Gotoco Camp China

The best way to get answers to your questions is by typing them in the search box above. You can also browse through all of our FAQs below, just click on a section to open up all of the related FAQs. If you have a question not answered in these FAQs please submit it to us (at the bottom of this page) and we will aim to respond within 7 days.

○ Pre-departure questions - important information for people preparing to join us in China!

Accommodation and meals are provided free of charge at your programme. Most added extras are also provided free of charge so your personal costs are kept to a minimum, including free

You will need to pay for your own flights, visa and travel within China but will receive meals and accommodation at the programmes. You will then only need money for extra food and drinks and activities outside the programme. For reference or for estimating cost of post-programme tourism, please find some prices of common items below (all prices are averages and vary depending on your location)

  • one litre of Qingdao beer in a bar: C¥3-30
  • a meal in a good restaurant: C¥30 yuan per dish
  • snacks from street vendors: C¥5-10 per item
  • a short taxi journey in most cities costs C¥15-25, journeys of an hour can cost C¥100
  • accommodation in a dorm room in a normal backpacker hostel: C¥30-80
  • an overnight journey of 10 hours or less on a train with a bed: under C¥200

*It is possible to have an interesting time travelling around China after our programmes on a shoestring budget of around 4000RMB/month

**At the time of writing C¥10 was equivalent to £1.10 or US$1.44

Other major costs include

  • flights: we are usually able to suggest cost savings and partnerships with Chinese travel agents that make it possible to get return flights to China from the UK for around £400-500, or from the USA for upwards of $800.
  • visa costs vary by nationality based on diplomatic circumstances and reciprocal fee rates, this link takes you to the Chinese government’s official visa service centre site where you can find out more: 
    • British passport holders must pay £151 to the Chinese consular visa processing centre for a visa. We recommend visas are processed with the help of an agency, this is to ensure that forms are filled in correctly the first time to prevent extra expenses from visa rejections and time-delays (missed flights etc.) Currently we advise UK applicants to process with the help of UVSUK who offer well-reviewed services and offer a 50% discount for Gotoco applicants (£25 service fee+£8 postage)

We are not legally permitted to advise on vaccinations and travel/health insurance. It is up to you to research both and you are advised to take both seriously (please read through our FAQs for further information on both).

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed on how to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into a webform for the partner schools to view.

Please also read this FAQ on direct flights to China and this one on flights with layovers. You can also check this FAQ to learn about arrival procedures, and this one to learn about visas.

For vaccinations you should contact healthcare and medical professionals to ensure you get the most up-to-date information. We are not legally permitted to provide vaccination advice as we are not medical professionals. Past applicants have recommended that those with these queries could consult the UK NHS’s free online advice here.

*Below is some informal information based on our and our previous volunteers’ experience over the years. This should not be taken as authoritative and you should contact healthcare professionals before finalising your vaccination and insurance plans.

Before coming to China the UK’s NHS recommends that you are vaccinated against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Polio, and Typhoid. Additional vaccinations for Rabies are recommended particularly for those going to rural areas that are far away from major hospitals—our placements do not normally fit into this category. Likewise the vaccination for Japanese Encephalitis, though not required, is recommended for anyone travelling in areas with paddy fields such as Yangshuo. In past years few volunteers have chosen the latter two vaccinations as they are quite expensive, but if you have the option to get them then do get them. Please consult with a medical professional once you know your location.

Malaria is extremely unlikely to be an issue as most locations in China are not in a Malaria zone. If you have travel plans to Southeast Asia you might consider taking Malaria medication with you from the UK or USA. Those joining us for programmes right on China’s border with South East Asian countries (such as programmes in Xishuangbanna) should seek the latest advice as sometimes anti-malarials are recommended there.

Please check out the NHS Fit for Travel website for more info.

Prior to departure you must take out comprehensive travel and health insurance, including emergency repatriation. Please do your research properly and choose a provider that suits your needs. Make sure that your insurance covers you for any activities which you might be doing, such as rock climbing. We cannot make a formal recommendation, but in previous years participants have often opted for Lonely Planet’s recommended provider: Global Nomads.

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed on how to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into a webform for the partner schools to view.

Please also read this FAQ on direct flights to China and this one on flights with layovers. You can also check this FAQ to learn about arrival procedures, and this one to learn about visas.

Once we have confirmed your offer, we will send you all the information you need for arranging your visa. Our participants travel on a cultural exchange (F) visa and we will arrange all the necessary invitation letters for you. It is usually issued for single, double or multiple entry with duration of stay up to 60 or 90 days per visit.

Visas are issued at the discretion of the issuing authorities. Gotoco offers advice through the application process, but is not responsible the ultimate visa issuance.

Please read this FAQ on customs and immigration for more information about visas.

Pack for the season as you will be staying with Gotoco anywhere between May and September, although most likely in June, July or August. China is a large country, so it is advisable to research the weather of the region you will be teaching in. Pack hand sanitiser, deodorant, familiar western medicine, bug spray and electric plug/socket converters, which can sometimes be hard to find. Prescription medication, if needed, should be arranged to be picked up before the trip.

Ask your programme coordinator during or after your interview about whether you will need formal clothes for teaching, sports kit for activities or any particular footwear. Find out from them directly if they have any particular dresscode or rules before you come, and also think about what activities, such as rock climbing, which you might want to organise in your own time.

Please find out more information here.

Your first port of call will be your primary contact at the programme. For any issues which they cannot help you with, you will be given contact information for your Gotoco representative before leaving for China.

For more information on arrival in China and your point of contact, please read these two FAQs on airport arrival and airport pick-ups.

Let your service provider know you are leaving for China. You may be able to work out a data plan. If this is not an option you may purchase a temporary Chinese sim card and data plan for smartphones from China Mobile, China Unicom, or China Telecom.

This process may require a passport depending on the company and your purchase. It is useful to remember that landlines in China have 8 digit numbers, while cell phones have 11 digits. Please talk to your programme about obtaining a sim card on arrival into China.

Credit/Debit Cards and Cash

While China is miles ahead of most of the world in terms of mobile payments, most places in China do not take credit cards, so you will have to take Renminbi (Chinese currency) wherever you go. There are ATMs where you can take money out, but tell your bank that you are in China and be aware of international fees! Currency cards, such as CaxtonFx, Monzo or from the Post Office (UK), are also a good option to avoid unfavourable exchange rates, and they offer a free online checking account with no fees for international withdraws.

These currency cards work at most banks which accept foreign cards, such as ICBC, Bank of China and China Construction Bank. Bank of America account holders can withdraw money from China Construction Bank free of charge. As a rule of thumb, always let your financial institution know when and where you are going overseas to avoid problems with your bank account.

While China is rapidly changing when it comes to finance and banking, it is still a good idea to carry cash. We recommend bringing a reserve of cash, e.g. C¥1-2000, in case your bank card has any problems while you are here. You can also exchange money at the airport when you arrive, or at banks, but beware bank processes can be more complicated.

Be aware you will need to show your passport when exchanging money. Generally, most major banks in China accept Visa or Mastercard or Amex cards from major foreign banks.

Mobile Payments

China is miles ahead of most countries around the world in terms of mobile payments. Even in small rural villages or up secluded mountains, you can use WeChat or AliPay to pay for goods and services, just by scanning a QR code. However, this requires you, the user, to link your bank account or add money to your account. Some international cards, such as Monzo, can be used on WeChat, but don’t bank on it: still follow the guidelines for cards and cash shown above as the payment system will usually require you to have a Chinese bank account.

Even if you cannot use it for payments, WeChat, a mobile app similar to Whatsapp, is highly popular in China. It will be invaluable during your time in China for communicating with the team at your school and for making friends locally, so we urge you to download it now. Not only is it useful for messaging friends and family, businesses also often give discounts to customers following their WeChat account.

Find out more about WeChat here. For information on phone and data usage in China, please read this FAQ.

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into an online form on our site, which our partner schools can view for reference.

Each partner school has different airport or train station pick-up plans and you should communicate directly with your Wechat contact (usually the interviewer) for the best plan. We will assist with communication when necessary, but you must understand that it is your responsibility to ensure you have agreed on your pick-up arrangements with your programme team before coming out to China

Arrival

The first thing you’re likely to notice when you arrive (if like >90% of those that join us, you’re not a Mandarin speaker) is how different the language is from English, and how difficult it can be to understand things once you get out of the airport. It’s quite normal to feel overwhelmed by this, but don’t worry! Follow the instructions given by the school for your airport pick-up or the instructions on how you can make the transit yourself. If you can’t see your meeting group rightaway, stay where you are and call one of the numbers given to you by the school or your Gotoco representative. Most transport hubs/tourist sites have bilingual staff in case you need help, likewise many people in China are able to speak some English in case you need to ask for assistance. Please also read this FAQ on Mandarin.

If you need to travel from the airport to another location for pick-up, make sure you have clear written instructions in English and Chinese, as well as contact phone numbers. Showing the directions for where you need to go, such as a train station or bus connection, to someone by pointing at the Chinese characters you have written down will help you find your way. Though not everyone speaks English, pointing and miming can still get you a long way.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on your passport and other valuables when leaving the airport and travelling on to your school – with everything else going on, and the fact that you may be tired from the long journey, it can be easy to forget about your valuables. While petty theft is often less prevalent in many parts of China than in the UK or USA, you should always still be very vigilant with all your valuables – especially in transit areas/tourist hubs. It might be a good idea to familiarise yourself with this list of scams that tourists sometimes encounter – http://travelscams.org/asia/common-tourist-scams-china/ transit hubs/ – tourist areas are the usual places where you could encounter these.

If you have any problems, don’t hesitate to ask for help—contact either the Gotoco team or staff from your school (or both). And if there are problems connecting to a phone network, try looking for somewhere with free wifi or calling options, e.g. in the airport, in cafés, or restaurants.

Once you arrive on your programme, your school should arrange for you to register your location with the police. This is a normal procedure for all foreigners in China. Speak to your programme coordinators to make sure you have done everything you need to do, and contact Gotoco if you have any concerns.

Internet access behind the ‘Great Fire Wall’ of China. Banned sites and how to access them?

Wi-Fi is provided on your programmes so you may want to take a laptop or other handheld device to access the internet and prepare lessons well or just chat to your families/friends. As you may know—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Google, Gmail and other foreign sites  and platforms (even Tinder..) are not accessible in China. Prior to entering China, we suggest you get a VPN or take measures to ensure you are able to access alternate means for communication—such as hotmail (if you are a Gmail user, as its banned..) or WeChat prior to coming out.

VPN – the key to access internet without restrictions

If you wish to access Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Google, Gmail and other blocked sites while in China, please configure a VPN now.  If in doubt about whether you can access a site, please check here.

VPN means ‘virtual private network’ it allows you to bypass Chinese internet restrictions, it gives you access to the internet of whichever nation’s IP address you log into. Most universities around the world offer a VPN for free to their students, which is intended for you to be able to access sites that you need to be in campus to view, such as JSTOR and other academic journals. Please contact your university to check if they have a VPN service which you can use. We suggest you get a premium VPN, as outlined below:

Our favourite VPN: Our Beijing office team need access to Facebook etc everyday, we live behind the Great Fire Wall so have some opinions on VPNs which you may find helpful. At present, August 2019, our preferred VPN is this one: https://www.sednax.com/  in our experience, it only works well on Laptops and not phones/tablets. It is very cost effective and works very well in China, but is a little tricky to setup. It has a totally different system to most premium VPNs available it is worth the effort getting setup because we haven’t had a single day in our Beijing office where it didn’t work this year. Otherwise, you can pay around £5 a month for an easier to configure VPN that works on devices and laptops, for those options read the next paragraph (these VPNs mentioned below aren’t recommended by our Beijing office team as they are too unreliable long term, but they would be fine for a short trip/short usage.)

Easier to setup premium VPNs:  If the option above is to hard to setup, then you can pay £5-10 a month for a decent private VPN service. One of the best ones is called Astrill, you can read about it here , for it to work well you will need to purchase the add-ons such as dedicated IP/VIP.  An alternative to Astrill is Express VPN (but it tends not to work so well in China…) both VPNs are easy to setup and work on computers and phones. There are quite a few VPN providers offering service for free, but you get what you pay for… Some premium VPN services also allow you to cancel within 30 days at no cost, which might mean you can use their services and cancel before you are charged. Generally, our Beijing office team finds these popular VPNs to be unreliable but they tend to work a little bit of the time…Unfortunately, any premium VPN service ends up being popular and once it is used alot then the government tried to sniff it out and crack down on it.

Please test your VPN before you head to China, its much harder to get setup once in country: After downloading a VPN and turning it on, it should change your IP address. To test whether it works please first go to this link without it turned on,  and then go there again with it turned on. If the IPs are significantly different then the VPN should be working and will function in China.

Legality:

People often ask us if it is legal to use a VPN in China. This is a fascinating question! Some estimate as many as 10% of China’s population use a VPN, legal issues have only arisen in minority cases for those people selling VPNs. It is very normal among urban, young, student segments of China to use a VPN – so don’t worry!

WeChat

WeChat, a mobile app similar to Whatsapp, is highly popular in China. It will be invaluable during your time in China for communicating with the team at your school and making friends locally, so we urge you to download it now. Not only is it useful for messaging friends and family, businesses often give discounts to customers following their WeChat account.

Many people pay for their goods and services by scanning a business owners’ QR code through their WeChat app. However, this requires you, the user, to link your bank account or add money to your account.

Find out more about WeChat here. For information on phone and data usage in China, please read this FAQ.

China has a health system that differs significantly from what you may be used to in the West. While there is huge reform going on in healthcare in China, there is currently no system of primary care in place that offers Western medicine—all medical issues that require Western medical attention are treated in large general hospitals.

This can mean long waits, distant journeys and high treatment prices for those hoping to get seen to for minor ailments . The primary care that is offered usually comes in the form of pharmacies that specialise in Chinese medicine. There are certainly benefits to both systems, however if you are used to Western medicine we suggest coming to China with a well stocked first aid kit so that you can treat yourself for minor issues such as

  • colds or influenza
  • minor wounds, such as blisters
  • mild food poisoning, such as traveller’s diarrhoea
  • headaches

Please also be sure to have enough medicine to cater to any long standing conditions you may have. It will be hard to acquire replacement medications in country. Among other things be sure to be well stocked on

  • asthma inhalers
  • nasal decongestant sprays
  • EpiPens
  • other prescription medication
If you’re concerned about the length of the flight to China, it is worth bearing in mind that it is possible to break up a flight into multiple legs by transferring. Those joining us from European countries (including the UK) can split their travel into two roughly six- and seven-hour flights with Emirates, Qatar, Etihad, Aeroflot and others; similar transfer options are available from the US.
For those doing a long-haul flight for the first time, please note that conditions tend to be far better than those found on regional carriers, such as Easyjet/Ryanair in Europe; there is normally better leg-room on larger aircraft, with complimentary baggage, meals, drinks and films included. The only exception to this rule that we are aware of is Ukrainian Airlines—they operate a no-thrills service on the Europe-China route. It is worth bearing in mind that, usually, the more premium the airline, the more likely it is that they haven’t sold out their seats and so will have rows and rows of empty seating—so if you’re lucky you could be able to get two or more seats to lie down.
It is also worth considering that you can usually book significant layover durations if you like, to give you time for a rest and to explore a new city. In the past, participants have taken 24 hour layovers in Vienna (Austrian Airlines), Prague (Hainan Airlines), Amsterdam (KLM), Paris (Air France), Istanbul (Turkish Airlines), Moscow (Aeroflot), Helsinki (Finnair), Warsaw (LOT), Dubai (Emirates) and even Astana and/or Almaty (Kazakh Airlines), lots of other destinations are also available based on how you plan your route.
If you would like a longer layover, please consider breaking up your journey; it can sometimes be cheaper to make your own way to the first city, such as Paris, and have a return booked from there. *Of course, if you like the sound of this, be sure to check that you don’t need a visa for the mid-way destination before booking!
Please check out the following search engines to find the best rates. The top two are Chinese and so are usually the best for China flights
  • https://itunes.apple.com/cn/app/qunar-find-cheap-flights/id965784666?mt=8 (www.qunar.com is usually the cheapest site with the most route options—but it is only accessible in English as an App.)
  • http://www.trip.com/
  • http://www.momondo.com/
  • https://www.kayak.com/
  • https://www.skyscanner.com/
  • https://www.studentuniverse.com
There are lots of low-cost direct flight options available: often you cannot find these on search engines, but you can by checking promotions on airlines’ own websites. To ascertain which airlines have direct flights from your preferred airport, you can check the airport on Wikipedia to see a list of all flights operating from there. Those coming to China from the UK should note that there are now direct flights to Beijing from Manchester with Hainan Airlines, very comfortable transfers from Birmingham with Etihad or Emirates and lots of options from London.
Please check out the following search engines to find the best rates. The top two are Chinese and so are usually the best for China flights:
  • https://itunes.apple.com/cn/app/qunar-find-cheap-flights/id965784666?mt=8 (www.qunar.com is usually the cheapest site with the most route options—but it is only accessible in English as an App.)
  • http://www.trip.com/
  • http://www.momondo.com/
  • https://www.kayak.com/
  • https://www.skyscanner.com/
  • https://www.studentuniverse.co.uk/

When crossing a border into Mainland China, whether by a land crossing (e.g. Hong Kong), or sea crossing (e.g. from Taiwan) or air crossing (e.g. any international airport), you will need to follow the standard border formalities—immigration and customs.

For Customs:

China’s customs rules abide by global norms, while tending to be less strict than those for EU states, USA, Australia etc. Nevertheless, you still need to familiarise yourself with and abide by their rules. You may find a rundown of these rules by checking Google (we advise this just in case the information we provide becomes out-of-date due to new regulations. This link provides fairly comprehensive guidance on what you may/may not bring to China:

It goes without saying that illegal drugs, and anything else that you wouldn’t cross a border with in your home country, shouldn’t be brought into China.

Occasionally we are asked if you might have problems for importing certain media/book items into China. Generally, you are permitted to import media/book items for personal consumption that are considered legal globally—obviously anything that is illegal in your country will probably be illegal in China.

*In the past we have been asked whether it is okay to bring: religious books (e.g. Bibles), political books (e.g. Western authors writing about China) etc. Generally these items are fine as long as they are clearly for personal use and not for dissemination in China. There may be certain items that could be confiscated on arrival—these would be any extremely sensitive item, such as writings by the Dalai Lama or Liu Xiaobo, or books about outlawed movements, e.g Falun Gong. Airports tend to be liberal about these policies, the only border we are aware of in China that is strict is the one between Nepal and Chinese Tibet—Lonely Planet guides that depict Taiwan as a non-Chinese territory in their map, and anything mentioning the Dalai Lama have been know to be confiscated upon arrival. Likewise, at the border between North Korea and China, iPads that have anti-North Korean items, such as the film ‘The Interview’, are sometimes confiscated. The borders which our participants usually enter China through tend to be more liberal about these policies.

For Immigration:

You will be expected to fill in a short form on arrival (see below). It should be very straightforward to fill in. The only point to remember here is that the tick-box section for ‘purpose of visit’ should be in accordance with the visa type you are using.

We have advised all participants to process F visas which are for cultural exchange, internships, and short non-tourist visits. If you have an F visa, then on the form please tick ‘Visit访问’.

