Whether you’re after an immersive urban experience or a trip packed with adventures in remarkable locales, China has something to pique everyone’s interest. Before you go, here are eight practical tips to keep in mind for an optimal trip.

1. Getting your visa

First thing’s first – getting there. With a few exceptions, most foreigners travelling to China need to get a visa. It’s recommended that you apply at least one month prior to your departure date. The L visa is a tourist visa that is generally sufficient for those with plans to take a single short-term trip to China. Citizens of the US, UK, Canada, Israel and Argentina are eligible to apply for a 10-year visa which allows one to enter the country multiple times over the course of a decade without going through the application process over and over again.

2. Getting access to the internet

Chinese social media is drastically different than that of the West due to strict regulations and government censorship. Apps like Facebook and Instagram will be unavailable over there, along with those especially valuable for travel, like Google Maps. Luckily, this issue can be resolved by purchasing a Virtual Private Network for your smartphone prior to your arrival. VPNs will allow you to bypass the country’s firewall, have access to your favourite apps and protect your security all at once.

3. Tipping

Visitors are not expected to tip in mainland China, even after enjoying good service. In some cases, offering a gratuity could even be viewed as offensive and many establishments have a strict no-tipping policy. In recent years, it has become commonplace to offer a tip to a leader or a driver on a guided tour. Small tips may also be accepted at upscale hotels and restaurants that cater to a foreign crowd.

4. Communicating

Over 300 languages are spoken in China today. Mandarin is the national language and about 70 percent of Chinese citizens are fluent in it. Don’t panic though, if travelling in big cities like Beijing, you can survive without knowing Mandarin – restaurants in metropolitan areas will often include English translations on the menus. The language barrier will be much more prominent in rural areas where tourism is less common however. No matter where you go, it might be a good idea to brush up on a few key Mandarin phrases before your trip. If all else fails, there’s always Google Translate (provided you’ve got that VPN).

5. Getting around

Want to take a trip from Hong Kong to Shanghai? Guangzhou to Beijing? Forget aeroplanes – high-speed rail is the way to go. Flights into and around China often experience delays as a result of bad weather conditions while bullet trains are known for being punctual, fairly inexpensive and well kept.

6. Managing your money

Most major credit cards are accepted in large Chinese cities but it’s not a bad idea to have a decent amount of cash on hand when venturing into rural areas. Although China has a reputation of being a relatively affordable place to visit, costs can add up. Depending on where you go, food prices can range from super cheap to exorbitantly expensive. Don’t be afraid to be adventurous in your search for places to eat and things to do – it might save you a lot of money in the end.

7. Staying hydrated

Tap water is not safe for consumption anywhere in China without being boiled first. Bottled water, on the other hand, is inexpensive and available everywhere. Most hotels will provide free bottled water to guests. If buying from a street vendor, make sure to check that the bottle is completely sealed to avoid being sold tap water.

8. Looking after your health

Hazardous air pollution levels are on the rise in China due to a number of factors, such as economic growth and overpopulation. Air pollution is an especially critical issue in the country’s most-visited cities. Before travelling, it’s best to speak to your doctor if you have respiratory-related health issues. Facemasks are commonly worn by locals and can be purchased upon arrival in convenience stores around the country.

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City Guide: Shanghai, China

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