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The CS China Wiki is a collective of information contributed by members and volunteers of the CS China group. It is not supposed to be used by non-CSers and does not replace your guidebook/ travel research. It only addresses the questions that are frequently being asked by CSers on the CS China group and contains only the information relevant and useful to CSers.
If you have a general question about travelling in China or a particular city in China, we recommend the website of Wikivoyage for all the basic information: http://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/China
Note that you are responsible to do your own research, the information contained here is only to assist you as a beginner's guide and may not be up-to-date.
CS China Wiki Editing Guidelines
1) CS Terms and References Please observe the CS Terms and Reference.
2) Factual Guide The Wiki is a neutral and impartial guide that serves as a beginners reference for CSers visiting China for the first time. Please be impartial in your writing and do not favour or dis-favour any Chinese city or town. The content here should be basic facts about China, no personal views or comments.
3) No Promotion No promotion of hostel, travel services, job-hunting agencies, estate agencies, e-shops or any business
4) No discussion of politics Couchsurfing is a website created solely as a platform for travellers to share travel information. No discussion of any political issues here - you should note that wikipedia is blocked in China for various reasons surrounding this and we do not want to see this happen to our dear website.
5) Photos [Please add photos that show the diversity - ethnic, climatic, geographic etc. - of China.]
Photos must be copyleft, public domain etc. or your own personal photos that you are willing to allow others access to via a release to the public domain or via a Share-alike licence. See here for an example of the licence I'm talking about. Wikimedia Commons is a good source of free and share-alike licensed photos.
Do not use any images without permission, clearance etc. Do not just copy and paste photos you like from the web without checking copyright, ownership, authorship etc.
Visas and Permits
Note that as of April 2012, it was announced that authorities would be focussing on fining and deporting foreigners in the country without the proper credentials. This would include people who have overstayed their visa as well as those using incorrect visas, such as teachers using tourist visas, and teaching is one of the areas they are focussing on. There have also been previous announcements that government departments would improve collection and storage of data related to visas and enhance the tracking of arrivals to and departures from the country by foreigners and Chinese citizens. See post here.
On June 30, 2012 China enacted a new Exit-Entry Administration Law which comes into effect officially on July 1, 2013. It applies in particular to those who will be working in China. Click here for highlights of the law. Please note that these are preliminary highlights of the law only and that you must do your own further research and due diligence.
Applying For a Visa in Your Home Country
It is strongly advisable that you obtain your Chinese visa in your home country. It is impossible or near impossible to get a visa in some countries: at this time many of the eastern countries of the old USSR are reported to be a problem, as is South Korea. In all case you can usually only get a single entry visa for 30 days outside the country of your passport.
The Chinese Government has a uniform policy on visa application fees, meaning no matter which Chinese embassy consulate or visa issuing office you are applying to for your Chinese visa (be it your home country, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand or Vietnam), you will pay the same application fee - ie. the only difference is that you are paying a different currency. However, China has established offshoot visa processing services in some countries, which you must use, and you will find that these charge an additional processing fee.
Differences between different types of visa: Discussion
Applying For a Visa in Hong Kong/Macau
Applying For a Visa in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
The visa section of the Chinese consulate in Ulaanbatar is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:30-12:00. Get there early as people start lining up around 8am, although it's probably not as busy outside of high season (summer). The door for visa services is on the west side of the embassy, not the front (south). There will probably be two lines at the door: One line for people submitting applications and one for those picking up their passport. For applying, most nationalities will need:
- Passport with one blank page.
- Copy of passport.
- One recent photo on a plain, light background.
- Ticket (train or flight) out of Mongolia into China as well as ticket out of China. (Tickets in and out of China are required for each entry you request).
- Accommodation booking for at least the first few nights in China.
- Filled out application which can be done at the embassy or in advance by filling out these forms here .
- Price varies by nationality and express services exist for an extra charge (same day, pay extra $30; 2nd day, pay extra $20). Pay on pick-up in new (post 1996) US dollars that are clean and crisp.
Note: Number of entries and length of stay will depend on nationality, previous trips to China, and flight/train tickets provided. Please check the Chinese embassy in Ulaanbaatar's website for further information.