If you are on any other type of visa, then please tick the appropriate box:

E.g:

  • Tourist (L visa) should tick ’Sightseeing/in leisure/参观/休闲’
  • Any type of study visa (X) should tick ‘Study/学习’
  • only those on work visas should tick ‘Employment/就业’, our projects are usually short-term, non-remunerated, non-work, cultural exchange projects so the majority of participants will not have processed a work visa. Most people should not, therefore, tick ‘Employment/就业’

*For more information, refer to articles on Google such as this: http://www.vagabondjourney.com/4-easy-tips-for-filling-out-immigration-arrival-forms-correctly/

Hong Kong and Macau enjoy special status within China as SARs (Special Administrative Regions.) They have their own immigration policies which are separate to China’s.

This means that, for the sake of your visa, going from China to Hong Kong/Macau is equivalent to leaving China and going abroad. So, if you make this journey you will lose one entry on your visa—most people are issued a double entry visa, you can check this by looking at your visa’s number of entries. If your visa is single entry, then please do not plan to visit Hong Kong and return to China after your initial entry into China, unless you plan on obtaining a new visa for China in Hong Kong. If you would like to visit Hong Kong and only have a single entry visa, then consider flying to and from Hong Kong and visiting the region at the beginning or end of your trip so that it doesn’t affect your China visa.*

In certain circumstances, you may only be issued a 30-day visa instead of the standard 60 or 90 days. When this happens, if you have a double-entry visa, then you can make a trip to Hong Kong/Macau to activate the next 30 days (this is applicable if you hold a double- or multiple-entry 30-day visa). If you only hold a single-entry 30-day visa and need longer, then you may extend within China or otherwise visit Hong Kong/Macau to apply for a visa from our recommended agent there. If you are from the UK, USA or Canada, as well as many other countries, then you do not need a visa in advance of travel to Hong Kong or Macau.

If you need more advice on this, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

*Please note, in 2016 one applicant made a mistake which you should try to avoid. They chose to fly into Hong Kong with a stop in Beijing where they planned to undertake tourism for 2 days. They then flew to Hong Kong and re-entered China from Hong Kong where they found out the visa had expired because it was only single entry and they had stamped their single entry in Beijing already and then left to fly to Hong Kong. In the end, they had to stay in Hong Kong for 3 days to get a new visa, at some expense. If you have a similar plan to this, please make sure you check that your visa has more than one entry.

If you wish to fly into China for a short period and fly out again, then you could also take a 72- or 144-hour visa on arrival in a major city such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen or Tianjin. Please read more here: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/free-72hour/faq.htm   Make sure you meet all of the eligibility criteria if you wish to try this. Particularly, when you fly from overseas to China make sure the airline is informed that you will request a visa on arrival, they then communicate with the Chinese immigration officials. A key stipulation is that this visa can only be obtained if you have onward tickets to a 3rd country within 72 or 144 hours of arrival into China. A 3rd country means a country other than your home country or China, Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan count as 3rd countries in this law.

If you have queries about this, you can try calling the airport immigration teams on these numbers: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/free-72hour/faq.htm

Participants on our programmes often comment on how much safer China feels than the UK, Canada and the USA. Though people typically have a great time in China, you should still exercise a sensible level of caution and be prepared: be careful and sensible and avoid taking any unnecessary risks. Keep your valuables safe and secure at all times. Raise any concerns about the security of your accommodation with your programme coordinator and contact Gotoco if you need more assistance.

Neither our organisation nor our partner schools can accept liability for any difficulties that you may encounter–but naturally we will do all we can to assist in any way possible. We have provided placements to hundreds of participants over the years, and never yet encountered any major problems.

Before coming, make sure you have photocopies of your passport information page, visa and travel/health insurance policy. Keep the copies in a different place to the originals so if you lose your bag, you can use them to get a replacement. Foreigners are supposed to carry their passport round with them in China, but we recommend only carrying photocopies of your passport and visa, to reduce the risk of losing these important documents. You can use a driving licence or other national ID for entry into bars, if necessary.

Be careful crossing roads—there are normally multiple lanes of traffic and cars/bikes/scooters/buses to watch out for. The volume of traffic is generally quite high, but also quite stop-start and motorists are generally ready to slow down for pedestrians and bikes if necessary, but ensure you make eye contact with the driver and are certain they will stop before stepping into the road. Generally it is best to wait until the road is quiet before crossing, as you would at home. Make sure you follow all traffic signals.

Always be alert and aware that the rules of the road are different to what you’re used to. Use of car horns is very common and can be irritating when you’re not accustomed to it, but it helps to warn others that a vehicle is coming, rather than being used infrequently (as in the UK) as a sign of danger or extreme annoyance.

The most common hassles travellers run into are instances of petty theft at tourist sites and traveller’s diarrhoea. We suggest you

  • exercise normal caution
  • avoid suspicious situations
  • take care of your belongings
  • do not eat anything suspect
  • carry a basic first aid kit
  • use common sense
  • do not break any local laws

Check out this link which has been recommended by previous travellers.

For more information, check

  • travel advisories of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office accessible here
  • travel warnings section of the U.S. State Department at (202) 647-5225
  • travel advisories of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control at (877) FYI-TRIP or online here

Chinese food is delicious and there are usually plenty of delicacies to choose from—spicy and non-spicy, hot and cold, savoury and sweet. Be prepared to try new things, even if you have no idea what they are exactly. The food in China is very different from the dishes you might be used to seeing in Chinese restaurants at home in Europe or North America, so don’t be surprised if the food you’re presented with looks very unfamiliar. It’s all part of the experience and most of the time you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

If you think you’ll miss English food, maybe bring a couple of things with you from home—Marmite, biscuits, crisps and chocolate all help reduce any cravings for home comforts. Tea is also a good example of something which you can get in China but isn’t quite the same as it is in the UK, so if you’re addicted to English Breakfast Tea maybe consider bringing teabags. There will be plenty of opportunity both to try new foods and to buy things which you recognise from home. Supermarkets contain some interesting surprises and can be fun to explore. The variety of flavours of crisps is particularly impressive, ranging from standard flavours to more diverse ones like yoghurt and cucumber.

If you are vegetarian or have any food allergies or dietary requirements, you should ask one of your contacts at the school how to communicate this to others. Get your manager to write it down in Chinese and English, and carry it with you at all times.

If you have a nut allergy, make sure you communicate this clearly before any meals and have it written down to show restaurants. Peanut oil is used quite commonly in China and you must be very careful to avoid it, if you have allergies.

It is not uncommon for foreign visitors to suffer low intensity traveller’s diarrhoea during their time in China, please consider having medication to cater to this if it occurs, and drink plenty of water.

Avoid drinking tap water in almost all locations in China. Bottled water is readily available and you should always make sure you have enough water overnight or if you’re going on activities. This is especially true in rural areas, where shops might close earlier in the evening or you might have to wait for transport into town—stock up on large bottles of water to make sure you always have enough.

Hot or boiled water is also more common than cold water. Many Chinese people much prefer drinking hot water to cold, claiming health benefits, and you will find that you are often given boiled water in restaurants. This water is fine to drink, but if you feel uncomfortable then bottled water is usually available for purchase. You may also be surprised by the benefits of hot water with lemon and ginger when you’re feeling a bit run down or tired! You might also want to purchase a flask if you would like to save money (and plastic!) by boiling water for your own consumption.

In terms of other drinks—please enjoy the variety on offer, with many soft drinks being different to what you might be used to at home, although all the regulars like Coca Cola are also available. If you’re in Beijing and like fizzy drinks, then make sure you try Arctic Ocean (Běibīngyáng 北冰洋)! Otherwise, all sorts of bottled drinks are available throughout the country; first time visitors usually get excited about the delicious range of flavoured teas, soy milk drinks, ‘Bubble Milk Tea’, hot tea and, of course, alcoholic beverages.

If you drink alcohol, then please take note: occasionally venues (usually glitzy nightclubs and bars) might sell adulterated hard spirits, which can give you a bad hangover or make you very inebriated. There have also been stories of people being poisoned by adulterated spirits, so do be careful. However, most locations are perfectly safe, you should just make sure to be careful to always know what you are drinking, as you should anywhere in the world, and always drink in moderation.

You may also be introduced to Báijiǔ白酒—China’s famous rice spirit. It is occasionally referred to as ‘white wine’ or ‘rice wine’. Please drink with moderation, it is stronger than most spirits you are used to! People in China tend to be very hospitable, and in the evenings might treat you to rounds of drinks—be sure to know your limits and drink sensibly.

It is not uncommon for foreign visitors to suffer low intensity traveller’s diarrhoea during their time in China, please consider having medication to cater to this if it occurs, and drink plenty of water.

We work with diverse programmes all over China, and the vast majority provide airport pickups. In cases where this isn’t possible, there will be a designated staff member at the programme who is in charge of making sure your pickup is co-ordinated in an easy manner.

Before you come to China, you will be put in touch with your programme coordinator through your interview and will stay in contact with them from your interview until you come out to China. They will provide you with all the information you need, including arrival procedure and airport pickups. Your programme coordinator and the Gotoco office team will support you throughout the process to make sure everything goes smoothly for you.

Of course, if you prefer to travel around China before your programme begins, then that is fine too (and highly encouraged!). Please just make sure you can meet the programme and the rest of your team at one of the designated pickup locations on the right date.

For more information on arrival procedures, please read this FAQ on what happens when you arrive at the airport.

Chinese visa costs vary depending on your passport type and the duration of stay and number of entries you may need in China. Some nationalities have their visas for free while others must pay a price. British passports, for example, incur a total cost of £151 but luckily get longer stays/numbers of entries than other European passports, you can read more about pricing at this helpful link

We usually advise our participants to process their visa application with the help of a local China visa expert agency, this can add to the overall price. For example, our trusted UK agent adds a £15 commission while our North American agents add $30-50. We suggest this because the Chinese visa application is quite a difficult process and working with an agent ensures that you a/obtain the correct and most legally appropriate visa, b/ avoid mistakes on your application which could cost you a penalty charge (sometimes China charges you double price if errors in your application cause you to resubmit your visa application.c/ get treated well, looked after by experts, and charged a fair price

 

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○ Pre-departure questions - important information for people preparing to join us in China!

Accommodation and meals are provided free of charge at your programme. Most added extras are also provided free of charge so your personal costs are kept to a minimum, including free

You will need to pay for your own flights, visa and travel within China but will receive meals and accommodation at the programmes. You will then only need money for extra food and drinks and activities outside the programme. For reference or for estimating cost of post-programme tourism, please find some prices of common items below (all prices are averages and vary depending on your location)

  • one litre of Qingdao beer in a bar: C¥3-30
  • a meal in a good restaurant: C¥30 yuan per dish
  • snacks from street vendors: C¥5-10 per item
  • a short taxi journey in most cities costs C¥15-25, journeys of an hour can cost C¥100
  • accommodation in a dorm room in a normal backpacker hostel: C¥30-80
  • an overnight journey of 10 hours or less on a train with a bed: under C¥200

*It is possible to have an interesting time travelling around China after our programmes on a shoestring budget of around 4000RMB/month

**At the time of writing C¥10 was equivalent to £1.10 or US$1.44

Other major costs include

  • flights: we are usually able to suggest cost savings and partnerships with Chinese travel agents that make it possible to get return flights to China from the UK for around £400-500, or from the USA for upwards of $800.
  • visa costs vary by nationality based on diplomatic circumstances and reciprocal fee rates, this link takes you to the Chinese government’s official visa service centre site where you can find out more: 
    • British passport holders must pay £151 to the Chinese consular visa processing centre for a visa. We recommend visas are processed with the help of an agency, this is to ensure that forms are filled in correctly the first time to prevent extra expenses from visa rejections and time-delays (missed flights etc.) Currently we advise UK applicants to process with the help of UVSUK who offer well-reviewed services and offer a 50% discount for Gotoco applicants (£25 service fee+£8 postage)

We are not legally permitted to advise on vaccinations and travel/health insurance. It is up to you to research both and you are advised to take both seriously (please read through our FAQs for further information on both).

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed on how to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into a webform for the partner schools to view.

Please also read this FAQ on direct flights to China and this one on flights with layovers. You can also check this FAQ to learn about arrival procedures, and this one to learn about visas.

For vaccinations you should contact healthcare and medical professionals to ensure you get the most up-to-date information. We are not legally permitted to provide vaccination advice as we are not medical professionals. Past applicants have recommended that those with these queries could consult the UK NHS’s free online advice here.

*Below is some informal information based on our and our previous volunteers’ experience over the years. This should not be taken as authoritative and you should contact healthcare professionals before finalising your vaccination and insurance plans.

Before coming to China the UK’s NHS recommends that you are vaccinated against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Polio, and Typhoid. Additional vaccinations for Rabies are recommended particularly for those going to rural areas that are far away from major hospitals—our placements do not normally fit into this category. Likewise the vaccination for Japanese Encephalitis, though not required, is recommended for anyone travelling in areas with paddy fields such as Yangshuo. In past years few volunteers have chosen the latter two vaccinations as they are quite expensive, but if you have the option to get them then do get them. Please consult with a medical professional once you know your location.

Malaria is extremely unlikely to be an issue as most locations in China are not in a Malaria zone. If you have travel plans to Southeast Asia you might consider taking Malaria medication with you from the UK or USA. Those joining us for programmes right on China’s border with South East Asian countries (such as programmes in Xishuangbanna) should seek the latest advice as sometimes anti-malarials are recommended there.

Please check out the NHS Fit for Travel website for more info.

Prior to departure you must take out comprehensive travel and health insurance, including emergency repatriation. Please do your research properly and choose a provider that suits your needs. Make sure that your insurance covers you for any activities which you might be doing, such as rock climbing. We cannot make a formal recommendation, but in previous years participants have often opted for Lonely Planet’s recommended provider: Global Nomads.

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed on how to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into a webform for the partner schools to view.

Please also read this FAQ on direct flights to China and this one on flights with layovers. You can also check this FAQ to learn about arrival procedures, and this one to learn about visas.

Once we have confirmed your offer, we will send you all the information you need for arranging your visa. Our participants travel on a cultural exchange (F) visa and we will arrange all the necessary invitation letters for you. It is usually issued for single, double or multiple entry with duration of stay up to 60 or 90 days per visit.

Visas are issued at the discretion of the issuing authorities. Gotoco offers advice through the application process, but is not responsible the ultimate visa issuance.

Please read this FAQ on customs and immigration for more information about visas.

Pack for the season as you will be staying with Gotoco anywhere between May and September, although most likely in June, July or August. China is a large country, so it is advisable to research the weather of the region you will be teaching in. Pack hand sanitiser, deodorant, familiar western medicine, bug spray and electric plug/socket converters, which can sometimes be hard to find. Prescription medication, if needed, should be arranged to be picked up before the trip.

Ask your programme coordinator during or after your interview about whether you will need formal clothes for teaching, sports kit for activities or any particular footwear. Find out from them directly if they have any particular dresscode or rules before you come, and also think about what activities, such as rock climbing, which you might want to organise in your own time.

Please find out more information here.

Your first port of call will be your primary contact at the programme. For any issues which they cannot help you with, you will be given contact information for your Gotoco representative before leaving for China.

For more information on arrival in China and your point of contact, please read these two FAQs on airport arrival and airport pick-ups.

Let your service provider know you are leaving for China. You may be able to work out a data plan. If this is not an option you may purchase a temporary Chinese sim card and data plan for smartphones from China Mobile, China Unicom, or China Telecom.

This process may require a passport depending on the company and your purchase. It is useful to remember that landlines in China have 8 digit numbers, while cell phones have 11 digits. Please talk to your programme about obtaining a sim card on arrival into China.

Credit/Debit Cards and Cash

While China is miles ahead of most of the world in terms of mobile payments, most places in China do not take credit cards, so you will have to take Renminbi (Chinese currency) wherever you go. There are ATMs where you can take money out, but tell your bank that you are in China and be aware of international fees! Currency cards, such as CaxtonFx, Monzo or from the Post Office (UK), are also a good option to avoid unfavourable exchange rates, and they offer a free online checking account with no fees for international withdraws.

These currency cards work at most banks which accept foreign cards, such as ICBC, Bank of China and China Construction Bank. Bank of America account holders can withdraw money from China Construction Bank free of charge. As a rule of thumb, always let your financial institution know when and where you are going overseas to avoid problems with your bank account.

While China is rapidly changing when it comes to finance and banking, it is still a good idea to carry cash. We recommend bringing a reserve of cash, e.g. C¥1-2000, in case your bank card has any problems while you are here. You can also exchange money at the airport when you arrive, or at banks, but beware bank processes can be more complicated.

Be aware you will need to show your passport when exchanging money. Generally, most major banks in China accept Visa or Mastercard or Amex cards from major foreign banks.

Mobile Payments

China is miles ahead of most countries around the world in terms of mobile payments. Even in small rural villages or up secluded mountains, you can use WeChat or AliPay to pay for goods and services, just by scanning a QR code. However, this requires you, the user, to link your bank account or add money to your account. Some international cards, such as Monzo, can be used on WeChat, but don’t bank on it: still follow the guidelines for cards and cash shown above as the payment system will usually require you to have a Chinese bank account.

Even if you cannot use it for payments, WeChat, a mobile app similar to Whatsapp, is highly popular in China. It will be invaluable during your time in China for communicating with the team at your school and for making friends locally, so we urge you to download it now. Not only is it useful for messaging friends and family, businesses also often give discounts to customers following their WeChat account.

Find out more about WeChat here. For information on phone and data usage in China, please read this FAQ.

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into an online form on our site, which our partner schools can view for reference.

Each partner school has different airport or train station pick-up plans and you should communicate directly with your Wechat contact (usually the interviewer) for the best plan. We will assist with communication when necessary, but you must understand that it is your responsibility to ensure you have agreed on your pick-up arrangements with your programme team before coming out to China

Arrival

The first thing you’re likely to notice when you arrive (if like >90% of those that join us, you’re not a Mandarin speaker) is how different the language is from English, and how difficult it can be to understand things once you get out of the airport. It’s quite normal to feel overwhelmed by this, but don’t worry! Follow the instructions given by the school for your airport pick-up or the instructions on how you can make the transit yourself. If you can’t see your meeting group rightaway, stay where you are and call one of the numbers given to you by the school or your Gotoco representative. Most transport hubs/tourist sites have bilingual staff in case you need help, likewise many people in China are able to speak some English in case you need to ask for assistance. Please also read this FAQ on Mandarin.

If you need to travel from the airport to another location for pick-up, make sure you have clear written instructions in English and Chinese, as well as contact phone numbers. Showing the directions for where you need to go, such as a train station or bus connection, to someone by pointing at the Chinese characters you have written down will help you find your way. Though not everyone speaks English, pointing and miming can still get you a long way.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on your passport and other valuables when leaving the airport and travelling on to your school – with everything else going on, and the fact that you may be tired from the long journey, it can be easy to forget about your valuables. While petty theft is often less prevalent in many parts of China than in the UK or USA, you should always still be very vigilant with all your valuables – especially in transit areas/tourist hubs. It might be a good idea to familiarise yourself with this list of scams that tourists sometimes encounter – http://travelscams.org/asia/common-tourist-scams-china/ transit hubs/ – tourist areas are the usual places where you could encounter these.

