By Coley Dale
China is expected to surpass Japan as the world’s second-largest national economy after the US and is an increasingly important manufacturing and trading hub for American companies. Yet, traveling there on business can present unfamiliar challenges and opportunities. After seven years of working in China, here are my recommendations for an effective, economical, and enjoyable trip:
1. Money and Credit Cards
Arrive with cash that you can exchange for local currency, required for incidentals like cabs and other transportation. Money is easily exchanged at the airport and most hotels. American ATM cards connected to major networks work in most large Chinese cities. Hotels, restaurants, tour companies, and shops in the larger cities will accept most major credit cards, but it is wise to carry two different types such as a Visa and MasterCard. Also, be aware that many businesses impose a surcharge for the use of foreign credit cards so paying cash can provide a cost savings.
Even if it is possible to use your existing cell phone and carrier, roaming charges can be expensive. Check your carrier’s rates from China before traveling. If you have a China-compatible SIM card phone (call your carrier to check), you can easily buy a prepaid SIM card to replace your current SIM card. A more expensive option is to buy prepaid phone cards which are sold throughout China and can be used from most phones. One of the most economical communications tools is Skype, which works over most Internet connections in China. You can call other Skype users throughout the world for free or pay a low rate for most calls to landlines or mobile phones in other countries.
High-speed Internet access is available at most hotels with business customers. Fast WiFi is increasingly common throughout China and can be used for free in many coffee shops and restaurants. And while some US Web sites like Facebook and Twitter are blocked, accessing and using the Internet in China will seem familiar. (However, be aware that if you use Google the buttons will appear in Chinese characters since searches are routed through Google in Hong Kong.)
Ninety-percent of hotels in China are not brand names that most Westerners recognize. Yet the country offers a wide range of accommodations that compare favorably with options found in Western countries. Ctrip, China’s largest online travel provider, features the country’s most comprehensive hotel database and an English-language reservations system. It offers the best rates which it backs up with a best price guarantee, and its well-staffed English helpline will provide assistance in communicating with your hotel before, during, or after your trip (helpful for overcoming any language barriers).
The best airfares to China from US cities can often be found with Chinese airlines, which offer some of the world’s newest planes and experienced flight crews. Within China itself, increased competition amongst airlines means that there are many discounts on domestic flights. Ctrip sells more tickets for travel in China than any other website and is quick to post domestic and international airfare deals to help travelers save money.
It’s not necessary to speak Mandarin to travel in China, especially in the big cities where there are many English speakers (although it is wise to ask for a card with your hotel’s address on it in English and Chinese to give to taxi drivers for hassle-free cab rides back to the hotel). However, basic conversational terms can go a long way to making a positive impression on those you meet. Two excellent learning tools are ChinesePod (online language lessons) and Rosetta Stone (interactive CDs). Or, consider downloading free or low-cost language apps for your smart phone such as those from Odyssey Translator and WorldNomads which translate basic words and phrases from English into Mandarin.
For additional tips on planning a business trip to China, visit http://bit.ly/chinatips.
Coley Dale is the senior business development manager for the English language version Ctrip, China’s largest online travel provider. He has lived in China for seven years and has traveled extensively in 16 of China’s 22 provinces.