China is a vast country with countless attractions for the traveller. China is
as diverse as it is large, and it is difficult to generalize about many aspects of the country. This section provides an overview
of things the traveller should know, based mainly on the experience of visitors to the major population centres. If you will
be travelling off the beaten path, take extra time to research your destination carefully, and be prepared for the unexpected.
The Chinese government
has been gradually opening the country to outside influences since 1978. Additional parts of China are opened to visitors
every year, but travel permits are still required for some parts of the country. If you will be travelling outside established
tourist areas, find out in advance if you will require a permit. Travel permits can be obtained from local offices of the
Public Security Bureau.
All foreigners (tourists,
visitors or long-term residents) are required to register their place of residence with the local Public Security Bureau within
24 hours of arrival. If you are staying in a hotel, this is done as part of the check-in process. Those staying with family
or friends in a private home must also observe this requirement. Failure to do so can result in fines and/or detention.
The simplest form of
travel within China is scheduled air services. Air China, the national airline, and its regional carriers serve all the major
cities. Domestic flights generally involve large wide-bodied jets. Tickets can be obtained from any travel agency or directly
from Air China or one of the many domestic carriers serving the regional markets, such as China Eastern or China Southern.
Departure taxes are levied at both domestic and international airports.
China has an extensive
system of passenger trains, providing an interesting way to see the countryside. Most trains are slow, although there are
express trains on the well-travelled routes. Many visitors consider a train trip to be an adventure as well as part of their
experience of the culture, and overnight trips offer a fascinating look at Chinese life.
Taxis are plentiful
in major cities and can be obtained at hotels or taxi stands. Drivers generally do not speak English, so you should arrange
for a Chinese-speaking person to write out your destination in detail on a card before you go. Rental cars are available only
in the largest cities, generally with a driver. To drive a vehicle in China, you must obtain a Chinese driver’s licence,
which is available only to those foreigners who possess a residency permit. Cars with experienced Chinese drivers may be hired
at a reasonable cost.
Tipping is not necessary,
but it is no longer considered an insult and may be expected in some situations, especially in foreign hotels.
In spite of its size, all of China is in one time zone, which is GMT+8 or EST+13.
However, customary opening and closing hours vary significantly across the country. Daylight savings time is not used.
The official spoken language of China is Putonghua (standard language
or common speech), or Mandarin, but there are dozens of regional dialects including Cantonese, Shanghainese and Sichuanese.
Cantonese is usually spoken in Hong Kong and adjacent Guangdong province. Mandarin is spoken in Beijing and throughout most
In Mandarin, pin yin
means “spell sound.” This transliteration system has gradually replaced an older British-designed method
known as Wade-Giles in the Western media, which is why some well-known names have changed over the years. The replacement
of Peking with the phonetically more accurate Beijing is an example.
Business meetings (outside Hong Kong) are likely to take place in Mandarin. Interpreters
are readily available at reasonable prices and can often be arranged through your hotel. Many Chinese people are studying
English, so don’t be surprised if you meet people who want to practise.
Written Chinese, which
is the same regardless of the dialect spoken, is based on a system of ideographs or characters. Modern Chinese includes more
than 400 basic syllables. Each syllable can be written using the Roman alphabet and a variety of phonetic symbols. The People’s
Republic of China adopted the Hanyu Pinyin system for transliterating Chinese ideograms into the Roman
alphabet in the late 1950s, and it is now recognized as standard throughout most of the world. Many Chinese product labels
and street signs are expressed in these syllables.They can also be used to input Chinese on computer keyboards.
Currency and Credit
The official currency
of the People’s Republic of China is the renminbi (RMB or CNY), which means “people’s money.”
The basic unit of currency is the yuan, commonly known as kuai, which may
be written ¥. The yuan is divided into 10 jiao or 100 fen. In order to avoid misunderstandings, vendors usually write down the price for foreign clients. Except in hotels,
restaurants and some fixed-price shops, bargaining is the rule rather than the exception.
It is illegal to pay
for anything with foreign currency or to exchange currency anywhere but at officially approved facilities. Refuse offers to
change money on the street. This is not only illegal but also dangerous, since criminals operate the black market and use
It is now possible to
purchase small amounts of RMB outside China, but it is not yet a fully convertible currency. When entering China, Chinese
law requires you to declare any RMB cash amount over 6,000 RMB. Likewise, on departure, you must declare any cash amount over
6,000 RMB. Non-residents of China must also declare any currency with a value over US$5,000. Residents of China must declare
any currency with a value over US$2,000. You can exchange foreign currency or traveller’s cheques for RMB at the main
offices of Chinese banks, airports, and major hotels. You will be expected to spend at least 50 percent of the RMB that you
convert. You will be given official receipts for these transactions, which you must save if you wish to reconvert RMB to hard
currency (maximum of 50 percent) when you leave the country.
Major credit cards are
not widely accepted in China. Some Chinese banks will provide cash advances using these accounts, but they may charge for
the service. Some stores and restaurants accept credit card purchases, but they may apply surcharges. The only places that
can be counted on to accept credit cards are five-star hotels.
It is now possible to
use bank cards to draw on your Canadian bank account at ATMs in several places. These international ATMs taking Cirrus, PLUS
or Maestro are restricted to a few sites in larger cities and most international airports. Limited amounts can be withdrawn,
reflecting the cardholder’s daily limits, but often the exchange rate is more favourable than can be obtained when changing
money at banks in the interior, where surcharges may be added.
Food and Drink
Visitors to China may suffer from traveller’s diarrhea. To avoid this and
other discomforts, it is advisable to drink bottled water. Eating food prepared on the street is part of the local culture,
but avoid stalls that do not use disposable utensils.