If you have any problems, don’t hesitate to ask for help—contact either the Gotoco team or staff from your school (or both). And if there are problems connecting to a phone network, try looking for somewhere with free wifi or calling options, e.g. in the airport, in cafés, or restaurants.

Once you arrive on your programme, your school should arrange for you to register your location with the police. This is a normal procedure for all foreigners in China. Speak to your programme coordinators to make sure you have done everything you need to do, and contact Gotoco if you have any concerns.

Internet access behind the ‘Great Fire Wall’ of China. Banned sites and how to access them?

Wi-Fi is provided on your programmes so you may want to take a laptop or other handheld device to access the internet and prepare lessons well or just chat to your families/friends. As you may know—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Google, Gmail and other foreign sites  and platforms (even Tinder..) are not accessible in China. Prior to entering China, we suggest you get a VPN or take measures to ensure you are able to access alternate means for communication—such as hotmail (if you are a Gmail user, as its banned..) or WeChat prior to coming out.

VPN – the key to access internet without restrictions

If you wish to access Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Google, Gmail and other blocked sites while in China, please configure a VPN now.  If in doubt about whether you can access a site, please check here.

VPN means ‘virtual private network’ it allows you to bypass Chinese internet restrictions, it gives you access to the internet of whichever nation’s IP address you log into. Most universities around the world offer a VPN for free to their students, which is intended for you to be able to access sites that you need to be in campus to view, such as JSTOR and other academic journals. Please contact your university to check if they have a VPN service which you can use. We suggest you get a premium VPN, as outlined below:

Our favourite VPN: Our Beijing office team need access to Facebook etc everyday, we live behind the Great Fire Wall so have some opinions on VPNs which you may find helpful. At present, August 2019, our preferred VPN is this one: https://www.sednax.com/  in our experience, it only works well on Laptops and not phones/tablets. It is very cost effective and works very well in China, but is a little tricky to setup. It has a totally different system to most premium VPNs available it is worth the effort getting setup because we haven’t had a single day in our Beijing office where it didn’t work this year. Otherwise, you can pay around £5 a month for an easier to configure VPN that works on devices and laptops, for those options read the next paragraph (these VPNs mentioned below aren’t recommended by our Beijing office team as they are too unreliable long term, but they would be fine for a short trip/short usage.)

Easier to setup premium VPNs:  If the option above is to hard to setup, then you can pay £5-10 a month for a decent private VPN service. One of the best ones is called Astrill, you can read about it here , for it to work well you will need to purchase the add-ons such as dedicated IP/VIP.  An alternative to Astrill is Express VPN (but it tends not to work so well in China…) both VPNs are easy to setup and work on computers and phones. There are quite a few VPN providers offering service for free, but you get what you pay for… Some premium VPN services also allow you to cancel within 30 days at no cost, which might mean you can use their services and cancel before you are charged. Generally, our Beijing office team finds these popular VPNs to be unreliable but they tend to work a little bit of the time…Unfortunately, any premium VPN service ends up being popular and once it is used alot then the government tried to sniff it out and crack down on it.

Please test your VPN before you head to China, its much harder to get setup once in country: After downloading a VPN and turning it on, it should change your IP address. To test whether it works please first go to this link without it turned on,  and then go there again with it turned on. If the IPs are significantly different then the VPN should be working and will function in China.

Legality:

People often ask us if it is legal to use a VPN in China. This is a fascinating question! Some estimate as many as 10% of China’s population use a VPN, legal issues have only arisen in minority cases for those people selling VPNs. It is very normal among urban, young, student segments of China to use a VPN – so don’t worry!

WeChat

WeChat, a mobile app similar to Whatsapp, is highly popular in China. It will be invaluable during your time in China for communicating with the team at your school and making friends locally, so we urge you to download it now. Not only is it useful for messaging friends and family, businesses often give discounts to customers following their WeChat account.

Many people pay for their goods and services by scanning a business owners’ QR code through their WeChat app. However, this requires you, the user, to link your bank account or add money to your account.

Find out more about WeChat here. For information on phone and data usage in China, please read this FAQ.

China has a health system that differs significantly from what you may be used to in the West. While there is huge reform going on in healthcare in China, there is currently no system of primary care in place that offers Western medicine—all medical issues that require Western medical attention are treated in large general hospitals.

This can mean long waits, distant journeys and high treatment prices for those hoping to get seen to for minor ailments . The primary care that is offered usually comes in the form of pharmacies that specialise in Chinese medicine. There are certainly benefits to both systems, however if you are used to Western medicine we suggest coming to China with a well stocked first aid kit so that you can treat yourself for minor issues such as

  • colds or influenza
  • minor wounds, such as blisters
  • mild food poisoning, such as traveller’s diarrhoea
  • headaches

Please also be sure to have enough medicine to cater to any long standing conditions you may have. It will be hard to acquire replacement medications in country. Among other things be sure to be well stocked on

  • asthma inhalers
  • nasal decongestant sprays
  • EpiPens
  • other prescription medication
If you’re concerned about the length of the flight to China, it is worth bearing in mind that it is possible to break up a flight into multiple legs by transferring. Those joining us from European countries (including the UK) can split their travel into two roughly six- and seven-hour flights with Emirates, Qatar, Etihad, Aeroflot and others; similar transfer options are available from the US.
For those doing a long-haul flight for the first time, please note that conditions tend to be far better than those found on regional carriers, such as Easyjet/Ryanair in Europe; there is normally better leg-room on larger aircraft, with complimentary baggage, meals, drinks and films included. The only exception to this rule that we are aware of is Ukrainian Airlines—they operate a no-thrills service on the Europe-China route. It is worth bearing in mind that, usually, the more premium the airline, the more likely it is that they haven’t sold out their seats and so will have rows and rows of empty seating—so if you’re lucky you could be able to get two or more seats to lie down.
It is also worth considering that you can usually book significant layover durations if you like, to give you time for a rest and to explore a new city. In the past, participants have taken 24 hour layovers in Vienna (Austrian Airlines), Prague (Hainan Airlines), Amsterdam (KLM), Paris (Air France), Istanbul (Turkish Airlines), Moscow (Aeroflot), Helsinki (Finnair), Warsaw (LOT), Dubai (Emirates) and even Astana and/or Almaty (Kazakh Airlines), lots of other destinations are also available based on how you plan your route.
If you would like a longer layover, please consider breaking up your journey; it can sometimes be cheaper to make your own way to the first city, such as Paris, and have a return booked from there. *Of course, if you like the sound of this, be sure to check that you don’t need a visa for the mid-way destination before booking!
Please check out the following search engines to find the best rates. The top two are Chinese and so are usually the best for China flights
  • https://itunes.apple.com/cn/app/qunar-find-cheap-flights/id965784666?mt=8 (www.qunar.com is usually the cheapest site with the most route options—but it is only accessible in English as an App.)
  • http://www.trip.com/
  • http://www.momondo.com/
  • https://www.kayak.com/
  • https://www.skyscanner.com/
  • https://www.studentuniverse.com
There are lots of low-cost direct flight options available: often you cannot find these on search engines, but you can by checking promotions on airlines’ own websites. To ascertain which airlines have direct flights from your preferred airport, you can check the airport on Wikipedia to see a list of all flights operating from there. Those coming to China from the UK should note that there are now direct flights to Beijing from Manchester with Hainan Airlines, very comfortable transfers from Birmingham with Etihad or Emirates and lots of options from London.
Please check out the following search engines to find the best rates. The top two are Chinese and so are usually the best for China flights:
  • https://itunes.apple.com/cn/app/qunar-find-cheap-flights/id965784666?mt=8 (www.qunar.com is usually the cheapest site with the most route options—but it is only accessible in English as an App.)
  • http://www.trip.com/
  • http://www.momondo.com/
  • https://www.kayak.com/
  • https://www.skyscanner.com/
  • https://www.studentuniverse.co.uk/

When crossing a border into Mainland China, whether by a land crossing (e.g. Hong Kong), or sea crossing (e.g. from Taiwan) or air crossing (e.g. any international airport), you will need to follow the standard border formalities—immigration and customs.

For Customs:

China’s customs rules abide by global norms, while tending to be less strict than those for EU states, USA, Australia etc. Nevertheless, you still need to familiarise yourself with and abide by their rules. You may find a rundown of these rules by checking Google (we advise this just in case the information we provide becomes out-of-date due to new regulations. This link provides fairly comprehensive guidance on what you may/may not bring to China:

It goes without saying that illegal drugs, and anything else that you wouldn’t cross a border with in your home country, shouldn’t be brought into China.

Occasionally we are asked if you might have problems for importing certain media/book items into China. Generally, you are permitted to import media/book items for personal consumption that are considered legal globally—obviously anything that is illegal in your country will probably be illegal in China.

*In the past we have been asked whether it is okay to bring: religious books (e.g. Bibles), political books (e.g. Western authors writing about China) etc. Generally these items are fine as long as they are clearly for personal use and not for dissemination in China. There may be certain items that could be confiscated on arrival—these would be any extremely sensitive item, such as writings by the Dalai Lama or Liu Xiaobo, or books about outlawed movements, e.g Falun Gong. Airports tend to be liberal about these policies, the only border we are aware of in China that is strict is the one between Nepal and Chinese Tibet—Lonely Planet guides that depict Taiwan as a non-Chinese territory in their map, and anything mentioning the Dalai Lama have been know to be confiscated upon arrival. Likewise, at the border between North Korea and China, iPads that have anti-North Korean items, such as the film ‘The Interview’, are sometimes confiscated. The borders which our participants usually enter China through tend to be more liberal about these policies.

For Immigration:

You will be expected to fill in a short form on arrival (see below). It should be very straightforward to fill in. The only point to remember here is that the tick-box section for ‘purpose of visit’ should be in accordance with the visa type you are using.

We have advised all participants to process F visas which are for cultural exchange, internships, and short non-tourist visits. If you have an F visa, then on the form please tick ‘Visit访问’.

If you are on any other type of visa, then please tick the appropriate box:

E.g:

  • Tourist (L visa) should tick ’Sightseeing/in leisure/参观/休闲’
  • Any type of study visa (X) should tick ‘Study/学习’
  • only those on work visas should tick ‘Employment/就业’, our projects are usually short-term, non-remunerated, non-work, cultural exchange projects so the majority of participants will not have processed a work visa. Most people should not, therefore, tick ‘Employment/就业’

*For more information, refer to articles on Google such as this: http://www.vagabondjourney.com/4-easy-tips-for-filling-out-immigration-arrival-forms-correctly/

Hong Kong and Macau enjoy special status within China as SARs (Special Administrative Regions.) They have their own immigration policies which are separate to China’s.

This means that, for the sake of your visa, going from China to Hong Kong/Macau is equivalent to leaving China and going abroad. So, if you make this journey you will lose one entry on your visa—most people are issued a double entry visa, you can check this by looking at your visa’s number of entries. If your visa is single entry, then please do not plan to visit Hong Kong and return to China after your initial entry into China, unless you plan on obtaining a new visa for China in Hong Kong. If you would like to visit Hong Kong and only have a single entry visa, then consider flying to and from Hong Kong and visiting the region at the beginning or end of your trip so that it doesn’t affect your China visa.*

In certain circumstances, you may only be issued a 30-day visa instead of the standard 60 or 90 days. When this happens, if you have a double-entry visa, then you can make a trip to Hong Kong/Macau to activate the next 30 days (this is applicable if you hold a double- or multiple-entry 30-day visa). If you only hold a single-entry 30-day visa and need longer, then you may extend within China or otherwise visit Hong Kong/Macau to apply for a visa from our recommended agent there. If you are from the UK, USA or Canada, as well as many other countries, then you do not need a visa in advance of travel to Hong Kong or Macau.

If you need more advice on this, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

*Please note, in 2016 one applicant made a mistake which you should try to avoid. They chose to fly into Hong Kong with a stop in Beijing where they planned to undertake tourism for 2 days. They then flew to Hong Kong and re-entered China from Hong Kong where they found out the visa had expired because it was only single entry and they had stamped their single entry in Beijing already and then left to fly to Hong Kong. In the end, they had to stay in Hong Kong for 3 days to get a new visa, at some expense. If you have a similar plan to this, please make sure you check that your visa has more than one entry.

If you wish to fly into China for a short period and fly out again, then you could also take a 72- or 144-hour visa on arrival in a major city such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen or Tianjin. Please read more here: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/free-72hour/faq.htm   Make sure you meet all of the eligibility criteria if you wish to try this. Particularly, when you fly from overseas to China make sure the airline is informed that you will request a visa on arrival, they then communicate with the Chinese immigration officials. A key stipulation is that this visa can only be obtained if you have onward tickets to a 3rd country within 72 or 144 hours of arrival into China. A 3rd country means a country other than your home country or China, Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan count as 3rd countries in this law.

If you have queries about this, you can try calling the airport immigration teams on these numbers: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/free-72hour/faq.htm

Participants on our programmes often comment on how much safer China feels than the UK, Canada and the USA. Though people typically have a great time in China, you should still exercise a sensible level of caution and be prepared: be careful and sensible and avoid taking any unnecessary risks. Keep your valuables safe and secure at all times. Raise any concerns about the security of your accommodation with your programme coordinator and contact Gotoco if you need more assistance.

Neither our organisation nor our partner schools can accept liability for any difficulties that you may encounter–but naturally we will do all we can to assist in any way possible. We have provided placements to hundreds of participants over the years, and never yet encountered any major problems.

Before coming, make sure you have photocopies of your passport information page, visa and travel/health insurance policy. Keep the copies in a different place to the originals so if you lose your bag, you can use them to get a replacement. Foreigners are supposed to carry their passport round with them in China, but we recommend only carrying photocopies of your passport and visa, to reduce the risk of losing these important documents. You can use a driving licence or other national ID for entry into bars, if necessary.

Be careful crossing roads—there are normally multiple lanes of traffic and cars/bikes/scooters/buses to watch out for. The volume of traffic is generally quite high, but also quite stop-start and motorists are generally ready to slow down for pedestrians and bikes if necessary, but ensure you make eye contact with the driver and are certain they will stop before stepping into the road. Generally it is best to wait until the road is quiet before crossing, as you would at home. Make sure you follow all traffic signals.

Always be alert and aware that the rules of the road are different to what you’re used to. Use of car horns is very common and can be irritating when you’re not accustomed to it, but it helps to warn others that a vehicle is coming, rather than being used infrequently (as in the UK) as a sign of danger or extreme annoyance.

The most common hassles travellers run into are instances of petty theft at tourist sites and traveller’s diarrhoea. We suggest you

  • exercise normal caution
  • avoid suspicious situations
  • take care of your belongings
  • do not eat anything suspect
  • carry a basic first aid kit
  • use common sense
  • do not break any local laws

Check out this link which has been recommended by previous travellers.

For more information, check

  • travel advisories of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office accessible here
  • travel warnings section of the U.S. State Department at (202) 647-5225
  • travel advisories of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control at (877) FYI-TRIP or online here

Chinese food is delicious and there are usually plenty of delicacies to choose from—spicy and non-spicy, hot and cold, savoury and sweet. Be prepared to try new things, even if you have no idea what they are exactly. The food in China is very different from the dishes you might be used to seeing in Chinese restaurants at home in Europe or North America, so don’t be surprised if the food you’re presented with looks very unfamiliar. It’s all part of the experience and most of the time you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

If you think you’ll miss English food, maybe bring a couple of things with you from home—Marmite, biscuits, crisps and chocolate all help reduce any cravings for home comforts. Tea is also a good example of something which you can get in China but isn’t quite the same as it is in the UK, so if you’re addicted to English Breakfast Tea maybe consider bringing teabags. There will be plenty of opportunity both to try new foods and to buy things which you recognise from home. Supermarkets contain some interesting surprises and can be fun to explore. The variety of flavours of crisps is particularly impressive, ranging from standard flavours to more diverse ones like yoghurt and cucumber.

If you are vegetarian or have any food allergies or dietary requirements, you should ask one of your contacts at the school how to communicate this to others. Get your manager to write it down in Chinese and English, and carry it with you at all times.

If you have a nut allergy, make sure you communicate this clearly before any meals and have it written down to show restaurants. Peanut oil is used quite commonly in China and you must be very careful to avoid it, if you have allergies.

It is not uncommon for foreign visitors to suffer low intensity traveller’s diarrhoea during their time in China, please consider having medication to cater to this if it occurs, and drink plenty of water.

Avoid drinking tap water in almost all locations in China. Bottled water is readily available and you should always make sure you have enough water overnight or if you’re going on activities. This is especially true in rural areas, where shops might close earlier in the evening or you might have to wait for transport into town—stock up on large bottles of water to make sure you always have enough.

Hot or boiled water is also more common than cold water. Many Chinese people much prefer drinking hot water to cold, claiming health benefits, and you will find that you are often given boiled water in restaurants. This water is fine to drink, but if you feel uncomfortable then bottled water is usually available for purchase. You may also be surprised by the benefits of hot water with lemon and ginger when you’re feeling a bit run down or tired! You might also want to purchase a flask if you would like to save money (and plastic!) by boiling water for your own consumption.

In terms of other drinks—please enjoy the variety on offer, with many soft drinks being different to what you might be used to at home, although all the regulars like Coca Cola are also available. If you’re in Beijing and like fizzy drinks, then make sure you try Arctic Ocean (Běibīngyáng 北冰洋)! Otherwise, all sorts of bottled drinks are available throughout the country; first time visitors usually get excited about the delicious range of flavoured teas, soy milk drinks, ‘Bubble Milk Tea’, hot tea and, of course, alcoholic beverages.

If you drink alcohol, then please take note: occasionally venues (usually glitzy nightclubs and bars) might sell adulterated hard spirits, which can give you a bad hangover or make you very inebriated. There have also been stories of people being poisoned by adulterated spirits, so do be careful. However, most locations are perfectly safe, you should just make sure to be careful to always know what you are drinking, as you should anywhere in the world, and always drink in moderation.

You may also be introduced to Báijiǔ白酒—China’s famous rice spirit. It is occasionally referred to as ‘white wine’ or ‘rice wine’. Please drink with moderation, it is stronger than most spirits you are used to! People in China tend to be very hospitable, and in the evenings might treat you to rounds of drinks—be sure to know your limits and drink sensibly.

It is not uncommon for foreign visitors to suffer low intensity traveller’s diarrhoea during their time in China, please consider having medication to cater to this if it occurs, and drink plenty of water.

We work with diverse programmes all over China, and the vast majority provide airport pickups. In cases where this isn’t possible, there will be a designated staff member at the programme who is in charge of making sure your pickup is co-ordinated in an easy manner.

Before you come to China, you will be put in touch with your programme coordinator through your interview and will stay in contact with them from your interview until you come out to China. They will provide you with all the information you need, including arrival procedure and airport pickups. Your programme coordinator and the Gotoco office team will support you throughout the process to make sure everything goes smoothly for you.

Of course, if you prefer to travel around China before your programme begins, then that is fine too (and highly encouraged!). Please just make sure you can meet the programme and the rest of your team at one of the designated pickup locations on the right date.

For more information on arrival procedures, please read this FAQ on what happens when you arrive at the airport.

