More and more overseas businesses are expanding to China for new opportunities.
Business travels are the direct way to reach your potential customers and partner. But there are quite a few common issues in the China business travels for western businessmen.
After several years China market entry consulting, I’ve compiled some top tips for going to China that many businessmen wish they’d had before landing in China.
Essential Things to Know Before You Visit China for Business
Make Your China Business Travel Plan
1. Set Up Business Appointments
It would be quite easy if you only need to finish one single task to meet a certain existing client or visit a specific place.
However, in many cases, you want to meet some potential customers you've never known before, you might visit several cities in your coming trip.
You need to plan your travel well.
Normally you need a local representative to help you coordinate all these since setting up meeting appointments in different places will be annoying if you are a total stranger to China.
2. Get Connected through Someone
Chinese don’t like doing business with individuals or companies they don’t know, so working through an intermediary is crucial.
This could be an individual or an organization who can make a formal introduction and vouch for the credibility of you or your company.
Some clients tried to make appointments with key decision makers just through cold calls.
They realized this after many trials.
3. Do Business With Key Decision Makers
You have to impress and do business with decision makers at the very top.
The normal cold call strategy would not work and you will never be taken seriously.
- First, it seems you don’t know the Chinese culture.
- Second, they could not tell whether you are trustworthy.
- Third, they will doubt your capability.
The wise investment is to find a local partner or agent to help you arrange serious meetings and introduce valuable connections.
4. Meeting Rooms
You can visit the offices of your potential clients, but it takes time for you to move from one place to another.
You need to consider time and distance issues. And traffic jams in rush hours are very common in big cities in China.
Make sure this kind of meetings would not affect your following meetings.
You can also arrange business meetings in your hotel and it will save quite a lot of your time if you have a tight schedule to meet many people, remember to book the meeting rooms in advance.
5. Optimize Your Itinerary
Some typical questions for your China business travel:
Set up realistic goals first, design your itinerary according to the availability of the people you want to meet, prioritize your important meetings.
Try to arrange as more important appointments within limited days and make your travel flexible, so that you may arrange some new meetings when you are here in China.
6. Avoid Traveling on Chinese Holidays
Your business travel will be ruined if you choose to do it in Chinese holidays.
It's difficult to book tickets and everywhere is crowded.
Many people you want to see may be not at their office.
7. Hire a Local Virtual Assistant
For important China business travels, you'd better hire a senior Chinese virtual assistant to help you handle a series of jobs like leads creation, making appointments, booking hotels and planning the itinerary.
You can also hire a senior consultant to work as your local assistant to translate and solve all the possible issues you might meet up with.
Prepare Travel Documents for China
8. Visas for China
Before you visit China, you’ll need to arrange your visa in advance since there are no visas on arrival.
Visas can be applied for in person at the Chinese consulate/embassy or can be ordered via post.
When applying for your visa to China, you’ll need to provide either a letter of invitation from a Chinese friend, relative, or a Chinese company , or provide a detailed itinerary of your intended trip. This includes return flights and confirmed reservations for your hotel bookings.
9. Booking Hotels in China
If you want some flexibility with your itinerary, make use of sites that do not require an upfront payment to make bookings.
Booking.com is a good option that you get free cancellation on most rooms.
Some Chinese websites like C-Trip or eLong require no deposit to book rooms too, and you can cancel without penalty once your visa is approved.
Local Booking sites normally offer better rates than western ones. Be sure to compare them.
10. Travel Insurance for China
Travel insurance is a must for any kind of travels.
There are way too many travel insurance options, buy from big companies and make sure to insure valuable items such as cameras, laptops etc too.
11. Keep Your Passport with You All the Time
You’ll need your passport for showing you identity and use it for booking hotels, tickets etc.
12. Get a VPN for China
When you visit China, keep in mind that many western websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and most of the Google selection are blocked by the GFW. If you want to access these while you’re visiting China, you’ll need to purchase a VPN.
I personally tried many VPNs, and finally decided to stay with ExpressVPN since it is the most reliable one.
13. Buy a Telecommunication Package
International roaming in China might be quite expensive.
Consult your carriers to buy a dedicated international travel package for China during your travel.
14. Get a local SIM Card in China
China's local telecommunication rate is far cheaper than international roaming.
China’s major carriers include China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. SIM cards can be purchased at the airport or at most corner stores, and credit is quite affordable.
Most Chinese SIMs are locked to the province in which they are purchased, so you’ll pay roaming charges when texting, calling, or using data outside of this province.
15. Download WeChat
WeChat (WeiXin in Chinese) is first app that I would recommend to download if you want to be connected with China customers.
16. Must Have Apps
Many Chinese apps would make your travel in China easier, like Maps, and Taxi Hailing Apps.
Here is a short but useful list and you can choose what you need to download.