Chopsticks are used at all
meals. The food is placed in the centre of the table in serving dishes, and it is polite to taste every type of food prepared.
Food should be served with serving spoons or serving chopsticks. Your chopsticks should be placed neatly on the right of your
bowl or plate when not in use. It is considered impolite to drink alone, and toasts are frequent. Non-drinkers may toast with
Some major hotels in
China maintain clinics or resident doctors who can assist you with minor medical problems. Several hospitals in the larger
cities have special services, designed for foreigners, with English-speaking staff. Nevertheless, you should be prepared to
take an interpreter with you if you must visit a local hospital. You will be asked to deposit funds with the hospital upon
arrival; the cost of your treatment and other medical expenses will be deducted from this deposit and the balance returned
to you upon departure. Although medical care in local hospitals is relatively inexpensive, you should still purchase private
health insurance before your trip to cover any unforeseen expenses. Medical care in clinics offering Western-style care for
foreigners is much more expensive and must be paid for on the spot, using U.S. dollars or a credit card.
The Government of China
deals harshly with persons found in possession of illegal drugs. You should exercise the utmost caution when travelling. Never
carry a package or luggage for someone else unless you have completely verified the contents. Choose travelling companions
carefully, since you may be implicated if they are found to be carrying drugs. For details, consult the Drugs and Travel section of our Web site and refer to our publication Drugs and Travel: Why They Don’t Mix.
and syringes may be considered suspicious by Chinese authorities. Keep all drugs in their original containers and carry the
prescriptions with you. If you have a medical need for syringes, carry a medical certificate saying so. If you require over-the-counter
medicines, such as those commonly used for traveller’s diarrhea, it is best to take them with you.
China is a relatively
safe country where violent crime is rare. But petty theft is common, and you should constantly be on guard for pickpockets.
It is wise to leave valuables in a hotel safe wherever possible. Be careful when carrying money or passports in a handbag,
shoulder bag or backpack, because bag slashing is a common tactic of criminals.
If you decide to stop
at a bar, ensure that the prices are clearly marked on the menu so that your tab may be easily calculated. Avoid in particular
“hostess bars,” where foreign patrons have been taken advantage of, with costly results. For information on safety
issues, consult Country Travel Reports on China.
Women Travelling Solo
Female travellers should dress conservatively and take safety precautions. General
guidelines for women travelling alone are provided in publication Her Own Way: Advice for the Woman Traveller.
Chinese people often greet
each other with a nod or a slight bow, but a handshake is quite acceptable. Ni Hao is the standard greeting at any
time of the day, often said twice. Business cards should be printed with Chinese on one side and presented with both hands,
Chinese side up. It is appropriate to make your position or status clear, even though the Chinese may avoid identifying themselves
The Justice System
When in China, you are
subject to Chinese laws and are not entitled to any special protection or consideration because of your Canadian citizenship.
The administration of
justice is substantially different in China. In general, police and other officials have more discretionary power than their
Canadian counterparts. A lawyer does not have the same advocacy role as in Canada, and the rights of accused persons are more
limited. In civil matters, claims of unstated intent may take precedence over written contract terms. Detention during the
investigative period before charges are laid is common and can be lengthy.
If you are arrested
or detained, you can request that the arresting officer inform the Canadian embassy or nearest consulate, provided that you
have entered China as a Canadian citizen. You will need a Chinese lawyer. Canadian officials can provide a list of lawyers
who speak English and have experience working in the local court system.
Meanwhile, be aware
that what you say can be used against you. Avoid making any arrangements with police or court officials unless your lawyer
is present. Sentences will be served in a local prison.
The telephone system
in China is still not up to world standards, but it is improving rapidly. The best place to make phone calls is in your hotel,
especially if it is a modern one. Cellular phones are readily available and are becoming very common as prices drop. Canada Direct service is available from some major cities in China by calling 108-186.
Most of the major international
courier companies operate in China. Internet service is available but is subject to certain government restrictions. The larger
modern hotels have business centres that can provide translation, fax and printing services.
Refer to the country as the
People’s Republic of China, or simply China. Taiwan is considered a province of China, so do not refer to it as a country.
The close relationship between the Communist Party of China and the Government
of the People’s Republic of China means that there are few aspects of life in the country that do not have a political
dimension. Moreover, Chinese citizens do not have the same rights or expectations of privacy that Westerners are accustomed
to. The Chinese people you encounter may feel justifiably uncomfortable if you discuss politics, particularly if you are critical
of their government—or even your own. If you are not a Chinese citizen, participation in any political activities will
be considered inconsistent with your status, and you may be expelled from the country.
Canadian Consular Services
If you plan to stay
longer than three months in China, it is recommended that you register at the nearest Canadian government office abroad. This will help us contact you in case of an emergency. Registration is voluntary, and the information you provide
is protected and used in accordance with the provisions of the Privacy Act. You can register on-line.
Keep in mind, however,
that your Canadian citizenship does not exempt you from local laws and regulations. Moreover, Canadian officials may not be
able to help you at all if you have Chinese citizenship.
The Canadian embassy
or consulates can help you with any of the following:
- contacting relatives at home in case of an emergency;
- dealing with medical emergencies;
- coping with situations such as natural disasters and civil or military conflict;
- accessing sources of information about local laws, regulations, cultural customs
- replacing passports; and
- dealing with local authorities if you are arrested.
These Canadian government
offices offer 24-hour emergency assistance. You can also contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
in Ottawa at (613) 996-8885 (collect calls accepted) or call 10800-1400125 toll-free from inside China.