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20 Top First China Trip Tips — Know Before You Go

Planning a trip to China? China is a fascinating country, but very different, so we’ve listed some tips to help you get started and avoid problems, which link in with our wealth of knowledge on touring China.

1. Think what to pack for China early.

luggage

Essentials include passport (and visa), enough money (or a card to withdraw it), enough of the right clothes (check out the weather), and any medication you need (you may need a translated doctor’s note to get it through customs). Smartphones are a handy spacesaver, especially if equipped with a VPN (see next tip). You may also need an adapter for any electronics you bring as China uses 2 or 3 thin-pin sockets at 220V. See more on how to pack for China.

2. Get a VPN.

Many websites such as Facebook, Google, and Instagram are blocked here in China. Some applications on your smart devices and access to emails may require a VPN connection to work so it is highly recommended to get one. See our list of the best China VPN recommendations for paid and unpaid subscriptions.

3. Be wise to the pollution issues.

The government has been working on reducing air pollution here in China, particularly in the main tourist cities, and it is usually better than the media would lead you to expect. On some days, however, the pollution in cities like Beijing may still affect your experience, especially if you have a respiratory condition.

Beyond wearing a dust mask like the locals, consider traveling in spring or when the pollution is least, and out-of-the-city activities. Find out more on what to do on a poor air quality day in Beijing.

You may also be interested in China's Five Best Cities for Air Quality.

4. Spring and autumn are the best times to come.

Whether you enjoy a winter wonderland or the warm sun shining on your skin, China has the perfect destination for you. For the most comfortable weather, consider coming in spring or fall. Spring is a great time as China is fresh and flowering, while autumn has drier weather than spring as well as moderate temperatures. Check out the best times to visit China.

5. But watch out for public and school holidays.

Holidays are great. They put everyone in a joyous mood. Watch out though! Chinese locals usually travel during these periods. Travel costs (hotels, flights…) usually skyrocket during this period. Generally, try to avoid festivals too, unless you want to experience them! Find out more about the busy periods to avoid in China.

6. High-speed rail is better than flying for some journeys.

high-speed trainA high-speed train in China

Long bus rides are no more comfortable in China than elsewhere, but China’s swish new high-speed trains give you excellent intercity options. They may even be faster than travelling via plane as stations may be closer to the city centers than airports.

7. And private transport is the most hassle-free way to explore China’s destinations.

Metros, taxis, and buses are a cheap way to experience local life and to get around easily, but the language barrier and lack of familiarity with an area may mean you’re expending more time than you would like. Avoid unlicensed taxi drivers who may charge ridiculous fees or operate other scams.

Our private transport service (transfers or as part of our tours) is the most convenient and reliable way to get from place to place locally. See our transportation guide to review your options for getting around China.

8. But watch out on the sidewalk.

Sometimes cars and motorbikes etc. are parked on the sidewalks. While walking on them, be careful of vehicles zooming past without warning. Sometimes they can drive really close to you and that is alright to them, but may cause an accident if your movements are not what they expect. Just be on the lookout and learn how to cross roads safely in China.

9. Bearing in mind close personal contact follows different rules.

Unlike in Western countries, China is more conservative with physical touch. Usually a verbal greeting would suffice and public affection is seldom shown. Personal space, however, might be a rarity. On public transport, the locals will push and shove for spaces. When queuing up, it is common to see locals cutting lines.

To better understand this and other cultural differences that you might struggle with, see How to Deal with Culture Shock in China.

10. Learn a few phrases of Mandarin.

Learning a few phrases of the local language would further enhance your experience in China. Simple phrases can be easily picked up and used everywhere. Top marks if you can bargain in Mandarin! Everyone loves a foreigner who speaks the local language, so check out these essential phrases and start practicing!

11. And do not be offended by the locals.

The locals are friendly and like to share. In some parts of China, many of them are not used to seeing foreigners on a daily basis. Do not be taken aback if they stare and spit, or ask for photos with you, or ask a lot of personal questions. Here is some more detailed advice on how to how to communicate with the locals in China.

12. Don’t offend them either… Be respectful.

Everywhere you go in China, locals will be talking loudly and constantly shouting. In temples, however, shouting and talking loudly are frowned upon. Do not touch or point at the statues of deities. Show respect to monks and nuns by not taking photos without permission. Here are some more things not to do in China.

Avoid politics and religion in conversations generally, and abide by the laws and rules of the land. You may be interested in A Traveler's Guide to Chinese Law.

13. Try the local food.

chinese food

China is not only known for beautiful scenery and kungfu, but also its food. Different provinces provide their own unique touch to their food. There are plenty of local classics that are available everywhere. Find out about some local delights that might entice your taste buds.

14. But practice using chopsticks first.

The use of chopsticks is a symbol of Chinese culture. Never, never stick a pair of chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice. This symbolizes joss sticks at a funeral and it is frowned upon. In addition to that, do not “stab” food by using chopsticks like a fork. Find out more about chopsticks and how to use chopsticks properly. An alternative is to bring your own cutlery.

15. And you’ll find toilets are slightly more interesting!

It is important to know that many public bathrooms here do not provide toilet paper or paper towels or soap. Always leave your accommodation with toilet paper, and you may want to carry hand sanitizer too. The public restrooms are mostly squat toilets. It is part of the Chinese experience to use a toilet here. Here is all you need to know about toilets in China.

16. There is no need to tip.

It is not customary to tip in Mainland China, and tips are likely to be awkwardly refused. Conversely tipping in Hong Kong and Macau is common and much appreciated. Only at some of the most classy and international establishments in larger cities on the Mainland, small tips can be given to show appreciation for good service. 

For tour guides, only tip if the service is good and has satisfied you.

Here is a guide to how to tip in China.

17. But you should bring gifts when visiting.

Chinese people are great at hosting and would gladly host you. Locals would always to whip a scrumptious meal that is an experience to behold. If you visit a Chinese family, do not forget to bring gifts. The Chinese believe mutual gifting is a sign of respect. See more on How to Visit a Chinese Family... Properly.

18. Avoid tourist traps.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is a fake or worse in China. The most common scams include overpriced taxis, services, merchandise... Counterfeit notes are also a fairly common scam. When buying souvenirs, always bargain to get the best price. See our comprehensive guide to common tourist traps in China and how to avoid them.

19. Avoid budget tour groups.

In order to save costs and maximize profits, budget tour groups are generally large, noisy, and very rushed, with lots of time-wasting lining up, and getting on and off buses for commission shop stops. Avoid this option if you want a more fulfilling and authentic experience.

See more on China Group Tours vs Private China Tours: 7 Key Differences.

20. And choose a good guide and tour operator.

Guides can make or break a trip. In order to ensure the best experience for you, China Highlights select and train the best local guides available. On our personalized tours, you are the main focus. Your experience is vital to us. We will tailor your itinerary to what you want. Make sure you know how to make the most out of your China tour guide.

Let Us Help You Enjoy a More Care-Free China Tour

travel with usDiscover China with us

Some of the biggest problems with arranging a China trip are the language barrier, China's general complexity, and the difficulty of booking everything efficiently, before you even consider getting off the beaten path. Why struggle when there are companies who can do the work for you?

To make your first trip to China a great one, contact us. We’re here to help you tour China your way. 10,000+ people a year use our tailor-made China tour service. Whatever your interests, we can arrange experiences that will bring your China curiosity to life — that’s Discovery Your Way.

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Or contact us and we’ll design a custom tour for you.