China was always just a dream growing up—the cost, distance and time deterred me from ever considering it as a travel destination. However, thanks to travel websites like YYZ Deals and Secret Flying, last summer I came across the perfect opportunity to visit. I mean….$450 round-trip, how could I say no?
It wasn’t until I booked my trip when I realized it wasn’t as simple as booking, changing currency and waiting until it was time to board. Here are 7 factors to consider for any trip to China:
As a Canadian traveling to China for more than 3 days, a visa is required. There is a way around the visa but I recommend reading the Canadian travel website as the parameters are subject to change anytime—policies mat have changed since I wrote this blog. When I was researching the visa requirements, I noticed that most countries required a visa so it’s best to check your country’s travel advisories.
Filling out the forms can take a while and feel overwhelming on your own but it is simpler than it seems. $145 later, I was the proud owner of a Chinese visa for the next 10 years (September 2017).
Here are some tips and notes that helped in my application:
- You must fill out your Visa accurately. I know, this is self explanatory but China runs a strict government, and everything you provide may come up again at a later situation; even as simple as exchanging money.
I had to exchange US and HK currency to yuan on my last day as I was short on cash, and what would’ve been a simple 5 mins process took 40 mins. I was required to fill out a form with all my personal information, including SIN number, where I worked and my hotel/hostel address (all things I included in my VISA application)—things I didn’t realize I needed just to exchange.
- You will need a 2 copies of your mugshot within their required specifications. I went to the convenience clerk in Yorkville at 77 Bloor St. W. but you can go anywhere that works best for you.
- If you are applying for it in Toronto, you will need to make an appointment online first, but there is still a queue. Once you arrive, you will need to wait in line to have all your paperwork checked before receiving a number. Once you get your number, sit in the waiting area and wait until it is called. A bit of a nuisance but it helps to filter out those without complete paperwork and saves time for those who did bring everything required. Tip: Book in the early morning if you can, to avoid the longer waits from earlier delays.
- You will need a photocopy of your passport in addition to your real passport. They do have a photocopier there which costs about 10 cents per page but may not be reliable. When I was applying for mine, the photocopier ran out of paper!
- You don’t need to pay until you pick up your approved visa. Unfortunately, I don’t recall what payment they accept, but I would veer on the side of bringing both credit and debit/cash when picking up.
Whenever I travel, I’m always searching for the cheapest accommodation option so that I can budget more money for activities. Naturally, I thought of an Airbnb to live like a local however during my research, I learned that Airbnb wasn’t an option in China as it is not legal. Not only is it illegal, the process to stay at a person’s home is annoying. If you were to stay in someone’s home, you would need a personal letter of sponsorship from the household to submit during your visa application and keep handy throughout your trip. I highly recommend hostels or hotels to avoid the hassle.
Being in China means the best Chinese food you could get. However, not all Chinese food is the same and personally, that was the beauty of it. You will get to taste food from different regions and learn the differences.
Food prices can range from shockingly cheap to unreasonably expensive. Not all food is eaten off the streets; there are many restaurants from very upscale to dingy ones. If you are planning to eat street food, you may want to be prepared and take some Dukoral in advance to avoid diarrhea.
The best restaurants I ate at were those that looked dirtier for our terms. They generally had less tourists and more locals – giving me a fuller experience of the Chinese culture.
Water is not safe to drink through the taps so please don’t drink it! I always boiled water before I drank it. Although not indigestible, I did find it safe to brush my teeth with it.
Currency & Money
Yuan is the currency in China and I highly recommend bringing cash if you can. Some of the best places to eat accept cash only. Even some retail stores don’t take credit card (this is what made me exchange money on my last day). Many of the upscale restaurants will accept credit card, while the smaller restaurants or street vendors will likely only accept cash—BRING CASH.
The subway system is affordable and easy to use. They have both mandarin and English on their signs, but the announcements are always in mandarin I found. Best to get a sense of the directions in advance on your phone and if possible, follow along.
Crossing was very confusing because oftentimes it seemed like the cars, scooters, and even the people made their rules. The scooters would zip around cars and people to get through, people would cross even when it wasn’t there right of way and the cars would inch too close for comfort at times. As a tourist, I usually crossed in big groups whenever I could.
A rule of thumb: if the grandmas are crossing, cross with them—no one is going to hit a Popo “grandma”!
What I love about traveling is learning the ways of life from experiencing it myself live. Having said this, sometimes a little preparation will enhance your trips.
Are there any other tips I missed that would’ve been helpful for travelers heading to China? Let me know in the comments below!