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Essential Things to Do Before Going to China

Essential Things to Do Before Going to China

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So, you’ve decided that you want to visit China in the near future! Or, you might even have booked your flight ticket!

But, it is your first time visiting China, or it’s your first visit after a long hiatus, and you’re not sure what you need to prepare before going to China, I’ve compiled the essential things to prepare before your departure.

This list is written based on my own experience. If you have more suggestions, please let me know in the comment!

1. Apply for a Visa

The first thing that most people need to do before going to China is applying for a visa. There are many different kinds of visa, but the most common visa for tourist is L Visa (Tourism Visa).

If you’re visiting certain region through certain ports, there may be visa exemptions, visa on arrival, or transit visa. Since I’m just a traveler and not a travel agent, I can’t advise you on the various visa requirements. Do check with the Chinese Consulate/Embassy in your country for more clarity on this issue.

If you’re residing in Singapore, and you need to apply for a visa to China, I have a step-by-step guide on how to apply China Visa in Singapore.

2. Get a Data Roaming or VPN before entering China

Before entering China, I highly recommend that you get either Data Roaming or VPN. Otherwise, once you’re inside the country, you can’t access most western apps, such as Google-related services (Gmail, Google Search, Youtube, etc) and Meta-related services (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc).

For me, I use BOTH Data Roaming (through my Singapore SIM Card) and VPN (SurfShark).

Data Roaming is expensive, but it’s extremely reliable and you can access western apps without even getting a VPN.

When my data roaming quota is running low, I switch to using data from my China SIM Card. When using data from China SIM Card, I can’t access western apps. So I’d connect to SurfShark and let it connect to the best network it can find. The VPN connection has been choppy. Some days, it worked great; other days, it’s impossible to connect to VPN for the entire day.

3. Download and setup AliPay

China is pretty much a cashless society now, so it is very important that you setup your mobile wallet before going to China. AliPay is a popular and trustworthy payment app that accepts international credit card.

To use AliPay, first, download the app on to your mobile phone, and register with your phone number (international numbers are accepted). Then, verify your account and start adding your bank card information.

AliPay is not just a mobile wallet, it is much more than that. You can use it to take bus and metro/subway, call taxi, order food delivery, buy train/flight ticket, and so much more. It makes life so much easier!

Read my guide about how to set up and use Alipay as a tourist.

4. Download and setup WeChat

WeChat is another powerful superapp. With WeChat, you can text other people (like your tour guide, etc), book tickets, make payment (but I can’t figure out how to setup my WeiXin Pay at the moment).

5. Download dictionary and translation apps

If you don’t read or speak Chinese, or you speak/read very basic Chinese, a dictionary or translation app extremely necessary. For me, I use a combination of Google Translate and Pleco.

With Google Translate, I can use the camera to directly translate a Chinese menu. I can screenshot a webpage or app-page full of Chinese words, and translate it with Google Translate.

For Pleco, I use it as a dictionary to check the meaning of specific words or phrases.

6. Purchase attraction tickets in advance

Some attractions have limited ticket each day (eg: Forbidden City in Beijing). I highly recommend that you purchase attraction tickets in advance to avoid disappointment of not being able to enter because tickets have been sold out.

7. Bring cash

Even though China is becoming more of a cashless society, I would still recommend you to bring cash, just in case you have any problems with your mobile payment method.

Remember to bring your ATM card and allow permission for overseas withdrawal during your travel period. This is super helpful because if you ever run out of cash, you can just head to an ATM to withdraw cash. Of course, choose the bigger banks rather than small local banks.

Money exchange is quite hard to find in China nowadays, so I feel that it’s not so useful to bring foreign currency.

8. Perform ART Test and fill up Health Declaration Form before your departure

As of writing, all visitors are required to perform pre-departure ART test within 48 hours before departure. You need to fill up Health Declaration Form and submit the test result within 24 hours before departure.

The Health Declaration Form can be found here. After submitting the form, ensure that you screenshot the barcode.

I use WeChat to fill up the form, and whenever I scan the WeChat QR, I’d be able to go to homepage and retrieve my previous health declaration forms.

When exiting the country, you will need to fill up the same form again, but this time, choose Exit option instead of Entry. No need to do ART when exiting China.

Featured image: Depositphotos

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Sunday 10th of December 2023

Hi Eva,

Are you using StarHub? So for roaming using a Singapore number, you didn't need to use VPN correct?


Tuesday 19th of December 2023

I didn't use starhub. Yes, for roaming with Singapore number, you don't need VPN to access western apps.


Monday 3rd of July 2023

Hi, I saw some posts that PCR tests may no needed since April. is your post up to date? thank you


Monday 3rd of July 2023

Hi, I included both PCR & ART because both are accepted. I think it might cause confusion to some, I'll get it fixed for better clarity.


Monday 15th of May 2023

Wondering how's your experience with Alipay in China as foreigner? Tour pass seems to be gone and replaced by tour card, but not so sure how to use that. I'm also residing in Singapore.

VPN wise, I heard Express VPN is pretty decent, I used it in Singapore to link to other countries.


Monday 15th of May 2023

Hi Carol, yes tour pass disappeared. I added bank card to my account, so all the purchases will be directly deducted from the card. Just go to Me - Bank Cards and add your card, remember to use your own card with your name, they're quite strict. We can use Alipay at 80% of the merchants, some merchants don't accept International Alipay so we had to pay cash for those. We use Alipay for Subway and ride hailing too (but not bus). I'll write an article about how we use Alipay as foreigner towards the end of May 2023, in the meantime, if you have questions, feel free to let me know here. I've seen some ppl recommending Express VPN too, I'll probably try it after my Surfshark subscription is over.


Saturday 22nd of April 2023

Most VPNs don't work in China. Are you confident the one you are recommending will indeed be of use for travellers?


Tuesday 25th of April 2023

Hi Jacob, I tested it and it worked well in some area and not in other area. Any recommendation would be much appreciated!