How to Travel to China for a Business Trip Like a Pro

In Travel Destinations, Travel While Working by Phoebe Nicolas

Many people plan to travel to China in search for business opportunities. Organizing a business trip to China will require a lot of planning and preparation if you want it to be successful. Preparing can be tedious, but it will prove to be fruitful in the end.

With a population of a billion, China not only has the highest population of any country worldwide, but also one of the most powerful and fast-growing economies of the world. In the recent years, China has proven its position as one of the leading economic giant that continues to expand despite the success it has already achieved.

China is home to the headquarters of many globally recognized brands and companies such as Alibaba, Huawei, Lenovo, and several international banks.

So, if you or your company is eyeing to expand internationally and establish quarters outside your country, China is the place you need to do business with. China still has potential for growth and holds plenty of amazing business opportunities for every kind of business venture. These helpful points will make your business trip a success and smooth sailing.

1. Travel to China with complete entry and exit documents

Passport

You have got your business proposal set-up but are your required documents to travel to China ready? All travelers that enter China are required to have a valid passport, regardless of citizenship. This means your passport should be valid for at least 6 months after you arrive in China, otherwise, you might be refused to board your flight.

If your passport is not valid for at least 6 months, allot some time for renewal before booking and scheduling your travel to China.

Visa

In addition to your passport, all people that travel to China should also have a valid Chinese visa. Unless you are a citizen of Singapore or Japan, you will need to get a visa in order to enter China. You can apply for ether a single or multiple-entry visa. If you have plans to travel to China several times in a year, it is highly advised to apply for the multiple-entry visa, it saves you the cost of paying for a single entry visa each time you travel to China.

There are 2 kinds of visas business travelers can apply for:

1. F visa – This is a multiple entry visa issued to foreigners coming to China for non-commercial exchange. These activities include conventions, scientific purposes, cultural exchange, health and sports activities, and others not involving the sale or purchase of goods.

2. M visa – This other type of business visa is issued to travelers who travel to China for commerce purposes such as purchases and sale of various items. This is what I had when my boss sent me to China to visit some manufacturers.

Remember not to overstay in China beyond what your visa permits. This can result to problems such as fines and worst, deportation back to your country.

Chinese registration

Business travelers and other visitors are required to register their travel to China within 24 hours of their arrival. Normally, your hotel of choice should do this for you. If you’re staying in an apartment, you will likely need to do this yourself at the nearest local police station. Failure to register your trip can result to penalties or even deportation.

For affordable hotels in China, check out booking.com.

Along with this, it is also recommended (but not required) to register your travel at your country’s embassy or consulate. These can be found in the major cities of China. The consulate will send you regular travel alerts and any other pertinent information regarding your travel. Registering at your consulate will also aide you if ever any emergencies or problems occur regarding your stay.

2. Transportation while in China

Flights

Even though China is one of the world’s leading economies, it is a sad truth that its airports are some of the worst-rate in the world. One can travel to China mainly by commercial flights. Many flights by different airlines are often delayed, rescheduled, or cancelled, with only a short notice to its passengers.

Here are some helpful tips regarding your flight to and from China:

  • Anticipate delays in your flight itinerary and allow time allowances so that you still land and arrive at your meetings on time.
  • Opt for flights that land in China the evening before your schedule, so you can squeeze in some snooze time as well as have room for few hours of delay in case something turns up.
Public transport

Getting around the main cities of China is key and crucial to getting to your business meetings and appointments on time. When you travel to China, do your research on the available modes of transport.

Being late to a meeting or gathering is considered rude and insulting to the Chinese, so familiarizing yourself with public transportation in China is a must if you want to get that potential client, investor, or supplier’s approval.

You will find it easy to navigate the main cities of China as most of the signs have English translation. If business requires you to visit smaller cities, expect to have less signs in English compared to the major cities.

If your company does not provide you the luxury of renting a car to bring you back and forth to various meetings, then prepare yourself for different forms of public transports: whether it may be walking, riding a cab, riding a bus, and even water vehicles.

Taxis

If your boss, employer, or company is reimbursing you for your transportation around China during your trip, the best way to get around the city is on a taxi. People who travel to China often take taxis because they are an easy, cost-efficient way to move from one area to another.

Hailing a cab in China is not difficult because: one, your hotel or choice of accommodation is very willing to have a cab pick you up and take you anywhere.

  • China has Didi Chuxing, which is similar to what we popularly known as Uber. This is convenient when getting a ride since the app is available in English, fares are never inflated, and it accepts international cards too, making payment easy.
  • Although rare, do still take caution when hailing a cab by yourself; insist that the drivers use a meter instead of charging you a fixed (often overcharged) price.
  • Ask your hotel staff to write your destination down in Chinese so that you always head towards the right place.
  • Similarly, grab your hotel’s business card so that you can guide the driver where to drop you off home.
  • Beware of taxi drivers giving fake Chinese money for change. Always double check before getting off.
Subways and high speed trains

People who researched before they travel to China know that traffic in China can become a problem. To avoid the nightmare of traffic in the major cities in China, taking the subway is a good alternative to taking a cab.