Visa Renewal Within China
There is actually no such thing as a 'renewal' or 'extension' - HOWEVER new visass can be obtained on the mainland. They are not renewals or extensions as the new visa can be a different class or have different conditions and if you apply beefore the old one expires you will lose some days. You can get only two such visas, and if yoiu have beeen on a temporary residence permit, that counted as one visa. For tourist visas, the normal duration is 30 days only and it does not permit re-entry should you leave the mainland, another country, HK or Macau. But if you get another visa in one of those you can get two more visas on the mainland.
To get a visa on the mainland visit a PSB Exit and Entry Administration office. Most cities have one. Applying for a visa is much the same as outside the coountry BUT there can be variations. You can be asked to write a letter in Chinese explaining why you want to stay on (!) and in some cases eg Guangzhou, you MUSt obtain your photo from the officialphotographer inside the PSB E&E office - it is bar coded. In all cases you must supply an official residency form for the night of the day of the application, not the night that has just passed. If you are staying at a hotel approved for foreigners, they can give you this. If you are in aa private home, you will need to register with the local police, but you are supposed to do that anyway, and get the form from them on the day you are applying.
There are many visa agencies in the large cities especially near HK and Macau and where there are significant numbers of foreigners. Most appear to be genuine and provide the services they offer but of course they charge fees. They are worth considering if you have probleems or if you want a visa with duration or re-entries, that you cannot get yourself. Some nationaliities will find agents specialising in their needs: Guangzhou has agnts servicing African, Russians...and no doubt many others. If this might apply to you, try looking for communities of your nationality or search on line.
Remember that new legislation starts on 1st July 2013: it probably wwon't bring many changes, at least not quickly, but always remember that any information in here can becomeout of date.
Have a look at this discussion thread.
Ferry from Shanghai to Japan - Discussion
Train to Mongolia/ Russia - Link
Bus to Kazakhstan - Link
Overland to Myanmar - Link
Flights and hotels
For booking flights and hotels, there is a very convenient English website: www.ctrip.com. Here you'll find competitive rates for flights and accommodations of your choice. (although this is promoting a specific commercial company, it is a good site widely used by the Chinese themselves!). However, it does not have info on backpacker or youth hostels.
For those who know a little Chinese, also try www.qunar.com to find cheap flights in China. This is just a search website that will direct you to other, independent agencies. Investigate payment methods since foreign credit cards are usually not accepted.
These are some of the hostels recommended by our group members: Discussion
China has one of the best train networks in the world. Taking the train in China is a convenient way to travel the country. Distances from one big city to another can be quite long. Some provinces are bigger than the state of Texas or France! An expanding network of high speed trains is adding both comfort and speed to the otherwise fairly slow pace of the trains.
Buying a train ticket
Buying yourself a train ticket is not the easiest task. If possible, buy your ticket one or two days in advance. If you go to the train station, the bigger the city, the more you have to be careful of pickpockets, harassers and stalkers who want to sell you all kinds of business (train tickets, hotels, transport, even maybe mei-mei (prostitutes!)). To overcome the problem of train tickets being mass purchased and traded on the black market, when buying tickets you must present a national id card or passport for each person travelling.
At the train station the tickets counters are usually located in a special 'ticket sales hall' or 'center', it is usually just a big hall that's not the departure nor the arrival hall with lots of people queueing. Also you can buy tickets at official train tickets counters in specific shops in the city.
Holiday season: If you are travelling around the month of the Chinese New Year, the week of May 1st or the week of October 1st, do book your tickets as many days in advance as is allowed. That's when the entire population of China seems to be taking the train and public transportation to go on holidays, tourism, go home to visit family...etc
Online ticket purchase?The National Rail Department does not sell train tickets online. There are travel agents who claim that they can assist you to purchase train tickets if you transfer money to them online. However, in our CS-ers experience, there are plenty of online scams that we have heard of - do watch out. We do not recommend that you purchase train ticket through an online agent unless you do not have any other option.
Around China by Train
You can search trains schedules and fares on these websites: http://www.tielu.org/
More train trip advice: Discussion
The 4 train seat options
NOTES: Check your ticket: if there is no seat number on it you will have to stand though you will sometimes be lucky and get an unused seat. If you don't want to stand, the ticket office will refund your money.
If you miss your train, find the special ticket office and get a refund (2 hour limit).
On 'bullet trains' the classifications are first and second class seats which are equivalent to soft and hard seats (se below) in their configuration but of a modern international standard.
