Country Information for China
China’s climate varies from the Himalaya mountains to the dry Gobi desert and tropical south-east. In Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an the seasons match those in the UK, though are more distinct – summers are generally hot and winters cold with mild spring and autumn, though Xi’an and Shanghai can be wet in summer.
China standard time (CST) is 7 or 8 hours ahead of the UK, depending on our daylight saving hours.
China’s currency is officially renminbi (RMB) but is popularly called yuan (¥). Keep receipts for any money exchanged or withdrawn as you’ll need them to exchange leftover currency for sterling on departure. ATMs are common in big cities though some don’t take western cards. Credit cards and travellers cheques can be used in larger cities but it’s worth carrying sufficient cash, just in case!
All visitors require a visa from the Chinese embassy before travel. Normally these are valid for 30 days from date of entry. Each individual requires their own visa; there are no groups visas available. Passports will be required for the visa process. In some circumstances such as where passengers have changed nationality, old passports can be requested. We suggest using a visa agency to help with the administration, and can recommend The Travel Visa Company.
You should contact your GP around 8 weeks prior to travel to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventative measures. The Foreign Commonwealth Office and NHS Fit For Travel websites also carry up-to-date medical information.
We can arrange Discover the World insurance which covers you for any included activity. Please refer to your price guidelines for the current costs. If you choose not to take our insurance please ensure you notify us of your insurance company, your policy number and 24 hour contact number. We advise taking out insurance when you pay your first non-refundable deposit.
Pollution levels will almost certainly be higher than in the UK and can cause irritation, especially for those with allergies, skin conditions and eye or respiratory problems. Our China Risk Assessment has further information on staying safe.
Mandarin is the most widely spoken of China’s many languages. Many younger Chinese can read and write English, but spoken English is limited to tourist areas of cities. As always, knowing and using a few words of Mandarin will help integrate your group into local Chinese life.
The emergency services contact numbers in China are: Police – 110 / Medical – 120 / Fire – 119
Note: English speakers rarely operate these numbers, instead call 999 for all the above services in Beijing and Shanghai, this is privately operated.
Local Culture and Customs
Chinese people are exceedingly friendly, particularly to foreigners, and knowing a few words of Mandarin can make a huge difference. You’ll likely find that they’re as curious of you as you are of them.
Some local customs can appear rude to westerners but are considered to be good manners in China, including the slurping of food or belching, and the clearing of one’s throat and spitting onto the floor. Equally, Chinese consider blowing one’s nose into a handkerchief and returning it to a pocket unhygienic. In situations such as these the best policy is to ignore such behaviour, since drawing attention to it may be considered impolite.
Queuing is also a relatively unknown phenomenon and being in crowds in busy areas can be an intimidating experience, particularly for younger students or females, as jostling and gentle shoving is commonplace.
It is also likely that the noise levels created by everyday Chinese life will come as something of a shock, with car horns and construction sites creating a wall of background noise to complement the yelling stall-holders, screeching mobile phone users and general loud music and conversations.
The Chinese authorities maintain controls on internet access. Websites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are blocked. Other websites or e-mail services (especially Google and Gmail) are blocked from time to time.
Gambling is illegal in mainland China.
Tipping is common in China, and it is expected that you should tip your guide(s) and driver(s) at the end of your stay in each city. We recommend approximately 10¥ (£1) per person per day for the guides, and 5¥ (50p) per person per day for the drivers. Tips aren’t necessary in hotels or restaurants, but are always appreciated should you feel the need!
On board the cruise ship a mandatory service charge of 150¥ (£16) per person is payable in lieu of suggested tipping and covers tips for all staff. This is payable on board and cannot be pre-paid with Discover the World Education. However, should you wish to leave additional, discretionary tips for your cruise manager, cabin attendants or restaurant staff then this is always appreciated.
It is common practice for porters to assist with loading and unloading your luggage at the cruise terminal, and refusal to tip the porters may cause offence as this is their main source of income. However, at approximately 10¥ (£1) per bag the cost is relatively low and provides an income for many families in the area.
Chinese law states that foreign nationals over 16 years of age must carry their passport with them at all times. Many tourist sites now require visitors to show identification on entry. Additionally, police can carry out random checks and failure to produce your ID can lead to a fine or detention, though it is unusual for this to happen with groups. We recommend that you bring a secure bag in which you can carry the group’s passports separately from your personal belongings.