  • The metro systems in Chinese cities such as Beijing have improved, and now are English-friendly, not to mention clean and efficient.
  • However, do expect some level of walking between stations and establishments.
  • If you dislike being in close proximity with other people while in your business suit, taking the subway may not be the wisest option.

Like Japan, China has high speed trains or bullet trains as well. These trains can reach a speed of 350 km/h (217 mph). If you’re travelling between different provinces, this is the best transportation option. There are Over 2,800 pairs of high speed trains numbered by G, D or C that operate daily connecting over 550 cities and covering 33 of China’s 34 provinces.

3. Modes of payment when you travel to China

Credit cards

Most hotels and restaurants in the major cities of China accept major credit cards. To be completely sure your card will not get rejected, carry at least an American Express or a Visa card when you travel to China.

Cash

Do not rely too much on your credit card, since some stores and establishments only accept cash as payment. This also includes public transportation and other services. As you prepare to travel to China, be prepared to have some cash on hand that you can exchange for the local currency in China, which is the Yuan.

You can exchange your money at the airport, in malls, or even in your hotels. It is through these places you are sure you will not get scammed or cheated off the exchange rate.

4. Etiquette to keep in mind when you travel to China for business

The cultural differences between American, European, and Chinese is striking. If you travel to China for a business venture, it is imperative for you to familiarize with the cultural norms and business practices of the Chinese culture.

People that travel to China on business sometimes do or say something potentially offensive or embarrassing to their Chinese hosts without even realizing it. Here are some topics I would like to talk about to prevent that from happening.

Business Meetings

No business travel to China will be successful without meeting your Chinese business partner. Certain etiquette has to be followed if you want to seal that deal and grow your business.

  • Punctuality is extremely important. In Chinese business culture, being late is an insult.
  • The Chinese love to talk and eat over business meetings, so do not show impatience while waiting for contracts or deals to be signed.
  • Practice small talk and try to build a good relationship with your business partner. However, avoid controversial topics such as politics and instead discuss about family and sports.
Gifts and favors

Chinese people are generous hosts to their guests. It is only polite to return the favor. Here are some things to remember when bringing and giving gifts to the Chinese people. They appreciate items from your home city or country, company merchandise, and even alcoholic drinks.

  • When handing or receiving something to another person, do so with both hands and with a slight bowing of the head, as a sign of gratitude.
  • If you are to give a Chinese person a token, avoid giving clocks or books. Both have negative connotations when giving these gifts in Chinese culture.
  • Show appreciation for the item received, but do not open it in front of them, as this appears greedy to them. Put the gift aside for opening at a later time.
  • Before leaving to travel to China, bring along with you something from your hometown, and preferably something that does not bear the “Made in China” logo.
Attitude

Chinese people are very calm and gentle people, and often do things slowly and carefully. When you travel to China, remember to work, talk, and act at their pace.

  • Patience and politeness is important when transacting business with Chinese executives. They do not like making rush decisions, and often have long pauses in meetings, when deciding on something.
  • Be careful not to interrupt when someone else is talking at the table; instead, wait to be acknowledged before you speak.
  • Avoid touching anyone’s head at any time, as the head is considered sacred.
Meals

You do not travel to China just to attend a simple business meeting over coffee. Chinese executives absolutely love holding meetings and business proposals over food and drinks, so be prepared to fill your stomach with food and alcohol. Refusing their offer to taste something can give a negative impression on them.

  • Learn how to use chopsticks properly. Chinese appreciate that you learn how they naturally eat their food. It is almost a must that you learn to use chopsticks when visiting an Asian country.
  • Be careful in the placement of your chopsticks: do not place them parallel inside or outside the bowl.
  • It is recommended to try every dish that is offered to you, unless you have allergies. Otherwise, they might come to think you dislike their food.
  • Expect to be served alcohol with your food. The Chinese love their beer and other alcoholic beverages. If you wish to stop drinking, simply stop touching your glass, even if it is refilled by the host.
Business cards

Exchange of business cards is one of the most important parts of a business meeting. Unlike the Western culture, exchanging of business cards is done with utmost respect.

  • Offer your business card with both hands. Similarly, receive one with both hands to show respect.
  • If you travel to China, have your cards made with both a Chinese and English side, and hand it over with the Chinese side facing your host.
  • Bow slightly as a sign of respect when receiving a card.
Language

The language difference between China and the rest of the countries can be an obstacle when transacting business with them. Without preparation, relationships can be difficult to form if one does not attempt to learn even the basic greetings and polite words.

