The currency used in China is the Renminbi Yuan(RMBY) or Yuan (Y) known locally as kuai. It breaks down into units of ten jiao or mao and one hundred fen. Notes are in denominations of Y1, 2, 5, 10, 50 or 100 as well as 1, 2 and 5 jiao and the coins in use are Y1, 1.5 jiao and 1, 2 and 5 fen.
The official language spoken in China is Mandarin Chinese but there is also a vast amount of local dialects including Cantonese, Hakka and Fukienese. Ideally it is really helpful to learn some basic Chinese phrases before you travel but English is relatively widely spoken, particularly in the main tourist areas.
China has a very varied climate ranging from cold, dry winters to hot, humid summers. So, for those of you who don’t like weather that’s too hot or too cold it is best to visit in spring (April or May) or autumn (September or October) when you shouldn’t encounter either of the extremes. Bear in mind, however, that it can still reach temperatures in the thirties during the day and nights can be quite cold even during these times.
Despite its vast size, China occupies just one time zone which puts it eight hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
Office hours in China are generally between 8.00am and 11.30am and 1.30pm and 4.30pm from Monday to Friday. They also open in the morning on Saturdays. Most shops are open seven days a week and in the bigger cities they also tend to open quite late, sometimes until 9.30 or 10.00pm. In the smaller towns and villages, however they usually close considerably earlier and many also close for lunch in the early afternoon.
The electrical current used in China is 220 volts on the mainland and 200 volts in Hong Kong.
Citizens of most countries will require a visa to visit China but they are easy to come by. All you need to do is go to the Chinese embassy in your home country and they will tell you everything you need to know about acquiring your visa. Those of you wishing to enter and exit the country more than once during your stay will need a multiple-entry visa which will serve you for three months. As well as this you must have a passport which is valid for a further four months after than your visa’s expiry date.
China is somewhat lacking in tourist offices and while CITS, the state tour operator used to provide some visitor information, it now just sell tours and tickets and rents cars. Nevertheless, when you are outside the major cities it is still worth checking out a branch of the CITS as they will usually have somebody who speaks English and might give you information on the local tourist attractions. Other than that, the best option is to have a good travel guidebook with you at all times.
Most main post offices are open daily from 8.00am until 8.00pm with some closing for lunch or at the weekend. As well as post offices, you can also use the green post boxes which are generally scattered throughout the main cities to post your mail. Some of the bigger hotels also have a post box which you can use.
Traveller’s cheques are the best option in China and their exchange rate is fixed which is an added bonus. They can be changed in all major banks of the Bank of China and in the bigger hotels in mainland China but it is quite a lengthy process which involves filling out a considerable amount of paperwork. Nevertheless, they are the safest way to carry your money and provided you keep a record of the serial numbers, you will be reimbursed if they get lost or stolen. If you are travelling to Hong Kong or Macau, any bank or Bureau de Change will change your cheques for you but rates and commissions vary so shop around.
All major credit cards are accepted in the bigger hotels, restaurants and shops but in smaller businesses or the more remote areas you may have difficulty using this facility. You can also use bankcards which are members of the bigger international networks such as Plus or Cirrus in the larger towns and cities where the ATM states that they are acceptable.
The country code for mainland China is 86 so if you are calling from abroad you need to dial your international code followed by 86, the local area code without the first 0 and the local number. The same instructions apply when you are making an international call from within the country. It is also worth noting that calls to Hong Kong require the digits 852 instead of 86 and the code for Macau is 853.
Local calls in the country are free and calls within China are also relatively cheap. International calls, however, are considerably more expensive and will cost you at least Y16 per minute.
Public phones are easy to find throughout the major towns and cities although they are not quite as plentiful in the more out of the way regions. Most of these are now card phones and cards come in units of Y20, 50 and 100. It is also worth noting that they can only be used in the province in which they are purchased. They are the cheapest way to make international calls but you will be cut off without warning when your unit level falls to below the amount you need for your next minute of conversation so be prepared.
Up until recently tipping was virtually unheard off but the western custom is becoming more frequent. In restaurants you should tip between 3 and 5% of the bill but in Hong Kong where a 10% service charge is added in most restaurants you should only tip if you really think it’s necessary. You don’t need to tip taxi drivers but many people tell them to keep any small change. It is worth noting, however, that at no time is tipping compulsory, it is entirely at your own discretion.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In China they take place on January 1st, Lunar New Year’s Eve and Lunar New Year, May 1st and October 1st and 2nd. It is a good idea to check the particular region too as certain towns and areas also shut down during special events.