UMD: A Globally Connected University

UMD China Travel Guide

 

Here you will find a collection of existing online resources a well as our own tips to make the most out of your China travel experience.

Before You Leave

Visas

The information in this guide is our best effort to provide visa information to you, but please visit the Chinese Embassy Visa Office website for the latest, definitive requirements of Chinese visa application.

U.S. citizens need to obtain a Chinese visa prior to traveling to China. These are obtained from the Visa Section of the Chinese Embassy. The Chinese Embassy Visa Office is located in downtown Washington D.C., but separate from the Chinese Embassy’s main building. The address is 2201 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W. Suite 110, Washington, D.C. 20007.

The Visa Office does not provide same-day approval except for extreme emergencies and subject to approval by consular officer. It usually takes 2-4 days to process your visa. You need to drop off your application and then later pick up your visa at a time specified on your receipt. The wait at drop off tends to be very long, so we suggest getting there an hour before the office opens and getting in line. The visa office will observe some Chinese holidays and the office closings are usually (but not always!) announced on its website. Plan well in advance-- don’t wait until the last few days before your departure to try to get your visa. Leave enough time so that if you do encounter problems that you have time to resubmit.

Categories of Visas

While there are many categories of visas, the ones you will likely be interested in are:

Visa Category Eligible Applicants
F Foreigners who intend to go to China for exchanges, visits, study tours and other non-business activities.
L Foreigners who intend to go to China as a tourist.
M Foreigners who intend to go to China for commercial and trade activities.
R Foreigners who are high-level talents or whose skills are urgently needed in China.
X1 Foreigners who intend to study in China for a period of more than 180 days.
X2 Foreigners who intend to study in China for a period of no more than 180 days.

Required Documentation:

  1. Visa Application Form with a recently-taken color passport photo (bare-head, full face) against a light background attached. This MUST be TYPED in all CAPITALS. 
  2. Passport and copy: Original signed passport with at least six months of remaining validity and blank visa pages, and a copy of the passport's data and photo page. DO NOT forget this photocopy, or they will send you upstairs to get exorbitantly  priced copies, wasting both time and money.

In addition to the General Requirements you should also prepare some materials based upon the type of visa for which you are applying.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Visas policies have recently changed, and we strongly encourage you to check in with the Office of China Affairs to ensure you obtain the appropriate visa type. Contact us at 301-405-0208. Students should contact Education Abroad.

Travel Planning

Before traveling to China you should be aware of both departmental and university-wide travel polices. For staff and faculty travel, UMD has approved travel agents.

Other websites to consider using are:

There are currently direct flights from Washington Dulles (IAD) to Beijing (PEK) via United. This is the quickest flight that is available.

Money

The currency in China is called the renminbi or RMB. The primary unit is called yuan (pronounced yoo-en). Colloquially it is referred to as kuai (pronounced kwhy). The current rate is approximately $1=6 RMB (or 6 yuan or 6 kuai).

ATMs in major cities allow you to withdraw cash from your U.S. banks. We suggest arriving at the airport and withdrawing cash from the ATMs there. It is obviously sensible to take some cash with you just in case. Credit cards are accepted at hotels and large restaurants and some major department stores, but elsewhere you will likely be using cash. We do not suggest taking travelers checks, as these are, in our opinion, more hassle than they are worth.

Communications

Communications in China can be challenging. While the country is well wired and has some of the best cell phone coverage in the world, it also presents unique challenges to the traveler.

Blocked Websites
Many websites are blocked in China, including all google sites (including gmail), facebook, Wikipedia, and many university resources. Please check the following websites to see if the website you must have access to are blocked in China.

While VPNs may provide a work-around, the use of these has become much more difficult since the beginning of 2015.

Internet Security
Many public places in China, such as airports and restaurants, offer free Wifi, and some Wifi networks don’t even require a password. For security purpose, please make sure you are using the right Wifi network. Turn off “Auto Connect” on your cell phone. Do not log into your University or personal accounts using unsecured public Wifi network. If you are participating in research projects that involve major US departments, such as DOD, DOE and USDA, take extra precaution to secure your University of Maryland email account. You should also check with your supervisor to see if there are travel policies and restrictions on the use of university electronic devices in China.