Transit In China
17. Get to the Airport Early
In China, it is a normal practice to get to the airport three hours early for international flights and two hours early for domestic flights.
Traffic jams in peak hours in China big cities are quite serious.
You'd better avoid the rush hours or get to leave for the airport earlier.
18. Expect Delays of Flights
It's interesting that most flights in China can not leave the airport on time.
But don't be late to arrive at the airport.
You need to be prepared to wait in the airport, or in the plane, although it won't be too long for most cases.
19. G-Trains Are Amazing
China's built a fantastic network of high speed G-trains.
You can travel across the country by trains, and it's more punctual than flights.
It takes you only about 5 hours from Beijing to Shanghai via G-Train.
Trains rates are quite affordable.
Most new rail station for G-Trains are huge and similar, many of them are far out of the city center.
20. Crowded Subways and Buses in Rush Hours
Subways and Buses are convenient and the fare is really cheap.
But it will be extremely crowded in rush hours.
My suggestion is to avoid peak hours.
21. Taxi Hailing in China
Taxis in China are cheap and plentiful. You can use many apps (WeChat, Alipay, Didi Chuxing, Meituan, etc) to hail a taxi or a sharing car.
Most drivers will not speak English. It’s a good idea to get your destination address written in Chinese by somebody at your hotel.
22. Driving in China
If you are not living here for long, self-driving is not a good idea since it really needs some practices for newbies.
Prepare a China's local driver's license or an International driver's license if you insist.
23. Rent a Bike
Bike sharing is popular in China and you can ride a bike to make your local sightseeing really efficient.
Effective Business Relationship
24. Build Personal Relationships and Win the Trust
Business relationships are built formally after the Chinese get to know you.
Doing business in China is based heavily on personal relationships, which is called Guanxi.
If you are not a friend, you are basically not a trusted business partner.
25. Be Very Patient
Normally it takes a considerable amount of time.
Decisions are unlikely to be made during the meeting.
They may take a long time.
Careful reviews and considerations are necessary.
You need time to find the right influencers and the real decision maker.
You need to break through enormous bureaucracy if your client is a big company.
You Chinese clients, big or small, need time to test you to see whether you are honest and reliable.
26. Do Not Rely Too Much On Contracts
Contracts are important, but do not rely too much on them.
Try to accumulate as little Chinese debt as possible.
Don’t deliver too much before getting paid, or pay too much before getting something delivered.
I always start with discovery contracts as pilot projects for most consulting cases.
Start some trial orders first to see whether it really works.
27. Leave Room for Negotiation
Your starting offer should always leave room for negotiation.
You must be willing to show compromise and ensure Chinese negotiators feel they have gained major concessions.
28. DON’T Assume “Yes” Means Yes
Don’t be pushy.
“We will think about it”, “I will look into it” sometimes means no.
Try to figure out the reason behind the hesitance and try to find an alternative solution.
29. Gifts Are Good, But Do Not Bribe
One-sided gift-giving is awkward and sometimes improper gifts might be even considered as bribery.
It’s best to arrange through your assistant or intermediary to see whether exchanging gifts is a good idea.
30. DON’T Assume “NO” Means NO
Gifts may be refused once, twice or even three times before they are accepted.
This is the Chinese tradition to show the humble attitude to accept any gift.
31. Accept RMB Only
The official currency of China is the yuan.
Normally, Chinese businesses do not accept any other currency, including the US dollar or Hong Kong dollar.
32. Mobile Payment is Popular
WePay and Alipay are increasingly popular in mainland China.
Foreigners can also apply for WePay and Alipay with a local bank account.
It is very convenient, but it needs several days to set it up.
33. Cash is preferred
More and more businesses in China (particularly large hotel chains and upscale restaurants) now accept Visa and Mastercard, but the most widely accepted card scheme is still UnionPay.
For foreign travellers, you’ll still need to pay with cash in most situations.
34. Exchange currency at ATMs in China
Many Chinese banks do not accept foreign cards.
But you can find larger chains such as HSBC to withdraw Chinese RMB from your bank accounts. In this way, you will get a far better exchange rate than services such as Travelex.
International ATMs are available in all major cities but it will be very hard to find in small cities or rural areas in China.
35. Tell Your Bank About Your China Travel
Before you go to China, make sure your bank knows you’re going to use your credit or debit card over there.
Otherwise, your card might be disabled or your transactions might be cancelled for "unusual transactions".
Four is an unlucky number because it sounds like the word “death” in mandarin Chinese.
So do not give four of anything.
Six is considered a blessing for smoothness and progress.
Eight is the luckiest number in Chinese culture, so giving eight of something brings luck to the recipient.
37. Cold Water Is Seldom Available
Cold water is seldom available in China since it’s impolite in Chinese culture.
Don’t be frightened if you can only drink hot tea, hot coffee or hot water.
