China information Travel

Survival in China

1. Expectations

1. Intro
1.1 Communication Complications
1.2 Try to be informed, not just opinionated.

Intro – Under Construction

1.1 Communication Complications

If you’re completely new to China and don’t speak the language, getting around might not be the easiest thing. Language is a powerful tool, and where some of us may try other ways of communication to get closer to someone, the Chinese may put up a guard. Sometimes what’s foreign to you is a little bit scary. However, as soon as you show any willingness to speak Chinese, or you know a few words, that guard will come down very quickly. They’re also known (to us Westerners) to be more rough around the edges. Communication is more straight-forward and their hospitality rules are different from ours. It’s more to-the-point. I think it’s actually really nice to do away with our formalities every now and again (not that there are none, by the way). Well, apart from the fact that people may cut in front of you sometimes. But you can just elbow your way through that. You’ll learn to elbow your way through a lot of things. Like in a packed subway during rush hour. Ugh, the horror. My feet were once elevated from the floor; that’s how busy it was. Yeah, good luck with that!

Of course, there’s a large behavioral gap between generations, and just like in any other country, people behave differently based on where they live or their income status. I lived in Beijing and traveled to: Shanghai, Henan, Fujian, Guangdong, Hubei, and Xinjiang – no place was the same. China is a massive country and people in the north are vastly different from the south, not to mention the many minority groups that live across the country. Keep that in mind during your travels. It wouldn’t hurt to read up on some modern history and contemporary developments (here, or here), if you’re really keen on understanding the country before your visit.

1.2 Try to be informed, not just opinionated

The many times I’ve yelled and cursed in Dutch because I was in a rush and the traffic was in-sane. The first gym I went to closed down because it turned out to be a scam, and the owner took my money and ran. I’ve also had mental breakdowns in front of hospital doctors because I didn’t have the vocabulary to express what my problems were and they rushed me back out with pain killers. I’ve been “stopped” during travels because I was mistaken for an Uyghur. I’ve been mugged. I’ve been harassed…. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies. And it’s okay to be frustrated during times like these, but try to not single out events and think negatively of your entire China experience as a result. I’ve heard so many people go: “China is like this, The Chinese are like that…” Every society has some bad apples. Customs, traditions, education, upbringing: it’s all different from what we’re used to. Try to be aware of that (I love using the word ‘awareness’ everywhere. Get used to that).

When wanting to start a business in China as a foreigner, the main advice you’ll get is to always have a Chinese business partner. I feel like the same applies to all other situations. Definitely attempt to befriend the locals. Someone who can show you the ropes and tell you right from wrong. When I told my Chinese roommate about my gym situation, she said: “Why didn’t you just come to me?! This happens all the time!” I was too scared to ask for help, wanted to fix things on my own, and ended up making a mistake due to my own ignorance. If there’s one thing I know about people, is that if they’re proud of their country, they love telling you about it. Ask (and stay calm). The most important cliché to remember, is that we’re all human. I forget that all the time. We all have the same struggles, we hurt just the same, we have hopes and dreams, and as what’s-his-name from the band Good Charlotte once sang: “We all end up the same.” A reminder in times of frustration, wherever you are.

2. Prepare

Ahhhh, paperwork. My favorite thing in the world. Some very basic information. I will share links by people that have done a much better job of explaining things.If anything is outdated or if you feel anything needs to be added, please contact me.

2.1 Things to prepare (government)
2.2 Things to prepare (non-government)
2.3 Upon Arrival (under construction)
2.1 Things to prepare (Government)
  1. Visa Free: There are ways to avoid getting a visa. If you’re planning to go through China on your way to another destination, you may be able to stay visa-free for either 72 or 144 hours. (As of today, June 10th 2020, this has been temporarily suspended due to Covid-19)
  2. All Visas: China doesn’t make it easy (or cheap) to enter to country. What visa you need depends on what you want to do and how long you plan to stay. For a list of all visas, check out China Briefing’s overview here. Applying for any visa usually requires a visit to a Chinese embassy or consulate. You can also get an agency to do it for you. Some countries have mediating institutes specifically for visa application and pick-up, you should check out the requirements for your country to figure out where you need to go.
  3. A work permit (on a Z visa) requires an invitation letter, employment license, and a medical exam. If you’re not working for a government body or a large company (which is rare, unless you teach English), I suggest getting some help. I’m assuming you’re here because you don’t know a lot about China, and without prior knowledge you really shouldn’t do stuff alone. Internations has a clear overview: here
  4. Have a place to stay (hostel/hotel/address) before you arrive; you’re required to fill in an address on your application. You won’t get a visa without it.
  5. Within 24 hours after arrival, you need to register at the Public Security Bureau. Most of the time you’re required to go in person (bring a Chinese-speaking friend/landlord/someone), although sometimes hotels may help out. You’ll need your visa (and passport), and sometimes a lease contract, depending on where you stay. After registering you get a Temporary Residence Permit form (am I saying that right?) – don’t lose it!!! Otherwise you have to go again or you might get in trouble for not having it. Like me. Don’t do it.
  6. China changes its immigration rules all the time. Anything political or any major event can interfere with your plans. In 2016, my move to China came right after a series of political events. My passport had Taiwanese stamps in it, which China did not recognize. I was forced to get a new passport and delay my flight. Cost me a lot. Make sure you stay up to date on current immigration rules (Chinese embassy is your best bet).
2.2: Things to prepare (non-government)
  • Take Chinese currency with you (no airport ATM would take my European debit card. Drama ensued. Take money with you and/or a credit card)
  • Check whether the hotel you book accepts foreigners. To accept foreigners as a hotel owner, you need to have a type of permit. Not every hotel has one. You’ll get sent away.

As you hopefully know, China censors a lot of non-Chinese (social) media. Here’s a list of things I wish I had downloaded before arrival:

  • VPN. A “Virtual Private Network” that circumvents Chinese censorship, so you can keep posting those selfies to Instagram. Chinese authorities have actively tried to block most non-paid networks and keep adding new ones to the list. Obviously, if you find a free VPN that still works, I suggest you use it. But just to be safe, I prefer to use a paid VPN. It’s cheap, don’t worry. Here’s a list. I’ve always used Express VPN and am overall satisfied with it.
  • WeChat – The app that substitutes ALL social media platforms we know. It’s used for business, banking, ordering food, talking to friends, posting selfies… you name it. Very important.
  • Baidu & Baidu Maps (replaces Google & Google Maps)
  • YoukuQIY or Tencent Video (replaces YouTube & Streaming Platforms)
  • Not sure if this is essential, but: TanTan (replaces Tinder. There are other dating apps, but this is the simplest one)
  • Food delivery apps I used: Meituan & daojia
  • Translation Apps: Pleco & MDBG
2.3 Upon Arrival