Stephanie Yoder a RoamRight Blog Author

Tips for First Time Visitors to China

Shanghai is the largest city by population in China and the largest city proper by population in the world. CT

China can be intimidating for first-time travelers, with its impenetrable language barrier, distinct cultural differences and of course its sheer size. All of these are real concerns, but the benefits of visiting this dynamic and fast changing country quickly outweigh the cons. China is an incredible country full of rich culture, fascinating history and amazing food.

The key to an enjoyable trip in China is forethought and preparation. The more you know about what to expect, the easier it is to relax and navigate the country. So here are a few things for first-timers to remember.

China is Big

This is obvious from just looking at a map, but many first-time travelers seem to forget to account for China's sheer size when planning their itinerary. Most major cities are far enough apart to require either a flight or an overnight train ride to visit.

It would be easy to run yourself ragged traveling around the country. Instead, if you only have a short amount of time to spend in China, plan to visit just one or two major cities. With more time you can explore further afield.

A Different Set of Etiquette Rules

It would be easy for a first time visitor to view the Chinese as rude. This really isn't a fair characterization: the Chinese just have dramatically different expectations and etiquette rules than many visitors are used to. Learning about what to expect can make all the difference.

Personal space, for example, is not a high priority in a country of over a billion people. You can expect to be jostled, crowded and crushed, particularly in the subway. Foreign visitors can attract a lot of attention, and you can expect to be the subject of photos as well as personal inquiries into subjects like your marital status and salary.


While China can be confusing, it's not a terribly dangerous place to travel. Crimes against foreigners are rare and are usually crimes of opportunity: pick pocketing can be a problem, but armed robbery is not. The bigger cities and tourist attractions in China are magnets for scammers so familiarize yourself with any popular cons in the area so as not to fall victim.

Don't Fear the Food

Forget everything you know about your local takeout order. China is home to one of the most diverse, varied and interesting culinary traditions in the world. From steamed dumplings to stir fried tofu, peking duck to boiling hot pots, you are sure to find something to love. True enjoyment requires an open mind and a willingness to taste first, ask questions later.

No matter what you end up eating, you will want to practice your chopstick skills. Forks are few and far between in authentic Chinese restaurants.

Communication Barrier

Chinese is a difficult language with very few cognates or recognizable words to western ears. As it is a tonal language the chance of even mastering a few words is unlikely. Additionally, outside of the tourism industry there are very few English speakers.

It is possible to navigate China without speaking any of the local language. The key is preparation: have the name of your hotel written out in Chinese characters to show the taxi driver, or have a local write down a list of dishes for you to try and present that at the restaurant. Get comfortable with the idea of pointing, gesturing and even miming to get your point across.

Squat Toilets

Yes, they are real, and with the exception of western style hotels and restaurants, they are everywhere. Don't be afraid though, with a bit of practice (and thigh muscle) squat toilets are easy to master. You will want to carry your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

Embrace Not Knowing

One of the most disorienting, yet delightful, things about China is the constant feeling that you have no idea what is going on. China is crowded, confusing and busy. If you can learn to embrace the chaos, you stand a far better chance of enjoying your time here.

What else would you like to know about traveling to China?

Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.


About the Author

Stephanie Yoder

Stephanie Yoder, a RoamRight Blog Author

Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! Since graduating college in 2007 she has either been traveling or planning to travel. She's lived on four continents and visited everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the Great Barrier Reef. She now writes and travels full time, blogging about her adventures on Why Wait To See The World? (formerly Twenty-Something Travel). Follow Stephanie on Twitter or visit her on Facebook.

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