Chinese visa costs vary depending on your passport type and the duration of stay and number of entries you may need in China. Some nationalities have their visas for free while others must pay a price. British passports, for example, incur a total cost of £151 but luckily get longer stays/numbers of entries than other European passports, you can read more about pricing at this helpful link

We usually advise our participants to process their visa application with the help of a local China visa expert agency, this can add to the overall price. For example, our trusted UK agent adds a £15 commission while our North American agents add $30-50. We suggest this because the Chinese visa application is quite a difficult process and working with an agent ensures that you a/obtain the correct and most legally appropriate visa, b/ avoid mistakes on your application which could cost you a penalty charge (sometimes China charges you double price if errors in your application cause you to resubmit your visa application.c/ get treated well, looked after by experts, and charged a fair price

 

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○ Pre-departure questions - important information for people preparing to join us in China!

Accommodation and meals are provided free of charge at your programme. Most added extras are also provided free of charge so your personal costs are kept to a minimum, including free

You will need to pay for your own flights, visa and travel within China but will receive meals and accommodation at the programmes. You will then only need money for extra food and drinks and activities outside the programme. For reference or for estimating cost of post-programme tourism, please find some prices of common items below (all prices are averages and vary depending on your location)

  • one litre of Qingdao beer in a bar: C¥3-30
  • a meal in a good restaurant: C¥30 yuan per dish
  • snacks from street vendors: C¥5-10 per item
  • a short taxi journey in most cities costs C¥15-25, journeys of an hour can cost C¥100
  • accommodation in a dorm room in a normal backpacker hostel: C¥30-80
  • an overnight journey of 10 hours or less on a train with a bed: under C¥200

*It is possible to have an interesting time travelling around China after our programmes on a shoestring budget of around 4000RMB/month

**At the time of writing C¥10 was equivalent to £1.10 or US$1.44

Other major costs include

  • flights: we are usually able to suggest cost savings and partnerships with Chinese travel agents that make it possible to get return flights to China from the UK for around £400-500, or from the USA for upwards of $800.
  • visa costs vary by nationality based on diplomatic circumstances and reciprocal fee rates, this link takes you to the Chinese government’s official visa service centre site where you can find out more: 
    • British passport holders must pay £151 to the Chinese consular visa processing centre for a visa. We recommend visas are processed with the help of an agency, this is to ensure that forms are filled in correctly the first time to prevent extra expenses from visa rejections and time-delays (missed flights etc.) Currently we advise UK applicants to process with the help of UVSUK who offer well-reviewed services and offer a 50% discount for Gotoco applicants (£25 service fee+£8 postage)

We are not legally permitted to advise on vaccinations and travel/health insurance. It is up to you to research both and you are advised to take both seriously (please read through our FAQs for further information on both).

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed on how to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into a webform for the partner schools to view.

Please also read this FAQ on direct flights to China and this one on flights with layovers. You can also check this FAQ to learn about arrival procedures, and this one to learn about visas.

For vaccinations you should contact healthcare and medical professionals to ensure you get the most up-to-date information. We are not legally permitted to provide vaccination advice as we are not medical professionals. Past applicants have recommended that those with these queries could consult the UK NHS’s free online advice here.

*Below is some informal information based on our and our previous volunteers’ experience over the years. This should not be taken as authoritative and you should contact healthcare professionals before finalising your vaccination and insurance plans.

Before coming to China the UK’s NHS recommends that you are vaccinated against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Polio, and Typhoid. Additional vaccinations for Rabies are recommended particularly for those going to rural areas that are far away from major hospitals—our placements do not normally fit into this category. Likewise the vaccination for Japanese Encephalitis, though not required, is recommended for anyone travelling in areas with paddy fields such as Yangshuo. In past years few volunteers have chosen the latter two vaccinations as they are quite expensive, but if you have the option to get them then do get them. Please consult with a medical professional once you know your location.

Malaria is extremely unlikely to be an issue as most locations in China are not in a Malaria zone. If you have travel plans to Southeast Asia you might consider taking Malaria medication with you from the UK or USA. Those joining us for programmes right on China’s border with South East Asian countries (such as programmes in Xishuangbanna) should seek the latest advice as sometimes anti-malarials are recommended there.

Please check out the NHS Fit for Travel website for more info.

Prior to departure you must take out comprehensive travel and health insurance, including emergency repatriation. Please do your research properly and choose a provider that suits your needs. Make sure that your insurance covers you for any activities which you might be doing, such as rock climbing. We cannot make a formal recommendation, but in previous years participants have often opted for Lonely Planet’s recommended provider: Global Nomads.

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed on how to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into a webform for the partner schools to view.

Please also read this FAQ on direct flights to China and this one on flights with layovers. You can also check this FAQ to learn about arrival procedures, and this one to learn about visas.

Once we have confirmed your offer, we will send you all the information you need for arranging your visa. Our participants travel on a cultural exchange (F) visa and we will arrange all the necessary invitation letters for you. It is usually issued for single, double or multiple entry with duration of stay up to 60 or 90 days per visit.

Visas are issued at the discretion of the issuing authorities. Gotoco offers advice through the application process, but is not responsible the ultimate visa issuance.

Please read this FAQ on customs and immigration for more information about visas.

Pack for the season as you will be staying with Gotoco anywhere between May and September, although most likely in June, July or August. China is a large country, so it is advisable to research the weather of the region you will be teaching in. Pack hand sanitiser, deodorant, familiar western medicine, bug spray and electric plug/socket converters, which can sometimes be hard to find. Prescription medication, if needed, should be arranged to be picked up before the trip.

Ask your programme coordinator during or after your interview about whether you will need formal clothes for teaching, sports kit for activities or any particular footwear. Find out from them directly if they have any particular dresscode or rules before you come, and also think about what activities, such as rock climbing, which you might want to organise in your own time.

Please find out more information here.

Your first port of call will be your primary contact at the programme. For any issues which they cannot help you with, you will be given contact information for your Gotoco representative before leaving for China.

For more information on arrival in China and your point of contact, please read these two FAQs on airport arrival and airport pick-ups.

Let your service provider know you are leaving for China. You may be able to work out a data plan. If this is not an option you may purchase a temporary Chinese sim card and data plan for smartphones from China Mobile, China Unicom, or China Telecom.

This process may require a passport depending on the company and your purchase. It is useful to remember that landlines in China have 8 digit numbers, while cell phones have 11 digits. Please talk to your programme about obtaining a sim card on arrival into China.

Credit/Debit Cards and Cash

While China is miles ahead of most of the world in terms of mobile payments, most places in China do not take credit cards, so you will have to take Renminbi (Chinese currency) wherever you go. There are ATMs where you can take money out, but tell your bank that you are in China and be aware of international fees! Currency cards, such as CaxtonFx, Monzo or from the Post Office (UK), are also a good option to avoid unfavourable exchange rates, and they offer a free online checking account with no fees for international withdraws.

These currency cards work at most banks which accept foreign cards, such as ICBC, Bank of China and China Construction Bank. Bank of America account holders can withdraw money from China Construction Bank free of charge. As a rule of thumb, always let your financial institution know when and where you are going overseas to avoid problems with your bank account.

While China is rapidly changing when it comes to finance and banking, it is still a good idea to carry cash. We recommend bringing a reserve of cash, e.g. C¥1-2000, in case your bank card has any problems while you are here. You can also exchange money at the airport when you arrive, or at banks, but beware bank processes can be more complicated.

Be aware you will need to show your passport when exchanging money. Generally, most major banks in China accept Visa or Mastercard or Amex cards from major foreign banks.

Mobile Payments

China is miles ahead of most countries around the world in terms of mobile payments. Even in small rural villages or up secluded mountains, you can use WeChat or AliPay to pay for goods and services, just by scanning a QR code. However, this requires you, the user, to link your bank account or add money to your account. Some international cards, such as Monzo, can be used on WeChat, but don’t bank on it: still follow the guidelines for cards and cash shown above as the payment system will usually require you to have a Chinese bank account.

Even if you cannot use it for payments, WeChat, a mobile app similar to Whatsapp, is highly popular in China. It will be invaluable during your time in China for communicating with the team at your school and for making friends locally, so we urge you to download it now. Not only is it useful for messaging friends and family, businesses also often give discounts to customers following their WeChat account.

Find out more about WeChat here. For information on phone and data usage in China, please read this FAQ.

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into an online form on our site, which our partner schools can view for reference.

Each partner school has different airport or train station pick-up plans and you should communicate directly with your Wechat contact (usually the interviewer) for the best plan. We will assist with communication when necessary, but you must understand that it is your responsibility to ensure you have agreed on your pick-up arrangements with your programme team before coming out to China

Arrival

The first thing you’re likely to notice when you arrive (if like >90% of those that join us, you’re not a Mandarin speaker) is how different the language is from English, and how difficult it can be to understand things once you get out of the airport. It’s quite normal to feel overwhelmed by this, but don’t worry! Follow the instructions given by the school for your airport pick-up or the instructions on how you can make the transit yourself. If you can’t see your meeting group rightaway, stay where you are and call one of the numbers given to you by the school or your Gotoco representative. Most transport hubs/tourist sites have bilingual staff in case you need help, likewise many people in China are able to speak some English in case you need to ask for assistance. Please also read this FAQ on Mandarin.

If you need to travel from the airport to another location for pick-up, make sure you have clear written instructions in English and Chinese, as well as contact phone numbers. Showing the directions for where you need to go, such as a train station or bus connection, to someone by pointing at the Chinese characters you have written down will help you find your way. Though not everyone speaks English, pointing and miming can still get you a long way.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on your passport and other valuables when leaving the airport and travelling on to your school – with everything else going on, and the fact that you may be tired from the long journey, it can be easy to forget about your valuables. While petty theft is often less prevalent in many parts of China than in the UK or USA, you should always still be very vigilant with all your valuables – especially in transit areas/tourist hubs. It might be a good idea to familiarise yourself with this list of scams that tourists sometimes encounter – http://travelscams.org/asia/common-tourist-scams-china/ transit hubs/ – tourist areas are the usual places where you could encounter these.

If you have any problems, don’t hesitate to ask for help—contact either the Gotoco team or staff from your school (or both). And if there are problems connecting to a phone network, try looking for somewhere with free wifi or calling options, e.g. in the airport, in cafés, or restaurants.

Once you arrive on your programme, your school should arrange for you to register your location with the police. This is a normal procedure for all foreigners in China. Speak to your programme coordinators to make sure you have done everything you need to do, and contact Gotoco if you have any concerns.

Internet access behind the ‘Great Fire Wall’ of China. Banned sites and how to access them?

Wi-Fi is provided on your programmes so you may want to take a laptop or other handheld device to access the internet and prepare lessons well or just chat to your families/friends. As you may know—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Google, Gmail and other foreign sites  and platforms (even Tinder..) are not accessible in China. Prior to entering China, we suggest you get a VPN or take measures to ensure you are able to access alternate means for communication—such as hotmail (if you are a Gmail user, as its banned..) or WeChat prior to coming out.

VPN – the key to access internet without restrictions

If you wish to access Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Google, Gmail and other blocked sites while in China, please configure a VPN now.  If in doubt about whether you can access a site, please check here.

VPN means ‘virtual private network’ it allows you to bypass Chinese internet restrictions, it gives you access to the internet of whichever nation’s IP address you log into. Most universities around the world offer a VPN for free to their students, which is intended for you to be able to access sites that you need to be in campus to view, such as JSTOR and other academic journals. Please contact your university to check if they have a VPN service which you can use. We suggest you get a premium VPN, as outlined below:

Our favourite VPN: Our Beijing office team need access to Facebook etc everyday, we live behind the Great Fire Wall so have some opinions on VPNs which you may find helpful. At present, August 2019, our preferred VPN is this one: https://www.sednax.com/  in our experience, it only works well on Laptops and not phones/tablets. It is very cost effective and works very well in China, but is a little tricky to setup. It has a totally different system to most premium VPNs available it is worth the effort getting setup because we haven’t had a single day in our Beijing office where it didn’t work this year. Otherwise, you can pay around £5 a month for an easier to configure VPN that works on devices and laptops, for those options read the next paragraph (these VPNs mentioned below aren’t recommended by our Beijing office team as they are too unreliable long term, but they would be fine for a short trip/short usage.)

Easier to setup premium VPNs:  If the option above is to hard to setup, then you can pay £5-10 a month for a decent private VPN service. One of the best ones is called Astrill, you can read about it here , for it to work well you will need to purchase the add-ons such as dedicated IP/VIP.  An alternative to Astrill is Express VPN (but it tends not to work so well in China…) both VPNs are easy to setup and work on computers and phones. There are quite a few VPN providers offering service for free, but you get what you pay for… Some premium VPN services also allow you to cancel within 30 days at no cost, which might mean you can use their services and cancel before you are charged. Generally, our Beijing office team finds these popular VPNs to be unreliable but they tend to work a little bit of the time…Unfortunately, any premium VPN service ends up being popular and once it is used alot then the government tried to sniff it out and crack down on it.

Please test your VPN before you head to China, its much harder to get setup once in country: After downloading a VPN and turning it on, it should change your IP address. To test whether it works please first go to this link without it turned on,  and then go there again with it turned on. If the IPs are significantly different then the VPN should be working and will function in China.

Legality:

People often ask us if it is legal to use a VPN in China. This is a fascinating question! Some estimate as many as 10% of China’s population use a VPN, legal issues have only arisen in minority cases for those people selling VPNs. It is very normal among urban, young, student segments of China to use a VPN – so don’t worry!

WeChat

WeChat, a mobile app similar to Whatsapp, is highly popular in China. It will be invaluable during your time in China for communicating with the team at your school and making friends locally, so we urge you to download it now. Not only is it useful for messaging friends and family, businesses often give discounts to customers following their WeChat account.

Many people pay for their goods and services by scanning a business owners’ QR code through their WeChat app. However, this requires you, the user, to link your bank account or add money to your account.

Find out more about WeChat here. For information on phone and data usage in China, please read this FAQ.

China has a health system that differs significantly from what you may be used to in the West. While there is huge reform going on in healthcare in China, there is currently no system of primary care in place that offers Western medicine—all medical issues that require Western medical attention are treated in large general hospitals.

This can mean long waits, distant journeys and high treatment prices for those hoping to get seen to for minor ailments . The primary care that is offered usually comes in the form of pharmacies that specialise in Chinese medicine. There are certainly benefits to both systems, however if you are used to Western medicine we suggest coming to China with a well stocked first aid kit so that you can treat yourself for minor issues such as

  • colds or influenza
  • minor wounds, such as blisters
  • mild food poisoning, such as traveller’s diarrhoea
  • headaches

Please also be sure to have enough medicine to cater to any long standing conditions you may have. It will be hard to acquire replacement medications in country. Among other things be sure to be well stocked on

  • asthma inhalers
  • nasal decongestant sprays
  • EpiPens
  • other prescription medication
If you’re concerned about the length of the flight to China, it is worth bearing in mind that it is possible to break up a flight into multiple legs by transferring. Those joining us from European countries (including the UK) can split their travel into two roughly six- and seven-hour flights with Emirates, Qatar, Etihad, Aeroflot and others; similar transfer options are available from the US.
For those doing a long-haul flight for the first time, please note that conditions tend to be far better than those found on regional carriers, such as Easyjet/Ryanair in Europe; there is normally better leg-room on larger aircraft, with complimentary baggage, meals, drinks and films included. The only exception to this rule that we are aware of is Ukrainian Airlines—they operate a no-thrills service on the Europe-China route. It is worth bearing in mind that, usually, the more premium the airline, the more likely it is that they haven’t sold out their seats and so will have rows and rows of empty seating—so if you’re lucky you could be able to get two or more seats to lie down.
It is also worth considering that you can usually book significant layover durations if you like, to give you time for a rest and to explore a new city. In the past, participants have taken 24 hour layovers in Vienna (Austrian Airlines), Prague (Hainan Airlines), Amsterdam (KLM), Paris (Air France), Istanbul (Turkish Airlines), Moscow (Aeroflot), Helsinki (Finnair), Warsaw (LOT), Dubai (Emirates) and even Astana and/or Almaty (Kazakh Airlines), lots of other destinations are also available based on how you plan your route.
If you would like a longer layover, please consider breaking up your journey; it can sometimes be cheaper to make your own way to the first city, such as Paris, and have a return booked from there. *Of course, if you like the sound of this, be sure to check that you don’t need a visa for the mid-way destination before booking!
Please check out the following search engines to find the best rates. The top two are Chinese and so are usually the best for China flights
  • https://itunes.apple.com/cn/app/qunar-find-cheap-flights/id965784666?mt=8 (www.qunar.com is usually the cheapest site with the most route options—but it is only accessible in English as an App.)
  • http://www.trip.com/
  • http://www.momondo.com/
  • https://www.kayak.com/
  • https://www.skyscanner.com/
  • https://www.studentuniverse.com
There are lots of low-cost direct flight options available: often you cannot find these on search engines, but you can by checking promotions on airlines’ own websites. To ascertain which airlines have direct flights from your preferred airport, you can check the airport on Wikipedia to see a list of all flights operating from there. Those coming to China from the UK should note that there are now direct flights to Beijing from Manchester with Hainan Airlines, very comfortable transfers from Birmingham with Etihad or Emirates and lots of options from London.
Please check out the following search engines to find the best rates. The top two are Chinese and so are usually the best for China flights:
  • https://itunes.apple.com/cn/app/qunar-find-cheap-flights/id965784666?mt=8 (www.qunar.com is usually the cheapest site with the most route options—but it is only accessible in English as an App.)
  • http://www.trip.com/
  • http://www.momondo.com/
  • https://www.kayak.com/
  • https://www.skyscanner.com/
  • https://www.studentuniverse.co.uk/

When crossing a border into Mainland China, whether by a land crossing (e.g. Hong Kong), or sea crossing (e.g. from Taiwan) or air crossing (e.g. any international airport), you will need to follow the standard border formalities—immigration and customs.

For Customs:

China’s customs rules abide by global norms, while tending to be less strict than those for EU states, USA, Australia etc. Nevertheless, you still need to familiarise yourself with and abide by their rules. You may find a rundown of these rules by checking Google (we advise this just in case the information we provide becomes out-of-date due to new regulations. This link provides fairly comprehensive guidance on what you may/may not bring to China:

It goes without saying that illegal drugs, and anything else that you wouldn’t cross a border with in your home country, shouldn’t be brought into China.

Occasionally we are asked if you might have problems for importing certain media/book items into China. Generally, you are permitted to import media/book items for personal consumption that are considered legal globally—obviously anything that is illegal in your country will probably be illegal in China.

*In the past we have been asked whether it is okay to bring: religious books (e.g. Bibles), political books (e.g. Western authors writing about China) etc. Generally these items are fine as long as they are clearly for personal use and not for dissemination in China. There may be certain items that could be confiscated on arrival—these would be any extremely sensitive item, such as writings by the Dalai Lama or Liu Xiaobo, or books about outlawed movements, e.g Falun Gong. Airports tend to be liberal about these policies, the only border we are aware of in China that is strict is the one between Nepal and Chinese Tibet—Lonely Planet guides that depict Taiwan as a non-Chinese territory in their map, and anything mentioning the Dalai Lama have been know to be confiscated upon arrival. Likewise, at the border between North Korea and China, iPads that have anti-North Korean items, such as the film ‘The Interview’, are sometimes confiscated. The borders which our participants usually enter China through tend to be more liberal about these policies.

