1. You need a visa to get in.
For US citizens, mainland China requires a visa. This means anywhere besides Taiwan, Macau or Hong Kong. Although a decent amount of paperwork is involved, you can generally get your visa in under 4 business days. When choosing your visa length, be sure to check “Other” and write in 10-year multiple entry visa. The cost is no different!
There is also an option of 72-hour visa free entry – however, this only works if you are traveling on to a third country.
2. Get a VPN.
To get around “The Great Firewall of China”, you’ll need a VPN (virtual private network). All social media sites (Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram etc.) are blocked by the Chinese government, as well as sites like Google (i.e. no Gmail). So if you want access to these sites during your trip, you’ll need to reroute your IP address through a third country. Don’t worry – it’s still totally legal to use a VPN, and plenty of Chinese citizens do the same. For a reliable and fast connection in China, we used ExpressVPN.
3. Taxis are cheap.
The standard taxi fare starts at 13 RMB in Beijing (less than $2 USD). After the first three, each additional km is only 2.30 RMB (33 cents). You should be able to get a cab from Beijing Capital Int’l Airport to downtown on less than twenty bucks – which can take an hour! Most rides between 15-20 minutes won’t be more than $5. While public transportation in Beijing is supposed to be a breeze, you can’t beat a cheap cab. Look for the official taxis – you’ll know them by the multicolored cars with a yellow stripe.
4. Bring your own TP.
As in toilet paper. You won’t find any in a public restroom – even in Western establishments. Other than your hotel or a nice restaurant (still not promised), you’ll probably want to carry a roll around with you….
The craziest thing we’ve seen so far is a mom holding her child in a “V” on the side of the highway – you can take a wild guess as to what the little girl was doing!
5. Don’t tip.
As in most Asian countries, tips are not expected. You’ll get a strange look, so just keep your money to yourself.
6. People will spit.
Outdoors, indoors, in restaurants, right next to you – pretty much anywhere. It’s a common occurrence. When you blow your nose into a tissue and then keep it, they think that’s pretty weird.
7. Bring the address in Mandarin.
If you plan on taking taxis, get into the ones that don’t speak English. Seriously – they’ll run the meter vs trying to quote you an astronomical price. As long as you have the address in Chinese, you’re good to go.
8. Offer 10% of the list price.
Yes, 10 percent. This sounds harsh, but it’s China. They mass produce everything, and if it has a logo, you can be 99% sure its fake anyways.
This goes for pretty much any market (even indoor ones). There is a price given to tourists, a price given to Chinese tourists, and then there is the real price. You can get things for DIRT cheap if you ask and don’t back down.
9. Bring your passport everywhere.
You’ll need it for things like buying tickets, checking into your hotel, exchanging money… so just keep it on you at all times.
10. Be prepared to have your photo taken.
If you have blonde hair, blue eyes, or are taller than 5’5 – this means you. More than likely, you’ll be asked to take selfies with young, friendly Chinese. Soak up your 15 minutes.