Visiting a country with restrictive internet access can be daunting, but worry no more.
Last June 25–30, I visited two cities in China called Changsha and Nanjing to attend a conference. I also have a layover in Guangzhou and Beijing which gave me some time to explore the area.
Here are some personal tips and recommendations to ensure a seamless experience when visiting China:
- Check Visa Requirements: Before your trip, determine if you need a Chinese visa. If so, choose the visa category that applies to your purpose of visit. For instance, if attending a conference, ensure you have the necessary documents and requirements. Check the Chinese embassy’s website for detailed information on the visa application process.
- Research Your Destination: Once you have your visa, start preparing by researching your specific destination in China. It’s also helpful to consult with friends who are familiar with the local culture and can provide valuable insights to make your visit more fulfilling.
- Secure a Reliable VPN: China’s Great Firewall poses restrictions on internet access, including popular social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. To stay connected with your loved ones and access these platforms, ensure you have a reliable VPN application. While some free VPN apps exist, they may not be dependable. Consider investing in a reputable VPN service like Astrill VPN for longer stays (costs around 15 USD per month), or opt for LetsVPN, which is recommended by locals and costs around 3 USD per week.
- Ensure Connectivity: While some public places in China offer free WiFi, connecting to these networks can be challenging, especially without a Chinese phone number. To have reliable internet access and VPN connectivity, consider getting a Holafly e-sim card, which provides mobile data allowance with VPN access. It costs approximately 27 USD per week and proved extremely useful for quick searches and navigation during my travels.
- Sign-up for WeChat: WeChat is the go-to platform for communication and various services in China. To create a WeChat account, you can use either a Chinese SIM card or your Facebook account, but you’ll need assistance from a local Chinese person to register successfully. Have an account for this all-in-one app and unlock its convenience during your stay in China.
- Payment Options: Many Chinese establishments and stores accept payments via WeChat or Alipay. If you don’t have accounts on these platforms, it’s advisable to carry Chinese RMB or yuan. Ensure you have a reliable currency converter app handy to help you make informed and worthwhile transactions.
- Cultural Differences: While exploring China, it’s normal to experience locals staring at or even taking photos of you. They may not be accustomed to seeing foreigners, so don’t be alarmed by their curiosity and embrace the warm welcome they offer.
- Language Assistance: Not all Chinese people understand English, so having translation apps like Pleco (which works offline) or online options like Google Translate or Apple Translate can be invaluable for communication.
- Stay Updated on Airline/Airport Protols/Requirements: Check the latest requirements imposed by Chinese airlines. For example, during my visit in June 2023, a Health Declaration Form was still mandatory. This form generates a code after you provide information about your health status. If the online link is not functioning, don’t worry. You can find machines and kiosks at the airport where you can generate a one-time code.
In addition to the above tips, here are some other recommended applications by local friends:
- MojiWeather (a weather forecast app) — App Store link
- Accurate map app (alternative to Google Maps) — App Store link
- Alipay (you need a Chinese phone number to activate) — App Store link
- Super VPN (a free VPN app) — App Store link
While preparing for my first visit to China initially brought anxiety, I can confidently say that exploring Changsha and Nanjing and experiencing the warm welcome from the Chinese people, made it all worthwhile. By following these essential tips, you can ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip to this fascinating country. However, please take note that you must still do your own research!
Good luck, stay safe, and enjoy your trip to China! 🇨🇳