China is one of the most visited countries in the world. However, a business trip on your own to this country may become a challenge, given the cultural gap between East and West.
With this in mind, we present you a list of precautions to follow to make your trip a successful and easy-going experience:
1. DUE DILIGENCE
Before your business trip to China, verify the legal status of the companies you’ll visit, and make sure the person you contact officially works for them. Due diligence will save you time and prevent frauds. If necessary, hire an expert on the matter.
You could miss important business meetings or events if you don’t process your visa in advance. Whether you obtain a tourist visa for short stays or a business one for extended and frequent visits, get advice from your local Chinese embassy or your favorite travel agency at least three weeks before your trip.
Don’t forget to leave the country or extend your visa before it expires, or you might be fined. In case you require an extension, inform the person who assists you well before the expiration date.
In China, ordinary stores don’t accept American dollars, with the exception of five-star hotels or a few selected places for foreigners. Change enough cash at the airport to take care of expenses such as taxis, meals etc. There aren’t many exchange houses, so locate the place where you’ll exchange cash during the first few days of your trip.
Locate the closest five-star hotels to exchange cash when necessary. Banks are a complex option, as they don’t always have English-speaking staff, limit the amount allowed for daily exchange or even provide the service. Their processes are complicated and sometimes require you to open a savings account with them.
4. CREDIT CARDS
Western credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard, American Express, etc., are seldom accepted by normal stores. Even the ones in large shopping malls sometimes reject them. Ask the local staff if they accept your card before making any purchase to avoid misunderstandings and wasting your time.
5. SIM CARD
Buy a SIM card as soon as you arrive at the airport. Local rates are incredibly low. For a small price, you will keep in touch with your family and coworkers back home, as well as with the person or company welcoming you in China.
The most popular instant messaging, e-mail and social network services of the West are blocked in China. WhatsApp, Google, Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, Facebook etc. stop working partially or completely after you enter the country.
Many people use VPNs to solve the problem, the best option if you need access to e-mail or social networks. The fastest ones require you to pay a service fee. Choose one, and install it before leaving your country.
If you just need to stay in touch using text messages, voicemail, or video for a couple of weeks, without restrictions and free of charge, the best option is to install WeChat and ask your family members and coworkers to use it.
Find an interpreter before your trip. An experienced interpreter can help you plan an effective trip, welcome you at the airport and assist you throughout the journey. In addition to interpreting business meetings, a translator can assist you to bargain, avoid scams, search for restaurants you like, buy medicines, take you to places away from the classic tourist routes etc.
Business meetings don’t follow the same protocol of Western countries. Always be on time. Your counterparts will be at the meeting point in advance and call you to let you know. Prepare business cards. If you plan to do business in China for a long time, print one side of your card in Mandarin with a name easy to remember, which will make a better impression.
Bring a gift for the owner of the company or senior executive welcoming you. A cultural souvenir from your country, nothing overly expensive but well-presented will be fine. Examples are themed silver coins or handmade items. Your counterparts will also gift you according to the occasion (silk, art, branded items, etc.). Observe local lunch and dinner times. The Chinese have lunch at twelve o’clock and dinner after six in the afternoon. Be cordial in this regard, and your counterparts will be very grateful.
Chinese business protocol is vast and interesting. Make sure you have the assistance of a specialized business consultant.
9. LOCAL TRANSPORT
Public transport is modern and effective. Many cities have extensive metro lines at low prices. Before traveling you can prepare a list of places to visit and mark them on the subway map. Then you can go on your own if you like adventure, in the company of your interpreter or even ask your business counterpart to take you there, because Chinese people are excellent hosts.
The cost of taxis is also acceptable. Take only authorized taxis to avoid scams, and always ask for the invoice, “fapiao” in Mandarin, in case you forget something in the car.
10. INTERPROVINCIAL TRANSPORT
China is one of the largest countries in the world. It’s very easy to miscalculate distance between companies. Be sure to ask your business counterparts for the most practical way to travel from one city to another and let them pick you up at the train station or airport. Quite often, high-speed trains are more effective than airplanes.
You will notice that Chinese people pay for everything using their phones. They have developed a convenient network for e-payments and, thus, seldom use cash or credit cards.
In case you want to try it, open a debit card account at a local bank using your passport and link it to your WeChat wallet. You’ll be able to pay for public transport, taxis and food and purchase all kinds of products.
China is the ideal place to conduct international projects. Do not let the cultural gap take you by surprise. On the contrary, be prepared and enjoy a unique travel experience.
In future articles, we’ll talk more about each one of these topics, to make sure your business in China is smooth and enjoyable. If you need more help to plan your trip or during your stay in China, don’t hesitate to contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org or as locals do, through the WeChat app.