Sometimes, you can get iced coke in foreign invested companies, but that is quite rare in Chinese invested companies.
38. No Tips in China
The Chinese do not tip, and people are not expecting tips.
Tipping is not officially forbidden, but it is not common, most service staff in local hotels, restaurants, and taxis do no expect tips.
Most local restaurants forbid the employees to take tips….
No tipping does not mean you don’t like the service.
Don’t be guilty of this.
Shopping In China
39. Price Bargaining
Do not negotiate price in hotels, chain stores and boutiques.
But you can, and should negotiate the price for anything you want to buy from private vendors.
In these stores or booths, never accept the marked price or first price offered.
It’s always possible to get products for a fraction of the quoted price.
40. Mail Things Home from China
It's common for many business travelers to buy a lot of things in China.
A good suggestion is to post these products home using China Post’s sea mail.
It will take a little bit long, say, one to two months, but is a very affordable way.
Manage Your Health
41. Tap Water Is Not Drinkable
For the most part of China, tap water in China is not drinkable.
Bottled water can be purchased everywhere at a very cheap price.
42. Air Pollution
In many large cities in China, air pollution is a serious problem.
Wear masks on days with hazardous air pollution or do not go out in these days.
43. See A Doctor in China
Chinese public hospitals can be very crowded.
In most major cities, there are specialized hospitals catering to foreigners living and working in China.
Most doctors can speak English.
44. Medicine at Reasonable Price
You can find both western and eastern medicine at Chinese pharmacies.
And the price is very reasonable.
Business Meals In China
45. Building Your Relationships in Chinese Banquets
Entertaining guests at a Chinese banquet is a very popular and important way to establish the relationship.
Do not discuss specific business issues during the meal.
46. Seat Arrangements
Do not rush to take a seat down.
Wait and the host will arrange the seat for you.
47. No Sales Pitch at the Dinner Table
Do Not open the computer and make sales pitch at the dinner table.
However, It really happens.:)
An American guy put his notebook on the dinner table and made a long sales pitch when all the dishes were ready, turning cold.
This is a true story happened last summer in Quanjude, a famous Beijing duck restaurant.
All the people on the same table are quite embarrassed, not knowing whether they can eat, or not.
So I list this as a separate tip.
48. Share the Food
In most Chinese dinners, dishes are almost always ordered communally and shared.
Ask for a spoon and a fork if you are not good at chopsticks.
49. Try Everything
It is polite to try everything that is offered to you.
If you don’t like it, just try only a little bit.
50. Family Dinners
If you are invited to attend family dinners, consider it a great honor.
And it is the opportunity to establish a personal relationship.
You can get the chance to know the couple, the kids of your Chinese customer.
Many Chinese parents want their children to speak good English.
Don’t be surprised if they ask their children to practice English with you.
51. Drink Some Wine
Drinking is an important part in Chinese entertaining.
Drink some wine if you can, but not too much.
Be prepared with an appropriate toast.
52. Do Not Pour Your Own Drink
It is the responsibility of the host to attend to the guests.
The person seated next to you may pour a drink for you.
You should reciprocate.
53. Do Not Sign any Deal After Drink
Leave these stuff to following days.
54. After-Dinner Entertainment
Like dining together, after-dinner entertainment is an excellent way to build a personal relationship.
55. Don’t Wait For Service in Restaurants
Conventional western service is only in limited number of western restaurants.
In Chinese restaurants, Chinese waiters and waitresses aren’t as proactive as you think.
Don’t be afraid to throw your hands up and call for the service guy ("fuwuyuan" in Chinese) if you want any service.
56. Real Chinese Food
You will discover thousands of dishes you've never seen.
And the the Chinese food in China is totally different from the Chinese food in any Chinese restaurant in a western country.
A Diversified And Vast Country
57. Learn Some Chinese
Most Chinese people don’t speak English. It is advisable to write down basic phrases in (Simplified) Chinese, use a help of a friend or a translator.
Starting your introduction with some Chinese phrases, like Chinese greetings, will be considered a nice and friendly behavior.
If you are willing to learn a new language, try to pick up phrases and useful words from the locals. Most of them will be eager to help you in learning Chinese, or even their own dialects!
Also be noted that not everyone in China speaks Mandarin.
There are many different dialects in China, the most common of which include Mandarin and Cantonese.
58. China is Big
China is vast and huge, geograophically.
You will see different terrains, landscapes.
Chinese People are speaking different dialects in different regions.
59. Understand The Unbalanced China
China is a big country but not well balanced.
60. Taking photos in China
Chinese people love to take pictures, not only pictures during travels, but also selfies.
You will get attention as a foreigner in many places, esp. small cities or rural areas. So don’t be surprised if a local Chinese comes up to ask for a picture with you.
If you want to take a picture with other people or a government building, Always ask for permission.