For Immigration:

You will be expected to fill in a short form on arrival (see below). It should be very straightforward to fill in. The only point to remember here is that the tick-box section for ‘purpose of visit’ should be in accordance with the visa type you are using.

We have advised all participants to process F visas which are for cultural exchange, internships, and short non-tourist visits. If you have an F visa, then on the form please tick ‘Visit访问’.

If you are on any other type of visa, then please tick the appropriate box:

E.g:

  • Tourist (L visa) should tick ’Sightseeing/in leisure/参观/休闲’
  • Any type of study visa (X) should tick ‘Study/学习’
  • only those on work visas should tick ‘Employment/就业’, our projects are usually short-term, non-remunerated, non-work, cultural exchange projects so the majority of participants will not have processed a work visa. Most people should not, therefore, tick ‘Employment/就业’

*For more information, refer to articles on Google such as this: http://www.vagabondjourney.com/4-easy-tips-for-filling-out-immigration-arrival-forms-correctly/

Hong Kong and Macau enjoy special status within China as SARs (Special Administrative Regions.) They have their own immigration policies which are separate to China’s.

This means that, for the sake of your visa, going from China to Hong Kong/Macau is equivalent to leaving China and going abroad. So, if you make this journey you will lose one entry on your visa—most people are issued a double entry visa, you can check this by looking at your visa’s number of entries. If your visa is single entry, then please do not plan to visit Hong Kong and return to China after your initial entry into China, unless you plan on obtaining a new visa for China in Hong Kong. If you would like to visit Hong Kong and only have a single entry visa, then consider flying to and from Hong Kong and visiting the region at the beginning or end of your trip so that it doesn’t affect your China visa.*

In certain circumstances, you may only be issued a 30-day visa instead of the standard 60 or 90 days. When this happens, if you have a double-entry visa, then you can make a trip to Hong Kong/Macau to activate the next 30 days (this is applicable if you hold a double- or multiple-entry 30-day visa). If you only hold a single-entry 30-day visa and need longer, then you may extend within China or otherwise visit Hong Kong/Macau to apply for a visa from our recommended agent there. If you are from the UK, USA or Canada, as well as many other countries, then you do not need a visa in advance of travel to Hong Kong or Macau.

If you need more advice on this, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

*Please note, in 2016 one applicant made a mistake which you should try to avoid. They chose to fly into Hong Kong with a stop in Beijing where they planned to undertake tourism for 2 days. They then flew to Hong Kong and re-entered China from Hong Kong where they found out the visa had expired because it was only single entry and they had stamped their single entry in Beijing already and then left to fly to Hong Kong. In the end, they had to stay in Hong Kong for 3 days to get a new visa, at some expense. If you have a similar plan to this, please make sure you check that your visa has more than one entry.

If you wish to fly into China for a short period and fly out again, then you could also take a 72- or 144-hour visa on arrival in a major city such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen or Tianjin. Please read more here: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/free-72hour/faq.htm   Make sure you meet all of the eligibility criteria if you wish to try this. Particularly, when you fly from overseas to China make sure the airline is informed that you will request a visa on arrival, they then communicate with the Chinese immigration officials. A key stipulation is that this visa can only be obtained if you have onward tickets to a 3rd country within 72 or 144 hours of arrival into China. A 3rd country means a country other than your home country or China, Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan count as 3rd countries in this law.

If you have queries about this, you can try calling the airport immigration teams on these numbers: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/free-72hour/faq.htm

Participants on our programmes often comment on how much safer China feels than the UK, Canada and the USA. Though people typically have a great time in China, you should still exercise a sensible level of caution and be prepared: be careful and sensible and avoid taking any unnecessary risks. Keep your valuables safe and secure at all times. Raise any concerns about the security of your accommodation with your programme coordinator and contact Gotoco if you need more assistance.

Neither our organisation nor our partner schools can accept liability for any difficulties that you may encounter–but naturally we will do all we can to assist in any way possible. We have provided placements to hundreds of participants over the years, and never yet encountered any major problems.

Before coming, make sure you have photocopies of your passport information page, visa and travel/health insurance policy. Keep the copies in a different place to the originals so if you lose your bag, you can use them to get a replacement. Foreigners are supposed to carry their passport round with them in China, but we recommend only carrying photocopies of your passport and visa, to reduce the risk of losing these important documents. You can use a driving licence or other national ID for entry into bars, if necessary.

Be careful crossing roads—there are normally multiple lanes of traffic and cars/bikes/scooters/buses to watch out for. The volume of traffic is generally quite high, but also quite stop-start and motorists are generally ready to slow down for pedestrians and bikes if necessary, but ensure you make eye contact with the driver and are certain they will stop before stepping into the road. Generally it is best to wait until the road is quiet before crossing, as you would at home. Make sure you follow all traffic signals.

Always be alert and aware that the rules of the road are different to what you’re used to. Use of car horns is very common and can be irritating when you’re not accustomed to it, but it helps to warn others that a vehicle is coming, rather than being used infrequently (as in the UK) as a sign of danger or extreme annoyance.

The most common hassles travellers run into are instances of petty theft at tourist sites and traveller’s diarrhoea. We suggest you

  • exercise normal caution
  • avoid suspicious situations
  • take care of your belongings
  • do not eat anything suspect
  • carry a basic first aid kit
  • use common sense
  • do not break any local laws

Check out this link which has been recommended by previous travellers.

For more information, check

  • travel advisories of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office accessible here
  • travel warnings section of the U.S. State Department at (202) 647-5225
  • travel advisories of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control at (877) FYI-TRIP or online here

Chinese food is delicious and there are usually plenty of delicacies to choose from—spicy and non-spicy, hot and cold, savoury and sweet. Be prepared to try new things, even if you have no idea what they are exactly. The food in China is very different from the dishes you might be used to seeing in Chinese restaurants at home in Europe or North America, so don’t be surprised if the food you’re presented with looks very unfamiliar. It’s all part of the experience and most of the time you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

If you think you’ll miss English food, maybe bring a couple of things with you from home—Marmite, biscuits, crisps and chocolate all help reduce any cravings for home comforts. Tea is also a good example of something which you can get in China but isn’t quite the same as it is in the UK, so if you’re addicted to English Breakfast Tea maybe consider bringing teabags. There will be plenty of opportunity both to try new foods and to buy things which you recognise from home. Supermarkets contain some interesting surprises and can be fun to explore. The variety of flavours of crisps is particularly impressive, ranging from standard flavours to more diverse ones like yoghurt and cucumber.

If you are vegetarian or have any food allergies or dietary requirements, you should ask one of your contacts at the school how to communicate this to others. Get your manager to write it down in Chinese and English, and carry it with you at all times.

If you have a nut allergy, make sure you communicate this clearly before any meals and have it written down to show restaurants. Peanut oil is used quite commonly in China and you must be very careful to avoid it, if you have allergies.

It is not uncommon for foreign visitors to suffer low intensity traveller’s diarrhoea during their time in China, please consider having medication to cater to this if it occurs, and drink plenty of water.

Avoid drinking tap water in almost all locations in China. Bottled water is readily available and you should always make sure you have enough water overnight or if you’re going on activities. This is especially true in rural areas, where shops might close earlier in the evening or you might have to wait for transport into town—stock up on large bottles of water to make sure you always have enough.

Hot or boiled water is also more common than cold water. Many Chinese people much prefer drinking hot water to cold, claiming health benefits, and you will find that you are often given boiled water in restaurants. This water is fine to drink, but if you feel uncomfortable then bottled water is usually available for purchase. You may also be surprised by the benefits of hot water with lemon and ginger when you’re feeling a bit run down or tired! You might also want to purchase a flask if you would like to save money (and plastic!) by boiling water for your own consumption.

In terms of other drinks—please enjoy the variety on offer, with many soft drinks being different to what you might be used to at home, although all the regulars like Coca Cola are also available. If you’re in Beijing and like fizzy drinks, then make sure you try Arctic Ocean (Běibīngyáng 北冰洋)! Otherwise, all sorts of bottled drinks are available throughout the country; first time visitors usually get excited about the delicious range of flavoured teas, soy milk drinks, ‘Bubble Milk Tea’, hot tea and, of course, alcoholic beverages.

If you drink alcohol, then please take note: occasionally venues (usually glitzy nightclubs and bars) might sell adulterated hard spirits, which can give you a bad hangover or make you very inebriated. There have also been stories of people being poisoned by adulterated spirits, so do be careful. However, most locations are perfectly safe, you should just make sure to be careful to always know what you are drinking, as you should anywhere in the world, and always drink in moderation.

You may also be introduced to Báijiǔ白酒—China’s famous rice spirit. It is occasionally referred to as ‘white wine’ or ‘rice wine’. Please drink with moderation, it is stronger than most spirits you are used to! People in China tend to be very hospitable, and in the evenings might treat you to rounds of drinks—be sure to know your limits and drink sensibly.

It is not uncommon for foreign visitors to suffer low intensity traveller’s diarrhoea during their time in China, please consider having medication to cater to this if it occurs, and drink plenty of water.

We work with diverse programmes all over China, and the vast majority provide airport pickups. In cases where this isn’t possible, there will be a designated staff member at the programme who is in charge of making sure your pickup is co-ordinated in an easy manner.

Before you come to China, you will be put in touch with your programme coordinator through your interview and will stay in contact with them from your interview until you come out to China. They will provide you with all the information you need, including arrival procedure and airport pickups. Your programme coordinator and the Gotoco office team will support you throughout the process to make sure everything goes smoothly for you.

Of course, if you prefer to travel around China before your programme begins, then that is fine too (and highly encouraged!). Please just make sure you can meet the programme and the rest of your team at one of the designated pickup locations on the right date.

For more information on arrival procedures, please read this FAQ on what happens when you arrive at the airport.

Chinese visa costs vary depending on your passport type and the duration of stay and number of entries you may need in China. Some nationalities have their visas for free while others must pay a price. British passports, for example, incur a total cost of £151 but luckily get longer stays/numbers of entries than other European passports, you can read more about pricing at this helpful link

We usually advise our participants to process their visa application with the help of a local China visa expert agency, this can add to the overall price. For example, our trusted UK agent adds a £15 commission while our North American agents add $30-50. We suggest this because the Chinese visa application is quite a difficult process and working with an agent ensures that you a/obtain the correct and most legally appropriate visa, b/ avoid mistakes on your application which could cost you a penalty charge (sometimes China charges you double price if errors in your application cause you to resubmit your visa application.c/ get treated well, looked after by experts, and charged a fair price

 

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○ Pre-departure questions - important information for people preparing to join us in China!

Accommodation and meals are provided free of charge at your programme. Most added extras are also provided free of charge so your personal costs are kept to a minimum, including free

You will need to pay for your own flights, visa and travel within China but will receive meals and accommodation at the programmes. You will then only need money for extra food and drinks and activities outside the programme. For reference or for estimating cost of post-programme tourism, please find some prices of common items below (all prices are averages and vary depending on your location)

  • one litre of Qingdao beer in a bar: C¥3-30
  • a meal in a good restaurant: C¥30 yuan per dish
  • snacks from street vendors: C¥5-10 per item
  • a short taxi journey in most cities costs C¥15-25, journeys of an hour can cost C¥100
  • accommodation in a dorm room in a normal backpacker hostel: C¥30-80
  • an overnight journey of 10 hours or less on a train with a bed: under C¥200

*It is possible to have an interesting time travelling around China after our programmes on a shoestring budget of around 4000RMB/month

**At the time of writing C¥10 was equivalent to £1.10 or US$1.44

Other major costs include

  • flights: we are usually able to suggest cost savings and partnerships with Chinese travel agents that make it possible to get return flights to China from the UK for around £400-500, or from the USA for upwards of $800.
  • visa costs vary by nationality based on diplomatic circumstances and reciprocal fee rates, this link takes you to the Chinese government’s official visa service centre site where you can find out more: 
    • British passport holders must pay £151 to the Chinese consular visa processing centre for a visa. We recommend visas are processed with the help of an agency, this is to ensure that forms are filled in correctly the first time to prevent extra expenses from visa rejections and time-delays (missed flights etc.) Currently we advise UK applicants to process with the help of UVSUK who offer well-reviewed services and offer a 50% discount for Gotoco applicants (£25 service fee+£8 postage)

We are not legally permitted to advise on vaccinations and travel/health insurance. It is up to you to research both and you are advised to take both seriously (please read through our FAQs for further information on both).

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed on how to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into a webform for the partner schools to view.

Please also read this FAQ on direct flights to China and this one on flights with layovers. You can also check this FAQ to learn about arrival procedures, and this one to learn about visas.

For vaccinations you should contact healthcare and medical professionals to ensure you get the most up-to-date information. We are not legally permitted to provide vaccination advice as we are not medical professionals. Past applicants have recommended that those with these queries could consult the UK NHS’s free online advice here.

*Below is some informal information based on our and our previous volunteers’ experience over the years. This should not be taken as authoritative and you should contact healthcare professionals before finalising your vaccination and insurance plans.

Before coming to China the UK’s NHS recommends that you are vaccinated against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Polio, and Typhoid. Additional vaccinations for Rabies are recommended particularly for those going to rural areas that are far away from major hospitals—our placements do not normally fit into this category. Likewise the vaccination for Japanese Encephalitis, though not required, is recommended for anyone travelling in areas with paddy fields such as Yangshuo. In past years few volunteers have chosen the latter two vaccinations as they are quite expensive, but if you have the option to get them then do get them. Please consult with a medical professional once you know your location.

Malaria is extremely unlikely to be an issue as most locations in China are not in a Malaria zone. If you have travel plans to Southeast Asia you might consider taking Malaria medication with you from the UK or USA. Those joining us for programmes right on China’s border with South East Asian countries (such as programmes in Xishuangbanna) should seek the latest advice as sometimes anti-malarials are recommended there.

Please check out the NHS Fit for Travel website for more info.

Prior to departure you must take out comprehensive travel and health insurance, including emergency repatriation. Please do your research properly and choose a provider that suits your needs. Make sure that your insurance covers you for any activities which you might be doing, such as rock climbing. We cannot make a formal recommendation, but in previous years participants have often opted for Lonely Planet’s recommended provider: Global Nomads.

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed on how to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into a webform for the partner schools to view.

Please also read this FAQ on direct flights to China and this one on flights with layovers. You can also check this FAQ to learn about arrival procedures, and this one to learn about visas.

Once we have confirmed your offer, we will send you all the information you need for arranging your visa. Our participants travel on a cultural exchange (F) visa and we will arrange all the necessary invitation letters for you. It is usually issued for single, double or multiple entry with duration of stay up to 60 or 90 days per visit.

Visas are issued at the discretion of the issuing authorities. Gotoco offers advice through the application process, but is not responsible the ultimate visa issuance.

Please read this FAQ on customs and immigration for more information about visas.

Pack for the season as you will be staying with Gotoco anywhere between May and September, although most likely in June, July or August. China is a large country, so it is advisable to research the weather of the region you will be teaching in. Pack hand sanitiser, deodorant, familiar western medicine, bug spray and electric plug/socket converters, which can sometimes be hard to find. Prescription medication, if needed, should be arranged to be picked up before the trip.

Ask your programme coordinator during or after your interview about whether you will need formal clothes for teaching, sports kit for activities or any particular footwear. Find out from them directly if they have any particular dresscode or rules before you come, and also think about what activities, such as rock climbing, which you might want to organise in your own time.

Please find out more information here.

Your first port of call will be your primary contact at the programme. For any issues which they cannot help you with, you will be given contact information for your Gotoco representative before leaving for China.

For more information on arrival in China and your point of contact, please read these two FAQs on airport arrival and airport pick-ups.

Let your service provider know you are leaving for China. You may be able to work out a data plan. If this is not an option you may purchase a temporary Chinese sim card and data plan for smartphones from China Mobile, China Unicom, or China Telecom.

This process may require a passport depending on the company and your purchase. It is useful to remember that landlines in China have 8 digit numbers, while cell phones have 11 digits. Please talk to your programme about obtaining a sim card on arrival into China.

Credit/Debit Cards and Cash

While China is miles ahead of most of the world in terms of mobile payments, most places in China do not take credit cards, so you will have to take Renminbi (Chinese currency) wherever you go. There are ATMs where you can take money out, but tell your bank that you are in China and be aware of international fees! Currency cards, such as CaxtonFx, Monzo or from the Post Office (UK), are also a good option to avoid unfavourable exchange rates, and they offer a free online checking account with no fees for international withdraws.

These currency cards work at most banks which accept foreign cards, such as ICBC, Bank of China and China Construction Bank. Bank of America account holders can withdraw money from China Construction Bank free of charge. As a rule of thumb, always let your financial institution know when and where you are going overseas to avoid problems with your bank account.

While China is rapidly changing when it comes to finance and banking, it is still a good idea to carry cash. We recommend bringing a reserve of cash, e.g. C¥1-2000, in case your bank card has any problems while you are here. You can also exchange money at the airport when you arrive, or at banks, but beware bank processes can be more complicated.

Be aware you will need to show your passport when exchanging money. Generally, most major banks in China accept Visa or Mastercard or Amex cards from major foreign banks.

Mobile Payments

China is miles ahead of most countries around the world in terms of mobile payments. Even in small rural villages or up secluded mountains, you can use WeChat or AliPay to pay for goods and services, just by scanning a QR code. However, this requires you, the user, to link your bank account or add money to your account. Some international cards, such as Monzo, can be used on WeChat, but don’t bank on it: still follow the guidelines for cards and cash shown above as the payment system will usually require you to have a Chinese bank account.

Even if you cannot use it for payments, WeChat, a mobile app similar to Whatsapp, is highly popular in China. It will be invaluable during your time in China for communicating with the team at your school and for making friends locally, so we urge you to download it now. Not only is it useful for messaging friends and family, businesses also often give discounts to customers following their WeChat account.

Find out more about WeChat here. For information on phone and data usage in China, please read this FAQ.

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into an online form on our site, which our partner schools can view for reference.

Each partner school has different airport or train station pick-up plans and you should communicate directly with your Wechat contact (usually the interviewer) for the best plan. We will assist with communication when necessary, but you must understand that it is your responsibility to ensure you have agreed on your pick-up arrangements with your programme team before coming out to China

Arrival

The first thing you’re likely to notice when you arrive (if like >90% of those that join us, you’re not a Mandarin speaker) is how different the language is from English, and how difficult it can be to understand things once you get out of the airport. It’s quite normal to feel overwhelmed by this, but don’t worry! Follow the instructions given by the school for your airport pick-up or the instructions on how you can make the transit yourself. If you can’t see your meeting group rightaway, stay where you are and call one of the numbers given to you by the school or your Gotoco representative. Most transport hubs/tourist sites have bilingual staff in case you need help, likewise many people in China are able to speak some English in case you need to ask for assistance. Please also read this FAQ on Mandarin.

