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Useful travel tips for China

Safety and security

You are advised to:

  • arrange to have easy access to funds at all times
  • arrange a way of staying in contact with family or friends
  • maintain a high level of personal security awareness at all times. Although considered generally safe for travellers, crime directed at foreigners is becoming more frequent in major cities and tourist areas. While serious crime against foreigners is rare, petty crime such as pick pocketing and purse snatching is increasing. Foreigners have been beaten and robbed, particularly in the popular expatriate bar areas of Beijing and Shanghai at night.
  • avoid large public gatherings or demonstrations, particularly of a political nature. A small number of bombings have occurred in China, including one recently.
  • be aware that driving in China can be hazardous due to the poor quality of many roads and generally low driving standards. The safety standards that you might expect from tour operators and public buses, especially in rural areas, are unlikely to be met. Child safety seats and seat belts are not widely available in taxis.
  • be aware that travel and living conditions vary greatly between developed city areas and the less developed rural areas. If you are planning to travel or reside outside major city or tourist areas you should ensure you have sufficient essential items.

Air travel

The two busiest international airports are Beijing Capital International Airport and Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport. Both are around 30 minutes from the city. If you need to take a taxi it is advised that you use only an official taxi line. Tipping your driver with a handful of loose change is quite acceptable.

Country codes

The country code for China is 86.

When in China and want to dial one of the following regions dial the 7 digit number preceded by:

  • 010 for Beijing
  • 020 for Guangzhou (Canton)
  • 021 for Shanghai

When you are calling these regions from another country dial the area codes without the first 0.

Exchanging money

The Bank of China should offer you a better rate of exchange than your hotel. Avoid exchanging currency with people on the street.

You will need your passport for identification when exchanging travellers cheques.

Time zone differences

China is:

  • Two hours behind Eastern Australian Time
  • Eight hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time


China’s climate varies depending on where you will be and at what time of time of the year. China is in an active seismic zone and is subject to earthquakes. The rainy season occurs between April and October. Severe rainstorms can cause flooding and reduce the provision of essential services. Typhoons can occur along the southern and eastern coasts. It is advised that if you are travelling around China you should monitor weather reports.

The language

Mandarin, also known as putonghua or the common language, is the preferred language for business meetings, formal occasions or banquets. It is the official language and is spoken by all but a minority. It is the language taught in schools and supported by the government. It is one of the official working languages at the United Nations. Other dialects of minority nationalities can be heard in regional areas.

On more relaxed occasions people may lapse into their own dialect with other native speakers.

There is only one written Chinese but with two different forms:

  • full form, which has complicated characters and is used in Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas
  • simplified form which has simple characters and is used on the mainland and in Singapore.

English is not widely used in China though it is regarded as the most important international language. Though highly educated people speak English there is limited understanding at the less educated levels.

Forms of address

  • Mr, Mrs and Ms are now used.
  • On formal occasions people are addressed by their family name. Only when you become familiar with someone do you use other terms of address.
  • The Chinese surname goes before the given name. The first character or the first sound is always the family name.
  • Don't assume familiarity quickly. Your relationship may remain on the basis of Mr Zhang forever in some cases.
  • When Chinese are friendly with each other they often use Lao Li and Xiao Li, Lao for a senior person; or Xiao for a young person.

Gestures and public manners

  • When you want to beckon a person to come closer or to get their attention you hold one hand facing down and move your fingers toward you as though you are scratching the palm of your hand.
  • Do not point using your index finger – point using your hand.
  • While the Chinese bow to greet each other, the handshake is more often extended to Westerners.

For further information, please contact Sara Cheng, Manager – Greater China region. 

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Sara Cheng
Senior Manager, China Practice
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Mike Liu
China Trade Advisor
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