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This is a piece that comes from the Ctrip English Media Room, but I thought it deserved re-posting for the rest of you to see. If you have any additional tips you'd like to share, we'd love to hear them.
China is an increasingly important manufacturing and trading hub for many international business travelers. However, the journey can be daunting for both inexperienced and seasoned travelers since it presents unique challenges and opportunities when compared to work-related visits to Western countries. Here are some important tips for ensuring an effective, economical and enjoyable business trip to China:
1. Passport & Visa
Your passport should have at least one blank visa page and be valid for six months or more. Americans need a visa if they are traveling to mainland China but not for Hong Kong. If you will be entering China more than once on your trip, such as going to and from Hong Kong, apply for a multiple-entry visa.
2. Money and Credit Cards
Arrive with cash on hand so that you can exchange it for local currency, which you will need for incidentals like cabs and other transportation. Money is easily exchanged at the airport and most hotels. American ATM cards connected to major networks work in most large Chinese cities. Hotels, restaurants, tour companies, and shops in the larger cities will accept most major credit cards, but it is wise to carry two different types such as a Visa and MasterCard to be safe. Also, be aware that many businesses impose a surcharge for the use of foreign credit cards so paying cash can provide a cost savings.
If you try to use credit cards while traveling yet haven't told the issuers when you will be in China, you might have your card suspended for suspicion of fraud. To avoid this hassle, call your credit card companies before you depart so they know that you'll be in China. Still, even with such precaution, some ATMs might not permit you to make withdrawals with credit cards and you'll have to shop around to find one that does. Also, it pays to check with your credit card and ATM issuers to see what rates they charge for usage in China since fees and percentages vary considerably.
Even if it is possible to use your existing cell phone and carrier while in China, such usage can be expensive due to high roaming charges. Check your carrier's rates from China before traveling. If you have a China-compatible SIM card phone (call your carrier to check), you can easily buy a prepaid SIM card to replace your current SIM card. A more expensive option is to buy prepaid phone cards which are sold throughout China and can be used from most phones. One of the most economical communications tools is Skype which works over most Internet connections in China. You can call other Skype users throughout the world for free or pay a low rate for most calls to landlines or mobile phones in other countries.
High-speed Internet access is available at most hotels with business customers. Fast WiFi is increasingly common throughout China and can be used for free in many coffee shops and restaurants. And while some U.S. websites like Facebook and Twitter are blocked, accessing and using the Internet in China will seem quite familiar for the most part. However, if you try to use Google and don't understand Chinese, you will likely be frustrated since searches are routed through Google in Hong Kong and the buttons appear in Chinese characters.
Ninety-percent of the hotels in China are not brand names that most Westerners recognize. Yet the country offers a wide range of accommodations that compare quite favorably with options found in Western countries. Ctrip, China's largest online travel provider, features the country's most comprehensive online hotel database and an English-language reservations system. Due to Ctrip's negotiating clout with hotels, it offers the best hotel rates which it backs up with a generous best price guarantee. Ctrip's well-staffed English helpline will provide assistance in communicating with your hotel before, during, or after your trip which can be extremely useful due to language barriers.
In addition, consider hotels with workout facilities (an excellent cure for jet lag) and high-speed Internet. When you check-in, ask for a business card with the hotel's address on it in both English and Chinese so you can give it to taxi drivers for hassle-free cab rides back to the hotel.
The best airfares to China from U.S. cities can often be found with Chinese airlines, which are growing dramatically and offer some of the world's newest planes and experienced flight crews. Within China itself, increased competition amongst airlines means that there are many discounts offered for domestic flight tickets. Ctrip sells many more tickets for travel in China than any other website and is quick to post special domestic and international airfare deals to help travelers save money.
6. No tipping
Chinese service workers do not expect tips. When you receive your restaurant bill or taxi fare, the printed amount is the amount you pay.
It's not necessary to speak Mandarin to travel comfortably in China – especially in the big cities where there are many English speakers. However, learning basic conversational terms can go a long way to demonstrating your genuine interest in Chinese culture which will make a positive impression on those you meet. Two excellent Mandarin learning tools are ChinesePod (online language lessons) and Rosetta Stone (interactive CDs). Or, consider downloading free or low-cost Mandarin languages apps for your smart phone such as those from Odyssey Translator and WorldNomads which translate basic words and phrases from English into Mandarin.
8. Personal Relationships ("Guanxi")
Personal relationships, connections and introductions are very important in China. Whenever possible, obtain an introduction to your prospect or client through an intermediary they trust. This ensures you an attentive audience when it comes time to discuss business possibilities. When you meet a in a professional setting, distribute and receive business cards ("ming pian") with both hands to show respect.
9. Local Representation
Whether you are sourcing or selling your products and services in China, good local representation can make the difference between success and failure. The U.S. Department of Commerce runs a comprehensive website with tips on finding business partners in China along with additional information that business travelers to China will find useful. Before hiring any firm in China, ask for references from current and former clients and take time to verify them.
10. When "Yes" Means "No"
In general, the Chinese don't like coming across as being negative – especially when speaking with foreigners. Thus, you will tend to hear "yes" a lot more than "no." Also, the Chinese concept of "face," which loosely translates as "dignity" in English, means that you might hear "yes" when people really mean to say "no" since they don't want to offend you. It's important to have discussions about sensitive issues behind closed doors; however, the party you are negotiating with might still find it embarrassing to say "no." If you think that you're hearing an "empty yes," try verifying feelings with questions that can be answered in a positive fashion.