If you need to travel from the airport to another location for pick-up, make sure you have clear written instructions in English and Chinese, as well as contact phone numbers. Showing the directions for where you need to go, such as a train station or bus connection, to someone by pointing at the Chinese characters you have written down will help you find your way. Though not everyone speaks English, pointing and miming can still get you a long way.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on your passport and other valuables when leaving the airport and travelling on to your school – with everything else going on, and the fact that you may be tired from the long journey, it can be easy to forget about your valuables. While petty theft is often less prevalent in many parts of China than in the UK or USA, you should always still be very vigilant with all your valuables – especially in transit areas/tourist hubs. It might be a good idea to familiarise yourself with this list of scams that tourists sometimes encounter – http://travelscams.org/asia/common-tourist-scams-china/ transit hubs/ – tourist areas are the usual places where you could encounter these.

If you have any problems, don’t hesitate to ask for help—contact either the Gotoco team or staff from your school (or both). And if there are problems connecting to a phone network, try looking for somewhere with free wifi or calling options, e.g. in the airport, in cafés, or restaurants.

Once you arrive on your programme, your school should arrange for you to register your location with the police. This is a normal procedure for all foreigners in China. Speak to your programme coordinators to make sure you have done everything you need to do, and contact Gotoco if you have any concerns.

Internet access behind the ‘Great Fire Wall’ of China. Banned sites and how to access them?

Wi-Fi is provided on your programmes so you may want to take a laptop or other handheld device to access the internet and prepare lessons well or just chat to your families/friends. As you may know—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Google, Gmail and other foreign sites  and platforms (even Tinder..) are not accessible in China. Prior to entering China, we suggest you get a VPN or take measures to ensure you are able to access alternate means for communication—such as hotmail (if you are a Gmail user, as its banned..) or WeChat prior to coming out.

VPN – the key to access internet without restrictions

If you wish to access Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Google, Gmail and other blocked sites while in China, please configure a VPN now.  If in doubt about whether you can access a site, please check here.

VPN means ‘virtual private network’ it allows you to bypass Chinese internet restrictions, it gives you access to the internet of whichever nation’s IP address you log into. Most universities around the world offer a VPN for free to their students, which is intended for you to be able to access sites that you need to be in campus to view, such as JSTOR and other academic journals. Please contact your university to check if they have a VPN service which you can use. We suggest you get a premium VPN, as outlined below:

Our favourite VPN: Our Beijing office team need access to Facebook etc everyday, we live behind the Great Fire Wall so have some opinions on VPNs which you may find helpful. At present, August 2019, our preferred VPN is this one: https://www.sednax.com/  in our experience, it only works well on Laptops and not phones/tablets. It is very cost effective and works very well in China, but is a little tricky to setup. It has a totally different system to most premium VPNs available it is worth the effort getting setup because we haven’t had a single day in our Beijing office where it didn’t work this year. Otherwise, you can pay around £5 a month for an easier to configure VPN that works on devices and laptops, for those options read the next paragraph (these VPNs mentioned below aren’t recommended by our Beijing office team as they are too unreliable long term, but they would be fine for a short trip/short usage.)

Easier to setup premium VPNs:  If the option above is to hard to setup, then you can pay £5-10 a month for a decent private VPN service. One of the best ones is called Astrill, you can read about it here , for it to work well you will need to purchase the add-ons such as dedicated IP/VIP.  An alternative to Astrill is Express VPN (but it tends not to work so well in China…) both VPNs are easy to setup and work on computers and phones. There are quite a few VPN providers offering service for free, but you get what you pay for… Some premium VPN services also allow you to cancel within 30 days at no cost, which might mean you can use their services and cancel before you are charged. Generally, our Beijing office team finds these popular VPNs to be unreliable but they tend to work a little bit of the time…Unfortunately, any premium VPN service ends up being popular and once it is used alot then the government tried to sniff it out and crack down on it.

Please test your VPN before you head to China, its much harder to get setup once in country: After downloading a VPN and turning it on, it should change your IP address. To test whether it works please first go to this link without it turned on,  and then go there again with it turned on. If the IPs are significantly different then the VPN should be working and will function in China.

Legality:

People often ask us if it is legal to use a VPN in China. This is a fascinating question! Some estimate as many as 10% of China’s population use a VPN, legal issues have only arisen in minority cases for those people selling VPNs. It is very normal among urban, young, student segments of China to use a VPN – so don’t worry!

WeChat

WeChat, a mobile app similar to Whatsapp, is highly popular in China. It will be invaluable during your time in China for communicating with the team at your school and making friends locally, so we urge you to download it now. Not only is it useful for messaging friends and family, businesses often give discounts to customers following their WeChat account.

Many people pay for their goods and services by scanning a business owners’ QR code through their WeChat app. However, this requires you, the user, to link your bank account or add money to your account.

Find out more about WeChat here. For information on phone and data usage in China, please read this FAQ.

China has a health system that differs significantly from what you may be used to in the West. While there is huge reform going on in healthcare in China, there is currently no system of primary care in place that offers Western medicine—all medical issues that require Western medical attention are treated in large general hospitals.

This can mean long waits, distant journeys and high treatment prices for those hoping to get seen to for minor ailments . The primary care that is offered usually comes in the form of pharmacies that specialise in Chinese medicine. There are certainly benefits to both systems, however if you are used to Western medicine we suggest coming to China with a well stocked first aid kit so that you can treat yourself for minor issues such as

  • colds or influenza
  • minor wounds, such as blisters
  • mild food poisoning, such as traveller’s diarrhoea
  • headaches

Please also be sure to have enough medicine to cater to any long standing conditions you may have. It will be hard to acquire replacement medications in country. Among other things be sure to be well stocked on

  • asthma inhalers
  • nasal decongestant sprays
  • EpiPens
  • other prescription medication
If you’re concerned about the length of the flight to China, it is worth bearing in mind that it is possible to break up a flight into multiple legs by transferring. Those joining us from European countries (including the UK) can split their travel into two roughly six- and seven-hour flights with Emirates, Qatar, Etihad, Aeroflot and others; similar transfer options are available from the US.
For those doing a long-haul flight for the first time, please note that conditions tend to be far better than those found on regional carriers, such as Easyjet/Ryanair in Europe; there is normally better leg-room on larger aircraft, with complimentary baggage, meals, drinks and films included. The only exception to this rule that we are aware of is Ukrainian Airlines—they operate a no-thrills service on the Europe-China route. It is worth bearing in mind that, usually, the more premium the airline, the more likely it is that they haven’t sold out their seats and so will have rows and rows of empty seating—so if you’re lucky you could be able to get two or more seats to lie down.
It is also worth considering that you can usually book significant layover durations if you like, to give you time for a rest and to explore a new city. In the past, participants have taken 24 hour layovers in Vienna (Austrian Airlines), Prague (Hainan Airlines), Amsterdam (KLM), Paris (Air France), Istanbul (Turkish Airlines), Moscow (Aeroflot), Helsinki (Finnair), Warsaw (LOT), Dubai (Emirates) and even Astana and/or Almaty (Kazakh Airlines), lots of other destinations are also available based on how you plan your route.
If you would like a longer layover, please consider breaking up your journey; it can sometimes be cheaper to make your own way to the first city, such as Paris, and have a return booked from there. *Of course, if you like the sound of this, be sure to check that you don’t need a visa for the mid-way destination before booking!
Please check out the following search engines to find the best rates. The top two are Chinese and so are usually the best for China flights
  • https://itunes.apple.com/cn/app/qunar-find-cheap-flights/id965784666?mt=8 (www.qunar.com is usually the cheapest site with the most route options—but it is only accessible in English as an App.)
  • http://www.trip.com/
  • http://www.momondo.com/
  • https://www.kayak.com/
  • https://www.skyscanner.com/
  • https://www.studentuniverse.com
There are lots of low-cost direct flight options available: often you cannot find these on search engines, but you can by checking promotions on airlines’ own websites. To ascertain which airlines have direct flights from your preferred airport, you can check the airport on Wikipedia to see a list of all flights operating from there. Those coming to China from the UK should note that there are now direct flights to Beijing from Manchester with Hainan Airlines, very comfortable transfers from Birmingham with Etihad or Emirates and lots of options from London.
Please check out the following search engines to find the best rates. The top two are Chinese and so are usually the best for China flights:
  • https://itunes.apple.com/cn/app/qunar-find-cheap-flights/id965784666?mt=8 (www.qunar.com is usually the cheapest site with the most route options—but it is only accessible in English as an App.)
  • http://www.trip.com/
  • http://www.momondo.com/
  • https://www.kayak.com/
  • https://www.skyscanner.com/
  • https://www.studentuniverse.co.uk/

When crossing a border into Mainland China, whether by a land crossing (e.g. Hong Kong), or sea crossing (e.g. from Taiwan) or air crossing (e.g. any international airport), you will need to follow the standard border formalities—immigration and customs.

For Customs:

China’s customs rules abide by global norms, while tending to be less strict than those for EU states, USA, Australia etc. Nevertheless, you still need to familiarise yourself with and abide by their rules. You may find a rundown of these rules by checking Google (we advise this just in case the information we provide becomes out-of-date due to new regulations. This link provides fairly comprehensive guidance on what you may/may not bring to China:

It goes without saying that illegal drugs, and anything else that you wouldn’t cross a border with in your home country, shouldn’t be brought into China.

Occasionally we are asked if you might have problems for importing certain media/book items into China. Generally, you are permitted to import media/book items for personal consumption that are considered legal globally—obviously anything that is illegal in your country will probably be illegal in China.

*In the past we have been asked whether it is okay to bring: religious books (e.g. Bibles), political books (e.g. Western authors writing about China) etc. Generally these items are fine as long as they are clearly for personal use and not for dissemination in China. There may be certain items that could be confiscated on arrival—these would be any extremely sensitive item, such as writings by the Dalai Lama or Liu Xiaobo, or books about outlawed movements, e.g Falun Gong. Airports tend to be liberal about these policies, the only border we are aware of in China that is strict is the one between Nepal and Chinese Tibet—Lonely Planet guides that depict Taiwan as a non-Chinese territory in their map, and anything mentioning the Dalai Lama have been know to be confiscated upon arrival. Likewise, at the border between North Korea and China, iPads that have anti-North Korean items, such as the film ‘The Interview’, are sometimes confiscated. The borders which our participants usually enter China through tend to be more liberal about these policies.

For Immigration:

You will be expected to fill in a short form on arrival (see below). It should be very straightforward to fill in. The only point to remember here is that the tick-box section for ‘purpose of visit’ should be in accordance with the visa type you are using.

We have advised all participants to process F visas which are for cultural exchange, internships, and short non-tourist visits. If you have an F visa, then on the form please tick ‘Visit访问’.

If you are on any other type of visa, then please tick the appropriate box:

E.g:

  • Tourist (L visa) should tick ’Sightseeing/in leisure/参观/休闲’
  • Any type of study visa (X) should tick ‘Study/学习’
  • only those on work visas should tick ‘Employment/就业’, our projects are usually short-term, non-remunerated, non-work, cultural exchange projects so the majority of participants will not have processed a work visa. Most people should not, therefore, tick ‘Employment/就业’

*For more information, refer to articles on Google such as this: http://www.vagabondjourney.com/4-easy-tips-for-filling-out-immigration-arrival-forms-correctly/

Hong Kong and Macau enjoy special status within China as SARs (Special Administrative Regions.) They have their own immigration policies which are separate to China’s.

This means that, for the sake of your visa, going from China to Hong Kong/Macau is equivalent to leaving China and going abroad. So, if you make this journey you will lose one entry on your visa—most people are issued a double entry visa, you can check this by looking at your visa’s number of entries. If your visa is single entry, then please do not plan to visit Hong Kong and return to China after your initial entry into China, unless you plan on obtaining a new visa for China in Hong Kong. If you would like to visit Hong Kong and only have a single entry visa, then consider flying to and from Hong Kong and visiting the region at the beginning or end of your trip so that it doesn’t affect your China visa.*

In certain circumstances, you may only be issued a 30-day visa instead of the standard 60 or 90 days. When this happens, if you have a double-entry visa, then you can make a trip to Hong Kong/Macau to activate the next 30 days (this is applicable if you hold a double- or multiple-entry 30-day visa). If you only hold a single-entry 30-day visa and need longer, then you may extend within China or otherwise visit Hong Kong/Macau to apply for a visa from our recommended agent there. If you are from the UK, USA or Canada, as well as many other countries, then you do not need a visa in advance of travel to Hong Kong or Macau.

If you need more advice on this, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

*Please note, in 2016 one applicant made a mistake which you should try to avoid. They chose to fly into Hong Kong with a stop in Beijing where they planned to undertake tourism for 2 days. They then flew to Hong Kong and re-entered China from Hong Kong where they found out the visa had expired because it was only single entry and they had stamped their single entry in Beijing already and then left to fly to Hong Kong. In the end, they had to stay in Hong Kong for 3 days to get a new visa, at some expense. If you have a similar plan to this, please make sure you check that your visa has more than one entry.

If you wish to fly into China for a short period and fly out again, then you could also take a 72- or 144-hour visa on arrival in a major city such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen or Tianjin. Please read more here: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/free-72hour/faq.htm   Make sure you meet all of the eligibility criteria if you wish to try this. Particularly, when you fly from overseas to China make sure the airline is informed that you will request a visa on arrival, they then communicate with the Chinese immigration officials. A key stipulation is that this visa can only be obtained if you have onward tickets to a 3rd country within 72 or 144 hours of arrival into China. A 3rd country means a country other than your home country or China, Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan count as 3rd countries in this law.

If you have queries about this, you can try calling the airport immigration teams on these numbers: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/free-72hour/faq.htm

Participants on our programmes often comment on how much safer China feels than the UK, Canada and the USA. Though people typically have a great time in China, you should still exercise a sensible level of caution and be prepared: be careful and sensible and avoid taking any unnecessary risks. Keep your valuables safe and secure at all times. Raise any concerns about the security of your accommodation with your programme coordinator and contact Gotoco if you need more assistance.

Neither our organisation nor our partner schools can accept liability for any difficulties that you may encounter–but naturally we will do all we can to assist in any way possible. We have provided placements to hundreds of participants over the years, and never yet encountered any major problems.

Before coming, make sure you have photocopies of your passport information page, visa and travel/health insurance policy. Keep the copies in a different place to the originals so if you lose your bag, you can use them to get a replacement. Foreigners are supposed to carry their passport round with them in China, but we recommend only carrying photocopies of your passport and visa, to reduce the risk of losing these important documents. You can use a driving licence or other national ID for entry into bars, if necessary.

Be careful crossing roads—there are normally multiple lanes of traffic and cars/bikes/scooters/buses to watch out for. The volume of traffic is generally quite high, but also quite stop-start and motorists are generally ready to slow down for pedestrians and bikes if necessary, but ensure you make eye contact with the driver and are certain they will stop before stepping into the road. Generally it is best to wait until the road is quiet before crossing, as you would at home. Make sure you follow all traffic signals.

Always be alert and aware that the rules of the road are different to what you’re used to. Use of car horns is very common and can be irritating when you’re not accustomed to it, but it helps to warn others that a vehicle is coming, rather than being used infrequently (as in the UK) as a sign of danger or extreme annoyance.

The most common hassles travellers run into are instances of petty theft at tourist sites and traveller’s diarrhoea. We suggest you

  • exercise normal caution
  • avoid suspicious situations
  • take care of your belongings
  • do not eat anything suspect
  • carry a basic first aid kit
  • use common sense
  • do not break any local laws

Check out this link which has been recommended by previous travellers.

For more information, check

  • travel advisories of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office accessible here
  • travel warnings section of the U.S. State Department at (202) 647-5225
  • travel advisories of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control at (877) FYI-TRIP or online here

Chinese food is delicious and there are usually plenty of delicacies to choose from—spicy and non-spicy, hot and cold, savoury and sweet. Be prepared to try new things, even if you have no idea what they are exactly. The food in China is very different from the dishes you might be used to seeing in Chinese restaurants at home in Europe or North America, so don’t be surprised if the food you’re presented with looks very unfamiliar. It’s all part of the experience and most of the time you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

If you think you’ll miss English food, maybe bring a couple of things with you from home—Marmite, biscuits, crisps and chocolate all help reduce any cravings for home comforts. Tea is also a good example of something which you can get in China but isn’t quite the same as it is in the UK, so if you’re addicted to English Breakfast Tea maybe consider bringing teabags. There will be plenty of opportunity both to try new foods and to buy things which you recognise from home. Supermarkets contain some interesting surprises and can be fun to explore. The variety of flavours of crisps is particularly impressive, ranging from standard flavours to more diverse ones like yoghurt and cucumber.

If you are vegetarian or have any food allergies or dietary requirements, you should ask one of your contacts at the school how to communicate this to others. Get your manager to write it down in Chinese and English, and carry it with you at all times.

If you have a nut allergy, make sure you communicate this clearly before any meals and have it written down to show restaurants. Peanut oil is used quite commonly in China and you must be very careful to avoid it, if you have allergies.

It is not uncommon for foreign visitors to suffer low intensity traveller’s diarrhoea during their time in China, please consider having medication to cater to this if it occurs, and drink plenty of water.

Avoid drinking tap water in almost all locations in China. Bottled water is readily available and you should always make sure you have enough water overnight or if you’re going on activities. This is especially true in rural areas, where shops might close earlier in the evening or you might have to wait for transport into town—stock up on large bottles of water to make sure you always have enough.

Hot or boiled water is also more common than cold water. Many Chinese people much prefer drinking hot water to cold, claiming health benefits, and you will find that you are often given boiled water in restaurants. This water is fine to drink, but if you feel uncomfortable then bottled water is usually available for purchase. You may also be surprised by the benefits of hot water with lemon and ginger when you’re feeling a bit run down or tired! You might also want to purchase a flask if you would like to save money (and plastic!) by boiling water for your own consumption.

In terms of other drinks—please enjoy the variety on offer, with many soft drinks being different to what you might be used to at home, although all the regulars like Coca Cola are also available. If you’re in Beijing and like fizzy drinks, then make sure you try Arctic Ocean (Běibīngyáng 北冰洋)! Otherwise, all sorts of bottled drinks are available throughout the country; first time visitors usually get excited about the delicious range of flavoured teas, soy milk drinks, ‘Bubble Milk Tea’, hot tea and, of course, alcoholic beverages.

If you drink alcohol, then please take note: occasionally venues (usually glitzy nightclubs and bars) might sell adulterated hard spirits, which can give you a bad hangover or make you very inebriated. There have also been stories of people being poisoned by adulterated spirits, so do be careful. However, most locations are perfectly safe, you should just make sure to be careful to always know what you are drinking, as you should anywhere in the world, and always drink in moderation.

You may also be introduced to Báijiǔ白酒—China’s famous rice spirit. It is occasionally referred to as ‘white wine’ or ‘rice wine’. Please drink with moderation, it is stronger than most spirits you are used to! People in China tend to be very hospitable, and in the evenings might treat you to rounds of drinks—be sure to know your limits and drink sensibly.

It is not uncommon for foreign visitors to suffer low intensity traveller’s diarrhoea during their time in China, please consider having medication to cater to this if it occurs, and drink plenty of water.

We work with diverse programmes all over China, and the vast majority provide airport pickups. In cases where this isn’t possible, there will be a designated staff member at the programme who is in charge of making sure your pickup is co-ordinated in an easy manner.