Cell Phone Service
There are three cell phone service providers in China: China Mobile (CMCC), China Unicom, and China Telecom. You can purchase SIM cards with your passport at the stores of any of the above service providers. Before you buy any SIM card, please make sure your cellphone is unlocked and you know which kind of SIM card you need: regular SIM card (used in iPhone 4 or 4S), Micro SIM card (used in iPhone 5) or Nano SIM card (used in iPhone 5S, 6 and 6 plus).

As to the 4G network, CMCC, China Unicom and China Telecom have different 4G spectrums and careful selection is needed. Generally, China Unicom supports almost all the unblocked smart phones you bring to China, but CMCC and China Telecom 4G only supports a small portion of the phones, like iPhone 6, and CMCC and China Telecom only support the Sprint Unblocked Version.

If you are using a local SIM card, there are also IP international codes for you to use to save money. You should inquire at the place of IMS card purchase for this code (for example, 17951).

Electricity

Chinese voltage is 220V, but typically your laptops, tablets, and other electronics allow for 110-220V. China uses three types of sockets. Type A sockets are usually fine in China (these are the two-pronged ones used most commonly in the U.S.). We suggest you look these shapes up online. Adapters, if necessary, are usually available in hotels.

Transportation

Public transportation in China is generally very easy to use. Major cities like Shanghai and Beijing have extensive and efficient (albeit crowded) subway/metro systems. Domestic flights are relatively frequent and cheap, and can often be made on one-day notice. That said, airline delays are extremely common in China and can wreak havoc on tight travel plans. Make sure to leave enough time in your plans for heavily delayed or cancelled flights.

A great alternative these days is high-speed rail (HSR). China has built out a massive HSR network. You can take the train from Beijing to Shanghai in under 5 hours, which is often more dependable than a two-hour flight with accompanying early arrival at the airport and flight delays. The rides on HSR are also super smooth and offer a chance to see other parts of China at the ground level.

Traffic has become a serious problem in most Chinese cities. Make sure to leave lots of time for getting from one city to another. If you need to arrange a car and driver during your stay Chinese hotels can arrange this for you.

Gifts to Bring to China

It is recommended that you bring some small gifts for your trip to China. You should bring at least one gift for the head of whichever institution you are visiting. And if you bring extras you are sure to find chances to use them! Small things with the University of Maryland logo/symbol that you can find in the Maryland Bookstore are great choices. If you present a gift with Testudo on it, please explain the meaning of Testudo to the Chinese friend receiving the gift. In Chinese culture turtles are usually used to symbolize longevity, but when used in Chinese slang turtles can also mean something insulting. Make sure the recipient of the gift understands the great symbolic meaning of Testudo. Testudo is a special type of turtle found in Maryland who can only move forwards; he cannot walk backwards—just like the UMD spirit!

Important Documents and Contacts

Please bring a hard copy of the following document/information with you all the time and keep separate from your passport and wallet:

  • Passport and visa
  • U.S. Embassy and Consulate phone number (see info later in this guide)
  • Local host name, address and contact number

Other Resources

There are obviously lots of online resources that you can find to help you with your China travel.

 

While You Are There

Airport Arrival

Typically on the flight to China you will be handed an Entry Form for Chinese immigration. If you do not get one on the plane you can get one at counters in the immigration hall. On your way from the plane to the immigration hall you will go through some health monitoring stations, which may or may not take your temperature as you walk through. You will then go through immigration, where they will take this arrival card and stamp your passport. You will then go to the baggage hall to pick up your luggage and proceed through customs. If you have nothing to declare then go through the green channel.

This will lead you into the arrivals section of the airport, where it will likely be quite hectic. If you are arriving in Beijing ATMS and Starbucks are off to your left. Your options to get downtown or to your hotel include subway, bus, taxi, and often times you can arrange in advance for someone to pick you up (the hotel or your host).

