How to Plan Your First Trip to China

Americans can get quite a culture shock visiting China for the first time. With different customs and languages, and hassles like visas and censorship- it’s no wonder why. Stay informed and you’ll have a great first trip to China.

With a country as vast and diverse as China, it’s important to narrow your focus and to set your priorities and plan your route before you go.

How long do you have? One week? Focus on the metropolises of Beijing and Shanghai. A bit longer? Delve into the traditional heart of China, in Xi’an or Guilin!

U.S. citizens are required to obtain a vise before they arrive in China. You must submit a visa application, the $130 visa fee, a roundtrip flight itinerary, a passport (valid for at least six months), and a passport photograph to the nearest embassy or consulate.

It can take up to two months to process your visa, so make sure to get all your documents sent in, well in advance. Use a visa-handling service to eliminate delays or undue stress.

Helpful Tip: If you intend to travel to Hong Kong or Macau, you’ll need a multiple- entry visa into China.

Even with a visa, access to many areas of China is still forbidden by law. You’ll need a special permit if you intend to visit Tibet, for example. You can visit Macau and Hong Kong visa-free up to at least a month, though!

Before you leave, be sure to book your accommodation for at least for the first three days of your stay! The China visa application requires the address of where you’re staying. If you will be at a hotel, include your room confirmation; if you’re staying with friends or relatives, include their address on the form.

Many younger Chinese do speak English, but there’s a fair-sized  population who that doesn’t! Learn a few words to break the ice with the locals.

Mandarin is the default language in most parts of China, so try to pick up the basics- nihao (hello/goodbye), xiexie (thank you), dui buqi (sorry), ganbei (cheers)- and try them out at a restaurant, on the street asking for directions, or in a taxicab!

Bargaining: People either love it or hate it and in China- it’s the former. Haggling is acceptable in most Chinese stores, with the exception of the supermarket and shopping malls. First, check out several shops to get a general idea about average prices, then pick a shop to test your skills.

Stay relaxed but always polite!

Some tips I picked up were to look disinterested, point out flaws in the product, dress in plain clothes to make sway vendors into lowering their product price. Even walking away- this will catch most people’s attention!


Americans aren’t used to censorship, so you may be surprised when you can’t access sites like Facebook, Twitter, or even your email at times. If it’s an issue for you, be sure to get a VPN on your devices before leaving the U.S.!


Chinese food can be strange and unfamiliar, but this shouldn’t stop you from exploring the sundry and succulent world of local cuisine! The food of each region has its distinct flavor- in Shanghai they’re obsessed with dumplings, and the spiciest dishes hail from Sichuan province.