Making first trip to China? Be prepared for basic differences when you arrive

Posted on October 19, 2015


“The first time when I went to China, I was completely overwhelmed,” said Angela Chris, a sophomore in University of Miami majoring political science. “I do not speak Chinese and it’s so much more different than I expected.”

That is right. Though going to China might sounds great and cool, your journey might be much less enjoyable if you get overexcited and not prepare at all.

As a large country with distinct culture, China can be a completely new world for those first time visitors from a foreign country. Looking up tips can be extremely useful and here are some of them to help you have a better first time visiting experience:

Have some basic information in Chinese wherever you go

If you are planning on traveling to China, and do not speak Chinese, go prepared. Understand the fact that not many people in China can communicate with you in English, and prepare some basic information in Chinese on your phone or simply download a Chinese translation app like Youdao Dictionary can come handy.

Have your hotel address, places you want to go, or even some basic questions such as “Where is the bathroom?” in Chinese can help you a lot when you get there. You do not want to get completely lost and find nobody can understand you while you are in China. If you have things listed above ready, you can at least grab a person and show the person something he understands and he should at least give you a bit direction about the situation you are facing.

“Once I was completely lost when I visited China,” Chris remembered. “Thanks to God that I at least had the card of my hotel with me. I got on a taxi, showed the driver that card, and went back to hotel safely.”

Find a guide

If you are visiting China the first time, try to find a guide will be a smart choice. When you go somewhere you have no idea about, have someone local to take you around is always a good idea.

Private guide search page on Trip Advisor.

It is okay if you do not want to travel with big groups put together by travel agencies. Ask your Chinese friends, and they may be able to find you a guide for free. Or you can simply search on websites like Trip Advisor and you will find plenty of private tour information with comments.

“Honestly, I have no idea what was going on when I visited China last time,” Chris said. “If it was not because my Chinese friend was with me and taking me around, that would probably be a horrible trip.”

Find a measurement converter and expect metric measures

“None of the measurement units seem familiar,” Jasmine Harent, a junior psychology major, cried out when the issue was mentioned. “The temperature is in Celsius, length in meters, weight in gram and kilograms … it drove me crazy!”

As Harent talked about her trip to China last time, the lack of knowledge of different units seems one of her biggest problems.

Therefore, do not be like her. Be prepared with a measurement converter. Download an app like that in your phone and it helps. When next time you check the weather in China, you will know what is that so that you can make sure you wear the right clothes. It is the same with other units. When you are going to buy fruits, you want to know how much fruits are you exactly buying,

This might be something very small, but it will definitely makes your trip better especially if you are planning to experience more of local lifestyle. You cannot avoid it.

Bring an electric plug converter and pay attention to the voltage

The shape of the electric plugs in China is different. So make sure you have an adaptor in your bag. Charging you electronic devices are important, and you do not want to go around with them all out of battery.

The voltage coming out Chinese outlet is not the same as well. China uses 220 volts instead of the 110 volts in United States, so check all your devices, and do not plug them in if they do not support 220 voltages. Watching your devices melting in front of you is not fun. Converters are available for devices that require them.

But not all do require a converter. It is true that more electronic devices today are approved for 100-240 voltages worldwide, but it is always smart to double check.

Try Chinese public transportation

The public transportation system in China is fairly developed. Buses, subways, trains are all very convenient and cheap to use. Most of the cities also have a transportation card that can be used for all city transportation, and you can just put money in without worrying about changes.

Shanghai subway

Shanghai subway

If you just take some time and check the route or simply ask someone, you can save a lot of money and still get to where you need to be by using public transportation.

“It is so convenient,” Yuqi Luo, a senior majoring in business from China said. “You need a car in America, but it is not the same in China. I miss Chinese public transportation so much”

Normally buses or subways come within every 10 minutes. Trains are fast and have frequent schedules so there is no need to do a road trip unless you love driving.


Chinese food has such a big name worldwide, but what exactly is real Chinese food? Since you are already there, try it. What is the point of going to China and have steak after all?

It is understandable that you might feel a little scary if you have no idea about it, but why not figure it out yourself. There are so many delicious foods out there that you do not want to miss.

Tell your Chinese friends or your guide about your taste and let them recommend something for you. They know about it and most of them want to share that with you if you ask.

“I want to introduce some Chinese food to my friend so badly, but none of my American friend seems interested,” Luo mentioned this with frustration.

If there is no one to ask, just look at the picture on the menu or watch what other people have ordered. If the food looks delicious, most of the time they are indeed.


Chinese currency is known as yuan or renminbi (RMB), and this is mostly the only acceptable currency in China. Some pricey shops or hotels may accept U.S. dollars as well, but they normally will charge with an extremely high rate, so you might want to avoid them if possible.

Ask about your bank before you go and get some money exchanged with you. When you get there, ATM is probably the best choice to get cash because of its convenience. You can also get money from banks in China, but be aware that sometimes you have to wait in extremely long lines and it can take even longer if they do not have someone who speaks English available.

Always have some cash with you wherever you go is another important thing you need to know. China is still more of a cash based country, especially in smaller towns. Though increasing numbers of shops are accepting international or Western credit cards, there are still plenty of places that require cash only. Keep that in mind and have some cash with you all the time can save you from a lot of problems.