Emergency Numbers

I’ve never had to use these numbers, but I take them with me every time I travel just in case.

  • Police – 110
  • Fire – 119
  • Ambulances – 120
  • Traffic accidents – 122
  • Bank of China – 95566
  • China Mobile – 10086

This is the link to the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in China.

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Applying for a Chinese Visa

A bit of research is required when it comes to visas. The type of visa you apply for will vary depending on the length and purpose of your stay. You can see all the options and requirements here.

This is the visa application form. They are hyper-aware of any spelling or numerical mistakes on the applications so you may want to ask a friend to check all the details before you submit it to the embassy. Your passport, a copy of the picture page of your passport, a visa photo matching these requirements, an attachment of your flight itinerary, an invitation letter, and a check or money order for the allotted payment will need to be attached.

In your research you’ll find that you could fill out all the applications on your own and then hire someone you know to take the application to the embassy for you. Or, you could go through a company like ItsEasy, and pay to have everything done for you.

Having processed hundreds of visas for other people, I would suggest just going through an agency. It will be a bit more expensive, but it will save you from a ton of stress. They’ll walk you through the process and ensure everything is in order for your trip.

 

Internet and VPNs

You might have heard of the Great Fire Wall of China. In a nutshell, in 2010 China began censoring their internet very heavily. The Chinese political party reserves the right to block anything they find dangerous to national security, inappropriate in any way, critical of the Chinese government, or destructive to China’s reputation; the definition these terms have yet to be given, so they could be used as an excuse to block pretty much anything at any time. For instance, Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, iTunes, YouTube, blogs, and all things Google are inaccessible.

Now here’s where things get interesting. You can probably live without social media if you’re only going to be in China for a couple weeks or if you’re cool and want to do a social media cleanse. However, if you’re there for an extended period of time, it’s nice to have the capability of keeping up with events in the U.S. Therefore, VPNs.

Webopedia explains VPN’s way better than I ever could. They say “A VPN secures the private network, using encryption and other security mechanisms to ensure that only authorized users can access the network and that the data cannot be intercepted.”

Basically, you can download software on your devices that will allow you to circumvent  censorship. Most VPNs come as a monthly or yearly subscription. The prices and efficiency vary widely from service to service. If you want to get a VPN you should do research to ensure that particular service will be effective in China and to how many devices the software can be downloaded. A lot of VPN providers would be effective in many countries, but China is exceptionally diligent on their censoring.

Here are a few VPNs that have worked for me:

Most of these VPNs can be refunded within a week or so of purchase. I would suggest downloading from various providers and then cancelling the ones that don’t work. They’ve always been good about refunding my money within a week.

A word of warning. Don’t be scrolling through Facebook or Instagram while in public. It’s just asking for trouble, you’re not going to get arrested, but something interesting happens when people are placed under such heavy restrictions; they begin to restrict themselves in anticipation of consequences. Meaning, the common Chinese people don’t want to be seen with someone breaking the rules. Just be respectful no matter what you choose to do.

MONEY AND BANKING

The official name for Chinese money is renminbi, usually abbreviated to RMB. Yuan (dollar) and kuai (buck) are also common though. Chinese money is beautiful! Each bill features Chairman Mao Ze Dong on the front side and a popular Chinese attraction on the back. I always thought it would be cool to take a picture of the all the bills in front of their individual locations. 39eab1e8b7-chinesecurrency

China is a cash country. You can’t go into a restaurant or grocery store and pay with a card. However, there are ATMs all over that you can use to withdraw cash. There is usually a withdrawal fee each time you swipe your card so talk to your bank to see how you can best avoid them. Usually, I just withdraw large amounts of cash every once in a while instead of small amounts more frequently.

I can think of 3 main ways for accessing money while traveling:

  1. Bring your debit card and withdraw money as needed (after you’ve talked to your bank). Bring a few hundred dollars cash with you just in case there is a problem with your debit or credit card.
  2. Order Chinese cash from your bank in advance. You’ll save money on the exchange fees, but you might be a little nervous carrying so much money around. Take a debit or credit card for backup.
  3. Take all your USD over and exchange it to RMB at a bank or airport upon arrival. Again, you might feel a bit insecure carrying loads of cash around. If this is what you’re going to do take only new, crisp 20 dollar bills. They’re accepted best by the exchange officers. And again, take a debit or credit card for backup.

Right now, 1 USD is worth about 6.8 RMB. Click here to see an up-to-date exchange rate.

Banks:

No matter what you do, call your bank to tell them how long you’re going to be in China. If your travel plans aren’t logged in their system they’ll put a hold on your card to defend against fraud. You’ll also want to ask them what kind of international withdrawal fees you’ll be paying.

Safety Tips:

You might already know that China is a super safe country. Pick pocketing is just about the only crime you’ll have to worry about while you’re traveling. Safe is always better than sorry, right? You might find a money belt useful for carrying you money and passport discretely. There’s no need to worry though, if you’re being self-aware you’ll be just fine.

New Visa Photo Requirements

I recently received some inconvenient news; the requirements for Chinese Visa Photos have changed. There are a TON of new specifications and luckily for us, they’re all listed on the sheet below.

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Just keep in mind that both ears must be showing, no smiling, no teeth, and no shadows.

Until Walgreens and Walmart upgrades their software, they will not be able to cut your photo to the proper dimensions. You might see if it can be taken by a local photographer or University Photo Lab.

Note: The U.S. Passport Application still requires a 2×2 inch picture.

Passports

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I. Love. My. Passport!

I was 16 when I got my first passport. I had never been outside of the country and really, the thought of international travel hadn’t ever crossed my mind. I pretty much never put that wonderful book down after it was placed in my hand. It was like the world was opened to me. For just a couple hundred dollars I could be across the world experiencing something new and meeting new people.

If you can spare some time and $110 you can have your passport in hand in just a few weeks! Getting a passport is the first step to all of your international  adventures. You’ll probably start finding all these amazing travel deals and realize that there isn’t anything keeping you from going!

So, how in the world do you apply for your passport?

  1. Go to the Post Office and pick up a copy of the DS-11 form. Make sure to book an appointment with the acceptance agent while you’re there.

Things to bring with you to the appointment:

  • The DS-11 booklet you have already filled out (but not signed)
  • Official Birth Certificate issued by the State in which you were born.
  • Photocopy of Birth Certificate
  • Valid U.S. Drivers License
  • Photo copy of Drivers License
  • A 2×2 passport/visa photo (purchased at Wal-Mart, Walgreens, or Costco)
  • A blank check or money order

2. Wait 4-6 weeks for your passport to come in the mail.

3. Go play!