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I’m about to embark on a whirlwind trip through Asia—starting in Seoul, then on to the Chinese cities of Beijing and Guangzhou, and ending with a visit to Hong Kong. You can follow my trip updates and photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, plus stay tuned for coming posts on the trip, including how I booked my flights with miles and points, hotel and flight reviews, and destination guides.
Before I start my grand journey, I made sure to prepare a few things, mainly for the China portion of my trip. Here are some great travel hacks and tips to know before traveling to China so you can be 100% prepared upon arrival.
1. Get your visa. A 10-year visa for China is now available, and since I plan on visiting China in the future, I renewed my passport a little early (it would have expired next year) so that I could maximize the visa and not carry it around in my old passport. I highly recommend using Allied Visa & Passport to help you obtain your visa. They’ve helped me a number of times in the past with visa/ passport situations and assisted me in sorting out the Chinese visa in a timely manner. The 10-year visa is available for both business and tourist travelers, and different protocols apply for each.
If your layover in China is 24 hours or less, it’s considered a “direct transit” layover and doesn’t require a visa; the 24-hour time period is based on scheduled flight times and won’t be affected by any delays. Almost all nationalities are eligible for this type of transit, but in order to obtain this status you must have confirmed onward tickets to a third country (standby tickets are not valid). You’ll need to pass through immigration and show your passport and onward ticket, and a special stopover permit will be stamped in your passport, free of charge.
If you have a longer layover in China, you can apply for a 72-hour transit visa-free permit upon arrival at the following Chinese airports: Beijing (PEK), Chengdu (CTU), Chongqing (CKG), Dalian (DLC), Guangzhou (CAN). Guilin (KWL),Hangzhou (HGH), Shanghai Hongqiao (SHA), Shanghai Pudong (PVG), Shenyang (SHE), Xiamen (XMN), Wuhan (WUH) and Xi’An (XIY). In order to qualify for this, you must hold a passport from the United States or one of the other 50 countries which allow this, as well as meet the following criteria:
- Hold valid international travel documents
- Qualify for the entry requirements of their third destination country
- Hold valid airline tickets with 72-hour transit validation from the above listed Chinese airports onto a third destination country
Keep in mind that for immigration purposes, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are not considered part of China and therefore can be considered your third destination.
Also note that passengers are not allowed to leave the transit city during the 72 hours, with the exception of Guangzhou and Hangzhou, which allow you to visit other places in Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces, respectively.
2. Make sure to print all flight and hotel reservations. You will need to show your flight reservations as proof that you are exiting China, especially if you’ve booked multiple awards and don’t hold the traditional roundtrip ticket that gate agents can easily pull up on the computer. I would also highly recommend printing your hotel information in Chinese with a map to show drivers in China. Doing this will help ensure you get to your destination hassle-free.
3. Book intra-china travel on Ctrip. I got flights for cheaper using this Chinese online travel agency than anything that was available via the U.S. online travel agencies. Always price check with local agencies, as China’s travel market is not like the U.S. travel market.
As an example, I checked one-way flights on Ctrip.com and on Orbitz from Beijing to Xian on May 2, 2015. Orbiz quoted me $262 for a Hainan Airlines flight at 7:15 a.m.
The rate for the exact same flight on Ctrip was 510 CNY which is $82.20! Clearly, go with Ctrip, or at least do your research ahead of time for the best rate.
4. Get a VPN to Circumvent the “Great Firewall of China” (GFW). A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a secure private internet connection that you can set up on your computer. Getting a VPN before your trip can not only help you maintain your personal security while in China, but will also enable you to evade government censorship or regional restrictions on websites like Twitter and Facebook. For tips on the best VPNs and how to set them up, click here.
5. Get ready for smog. Beijing smog just keeps getting progressively worse. In fact, in a recent Guardian article, Beijing mayor Wang Anshun actually deemed the city “unliveable” because of its smog. Despite Beijing authorities’ efforts to shut down 392 pollution-producing companies and take hundreds of thousands of older, smog-causing vehicles off the road back in 2014, the pollution levels continue to rise, attributed mainly to tremendous population increase (Beijing’s population is over 21.5 million).
So now that you’re aware of how dire the air situation is, don’t be afraid to wear a mask. And not just any old mask: here are some suggestions for the best mask you can use to block out the unhealthy PM 2.5 particles. Also pay attention to the fit of the mask, because if air is leaking through the sides, then it defeats the purpose of wearing a mask in the first place.
Following the above suggestions should make your trip to China stress-free (and hopefully, smog-free too), allowing you to enjoy the best of China. Stay tuned for coming Facebook, Twitter and Instagram updates during my trip!