China has long been a huge market for manufacturing industries, but with its rapid economic ascent the country is also becoming a new hot spot for tertiary economic activities as well. This means business travel to China is more likely for a wider range of business travelers than ever before. Traveling to China, however, is not the same as a trip to Tulsa and first-time visitors can be a bit overwhelmed by the country, so here are some tips to help facilitate the process.
The Visa Situation
Almost every foreign visitor to China requires a visa that must be arranged before their trip at the nearest Chinese consulate or embassy. The process is relatively painless and quick, though Americans are charged a higher fee than other nationalities.
Hong Kong and Macau are exceptions to the visa rule, as they operate under different governance systems than Mainland China. Visitors to both territories are normally allowed 90 days without a visa for tourism or business purposes, with Brits receiving 120 days in Hong Kong.
New, as of 2013, travelers transiting through Beijing’s Capital Airport or Shanghai’s Pudong or Hongqiao airports are allowed to stay in those cities for up to 72 hours without a visa, if they hold onward tickets.
Though medical care is relatively affordable in China, it’s still a good idea to purchase business travel insurance before one’s visit. This could come in handy if a medical evacuation is needed or even for simple things like reimbursement for canceled flights or lost luggage.
Most savvy travelers are aware that Mainland China has a firewall that disallows access to websites like YouTube and Facebook, blocks certain search terms on Google (Tiananmen Square anyone?) and may slow down Gmail service.
If a business traveler is spending a reasonable amount of time in China, it may be a good idea to invest in a virtual private network or VPN. These first connect users to an innocuous IP address abroad and then reroutes their computer’s traffic, bypassing any and all restrictions.
Companies like WiTopia offer services that are about US$60-70 per year, but the service should be purchased before arriving in China, as the Chinese government blocks the websites of the VPNs. Each customer is assigned a private IP address, however, which prevents the government from being able to block the services effectively.
Flying in China
Most travelers to China will arrive via the Beijing Capital Airport or the Shanghai Pudong Airport, which is great as both airports are modern, efficient and have excellent transportation connections into the city.
Business travelers who need to visit second-tier cities in China will get a slightly different feel when it comes to domestic air travel. Though most airports in China are modern, thanks to an incredible amount of state infrastructure spending, they can be a little hectic. Security is a breeze, but Chinese planes do not spend much time at the actual gate itself and a single airport gate may handle upwards of three planes per hour. This means that finding the right gate can be a little confusing and once the boarding call is announced, usually just before the departure time, travelers must react quickly.
The two quintessential airline booking sites for domestic travel in China are CTrip.com and eLong.net and both reliably offer fares that are much cheaper than foreign booking sites. Travel to or from Hong Kong, however, is best booked online with sites like Zuji.com.hk.
Hailing taxis is a relatively straightforward affair in China and the fares are quite cheap. The only difficulty that travelers will encounter is the language barrier. Because Chinese is a tonal language, don’t rely on the ability to correctly pronounce addresses and instead have it written down in Chinese characters beforehand.