.
I recommend buying the SIM card only at the official telecom stores in China. If you buy one ahead of time on the internet or from a third party they may not properly register your identification, meaning your network access may be cut off, they may also rip you off.
Good luck! If you are visiting China you should have zero expectations regarding reliable internet access to Western sites. Google (including their services like Gmail) works very intermittently. WhatsApp was added to the block list while we were there in November 2016.
Exceptions: Skype and Yahoo play nicely in China.
Bypassing the Great Firewall:
- A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can help you get around internet regulations. This works by encrypting and routing your internet data through a third party company. China is very good at blocking these services and we had very mixed results. We were occasionally able to check our Gmail and Facebook accounts, but that was about it. We used iVPN for our VPN needs.
- Forward your Gmail: Setup a Yahoo mail account and set your Gmail account to forwarding.
- Mobile networks: When surfing on your phone you can generally access more websites than at home on wi-fi.
Note: Use a VPN at your own risk! China is taking VPN’s more seriously in 2018. They are requiring telecommunication companies to block them and you could theoretically get in trouble for using VPN software.
Taxis are ubiquitous all over China. Don’t accept ride offers, flag your own down or you are sure to get ripped off. Keep the phone number of your destination handy, many taxi drivers prefer to speak to someone in Chinese for directions.
Rental bikes are a big deal lately in China, however, we didn’t venture into this territory. Unfortunately the apps only came in Chinese at the time of our visit.
Trains are modern, affordable and convenient in China. This is the best way to get around the country. The booking process is straight forward, however, foreigners must use a travel agency to book the tickets. We used Travel China Guide. They charge a small free, however, everything went smoothly. Make sure to arrive at least two hours ahead of your departure time to allow time for the multiple security checks and getting lost in the giant stations. It’s best to have station photos and map ready before arriving at the station. Travel China Guide provided these to us. More information on buying tickets is available at Seat 61.
Get out of the airport and find an ATM instead of exchanging cash at the first place you see. The airport money exchangers will rip you off with transaction fees and a bad exchange rate. Bank of China ATMs offer competitive exchange rates and low fees.
Yu Hua, a famous Chinese author, provides ten personal stories exemplifying the complexities of Chinese life.
The journalist author lived in China for several years and provides an account of China through a westerner’s eyes.
For those more ambitious, this 24 hour lecture series will give you a proper insight into how China became the way it is.