Fluent English is still not widely spoken in China, even for business purposes. Before or when you travel to China, it is recommended you learn a few words to make it easier for you. Here are some apps that can help you overcome that language barrier:

  • FluentU – This is a great and easy to use tool for beginners. Through videos and blogs, it immerses you in the Chinese language. Pick up a few Chinese words along the way as you learn.
  • Pleco – This amazing application is a Chinese to English dictionary and comes with an integrated document reader. This can help you read Chinese signage, and other documents written in Chinese, by translating it to English.
  • WeChat – This is one of the messaging applications not blocked in China. It is free, easy to use, and comes with a message translation feature too.

5. How to communicate effectively when in China

China does not only have the Great Wall, but also the “Great Firewall” – which is the Chinese government blocking websites that it finds unacceptable. Many famous messaging and email applications such as Facebook, Google, and Gmail are blocked in China. So, if you are relying solely on Gmail or Facebook to be updated, chances are you will not be receiving any messages during the duration of your stay in China. Additionally, China also blocks other messaging sites such as Messenger, so look for an alternative before you travel to China.

Here are some tips to get over that communication block.

Gmail is blocked

Nowadays, one of the most widely used email applications is Gmail, which is unfortunately not accessible in China.

Solution? Forward any important emails to a webmail system that is not blocked by China, such as Hotmail. This way, important emails are still accessible despite the block.

Social media networks are not allowed

China does not only block Google-owned websites and application, it also blocks many social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Solution? If you are an avid user of these applications, you can download a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to your mobile phone to gain access. A VPN extends a private network across a public network, and can also act as a proxy for your device. In simpler terms, it masks your location, therefore allowing you to send and receive data as if you are connected to your private network. If you need a reliable VPN, we highly recommend ExpressVPN. A single ExpressVPN subscription comes with easy-to-use apps for every device you have. They also offer a 30-day money-back guarantee!

Many messaging sites are blocked

Communication apps such as WhatsApp, Skype, and Messenger are banned in China. If you frequently use this apps, be prepared and come to China armed with alternatives.

Solution? If you are an apple user, you can still use iMessage to send and receive messages, photos, and other documents. You can also use WeChat, a messaging app widely used around China. It is easy to use and sending messages is free of charge.

Roaming charges can quickly escalate

Your mobile provider will gladly turn on your roaming settings to allow you to send texts and make international calls, but you might be surprised by your staggering phone bill when you get home.

Solution? Purchase a local SIM card or bring a pocket wi-fi which is what I do. You can use this to send texts and call your Chinese hosts without spending too much. Likewise, it will be easier for your Chinese counterparts to reach you now that you have a Chinese number.

6. How to sight-see during your China business trip

Even though your primary purpose for visiting China is for business, it should not stop you from exploring this unfamiliar country. When you travel to China, make time to tour the city. Sightseeing in between meetings and conventions provides an exciting and relaxing feeling to a business traveler.

Only have a few days to squeeze in some sightseeing? Have a little fun and explore the city. Here are some ways you can add sightseeing while traveling on business.

Eat at a local restaurant

You might be served food during meetings and conventions, but there is always room for more. Shy away from hotel restaurants and instead head over to the city center where you are sure to enjoy some authentic Chinese cuisine.

Take advantage of free time

When booking your China trip, try to squeeze in at least a day or two before and after your business meeting. A few hours before your morning meeting or after your afternoon seminar, take time to jog around the city and hop from one attraction to another. If you have a lot of time before and after your business meeting, stroll around the city instead of moping in your hotel room. There are a lot of must-see attractions located just within the major cities in China.

Shop for souvenirs

Have something to bring back home to family and friends by coursing through night bazaars and weekend markets all over the cities in China. You will surely find a lot of things worth your money, while enjoying the Chinese culture.

7. Visiting Beijing

Beijing is the capital and one of the major business centers in China. Every year, millions of people flock to this capital for both leisure and business. There are plenty of tourist attractions within and just outside the city.

As a busy person on travel for business, you might only have a few days to explore this wonderful city, but you can make the most out of it by visiting one or two of the major attractions Beijing is famous for. If you have limited time to explore the city, going on a guided tour will help you make the most out of your time as you travel to China. Here are some of the places you can visit while in Beijing.

The Great Wall of China

You have not really been to China unless you have walked and taken a picture at the Great Wall. The Great Wall was built to separate and protect China from the nomadic warriors of Mongolia in the North.

Beginning in the 1950s, sections of the Wall were opened to tourists for viewing and hiking. Sections of the wall have been destroyed, rebuilt, and expanded over the years. Along the way, tourists can enjoy the scenic views from eight meters up high, and view the different towers along the way.

For those who would rather not walk, you can take a slow ride on the cable car going up the wall. Consider joining a tour when visiting the Great Wall, so that you learn about the history behind this iconic structure. Otherwise, you can also explore yourself.