Recommended Apps

Phone apps are a great way to get the most out of your stay in China. Here are some of the most useful:

  • Wechat: Use Wechat to stay connected with your friends, camp counselor or local host in China. You can send text, picture and voice message through Wechat with your friends after you’ve added them as your friends. Notice that facebook, tweeter and gmail are blocked in China and Wechat is becoming the best way to share your moments.
  • Didi Dache: an app to help you quickly find a taxi
  • Dazhong Dianping: To explore the interesting places in your city with this app, which is highly similar to Yelp and you can also see remarks of anything you may be interested, however, in Chinese only. You can also visit www.dianping.com on your PC to enjoy the same service.
  • Baidu maps: A popular Chinese map website. You can download the app.
  • Youdao Dictionary: Can’t speak much Chinese? Use this app to translate from English to Chinese. The app supports voice recognition and interpretation.
  • Pleco: this is the best Chinese-English/English-Chinese dictionary, bar none. It even has optical character recognition.

Etiquette

Greetings: Seniority and ranking are highly valued in China. It is important to address the person you are meeting by their full title (“Vice-President Zhang” or “Director Wang”). When meeting Chinese, shake hands,  similar to the U.S. Sometimes Chinese will hold on to the handshake longer than you are accustomed or hold your hand by both hands, try not to pull away. Chinese businesswomen/female officials prefer to be addressed by their rankings or madam, lady, avoid using Mrs. or Miss. 

Meetings: Make sure to arrive on time for the meeting. Pay particular attention to rankings and titles; it is very important to identify and greet the highest ranking official(s) early on during a meeting. When exchanging business cards or gifts, use both hands. You should always present your business card to the highest ranking person in the room first. Upon receipt of business cards you can take a few seconds to study the card—this is culturally appropriate and also gives you time to focus on their title and last name.  Sometimes it is had to tell which is first name /last name, since Chinese names starts with last name first.  Most of the time, Chinese last names are usually in single syllable, with very few exceptions, but first names can be single or double syllables. 

Meals: It is common business practice to have a business meal follow a meeting.  The choice of food and seating are usually pre-assigned by the host. The host will sit at the head, with the leader of the U.S. delegation next to him/her. If you have some specific dietary restrictions (vegetarian, Kosher, allergies etc) you should let your host know in advance.

The meals are usually served in private rooms at a round table with a “lazy susan” that allows for dishes to be rotated. Your hosts will take care of the rotating—it is best to let them do this. You will find that Chinese are extremely attentive hosts and will make sure you get to every dish.   Chinese meals usually start with cold appetizers, followed by meat dishes, then fish, then vegetable. Last you will get the main food, (fried rice, noodles, dumplings). At the end fruit is often served.  Feel free to compliment dishes throughout the meal, it’s considered a great honor if the guest likes the dishes being served.

If you struggle with chopsticks feel free to ask for a fork or spoon. If you are served something that you are not comfortable with (often the host will spoon something onto your plate), you can leave it on your plate and usually a server will help you exchange to a fresh plate part way through the meal. Our advice? Use chopsticks and try everything! 

Drinking: It’s very common to see Chinese rice wine (“baijiu”) being served at banquets. “Baijiu” is a very strong distilled alcohol.  Because drinking together at a banquet is considered a sign of friendship or close relationship, the Chinese host might push guests to drink.  However, feel free to refuse drinking for personal reasons (“sorry, I don’t drink alcohol” or “sorry, I am currently taking antibiotics”).   Lately, red wines “hongjiu”  have become very common at Chinese banquets as well,  if given a choice  between “baijiu” or “hongjiu”, feel free to ask for “hongjiu” if you feel more comfortable with it.  Chinese hosts usually will drink with guests their choice of wine. 

Chinese hosts usually start the banquet by offering a toast, the guest is expected to offer a toast after the host toasts. The guest’s toast should not be longer than the host’s. 

Gifts: Gift giving is a symbol for friendship and respect in China.  You are expected to offer gifts to the host for meetings and banquets.  You can also present one institutional gift to the highest ranking official in the room.  Always present and receive gifts with both hands. Bring gifts that have strong association or meanings of the institution you represent. The gift should be presented at the end. 

Chinese are particularly fond of color red and gold, those colors are signs of prosperity and wealth.  Avoid wrapping gifts in black or white, which are associated with death and funerals.  Avoid gifts such as clocks, scissors, or knives, which have negative connotations.

Emergency Contacts