All foreign visitors to China must have a valid passport, which will remain valid for a minimum of six months after the date of visa application. Multiple entry visas require a minimum of 12 months passport validity. Visas are required for U.S. citizens entering mainland China, and must be obtained prior to departure for China. Visas upon arrival are not granted. However, U.S. citizens visiting Hong Kong and Macau currently do not require visas. China visas may be obtained through the Chinese Embassy or Consulate. Forms and application instructions are available on their website.
Mandarin is commonly used in modern China. It is one of the five working languages designated by the United Nations. The majority of the 55 other ethnic groups have their own languages. There are also many dialects around the country. As a written language, Chinese has been used for 6,000 years.
China's currency is the Renminbi (RMB), usually called the Yuan. Ten Jiao make up one Yuan. The Bank of China has exchange desks for foreign currency and travelers checks with convenient hours at all hotels, airports, Friendship Stores, and other shopping areas.
Visa, Master Card, American Express, Diner's Club, Federal Card, Million Card, and JCB credit cards are accepted at most hotels and state-run shops in major cities. Travelers should be prepared to pay in Yuan when shopping in smaller shops and restaurants, and in smaller hotels.
Telephone communication within China is good and getting better as the national system upgrades to fiber optic cable. Travelers can communicate easily with home or office via telephone, fax, telex, and Internet (where available). The use of mobile phones is widespread in China, with good coverage in the main cities. Hotels usually offer free local calls, although travelers should check as some do have a small charge, even if there is no answer. Public phones are available in many shops, restaurants, and on the street. International Direct Dial (IDD) telephone service is available from almost any telephone in the major cities, or from hotels and phone centers in secondary cities.
While China is a year-round destination, the months of May, September, and October are ideal months for travel anywhere in the country. In the north, the winters are cold, and summers are warm, with moist monsoon air streams making it hot (80% of China's rainfall occurs between late May and early October, mostly in the Southern regions). June through August is a good time to visit central and northern China. Spring and autumn are the best months for travel in Southern China. Off-season travel is generally from November through February, with the advantage of lower prices and fewer fellow tourists.
Electrical appliances will require an adapter that can change the shape of the plug prongs, as well as an electrical voltage converter that will allow a normal 110-volt American appliance to take a 220-volt Chinese current. Throughout China 220-volt is used, although many 4 & 5-star hotels are wired for use of 110-volt electrical appliances. Most hotels have a hair dryer in each room.
China Standard time is GMT +8, or 13 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time. China does not observe daylight savings time.
Tipping, once discouraged, has become customary in China, and is expected by hotel porters, tour escorts and guides for their good service. In restaurants, a rule of thumb is 10-15% of the bill provided that no service charge has been added. Most hotels will add a service charge to the bill.
No special vaccinations are required, but those who have travelled from an infected area before coming to China should have vaccination records available for a Health Declaration form upon arrival. It is important to remember to drink only bottled water when traveling in China.