Hard Seat (yìngzuò, 硬坐) - the cheapest There are 3 seats on one side of the aisle and two on the other which makes this the most crowded choice. The seats are not truly hard (this a historic name for this class)but the upholstery is not as comfortable as in the soft seats class. They are also not as consistently clean. These days there are not many of these without aircon, but any which are, are by far the cheapest means of travel.
Soft Seat (ruǎnzuò, 软坐) This is a fairly comfortable seat. There are 2 seats on each side of the aisle. Getting a soft seat ticket will usually get you into a “soft seat lounge” at the departure station as well. The soft seat lounges have sofas and are not as crowded as the hard seat lounges.
Hard sleeper (yìngwò, 硬卧) Hard sleepers, (which like the hard seats, are not actually hard) are usually arranged in a triple bunk bed type set up with two triple bunk beds in a berth (a small door-less room). That is, there is one bed on the bottom, one on the middle and one on the top. On each side of the berth there are triple bunk beds arranged across the width of the train, but not into the corridor. Sheets, blankets and pillows are included. Opposite each berth is one or two seats and a very small table.
Soft Sleeper (ruǎnwò, 软卧) - most expensive There are both 2-bed berth and 4-bed berth soft sleepers. 4-bed berths are the standard. Due to the higher price, it is easier to book a ticket for a soft sleeper than it is for a hard sleeper. The beds are more comfortable and it’s a quieter environment inside. The berths are lockable.
Travelling by Train During The Peak Seasons - Chinese New Year (Jan/Feb) and National Day Holiday (Oct)
Phone and communication:
In China, there are 3 mobile phone networks, all of which are owned by the same state-owned entity.
While more than 90% of the SIM cards sold in convenient stores across the country can call/receive calls everywhere in China, in some provinces there are certain SIM cards that you can only call/receive calls from within the same province (at a cheaper rate).
For the most common type of SIM card, you are charged only for making calls. However, for some SIM cards (which are usually cheaper), you are charged for both making calls and receiving calls. Do check the package or to ask the shop owner when you purchase.
National roaming - Every card has an "issuing province".
- For making calls, the calling rates for intra-province (cheaper) and inter-province are different.
- When you are picking a call on your "province A sim card" when you travel to province B, you are charged an extra inter-province roaming surrcharge.
If you are staying in China only for a short time (say, less than 9 months). Your best (and only) option is to get a pay-as-you-go GPRS/3G internet card.
Most GPRS/3G internet data plan require you to sign up for 12 months or more and that you pay a huge deposit.
There is no short-term (10-day or 1-month) data package. The group has been asked many times:- http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=111&post=9998364 http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=111&post=9986918
The following questions are frequently asked on the CS China forum.
The members of the CS China group will be happy to answer any question about travelling in China that you have, however, it will be helpful to both you and us if you read these following "classic" previous posts before making a new post on the same topic. Chances are that your question have been asked and answered by someone already and you will get the info you want by just one click on the following links (and... to be honest, our members are getting bored reading and answering the same questions again and again):
1) Advice on travel itineraries
Daily expenses Discussion
Budget for a month Discussion
3) Getting a job in China
Caution: From the experience of our CSers, we have heard MANY scams from many self-proclaimed "job search agencies" who promised you everything to lure you to sign to them and many of those promises turned out to be untrue and it became very difficult for the person to get out from the situation.
For highlights of China's new Exit-Entry law from July 1, 2013 - click here
4) Chinese Visa
Usually, you do not need to provide an "Invitation Letter" if you are applying for "L" Type Chinese Visa (ie. Tourist Visa), Read discussion here.
5) Hostels recommended by our CSers
6) Police registration system for foreign travellers
If you're an independent traveller at low to mid-range accommodations, beware that you may be turned away or asked to self-register at a nearby police station if the hotel does not have the registration system. This is a bigger concern if you're off the beaten track or it's late and you cannot self-register at a nearby police station. See discussion and examples here
Active CS groups in China
(in alphabetical order)
- Beijing Has 3 regular weekly meetups and other regular weekly events. Check the link for details.
- Shanghai Has several weekly meetups. Check the link for details.
- Shenzhen Meetups every Thursday at different locations. Check the link for details.
And from the island so beautiful that everyone wants to call their own...
Culture Shock / Etiquette Issues for CSers to note in China
- Some great tips in this article entitled How to Travel Around China Without Speaking the Language Note that the hand signals for the numbers 7 and 8 on the diagram in the article should be switched.
