Dos and Don'ts of China

map of China As one of the most populous countries in the world and as a civilization that has survived for roughly four millennia, China of course has a long tradition for you to explore. Whether you are a businessman or explorer, there is something for you in this vast country. Any time you visit a foreign country, cultural literacy is a good idea—but especially in China, a country where the culture has both modern and traditional elements and respect is tantamount. In each category of interactions, from the conference room to restaurant, there are both dos and don’ts. Here are some tips:

Visas and Regulations

DO figure out if you need a visa or residence permit for your stay in China. You will generally need a visa to visit China, even for a short amount of time. If you hold a passport from the United States, Canada, or one of the EU member states, you can likely obtain a transit visa for China that is valid for 72 hours, providing that you show proof of onward travel. But for stays longer than three days, you will probably need to apply for a visa in your home country or country of residence prior to your arrival in China.

DON’T enter China on a tourist visa and start working, even if your new boss tells you it’s okay. China has become really strict about this in recent years, and if you’re caught doing this, it doesn’t just look bad for the company: you might be banned from ever working in China again! If you’re working with a legitimate company, they should be upfront with you about the visa regulations—and will usually help you figure out the visa process and everything else. If the company seems untrustworthy or is asking you to arrive on a tourist visa, don’t work with them.

Chinese foodDO try all the Chinese food you can get your hands on, as you’ll find that it tastes much, much different from any Chinese food you’ve had back home, even in your local Chinatown. Actually, the type of food you eat varies based on your location in the culture—China is home to many regional dishes. As a general rule of thumb, noodles are served in the North and rice is served in the South, but all else varies. And make sure that no matter where you are, you don’t use your own utensil to serve yourself from a shared dish—the serving DON’T worry if you don’t know how to use chopsticks—you can get a fork or a spoon in most places if you’re worried, and you don’t have to worry about being the first person who’s asked. If you do use chopsticks, don’t leave them sticking up in the bowl when you’ve finished; instead, carefully place them parallel across the top of the bowl. Not doing so is considered offensive or bad luck in most places.

Technology

DO explore your options for apps that you can add to your smartphone, which can help you navigate your way around China as well as help you find great local favorites. Check out Metroman for Beijing and Shanghai if you plan on taking the subway in either of these places, or Pandabus to find information about local buses, or China Trains for advice on getting around to other places. You might also be interested in adding a budgeting app to your smartphone, such as Trip Boss.

DON’T leave home without setting up a VPN for your iPhone or other device! Setting up a VPN will help you protect your information while you’re on vacation, and it can also allow you to stream sites or visit webpages that are blocked in China (such as Netflix or Facebook).

Respect

China timeDO be on time. The Chinese believe that being on time shows respect, and as such, you should never be late for classes, business meetings, or any other formal commitment. In fact, if you are late for a class, a Chinese teacher may ban you from entering the class! Rather than commit some faux pas, you might want to set your watch five to ten minutes early to ensure that you’re well on time for any important meetings that you have.

DON’T assume a first-name basis with people—especially not business colleagues—unless you are invited to do so. Although in many Western countries, business relations are relaxing further and further, this is not totally the case in China, and using a first-name with a business acquaintance can put you on the fast-track to a foiled deal. If you’re unsure, check what other people are doing, but it’s always safest to err on the side of caution. You should also make sure to always address the eldest person(s) first in a group.

Declining Invitation

DO exercise caution when saying no. To flat-out decline an invitation might cause an unforgivable loss of face and embarrassment. Try to compromise with the person, or if that’s not at all possible, try to “postpone” or head off whatever suggestion the other person has offered. Even if you do not intend to ever accept this offer in the future, it’s better to leave an offer hanging than to say no straight away!

DON’T give up the chance to do something unique and cultural. Even if you’re tired, if a friend invites you along to his family’s home for the weekend or there is a special festival going on, you should do your best to get out and see it. Cultural interactions are what will make your trip especially worthwhile—and they’ll give you something to write home to your grandmother about!

Travel

China transportationDO see as much as you can while you’re in China, both of China and of Asia. Coming from the US or Europe, you’re looking at a long flight to get to Asia—but from China, this is all much easier and cheaper. Explore your options and see what there is that you could visit. In China, don’t just stick to the cities: China has some fantastic nature to be explored, as especially shown by their successful 2008 bid for the Summer Olympics and their current bid for the 2022 Olympics. Visit the Great Wall, Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong…but also leave yourself time to get lost in the countryside!

DON’T stress about travelling all the time if you’re working or studying in China. Too often, people who are working or studying abroad feel like they have to have a new blog post at least every week to keep people back home satisfied and to show people that they’ve made the most of their stay. While this is great if you can manage it, you also have to realize that you’re not just in China on vacation, and some weeks, you might just want to kick back on the weekends or in the evenings and relax. And there’s nothing wrong with this

Hopefully, these dos and don’ts will come in handy for you during your time in China. Although you may be a foreigner, you aren’t likely to encounter any issues unless you draw too much unwanted attention to yourself through rudeness or criticisms. If you respect the Chinese culture, you’re guaranteed to have a fantastic trip—and really, what is there not to respect from this fascinating and traditional culture? Keep these tips in mind, but most importantly, enjoy yourself and explore!