Planning a business trip to China?
Even if you’re an experienced traveler with a solid air mileage, China can be a confusing experience. From juggling visa issues to finding your way in a country where English is an exception rather than a rule, a trip to the Middle Kingdom requires preparation and a bit of patience.
If you’re traveling to China for business meetings, you have to be even more careful. We’ve prepared 10 tips, which will help you plan your journey much easier. Here they are:
Things to Do Before Traveling to China on Business
1. Have a passport with at least six months of validity.
Most countries will need a visa for China. The only exceptions are citizens from Brunei, Japan, San Marino, and Singapore. Besides having one blank page on your passport, ensure it has at least six months of validity the moment you enter the country, not when you book your trips. If that’s not the case, you must renew your passport. The renewal process can take up to a month, so plan enough time ahead of you to avoid any gut-wrenching situations.
2. Apply for the right visa.
Business travelers to China have two options:
- The F visa – the diplomatic mission issues this type to foreigners who’re visiting China on a noncommercial exchange. This includes cultural exchanges, scientific trips, technological visits, etc.
- Тhe M visa – if you’re visiting China for trade and commercial activities, this is the visa you must apply for.
You can obtain your visa in person at the diplomatic mission of China (embassy or consulate) in your country.
The required documents for a business visit to China are the following:
- Passport photo
- Itinerary information
- Hotel reservations and plane tickets.
- Passport with at least six months of validity from the date of entry in the country.
- Invitation letter from a registered Chinese business or an introductory letter from your company.
3. Buy a VPN before entering China.
If your work requires to use Google and its various products (Gmail, Maps, etc.), or social media like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter, you’re up for a bad surprise. China blocks the access to most western websites and applications. For a long-term business trip to China, this could be a real hassle. The way to circumvent the so called “Great Firewall of China” is to purchase a VPN. With it, you’ll have no problem accessing any website, but the connection might be a bit slow.
Important: Buy the VPN service before you go on your business trip to China since the government blocks the access to all VPN providers once you’re on Chinese territory. There’s another reason for using a Virtual Private Network – cybersecurity.
4. Arrive in China in the evening if possible.
Opt for flights that arrive in the Middle Kingdom in the evening. This will allow you to accustom yourself faster. Flying east comes with nasty jetlag, and that’s the worst advisor during business meetings. Set your travel route yourself with as few layovers as possible to allow for a more relaxed trip. And don’t forget to drink enough water on the plane.
Getting Around China
5. Have your passport on you at all times.
When in China, always carry your passport with you because the police, hotel staff, or other officials could request to check your travel credentials at any point of your trip. Business travelers to China must register with the police no less than 24 hours after their arrival. You can do that at the hotel you’re staying at or at a local police station. Also, don’t overstay your visa when in China. Failure to exit the country may result in hefty fines (up to 10,000 RMB - $1,500) or even detention.
6. How to get around in a stress-less way?
Here are a few tips to get around in China:
- Be careful when catching a taxi, especially at the airport. Don’t get into unlicensed black taxis, ask the driver to put the meter on, and insist on getting a receipt.
- Ask the driver to get your luggage out of the trunk before you leave the cab and pay.
- Grab the hotel’s business card when you arrive at the reception. Often, it will include the name of the hotel in both English and Chinese. Getting lost in huge cities is not uncommon. If that happens, show the card to a taxi driver or ask passers-by for directions.
Taking the subway system is probably your best choice in gigantic metropolises if you want to avoid the horrible traffic jams. Hopping on the subway is quite easy, super affordable, and there are signs in English everywhere.
Cultural Tips for Business Travel to China
7. Business meeting etiquette – how to build rapport and show respect?
Whether you’re at a conference, trade show, or an exhibition in China, fitting in the culture and impressing your business counterparts always comes in handy. Here are a few tips on how it’s done in China:
- Exchange business cards upon meeting. Make sure you stand up to show respect.
- Exchange them one-by-one and use both hands to build rapport.
- It’s polite to take a look at the card for a while, and then place it in your business card holder.
- If your business card is in Chinese and English, make sure you use Simplified Chinese for Mainland China. Traditional Chinese is used in Taiwan and some areas of Hong Kong.
- DON’T put your counterpart’s business card in your back pockets.
- DON’T write any comments on their business card, in their presence. It’s okay to write any additional information on your own card, if required.
8. How to read Chinese body language?
For a successful business trip to China, it’s essential to understand your partners’ body language. Here are some tips:
- Locals don’t like strangers touching them. Don’t hug, touch, lock arms, slap them on the back, or make any body contact.
- Chinese use an open hand to point. Don’t point to something using your index finger.
- Locals consider it vulgar to blow your nose in a handkerchief and to return it in your pocket.
- Whistling or clicking fingers in China is considered very ill-mannered.
- DON’T gesture or pass an object using your feet, and never place your feet on a chair or a desk.
9. Table etiquette.
- Locals will almost always invite you for a drink and a bite, especially after a successful business meeting. Don’t be surprised if they start ordering alcohol in the middle of the day.
- In this regard, keep in mind the Chinese cheers (“ganbei/gānbēi”) is literally “bottoms up”. From red wine to stronger spirits, most locals will empty their glasses in one shot. Be careful.
- If you want to really impress your business partners, lower your glass when clinging it with your counterpart’s. This shows respect.
Packing Tips for Business Travel to China
10. What to pack for a business trip?
China’s largest cities benefit from numerous convenience stores that are either 24/7 or open until late, so you can easily stock on provisions.
- However, here are a few key items to have with you:
- Earplugs to cancel the construction and traffic noise in huge cities.
- An outlet adapter (type A or I) for China – 220 V, 50 Hz – to be able to charge your devices.
- An anti-pollution mask and moisturizing eye drops to tackle the negative effects of China’s poor air quality.
- Probiotics so your stomach can better handle the various unfamiliar foods you’re going to sample.
- Electrolytes for keeping you hydrated at all times during your business travel to China.
- Hand sanitizer for cleaning your hands in public restrooms and after all the handshakes at business meetings.
- Gifts from your country, which you’ll give to your business counterparts. Think about souvenirs that can’t be easily found in China. Chinese people adore exchanging presents.
Doing business with a culture that’s quite different from the West can seem intimidating at first. However, but that’s certainly not a reason to avoid the lucrative opportunities in the world’s leading economic power. By following these 10 business China travel tips, you’ll likely win many Chinese business partners that will spur your business growth.
Svetoslav Dimitrov is an avid voyager and a blogger. Being passionate about writing, traveling and healthy living, Svet is also a great source for travel tips and insights around the world.