TOP CHINA TRAVEL TIPS
VPN Service: We recommend ExpressVPN for your computer & phone to gain access to blocked sites like Gmail, Youtube, Instagram & Facebook while in China. Set up on phone and computer before arriving into China.
Welcome Guide: Our insider’s guide to planning out which hotel to stay at and where to eat in the city based on your personal travel style. We’ve got you covered, no matter your reason for coming or budget. Shanghai Download/Beijing Download
Tour Start & Ending Points: Follow this link for more information.
Most ATMs accept Visa & Mastercard debit cards, and you’ll find the best rates via this method.
Be sure to warn your bank you’ll be using your card in China so they do not put a hold on your account.
Bring some cash as a backup, and always have RMB on hand while traveling in China.
Exchange bureaus are not common, and changing money at banks can be a major hassle. Utilize the airport money changers for the most convenient, if not the very best rate.
You may need to try several ATMs before finding one that accepts your bank/card. Don’t give up too easily!
PHONES & COMMUNICATION
You can use your phone in China if your phone contract provides international roaming services, or if your phone is unlocked.
International Roaming Services: Remember, roaming can be quite expensive, and you should consult your provider before leaving your home country.
A data-only international plan may be your best bet if you don’t need to receive or make many calls.
Unlocked Phone: If your phone is unlocked, you can buy a pre-paid SIM card for about 100 RMB in China – it’s easiest to do this directly at the airport if possible.
Look for (generally blue) signs that say China Unicom or China Mobile or “Sim Ka”
If you decided to do neither, there is plenty of free wi-fi around the city in hotels and cafes. However, be warned that many free wi-fi zones, like in Starbucks or the airport, require you to sign up with a working phone number in order to receive a log-on code.
Skype: If you are connected to a wireless network, you can also use Skype for very low rates. Be aware that sometimes the connection is spotty as internet service in China is slow.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME
Buy a VPN: You will find out that you cannot access all the websites that you may be used to in your country, e.g., Youtube, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter due to government restrictions. In order to get around this issue, you need to download VPN software BEFORE you come to China – most expats and businesses use these daily.
You can install on your computer and your phone
We recommend ExpressVPN, which costs about $10/month.
For a quick check to see which sites are currently blocked: http://www.greatfirewallofchina.org/
Download and test your VPN before you arrive in China to make sure it works and you understand how to use.
Print-out Important Bilingual Addresses: Most people find they do not need to pay for private airport and city transfers and rely on taxis and Ubers. We recommend this option, but be sure to print key destinations, like your hotel addresses, and tour meeting points in Chinese characters. Taxis drivers generally do not know English hotel names or destinations, so this is very important. In Shanghai, taxis know addresses by full address with a cross-street.
A typical address that a driver will have no problem with looks like this:
227 Yongjia Lu near Shaanxi Nan Lu. 永嘉路227号近陕西南路
Do Research & Make Plans: We love to wander in new cities while we’re traveling, but China is best understood with context and a bit of prep, especially for foreigners trying to manage a language barrier.
Book a tour: Checking the top tours on TripAdvisor and booking activities during the first few days will pay dividends during the time you spend wandering.
Of course we recommend booking a food tour the first few days of your trip to give you the confidence to order on your own during your travels.
Buy a guidebook: The Hunt Guide Shanghai is one of the best, compact guides we’ve seen covering the best sights, food, nightlife & shopping.
Wild Swans: History of modern China, as told through a very engaging family history
China Road: Contemporary Social Issues
Shark’s Fin Soup: Primer on Chinese food in memoir form
AT THE AIRPORT
Do not accept ANY touts at the airport. You will be ripped off. Go DIRECTLY to the official taxi line and do not speak to anyone offering you rides.
If you need cash, use any of the Chinese bank’s ATMs.
If you’d like to change money, you can do so at the airport – the rate isn’t the best, but it is preferable to the process at any Chinese banks in town. Your hotel may also change dollars and euros, but at even worse rates generally.
Taxi: follow signs to the official line, do not accept touts or talk to people in official-looking uniforms. They are scams.
From Pudong International Airport to People’s Square, the center of the city, takes about 55 minutes and costs about RMB175-200 during the day, barring any traffic jams.
High-speed Maglev Train: Follow signs to station in between terminals 1 & 2.
A single trip ticket is 50 RMB or 40 RMB if you show them a ticket stub for a same day flight. Round trip ticket (valid within 7 days) is 80 RMB and operates from 6:45 a.m. to 9:40 p.m.
The terminal station is Longyang Lu, which connects to metro lines 7 and 2, and is about 20 minutes in a taxi to downtown areas.
Subway: Follow signs to station at airport.
Traveling to People’s Square takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes, and costs 10 RMB.
WHILE YOU’RE HERE
Do not drink tap water, even in luxury hotels -there are many convenience stores located around town where you will be able to purchase inexpensive bottled water and other drinks, including Chinese and western style snacks.
Google Translate – Free: Translates text from English to Chinese (characters and pinyin). An offline language pack is available, but otherwise you’ll need a wifi connection. You can save certain useful translations for quick retrieval later.
MetroMan – Free: This is a very good, free app for planning trips via metro in Shanghai and Beijing (and across China). It provides timing, distances and prices for trips.
Explore Shanghai/Beijing Metro Guide – USD 1.99: Besides MetroMan, Explore Shanghai/Beijing is a good app for getting around the Metro. It’s accessible online for free or as a paid app (USD 1.99) for iPhone and Android. It’s also available for Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Taipei and many other Asian cities. The user-friendly subway map helps plan routes and calculates time and cost.
China Air Pollution Index – Free: Up-to-date air quality statistics for 120 major Chinese cities, including data from the US Embassy in Beijing and US Consulate in Shanghai.
Didi – Free: The China Uber equivalent -on-demand taxi service that summons a car & driver to your current location, now in English. Make sure to download the ‘Greater China’ version.
Bon App – Free: The Yelp of Shanghai, this restaurant rating app is widely-used in Shanghai (and growing in Beijing). The app also lets you wishlist restaurants you want to go to, attend meet-ups with other like-minded foodies and integrates with WeChat so you can easily send addresses to your dining partners.
For critical restaurant reviews of the latest Chinese and western restaurants, as well as in-depth English language features, pick up a local English-language magazine like That’s Shanghai/Beijing or Time Out Shanghai/Beijing magazine, or check their website. Web: thatsmags.com, timeoutshanghai.com and timeoutbeijing.com.