Here are a few useful tips for first-time China travelers that can save you from getting into awkward and costly situations.
1. Bring toilet paper
Always travel with toilet paper, because generally, toilet paper is not supplied in China’s public restrooms. You may be able to get free toilet paper outside the restrooms at the Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport, or at Xianyang International Airport in the city of Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi Province. Toilet paper can also be found in restrooms of upscale restaurants, clubs, or pubs, but I have not seen it in other places.
2. Beware of pickpockets
Keep a close watch over your personal belongings, such as bags, luggage, and items in your pockets. Keep your hands on them to avoid becoming a victim of pickpockets and thieves. If you leave your personal belongings unattended, the chance of losing them is high, and getting them back is all but zero.
3. Taxi perils: take your luggage first
Taxi cab rides are quite cheap and a popular way to get around in China. When you put your large luggage in the trunk or back seat of a taxi, at your destination, remember to first take hold of your luggage and then pay the taxi driver for the fare. If you pay first and then get out of the vehicle, the taxi driver may drive away with your luggage. This is how I lost my luggage in the city of Nanchang, Jiangxi Province.
4. Taxi perils: get a receipt
Don’t forget to ask the taxi driver for a fare receipt, as it can help you get your luggage back or claim your money back when the cab driver takes a long detour to make more money. I didn’t realize how useful a cab fare receipt could be until I lost my luggage in Nanchang.
5. Taxi perils: avoid unlicensed cabs
Beware of illegal or unlicensed cabs, which are frequently seen in China. Such taxi cabs are not hired by taxi companies, rather, they are private drivers. I once took a fake cab and paid two times higher than regular fare. I highly recommend taking taxis that are equipped with fare meters and using taxis operated by larger companies.
6. Fake money
Watch out for counterfeit money, especially 20, 50, and 100 yuan bills. You may wonder how you can tell counterfeit bills. Here is a good article on how to identify a fake bill.
7. Youth hostel
Here is a good point. My personal experience with China’s International Youth Hostel system has been positive. Their staff are cordial and enthusiastic, and they maintain a comparatively safe and sanitary environment. This hotel is a good choice for a moderate price.
8. Food safety
You have to be really careful when eating mutton — or, in fact, any kind of meat— because some places, especially in the south of China, may sell fake mutton. They may put “mutton powder” on non-mutton meat. Who knows what kind of meat it may be. If it’s pork or chicken, then it’s not so bad, but it could be dog, and if it’s rat meat, it would really make you sick!
9. Protect your passport
Always carry your passport on you, and safeguard it to prevent having it stolen.
10. Use sunscreen
Remember to put on sunscreen before going sightseeing. I don’t burn easily, but I got a bad sunburn after spending about three hours in the sun during my visit to China, probably due to air pollution.
Smart shopping in China means bargaining, unless you are buying luxury brands. Start by offering one third of the asking price.
12. Brand-name knock-offs
Never buy brand-name products in China, unless they are exclusively sold in China, because there are too many fake products there. Items that bear real trademarks will be priced much higher than in other countries because of high tariffs imposed on imported products in China.
If something really bad happens to you and you need help from the police, you should let the police know your “status” as clearly as possible. When my friend and I lost our luggage in Nanchang, we first asked for help from a local radio station, police station, and train station.
They paid no attention to us. After we explained that we were exchange students from the United States, that our passports were inside the stolen luggage, and that we wouldn’t be able to return home until our passports and luggage were found, the police and other agencies suddenly became very active in helping us — though in the end, we recovered nothing.
Like this article? Subscribe to our weekly email for more!