The Imperial Palace and The Forbidden City

One of China’s most famous attractions is The Imperial Palace, also known as the Forbidden City. It was built in the 13th century under the great Ming Dynasty. This was home to numerous emperors and ordinary citizens were not allowed, earning its nickname, ”Forbidden City”.

This palace covers over 720,000 square meters, surrounded by a high wall with towers, and a moat around the area. It is one of the best places to visit first when you have limited time in China. History says that after this palace was built, it was once burnt down, rebuilt, destroyed, but renovated numerous times to preserve its architecture.

Since you will be doing a lot of walking, remember to wear comfortable shoes and put on some sunblock if you want to enjoy this vast place.

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square, translated as the “Square of Heavenly Peace”, was built in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Chinese republic. With that said, it can hold up to a million people, gaining popularity as the world’s largest city square.

Nowadays, it is a common place to hold rallies and parades. Interesting attractions can be found within the Square, such as: the meeting place of the Chinese congress known as Great Hall of People, the National Museum of China that showcases this country’s rich history, and several structures like the Monument to the People’s Heroes and Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum.

The Temple of Heaven

If there is one thing that defines Beijing, the Temple of Heaven definitely makes the list. It is considered one of the holy areas in China. An area filled with greenery, you can see lovely temples within the area.

It is believed in Chinese tradition that it is on this park that the emperor ascends to the Heavenly Altar to offer sacrifices for a fruitful harvest.

Noteworthy in this area are the beautifully adorned and crafted halls made with the best materials available in that era. You can catch people practicing kung fu or taiji around the temples.

The Summer Palace

Found within Beijing’s city center, the Summer Palace is a must-see when you travel to China. It is a picturesque park known for its beautiful landscape and features a man-made lake and well-maintained gardens.

Catch performances of traditional Chinese plays as you go around the Great Theatre. Take the opportunity to ride in several vessels that transport tourists to one of the palace’s temples.

Beijing National Stadium

Showcased to the world in the Summer Olympics of 2008 held in Beijing, the Beijing National Stadium houses some iconic structures.

Nicknamed “Bird’s Nest’, the stadium has a very unique design which is inspired by the Chinese intricate ceramics. In the summer it serves as a location for events and performances, and in the winter, it is made into the world’s largest indoor ski slope.

A closely related attraction is the National Aquatics Center, also known as the Water Cube. It boasts of an attractive night-time display, which lights up looking like a giant ice cube. World records have been broken in this center during the Summer Olympics.

Beijing Zoo

Located north in the city of Beijing, the Beijing Zoo is a vast piece of land which is one of the oldest zoos in China. When you travel to China, get a glimpse of the country’s biodiversity by visiting this place.

The zoo is home to more than 10,000 animals of different species. It houses many rare animal species such as snow leopards, snub-nosed monkeys, pandas, South China tigers, Pere David’s deer, and the red crowned crane. Other wild animals that can be found in this zoo include jaguars, lions, and elephants.

798 Art Zone

798 Art Zone, also known as 798 Art Space or Factory 798, is the Chinese version of SoHo. Satisfy the inner artist in you when you travel to China by visiting this place.

Found in Dashanzi, the 798 Art Zone is an art community located in a former military training complex.

Not a common attraction to visit, but also a must-see when you travel to China. It contains art galleries, studios, and other exhibition pieces all equally appealing to the eye. Another attraction is the unique pieces you can buy from this place when you travel to China such as books, handmade boutique clothes, and art pieces.

These places listed are just some of the more popular ones to visit when you travel to China. Being the second largest and most populous country, there are a lot of attractions and places to visit not only in Beijing, but in other Chinese cities as well.

Final thoughts

China has been taking its stake in the business world by continually growing and expanding as the years go by. There is not an industry that the Chinese do not take part in. When planning to expand your business, you might want to travel to China not just to make negotiations and find potential partners, but to learn about the Chinese business style as well.

Doing business with practices and culture different from one’s norm can be challenging and tedious. The Chinese can be very specific people with a strong set of beliefs and traditions, and respecting that will be the key to closing a deal.

At the end of the day, meeting with clients and talking about business can be tiring. Sometimes, business travelers want to take a rest and enjoy the new city they are in. Meetings should not be a hindrance for anyone when you travel to China for business. Instead, they should be seen as opportunities to visit and venture a new country, a new place. Travel to China not only to enrich your business knowledge, but also your cultural and general knowledge.

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Phoebe Nicolas

Project Manager at Coles Management Ltd
I quit my office based job after 10 years and started to work remotely as a project manager. Working remotely gives me the flexibility and freedom to travel and work at the same time which I really love. I want to share information and tips on how to work while traveling, work from home lifestyle and my travel adventures.
Phoebe Nicolas