Before you come to China, you will be put in touch with your programme coordinator through your interview and will stay in contact with them from your interview until you come out to China. They will provide you with all the information you need, including arrival procedure and airport pickups. Your programme coordinator and the Gotoco office team will support you throughout the process to make sure everything goes smoothly for you.

Of course, if you prefer to travel around China before your programme begins, then that is fine too (and highly encouraged!). Please just make sure you can meet the programme and the rest of your team at one of the designated pickup locations on the right date.

For more information on arrival procedures, please read this FAQ on what happens when you arrive at the airport.

Chinese visa costs vary depending on your passport type and the duration of stay and number of entries you may need in China. Some nationalities have their visas for free while others must pay a price. British passports, for example, incur a total cost of £151 but luckily get longer stays/numbers of entries than other European passports, you can read more about pricing at this helpful link

We usually advise our participants to process their visa application with the help of a local China visa expert agency, this can add to the overall price. For example, our trusted UK agent adds a £15 commission while our North American agents add $30-50. We suggest this because the Chinese visa application is quite a difficult process and working with an agent ensures that you a/obtain the correct and most legally appropriate visa, b/ avoid mistakes on your application which could cost you a penalty charge (sometimes China charges you double price if errors in your application cause you to resubmit your visa application.c/ get treated well, looked after by experts, and charged a fair price

 

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○ Pre-departure questions - important information for people preparing to join us in China!

Accommodation and meals are provided free of charge at your programme. Most added extras are also provided free of charge so your personal costs are kept to a minimum, including free

You will need to pay for your own flights, visa and travel within China but will receive meals and accommodation at the programmes. You will then only need money for extra food and drinks and activities outside the programme. For reference or for estimating cost of post-programme tourism, please find some prices of common items below (all prices are averages and vary depending on your location)

  • one litre of Qingdao beer in a bar: C¥3-30
  • a meal in a good restaurant: C¥30 yuan per dish
  • snacks from street vendors: C¥5-10 per item
  • a short taxi journey in most cities costs C¥15-25, journeys of an hour can cost C¥100
  • accommodation in a dorm room in a normal backpacker hostel: C¥30-80
  • an overnight journey of 10 hours or less on a train with a bed: under C¥200

*It is possible to have an interesting time travelling around China after our programmes on a shoestring budget of around 4000RMB/month

**At the time of writing C¥10 was equivalent to £1.10 or US$1.44

Other major costs include

  • flights: we are usually able to suggest cost savings and partnerships with Chinese travel agents that make it possible to get return flights to China from the UK for around £400-500, or from the USA for upwards of $800.
  • visa costs vary by nationality based on diplomatic circumstances and reciprocal fee rates, this link takes you to the Chinese government’s official visa service centre site where you can find out more: 
    • British passport holders must pay £151 to the Chinese consular visa processing centre for a visa. We recommend visas are processed with the help of an agency, this is to ensure that forms are filled in correctly the first time to prevent extra expenses from visa rejections and time-delays (missed flights etc.) Currently we advise UK applicants to process with the help of UVSUK who offer well-reviewed services and offer a 50% discount for Gotoco applicants (£25 service fee+£8 postage)

We are not legally permitted to advise on vaccinations and travel/health insurance. It is up to you to research both and you are advised to take both seriously (please read through our FAQs for further information on both).

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed on how to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into a webform for the partner schools to view.

Please also read this FAQ on direct flights to China and this one on flights with layovers. You can also check this FAQ to learn about arrival procedures, and this one to learn about visas.

For vaccinations you should contact healthcare and medical professionals to ensure you get the most up-to-date information. We are not legally permitted to provide vaccination advice as we are not medical professionals. Past applicants have recommended that those with these queries could consult the UK NHS’s free online advice here.

*Below is some informal information based on our and our previous volunteers’ experience over the years. This should not be taken as authoritative and you should contact healthcare professionals before finalising your vaccination and insurance plans.

Before coming to China the UK’s NHS recommends that you are vaccinated against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Polio, and Typhoid. Additional vaccinations for Rabies are recommended particularly for those going to rural areas that are far away from major hospitals—our placements do not normally fit into this category. Likewise the vaccination for Japanese Encephalitis, though not required, is recommended for anyone travelling in areas with paddy fields such as Yangshuo. In past years few volunteers have chosen the latter two vaccinations as they are quite expensive, but if you have the option to get them then do get them. Please consult with a medical professional once you know your location.

Malaria is extremely unlikely to be an issue as most locations in China are not in a Malaria zone. If you have travel plans to Southeast Asia you might consider taking Malaria medication with you from the UK or USA. Those joining us for programmes right on China’s border with South East Asian countries (such as programmes in Xishuangbanna) should seek the latest advice as sometimes anti-malarials are recommended there.

Please check out the NHS Fit for Travel website for more info.

Prior to departure you must take out comprehensive travel and health insurance, including emergency repatriation. Please do your research properly and choose a provider that suits your needs. Make sure that your insurance covers you for any activities which you might be doing, such as rock climbing. We cannot make a formal recommendation, but in previous years participants have often opted for Lonely Planet’s recommended provider: Global Nomads.

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed on how to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into a webform for the partner schools to view.

Please also read this FAQ on direct flights to China and this one on flights with layovers. You can also check this FAQ to learn about arrival procedures, and this one to learn about visas.

Once we have confirmed your offer, we will send you all the information you need for arranging your visa. Our participants travel on a cultural exchange (F) visa and we will arrange all the necessary invitation letters for you. It is usually issued for single, double or multiple entry with duration of stay up to 60 or 90 days per visit.

Visas are issued at the discretion of the issuing authorities. Gotoco offers advice through the application process, but is not responsible the ultimate visa issuance.

Please read this FAQ on customs and immigration for more information about visas.

Pack for the season as you will be staying with Gotoco anywhere between May and September, although most likely in June, July or August. China is a large country, so it is advisable to research the weather of the region you will be teaching in. Pack hand sanitiser, deodorant, familiar western medicine, bug spray and electric plug/socket converters, which can sometimes be hard to find. Prescription medication, if needed, should be arranged to be picked up before the trip.

Ask your programme coordinator during or after your interview about whether you will need formal clothes for teaching, sports kit for activities or any particular footwear. Find out from them directly if they have any particular dresscode or rules before you come, and also think about what activities, such as rock climbing, which you might want to organise in your own time.

Please find out more information here.

Your first port of call will be your primary contact at the programme. For any issues which they cannot help you with, you will be given contact information for your Gotoco representative before leaving for China.

For more information on arrival in China and your point of contact, please read these two FAQs on airport arrival and airport pick-ups.

Let your service provider know you are leaving for China. You may be able to work out a data plan. If this is not an option you may purchase a temporary Chinese sim card and data plan for smartphones from China Mobile, China Unicom, or China Telecom.

This process may require a passport depending on the company and your purchase. It is useful to remember that landlines in China have 8 digit numbers, while cell phones have 11 digits. Please talk to your programme about obtaining a sim card on arrival into China.

Credit/Debit Cards and Cash

While China is miles ahead of most of the world in terms of mobile payments, most places in China do not take credit cards, so you will have to take Renminbi (Chinese currency) wherever you go. There are ATMs where you can take money out, but tell your bank that you are in China and be aware of international fees! Currency cards, such as CaxtonFx, Monzo or from the Post Office (UK), are also a good option to avoid unfavourable exchange rates, and they offer a free online checking account with no fees for international withdraws.

These currency cards work at most banks which accept foreign cards, such as ICBC, Bank of China and China Construction Bank. Bank of America account holders can withdraw money from China Construction Bank free of charge. As a rule of thumb, always let your financial institution know when and where you are going overseas to avoid problems with your bank account.

While China is rapidly changing when it comes to finance and banking, it is still a good idea to carry cash. We recommend bringing a reserve of cash, e.g. C¥1-2000, in case your bank card has any problems while you are here. You can also exchange money at the airport when you arrive, or at banks, but beware bank processes can be more complicated.

Be aware you will need to show your passport when exchanging money. Generally, most major banks in China accept Visa or Mastercard or Amex cards from major foreign banks.

Mobile Payments

China is miles ahead of most countries around the world in terms of mobile payments. Even in small rural villages or up secluded mountains, you can use WeChat or AliPay to pay for goods and services, just by scanning a QR code. However, this requires you, the user, to link your bank account or add money to your account. Some international cards, such as Monzo, can be used on WeChat, but don’t bank on it: still follow the guidelines for cards and cash shown above as the payment system will usually require you to have a Chinese bank account.

Even if you cannot use it for payments, WeChat, a mobile app similar to Whatsapp, is highly popular in China. It will be invaluable during your time in China for communicating with the team at your school and for making friends locally, so we urge you to download it now. Not only is it useful for messaging friends and family, businesses also often give discounts to customers following their WeChat account.

Find out more about WeChat here. For information on phone and data usage in China, please read this FAQ.

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into an online form on our site, which our partner schools can view for reference.

Each partner school has different airport or train station pick-up plans and you should communicate directly with your Wechat contact (usually the interviewer) for the best plan. We will assist with communication when necessary, but you must understand that it is your responsibility to ensure you have agreed on your pick-up arrangements with your programme team before coming out to China

Arrival

The first thing you’re likely to notice when you arrive (if like >90% of those that join us, you’re not a Mandarin speaker) is how different the language is from English, and how difficult it can be to understand things once you get out of the airport. It’s quite normal to feel overwhelmed by this, but don’t worry! Follow the instructions given by the school for your airport pick-up or the instructions on how you can make the transit yourself. If you can’t see your meeting group rightaway, stay where you are and call one of the numbers given to you by the school or your Gotoco representative. Most transport hubs/tourist sites have bilingual staff in case you need help, likewise many people in China are able to speak some English in case you need to ask for assistance. Please also read this FAQ on Mandarin.

If you need to travel from the airport to another location for pick-up, make sure you have clear written instructions in English and Chinese, as well as contact phone numbers. Showing the directions for where you need to go, such as a train station or bus connection, to someone by pointing at the Chinese characters you have written down will help you find your way. Though not everyone speaks English, pointing and miming can still get you a long way.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on your passport and other valuables when leaving the airport and travelling on to your school – with everything else going on, and the fact that you may be tired from the long journey, it can be easy to forget about your valuables. While petty theft is often less prevalent in many parts of China than in the UK or USA, you should always still be very vigilant with all your valuables – especially in transit areas/tourist hubs. It might be a good idea to familiarise yourself with this list of scams that tourists sometimes encounter – http://travelscams.org/asia/common-tourist-scams-china/ transit hubs/ – tourist areas are the usual places where you could encounter these.

If you have any problems, don’t hesitate to ask for help—contact either the Gotoco team or staff from your school (or both). And if there are problems connecting to a phone network, try looking for somewhere with free wifi or calling options, e.g. in the airport, in cafés, or restaurants.

Once you arrive on your programme, your school should arrange for you to register your location with the police. This is a normal procedure for all foreigners in China. Speak to your programme coordinators to make sure you have done everything you need to do, and contact Gotoco if you have any concerns.

Internet access behind the ‘Great Fire Wall’ of China. Banned sites and how to access them?

Wi-Fi is provided on your programmes so you may want to take a laptop or other handheld device to access the internet and prepare lessons well or just chat to your families/friends. As you may know—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Google, Gmail and other foreign sites  and platforms (even Tinder..) are not accessible in China. Prior to entering China, we suggest you get a VPN or take measures to ensure you are able to access alternate means for communication—such as hotmail (if you are a Gmail user, as its banned..) or WeChat prior to coming out.

VPN – the key to access internet without restrictions

If you wish to access Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Google, Gmail and other blocked sites while in China, please configure a VPN now.  If in doubt about whether you can access a site, please check here.

VPN means ‘virtual private network’ it allows you to bypass Chinese internet restrictions, it gives you access to the internet of whichever nation’s IP address you log into. Most universities around the world offer a VPN for free to their students, which is intended for you to be able to access sites that you need to be in campus to view, such as JSTOR and other academic journals. Please contact your university to check if they have a VPN service which you can use. We suggest you get a premium VPN, as outlined below:

Our favourite VPN: Our Beijing office team need access to Facebook etc everyday, we live behind the Great Fire Wall so have some opinions on VPNs which you may find helpful. At present, August 2019, our preferred VPN is this one: https://www.sednax.com/  in our experience, it only works well on Laptops and not phones/tablets. It is very cost effective and works very well in China, but is a little tricky to setup. It has a totally different system to most premium VPNs available it is worth the effort getting setup because we haven’t had a single day in our Beijing office where it didn’t work this year. Otherwise, you can pay around £5 a month for an easier to configure VPN that works on devices and laptops, for those options read the next paragraph (these VPNs mentioned below aren’t recommended by our Beijing office team as they are too unreliable long term, but they would be fine for a short trip/short usage.)

Easier to setup premium VPNs:  If the option above is to hard to setup, then you can pay £5-10 a month for a decent private VPN service. One of the best ones is called Astrill, you can read about it here , for it to work well you will need to purchase the add-ons such as dedicated IP/VIP.  An alternative to Astrill is Express VPN (but it tends not to work so well in China…) both VPNs are easy to setup and work on computers and phones. There are quite a few VPN providers offering service for free, but you get what you pay for… Some premium VPN services also allow you to cancel within 30 days at no cost, which might mean you can use their services and cancel before you are charged. Generally, our Beijing office team finds these popular VPNs to be unreliable but they tend to work a little bit of the time…Unfortunately, any premium VPN service ends up being popular and once it is used alot then the government tried to sniff it out and crack down on it.

Please test your VPN before you head to China, its much harder to get setup once in country: After downloading a VPN and turning it on, it should change your IP address. To test whether it works please first go to this link without it turned on,  and then go there again with it turned on. If the IPs are significantly different then the VPN should be working and will function in China.

Legality:

People often ask us if it is legal to use a VPN in China. This is a fascinating question! Some estimate as many as 10% of China’s population use a VPN, legal issues have only arisen in minority cases for those people selling VPNs. It is very normal among urban, young, student segments of China to use a VPN – so don’t worry!

WeChat

WeChat, a mobile app similar to Whatsapp, is highly popular in China. It will be invaluable during your time in China for communicating with the team at your school and making friends locally, so we urge you to download it now. Not only is it useful for messaging friends and family, businesses often give discounts to customers following their WeChat account.

Many people pay for their goods and services by scanning a business owners’ QR code through their WeChat app. However, this requires you, the user, to link your bank account or add money to your account.

Find out more about WeChat here. For information on phone and data usage in China, please read this FAQ.

China has a health system that differs significantly from what you may be used to in the West. While there is huge reform going on in healthcare in China, there is currently no system of primary care in place that offers Western medicine—all medical issues that require Western medical attention are treated in large general hospitals.

This can mean long waits, distant journeys and high treatment prices for those hoping to get seen to for minor ailments . The primary care that is offered usually comes in the form of pharmacies that specialise in Chinese medicine. There are certainly benefits to both systems, however if you are used to Western medicine we suggest coming to China with a well stocked first aid kit so that you can treat yourself for minor issues such as

  • colds or influenza
  • minor wounds, such as blisters
  • mild food poisoning, such as traveller’s diarrhoea
  • headaches

Please also be sure to have enough medicine to cater to any long standing conditions you may have. It will be hard to acquire replacement medications in country. Among other things be sure to be well stocked on

  • asthma inhalers
  • nasal decongestant sprays
  • EpiPens
  • other prescription medication
If you’re concerned about the length of the flight to China, it is worth bearing in mind that it is possible to break up a flight into multiple legs by transferring. Those joining us from European countries (including the UK) can split their travel into two roughly six- and seven-hour flights with Emirates, Qatar, Etihad, Aeroflot and others; similar transfer options are available from the US.
For those doing a long-haul flight for the first time, please note that conditions tend to be far better than those found on regional carriers, such as Easyjet/Ryanair in Europe; there is normally better leg-room on larger aircraft, with complimentary baggage, meals, drinks and films included. The only exception to this rule that we are aware of is Ukrainian Airlines—they operate a no-thrills service on the Europe-China route. It is worth bearing in mind that, usually, the more premium the airline, the more likely it is that they haven’t sold out their seats and so will have rows and rows of empty seating—so if you’re lucky you could be able to get two or more seats to lie down.
It is also worth considering that you can usually book significant layover durations if you like, to give you time for a rest and to explore a new city. In the past, participants have taken 24 hour layovers in Vienna (Austrian Airlines), Prague (Hainan Airlines), Amsterdam (KLM), Paris (Air France), Istanbul (Turkish Airlines), Moscow (Aeroflot), Helsinki (Finnair), Warsaw (LOT), Dubai (Emirates) and even Astana and/or Almaty (Kazakh Airlines), lots of other destinations are also available based on how you plan your route.
If you would like a longer layover, please consider breaking up your journey; it can sometimes be cheaper to make your own way to the first city, such as Paris, and have a return booked from there. *Of course, if you like the sound of this, be sure to check that you don’t need a visa for the mid-way destination before booking!
Please check out the following search engines to find the best rates. The top two are Chinese and so are usually the best for China flights
  • https://itunes.apple.com/cn/app/qunar-find-cheap-flights/id965784666?mt=8 (www.qunar.com is usually the cheapest site with the most route options—but it is only accessible in English as an App.)
  • http://www.trip.com/
  • http://www.momondo.com/
  • https://www.kayak.com/
  • https://www.skyscanner.com/
  • https://www.studentuniverse.com
There are lots of low-cost direct flight options available: often you cannot find these on search engines, but you can by checking promotions on airlines’ own websites. To ascertain which airlines have direct flights from your preferred airport, you can check the airport on Wikipedia to see a list of all flights operating from there. Those coming to China from the UK should note that there are now direct flights to Beijing from Manchester with Hainan Airlines, very comfortable transfers from Birmingham with Etihad or Emirates and lots of options from London.
Please check out the following search engines to find the best rates. The top two are Chinese and so are usually the best for China flights:
  • https://itunes.apple.com/cn/app/qunar-find-cheap-flights/id965784666?mt=8 (www.qunar.com is usually the cheapest site with the most route options—but it is only accessible in English as an App.)
  • http://www.trip.com/
  • http://www.momondo.com/
  • https://www.kayak.com/
  • https://www.skyscanner.com/
  • https://www.studentuniverse.co.uk/

When crossing a border into Mainland China, whether by a land crossing (e.g. Hong Kong), or sea crossing (e.g. from Taiwan) or air crossing (e.g. any international airport), you will need to follow the standard border formalities—immigration and customs.

For Customs:

China’s customs rules abide by global norms, while tending to be less strict than those for EU states, USA, Australia etc. Nevertheless, you still need to familiarise yourself with and abide by their rules. You may find a rundown of these rules by checking Google (we advise this just in case the information we provide becomes out-of-date due to new regulations. This link provides fairly comprehensive guidance on what you may/may not bring to China:

It goes without saying that illegal drugs, and anything else that you wouldn’t cross a border with in your home country, shouldn’t be brought into China.

Occasionally we are asked if you might have problems for importing certain media/book items into China. Generally, you are permitted to import media/book items for personal consumption that are considered legal globally—obviously anything that is illegal in your country will probably be illegal in China.

