With the Olympics in Beijing just a few weeks away, travelers from all over the world are planning trips to China, many for the first time.
If you’re one of them, the thought of preparing for a trip to the other side of the world might be daunting.
Never fear! Here are some tips to help you plan before you set foot on a plane.
You need a passport to visit China, of course, but you need more than that. A visa is required, and even if you can pull some strings for a last-minute issue, it no easy task at this stage of the game.
Even if you’ve secured your visa, it may not be over yet. “You may be asked to provide provide back-up documentation such as a hotel confirmation, an e-ticket (not a flight itinerary), proof of previous visa, host business or Foreign Ministry invitation letters from China, and certificates of financial guarantee,” explains Steven Diehl of CIBT, a visa and passport service provider. “There have even been cases in which the government is requiring bank statements! ”
For future, non-Olympic visits, though, get your visa from the Chinese Embassy or consulate general that serves your area, or ask your travel agent or a dedicated passport service agency to help you procure one.
As with all foreign travel, it’s a good idea to have the local U.S. Embassy contact on hand, especially if you your passport and other documents are stolen are lost. The embassy has All American Citizen Services offices located in several cities in China; the number for the Beijing office is 010-6532-1910. Keep in mind that the offices are closed on both Chinese and American holidays.
What about health concerns when visiting China? The CDC recommends some vaccinations for your trip, and even though you don’t HAVE to get them, they are strongly suggested. They include Hepatitis A and B, Japanese encephalitis, rabies and typhoid. Don’t let the shots scare you off; it never hurts to be prepared when visiting a foreign country.
While a visit to your local general practitioner is sufficient, you may want to check in with a doctor who specializes in travel health. Start by visiting the International Society of Travel Medicine (www.istm.org) for a list of member travel health specialists.
Don’t forget to prepare for the more run-of-the-mill ailments by packing adhesive bandages, pain reliever, medicine for upset stomach, antibacterial ointment, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, insect repellent, allergy medication and cold medicine.
Preparedness doesn’t stop with pills. That number for the U.S. Embassy in China will come in handy in case of an extreme medical emergency, however unlikely that might be.
And while we recommend travel insurance for long and pricey trips, also consider something called medical evacuation insurance. Companies such as MedJet Assist an annual ($175) or per-trip fee (starting at $85) and basically means that if you have a medical emergency more than 150 miles from home, you’ll be airlifted to a hospital of your choice, not theirs.
What else should you pack? Whatever it is, pack light. Bring an umbrella, but leave lots of room in your suitcase for souvenirs. China is a shopping destination.
If you forget any necessities and need to visit the local stores for supplies, Beijing’s big-city amenities and large community of non-native residents make finding some items easier than it would be in other Chinese cities. Try not to forget the harder-to-find items like sunscreen, hair products, and anti-perspirant.
Before you leave home, have an itinerary in mind for exploring Beijing. The official Beijing Olympics Web site offers ideas for single or multi-day itineraries during your visit. If you make a plan before you get to China, you’ll spend a lot less time wandering aimlessly and more time visiting the area attractions that you really want to see (such as Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City or the Temple of Heaven).
Looking for some off-the-beaten path adventure? You can start by checking out our Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Beijing for ideas.
One suprising new day trip is a Chinese wine tour! That’s right, a company called China Wine Tours (www.chinawinetours.com) is offering one- two- and three-day tours for Olympic travelers to visit wineries in and around Beijing, strating at about $100 a day.
Finally, be prepared to use cash almost everywhere (except for major purchases such as hotel rooms). Luckily, ATMs from big banks, such as Bank of America, are increasingly available, and getting cash is usually no problem. The official currency of China is the Renminbi (RNB or CNY). You can check the currency exchange rate at www.xe.com/ucc.
Now that you’ve gone through the planning checklist and made the arrangements to visit China, all that remains is to pack your bag and get on the plane. Check back for further articles on enjoying China once you arrive!
Don’t miss other articles in our Beijing Olympics series…
- An Olympic Guide to Overcoming the Hurdles Of Traveling to Beijing
- Bound for Beijing: A Guide to 2008 Olympic Travel
- Lost in Online Translation
CULTURE AND FUN: