A trip to China promises exhilaration and excitement, but it can undoubtedly be a little daunting at times. There are several key cultural differences between China and Western countries like the UK, whether they’re to do with tipping, transport or surfing the web. To ensure you only encounter good surprises during your trip, we’ve put together this handy list of things to know before travelling to China.

Tourism in China

Every year, around 145.3 million people come to China to see the sights, taste the food and experience everything this colossal country has to offer. In addition, among the 1.38 billion people who call China home, many travel within their own country in large groups. This means that at popular sites such as the Forbidden City or the Classical Gardens of Suzhou, it’s not uncommon for groups of hundreds of people to arrive, all following one guide. While crowds in China are inevitable, your guides will choose the quietest times to show you the sights where possible, such as at mealtimes, early in the morning or in the evening.


If you’re used to travelling in European countries where many people speak English, communicating in China might seem challenging at first. Many locals don’t speak English (the exceptions being in Shanghai and Beijing) and that includes taxi drivers. It’s therefore a good idea to have the address of your hotel or destination written down in Mandarin. Our Concierge (or the one at the hotel) can also help to explain your destination to taxi drivers. While around 80% of the population in China speaks Mandarin, other dialects such as Yue (Cantonese) and Xiang (Hunanese) are also common. English is one of the official languages in Hong Kong, but only around half of the population can speak it. If this all sounds overwhelming, don’t fret – translating apps, phrasebooks and some good old-fashioned gesturing will always get you where you want to go. And we can arrange English-speaking guides throughout your trip, to ensure you get the most out of your time in China.


Only those with a Chinese driving license can drive in China, so unless you want to tackle the process of obtaining a temporary license, self-drive road trips are out. However, in general China has good public transport infrastructure, giving you the choice between buses, trains, underground services and ferries. China has the second-longest railway network in the world (after the USA), and it’s a great way to explore the country. Tickets are available up to 20 days in advance, but sometimes as little as four, and you can buy these either at the station of travel or at advance purchase offices found in big cities. On the day of your journey, make sure to carry your passport or the ID used to book the ticket, as you’ll need this to board the train. Bear in mind that you’ll need to undergo security checks at the station (similar to at the airport), so leave sufficient time to get through the queues.


Tipping is not commonplace in China, with the exceptions of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan (which have been heavily influenced by the West). Tipping can be considered rude, cause distress to hospitality workers, and is even against the law in some circumstances (for example, tipping taxi drivers). There are a few exceptions to this rule, however. Guides and drivers on escorted tours will usually expect a tip of around ¥70–130 per day (around £8-£15), and in some high-end restaurants, a service charge may be added to your bill. You can tip the servers an additional ¥5–15 (around 50p-£2) if you want, but it’s not required.


Haggling is a big part of the Chinese shopping experience, but it’s important to know when it is and isn’t acceptable. Street stalls, vintage shops and small boutique stores are the places to try out your bargaining skills ­– if there’s no price label, you’re good to go. Approach the vendor with a smile, be respectful of their product, and to get the ball rolling, offer a lower price than you intend to pay. Typing numbers on a calculator or your phone screen can be a good way to communicate, but phrases like ‘pian yi dian’ (can you go cheaper?) or ‘tai gui le’ (too expensive) can go a long way. Remember that haggling isn’t the done thing at large shops, name brand stores, supermarkets or department stores.

More information

One of the most important things to know before travelling to China is that there is censorship in place. Some of the most common blocked websites and apps include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Gmail and Google apps. In order to stay in touch on socials, many people choose to use a VPN when travelling to China. It’s also a good idea to download WeChat (a popular Chinese messaging app) which includes a built-in search engine along with a code scanner that’s helpful for getting more information about a service or business when out and about.

One last thing to note is that tap water is not drinkable, though it’s OK for washing and brushing your teeth. Bottled water is readily available and cheap, but for a more environmentally friendly option, bring a reusable water bottle and a water purifying kit.

Contact one of our China specialists