- Recommended Reading: Factory Girls by Leslie Chang is the best book I've read on modern China in this regard.
Culture Shock is a given when you come to China. Read up before you arrive and do your best to know a bit about the place beforehand. Be aware that this is preparation, not a solution or preventative measure. Even up to date reading you do beforehand might be out of date by the time you arrive due to the rapidly changing nature of the country. Also, please try to be sensitive to the fact that even locals may be trying to understand the most recent changes in their lives and may not be able to easily explain them to you.
Although there are some commonalities across the nation, be aware that there may be differences in perceptions / behaviours / customs / habits / traditions from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, city to city, province to province, region to region and differences among the generations.
Keep in mind that many cities in China are centres for migration and people from all over, with their own habits, customs, traditions and dialects, are living and working next to each other. Don't assume that behaviours or attitudes are shared or practiced by all just because you've seen or experienced them from some people.
If you have complaints or need to vent about certain behaviours that you do not understand or that you find frustrating, please do your best to seek advice from other expats in private... and do so sparingly. Please don't voice your complaints around local people or others who may take offense or feel unfairly stereotyped. If you do need to ask a local about a certain issue, please do so calmly and sensitively in order to find an answer or a solution.
Some issues surfers have come up against:
- Foreign Couchsurfers should technically register with the local police when staying with a Host. You can find this information on the arrival card you fill out when reaching China, so nobody can really claim ignorance here. When staying in a hostel/hotel/guesthouse, they will do it for you, but to avoid trouble for your Host, you should spend the time to go to the station. In the city you should register within 24 hours of arrival, but in the countryside you have 72 hours. Usually, it will be necessary to bring a Chinese speaker for translation. Although there are no reports of foreigners being stopped at the border and asked about their whereabouts for "missing days", it is mainly beneficial for your Host. The police might get upset with a Host who has foreign strangers going in and out all the time. Realize that foreigners are very noticeable in China and that the police may have concerns about their presence.
- Be aware of sensitive topics and who you are speaking to. Please don't ask a local person about an issue that may make them feel uncomfortable or 'put on the spot'. Also be aware that although Chinese people discuss and joke about many topics freely among family and friends, they may not want to discuss these same issues with a relative stranger or with a foreigner.
- It may take some local people a long time to 'warm up' and feel that they know you or feel that you are now a friend rather than a passing acquaintance.
- Some people, especially those from outside major cities, may engage in spitting, nose-picking, uncovered sneezing etc. The government has engaged in health campaigns to discourage this and to promote spitting into tissues etc. to prevent the spread of colds and flus but old habits are hard to break.
- Toilet facilities and plumbing may be different from those you are used to back home. Be prepared to be flexible. Pun intended.
- In general, showers or baths are taken in the evening and it may be seen as unhygienic not to bathe before bedtime so please note this and ask your hosts if they prefer that you shower at a certain time of day.
- Be aware that some parts of China have strong 'drinking cultures' when it comes to social events. Men in particular may be expected to drink large amounts of alcohol - often straight hard liquor - in order to bond with locals. If this is not your thing, have a polite excuse on hand about a medical condition or other polite technique at hand to moderate your alcohol intake without offending anyone.
- Please remember that common courtesy never goes astray. A smile, a thank you, a gift or any other appropriate show of gratitude for hospitality received is always appreciated.
China At A Glance
- China in photos in The Atlantic.
- Most populous nation on Earth - over 1,300,000,000 people.
- One of the largest nations on Earth by area along with Russia, Canada, the US and Brazil.
- 55 recognized minority groups.
China CS in the press/blogosphere
- Philippe's open-door adventure
- CS in The Shanghaiist
- See the world by traveling couch to couch
Books about CS in Chinese language
- 你家沙发借我睡 by 林鸿麟 ISBN: 9787208088368
- 我,睡了,81个人的沙发 by Rose Lien ISBN: 9789573909002
- 22岁走遍世界：我睡沙发去旅行 by Leo Long ISBN: 9787214075567
- 7500元28天游港澳大阪京都-35岁单身女子的沙发客之旅 (赵菊阳) ISBN：9787538455243
- 沙发旅行 by Momo ISBN:9787807297659
A movie about CS in Chinese:
- 第三十六个故事 （Taipei Exchanges）