*In the past we have been asked whether it is okay to bring: religious books (e.g. Bibles), political books (e.g. Western authors writing about China) etc. Generally these items are fine as long as they are clearly for personal use and not for dissemination in China. There may be certain items that could be confiscated on arrival—these would be any extremely sensitive item, such as writings by the Dalai Lama or Liu Xiaobo, or books about outlawed movements, e.g Falun Gong. Airports tend to be liberal about these policies, the only border we are aware of in China that is strict is the one between Nepal and Chinese Tibet—Lonely Planet guides that depict Taiwan as a non-Chinese territory in their map, and anything mentioning the Dalai Lama have been know to be confiscated upon arrival. Likewise, at the border between North Korea and China, iPads that have anti-North Korean items, such as the film ‘The Interview’, are sometimes confiscated. The borders which our participants usually enter China through tend to be more liberal about these policies.

For Immigration:

You will be expected to fill in a short form on arrival (see below). It should be very straightforward to fill in. The only point to remember here is that the tick-box section for ‘purpose of visit’ should be in accordance with the visa type you are using.

We have advised all participants to process F visas which are for cultural exchange, internships, and short non-tourist visits. If you have an F visa, then on the form please tick ‘Visit访问’.

If you are on any other type of visa, then please tick the appropriate box:

E.g:

  • Tourist (L visa) should tick ’Sightseeing/in leisure/参观/休闲’
  • Any type of study visa (X) should tick ‘Study/学习’
  • only those on work visas should tick ‘Employment/就业’, our projects are usually short-term, non-remunerated, non-work, cultural exchange projects so the majority of participants will not have processed a work visa. Most people should not, therefore, tick ‘Employment/就业’

*For more information, refer to articles on Google such as this: http://www.vagabondjourney.com/4-easy-tips-for-filling-out-immigration-arrival-forms-correctly/

Hong Kong and Macau enjoy special status within China as SARs (Special Administrative Regions.) They have their own immigration policies which are separate to China’s.

This means that, for the sake of your visa, going from China to Hong Kong/Macau is equivalent to leaving China and going abroad. So, if you make this journey you will lose one entry on your visa—most people are issued a double entry visa, you can check this by looking at your visa’s number of entries. If your visa is single entry, then please do not plan to visit Hong Kong and return to China after your initial entry into China, unless you plan on obtaining a new visa for China in Hong Kong. If you would like to visit Hong Kong and only have a single entry visa, then consider flying to and from Hong Kong and visiting the region at the beginning or end of your trip so that it doesn’t affect your China visa.*

In certain circumstances, you may only be issued a 30-day visa instead of the standard 60 or 90 days. When this happens, if you have a double-entry visa, then you can make a trip to Hong Kong/Macau to activate the next 30 days (this is applicable if you hold a double- or multiple-entry 30-day visa). If you only hold a single-entry 30-day visa and need longer, then you may extend within China or otherwise visit Hong Kong/Macau to apply for a visa from our recommended agent there. If you are from the UK, USA or Canada, as well as many other countries, then you do not need a visa in advance of travel to Hong Kong or Macau.

If you need more advice on this, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

*Please note, in 2016 one applicant made a mistake which you should try to avoid. They chose to fly into Hong Kong with a stop in Beijing where they planned to undertake tourism for 2 days. They then flew to Hong Kong and re-entered China from Hong Kong where they found out the visa had expired because it was only single entry and they had stamped their single entry in Beijing already and then left to fly to Hong Kong. In the end, they had to stay in Hong Kong for 3 days to get a new visa, at some expense. If you have a similar plan to this, please make sure you check that your visa has more than one entry.

If you wish to fly into China for a short period and fly out again, then you could also take a 72- or 144-hour visa on arrival in a major city such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen or Tianjin. Please read more here: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/free-72hour/faq.htm   Make sure you meet all of the eligibility criteria if you wish to try this. Particularly, when you fly from overseas to China make sure the airline is informed that you will request a visa on arrival, they then communicate with the Chinese immigration officials. A key stipulation is that this visa can only be obtained if you have onward tickets to a 3rd country within 72 or 144 hours of arrival into China. A 3rd country means a country other than your home country or China, Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan count as 3rd countries in this law.

If you have queries about this, you can try calling the airport immigration teams on these numbers: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/free-72hour/faq.htm

Participants on our programmes often comment on how much safer China feels than the UK, Canada and the USA. Though people typically have a great time in China, you should still exercise a sensible level of caution and be prepared: be careful and sensible and avoid taking any unnecessary risks. Keep your valuables safe and secure at all times. Raise any concerns about the security of your accommodation with your programme coordinator and contact Gotoco if you need more assistance.

Neither our organisation nor our partner schools can accept liability for any difficulties that you may encounter–but naturally we will do all we can to assist in any way possible. We have provided placements to hundreds of participants over the years, and never yet encountered any major problems.

Before coming, make sure you have photocopies of your passport information page, visa and travel/health insurance policy. Keep the copies in a different place to the originals so if you lose your bag, you can use them to get a replacement. Foreigners are supposed to carry their passport round with them in China, but we recommend only carrying photocopies of your passport and visa, to reduce the risk of losing these important documents. You can use a driving licence or other national ID for entry into bars, if necessary.

Be careful crossing roads—there are normally multiple lanes of traffic and cars/bikes/scooters/buses to watch out for. The volume of traffic is generally quite high, but also quite stop-start and motorists are generally ready to slow down for pedestrians and bikes if necessary, but ensure you make eye contact with the driver and are certain they will stop before stepping into the road. Generally it is best to wait until the road is quiet before crossing, as you would at home. Make sure you follow all traffic signals.

Always be alert and aware that the rules of the road are different to what you’re used to. Use of car horns is very common and can be irritating when you’re not accustomed to it, but it helps to warn others that a vehicle is coming, rather than being used infrequently (as in the UK) as a sign of danger or extreme annoyance.

The most common hassles travellers run into are instances of petty theft at tourist sites and traveller’s diarrhoea. We suggest you

  • exercise normal caution
  • avoid suspicious situations
  • take care of your belongings
  • do not eat anything suspect
  • carry a basic first aid kit
  • use common sense
  • do not break any local laws

Check out this link which has been recommended by previous travellers.

For more information, check

  • travel advisories of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office accessible here
  • travel warnings section of the U.S. State Department at (202) 647-5225
  • travel advisories of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control at (877) FYI-TRIP or online here

Chinese food is delicious and there are usually plenty of delicacies to choose from—spicy and non-spicy, hot and cold, savoury and sweet. Be prepared to try new things, even if you have no idea what they are exactly. The food in China is very different from the dishes you might be used to seeing in Chinese restaurants at home in Europe or North America, so don’t be surprised if the food you’re presented with looks very unfamiliar. It’s all part of the experience and most of the time you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

If you think you’ll miss English food, maybe bring a couple of things with you from home—Marmite, biscuits, crisps and chocolate all help reduce any cravings for home comforts. Tea is also a good example of something which you can get in China but isn’t quite the same as it is in the UK, so if you’re addicted to English Breakfast Tea maybe consider bringing teabags. There will be plenty of opportunity both to try new foods and to buy things which you recognise from home. Supermarkets contain some interesting surprises and can be fun to explore. The variety of flavours of crisps is particularly impressive, ranging from standard flavours to more diverse ones like yoghurt and cucumber.

If you are vegetarian or have any food allergies or dietary requirements, you should ask one of your contacts at the school how to communicate this to others. Get your manager to write it down in Chinese and English, and carry it with you at all times.

If you have a nut allergy, make sure you communicate this clearly before any meals and have it written down to show restaurants. Peanut oil is used quite commonly in China and you must be very careful to avoid it, if you have allergies.

It is not uncommon for foreign visitors to suffer low intensity traveller’s diarrhoea during their time in China, please consider having medication to cater to this if it occurs, and drink plenty of water.

Avoid drinking tap water in almost all locations in China. Bottled water is readily available and you should always make sure you have enough water overnight or if you’re going on activities. This is especially true in rural areas, where shops might close earlier in the evening or you might have to wait for transport into town—stock up on large bottles of water to make sure you always have enough.

Hot or boiled water is also more common than cold water. Many Chinese people much prefer drinking hot water to cold, claiming health benefits, and you will find that you are often given boiled water in restaurants. This water is fine to drink, but if you feel uncomfortable then bottled water is usually available for purchase. You may also be surprised by the benefits of hot water with lemon and ginger when you’re feeling a bit run down or tired! You might also want to purchase a flask if you would like to save money (and plastic!) by boiling water for your own consumption.

In terms of other drinks—please enjoy the variety on offer, with many soft drinks being different to what you might be used to at home, although all the regulars like Coca Cola are also available. If you’re in Beijing and like fizzy drinks, then make sure you try Arctic Ocean (Běibīngyáng 北冰洋)! Otherwise, all sorts of bottled drinks are available throughout the country; first time visitors usually get excited about the delicious range of flavoured teas, soy milk drinks, ‘Bubble Milk Tea’, hot tea and, of course, alcoholic beverages.

If you drink alcohol, then please take note: occasionally venues (usually glitzy nightclubs and bars) might sell adulterated hard spirits, which can give you a bad hangover or make you very inebriated. There have also been stories of people being poisoned by adulterated spirits, so do be careful. However, most locations are perfectly safe, you should just make sure to be careful to always know what you are drinking, as you should anywhere in the world, and always drink in moderation.

You may also be introduced to Báijiǔ白酒—China’s famous rice spirit. It is occasionally referred to as ‘white wine’ or ‘rice wine’. Please drink with moderation, it is stronger than most spirits you are used to! People in China tend to be very hospitable, and in the evenings might treat you to rounds of drinks—be sure to know your limits and drink sensibly.

It is not uncommon for foreign visitors to suffer low intensity traveller’s diarrhoea during their time in China, please consider having medication to cater to this if it occurs, and drink plenty of water.

We work with diverse programmes all over China, and the vast majority provide airport pickups. In cases where this isn’t possible, there will be a designated staff member at the programme who is in charge of making sure your pickup is co-ordinated in an easy manner.

Before you come to China, you will be put in touch with your programme coordinator through your interview and will stay in contact with them from your interview until you come out to China. They will provide you with all the information you need, including arrival procedure and airport pickups. Your programme coordinator and the Gotoco office team will support you throughout the process to make sure everything goes smoothly for you.

Of course, if you prefer to travel around China before your programme begins, then that is fine too (and highly encouraged!). Please just make sure you can meet the programme and the rest of your team at one of the designated pickup locations on the right date.

For more information on arrival procedures, please read this FAQ on what happens when you arrive at the airport.

Chinese visa costs vary depending on your passport type and the duration of stay and number of entries you may need in China. Some nationalities have their visas for free while others must pay a price. British passports, for example, incur a total cost of £151 but luckily get longer stays/numbers of entries than other European passports, you can read more about pricing at this helpful link

We usually advise our participants to process their visa application with the help of a local China visa expert agency, this can add to the overall price. For example, our trusted UK agent adds a £15 commission while our North American agents add $30-50. We suggest this because the Chinese visa application is quite a difficult process and working with an agent ensures that you a/obtain the correct and most legally appropriate visa, b/ avoid mistakes on your application which could cost you a penalty charge (sometimes China charges you double price if errors in your application cause you to resubmit your visa application.c/ get treated well, looked after by experts, and charged a fair price

 

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○ Pre-departure questions - important information for people preparing to join us in China!

Accommodation and meals are provided free of charge at your programme. Most added extras are also provided free of charge so your personal costs are kept to a minimum, including free

You will need to pay for your own flights, visa and travel within China but will receive meals and accommodation at the programmes. You will then only need money for extra food and drinks and activities outside the programme. For reference or for estimating cost of post-programme tourism, please find some prices of common items below (all prices are averages and vary depending on your location)

  • one litre of Qingdao beer in a bar: C¥3-30
  • a meal in a good restaurant: C¥30 yuan per dish
  • snacks from street vendors: C¥5-10 per item
  • a short taxi journey in most cities costs C¥15-25, journeys of an hour can cost C¥100
  • accommodation in a dorm room in a normal backpacker hostel: C¥30-80
  • an overnight journey of 10 hours or less on a train with a bed: under C¥200

*It is possible to have an interesting time travelling around China after our programmes on a shoestring budget of around 4000RMB/month

**At the time of writing C¥10 was equivalent to £1.10 or US$1.44

Other major costs include

  • flights: we are usually able to suggest cost savings and partnerships with Chinese travel agents that make it possible to get return flights to China from the UK for around £400-500, or from the USA for upwards of $800.
  • visa costs vary by nationality based on diplomatic circumstances and reciprocal fee rates, this link takes you to the Chinese government’s official visa service centre site where you can find out more: 
    • British passport holders must pay £151 to the Chinese consular visa processing centre for a visa. We recommend visas are processed with the help of an agency, this is to ensure that forms are filled in correctly the first time to prevent extra expenses from visa rejections and time-delays (missed flights etc.) Currently we advise UK applicants to process with the help of UVSUK who offer well-reviewed services and offer a 50% discount for Gotoco applicants (£25 service fee+£8 postage)

We are not legally permitted to advise on vaccinations and travel/health insurance. It is up to you to research both and you are advised to take both seriously (please read through our FAQs for further information on both).

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed on how to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into a webform for the partner schools to view.

Please also read this FAQ on direct flights to China and this one on flights with layovers. You can also check this FAQ to learn about arrival procedures, and this one to learn about visas.

For vaccinations you should contact healthcare and medical professionals to ensure you get the most up-to-date information. We are not legally permitted to provide vaccination advice as we are not medical professionals. Past applicants have recommended that those with these queries could consult the UK NHS’s free online advice here.

*Below is some informal information based on our and our previous volunteers’ experience over the years. This should not be taken as authoritative and you should contact healthcare professionals before finalising your vaccination and insurance plans.

Before coming to China the UK’s NHS recommends that you are vaccinated against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Polio, and Typhoid. Additional vaccinations for Rabies are recommended particularly for those going to rural areas that are far away from major hospitals—our placements do not normally fit into this category. Likewise the vaccination for Japanese Encephalitis, though not required, is recommended for anyone travelling in areas with paddy fields such as Yangshuo. In past years few volunteers have chosen the latter two vaccinations as they are quite expensive, but if you have the option to get them then do get them. Please consult with a medical professional once you know your location.

Malaria is extremely unlikely to be an issue as most locations in China are not in a Malaria zone. If you have travel plans to Southeast Asia you might consider taking Malaria medication with you from the UK or USA. Those joining us for programmes right on China’s border with South East Asian countries (such as programmes in Xishuangbanna) should seek the latest advice as sometimes anti-malarials are recommended there.

Please check out the NHS Fit for Travel website for more info.

Prior to departure you must take out comprehensive travel and health insurance, including emergency repatriation. Please do your research properly and choose a provider that suits your needs. Make sure that your insurance covers you for any activities which you might be doing, such as rock climbing. We cannot make a formal recommendation, but in previous years participants have often opted for Lonely Planet’s recommended provider: Global Nomads.

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed on how to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into a webform for the partner schools to view.

Please also read this FAQ on direct flights to China and this one on flights with layovers. You can also check this FAQ to learn about arrival procedures, and this one to learn about visas.

Once we have confirmed your offer, we will send you all the information you need for arranging your visa. Our participants travel on a cultural exchange (F) visa and we will arrange all the necessary invitation letters for you. It is usually issued for single, double or multiple entry with duration of stay up to 60 or 90 days per visit.

Visas are issued at the discretion of the issuing authorities. Gotoco offers advice through the application process, but is not responsible the ultimate visa issuance.

Please read this FAQ on customs and immigration for more information about visas.

Pack for the season as you will be staying with Gotoco anywhere between May and September, although most likely in June, July or August. China is a large country, so it is advisable to research the weather of the region you will be teaching in. Pack hand sanitiser, deodorant, familiar western medicine, bug spray and electric plug/socket converters, which can sometimes be hard to find. Prescription medication, if needed, should be arranged to be picked up before the trip.

Ask your programme coordinator during or after your interview about whether you will need formal clothes for teaching, sports kit for activities or any particular footwear. Find out from them directly if they have any particular dresscode or rules before you come, and also think about what activities, such as rock climbing, which you might want to organise in your own time.

Please find out more information here.

Your first port of call will be your primary contact at the programme. For any issues which they cannot help you with, you will be given contact information for your Gotoco representative before leaving for China.

For more information on arrival in China and your point of contact, please read these two FAQs on airport arrival and airport pick-ups.

Let your service provider know you are leaving for China. You may be able to work out a data plan. If this is not an option you may purchase a temporary Chinese sim card and data plan for smartphones from China Mobile, China Unicom, or China Telecom.

This process may require a passport depending on the company and your purchase. It is useful to remember that landlines in China have 8 digit numbers, while cell phones have 11 digits. Please talk to your programme about obtaining a sim card on arrival into China.

Credit/Debit Cards and Cash

While China is miles ahead of most of the world in terms of mobile payments, most places in China do not take credit cards, so you will have to take Renminbi (Chinese currency) wherever you go. There are ATMs where you can take money out, but tell your bank that you are in China and be aware of international fees! Currency cards, such as CaxtonFx, Monzo or from the Post Office (UK), are also a good option to avoid unfavourable exchange rates, and they offer a free online checking account with no fees for international withdraws.

These currency cards work at most banks which accept foreign cards, such as ICBC, Bank of China and China Construction Bank. Bank of America account holders can withdraw money from China Construction Bank free of charge. As a rule of thumb, always let your financial institution know when and where you are going overseas to avoid problems with your bank account.

While China is rapidly changing when it comes to finance and banking, it is still a good idea to carry cash. We recommend bringing a reserve of cash, e.g. C¥1-2000, in case your bank card has any problems while you are here. You can also exchange money at the airport when you arrive, or at banks, but beware bank processes can be more complicated.

Be aware you will need to show your passport when exchanging money. Generally, most major banks in China accept Visa or Mastercard or Amex cards from major foreign banks.

Mobile Payments

China is miles ahead of most countries around the world in terms of mobile payments. Even in small rural villages or up secluded mountains, you can use WeChat or AliPay to pay for goods and services, just by scanning a QR code. However, this requires you, the user, to link your bank account or add money to your account. Some international cards, such as Monzo, can be used on WeChat, but don’t bank on it: still follow the guidelines for cards and cash shown above as the payment system will usually require you to have a Chinese bank account.

Even if you cannot use it for payments, WeChat, a mobile app similar to Whatsapp, is highly popular in China. It will be invaluable during your time in China for communicating with the team at your school and for making friends locally, so we urge you to download it now. Not only is it useful for messaging friends and family, businesses also often give discounts to customers following their WeChat account.

Find out more about WeChat here. For information on phone and data usage in China, please read this FAQ.

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into an online form on our site, which our partner schools can view for reference.

Each partner school has different airport or train station pick-up plans and you should communicate directly with your Wechat contact (usually the interviewer) for the best plan. We will assist with communication when necessary, but you must understand that it is your responsibility to ensure you have agreed on your pick-up arrangements with your programme team before coming out to China

Arrival

The first thing you’re likely to notice when you arrive (if like >90% of those that join us, you’re not a Mandarin speaker) is how different the language is from English, and how difficult it can be to understand things once you get out of the airport. It’s quite normal to feel overwhelmed by this, but don’t worry! Follow the instructions given by the school for your airport pick-up or the instructions on how you can make the transit yourself. If you can’t see your meeting group rightaway, stay where you are and call one of the numbers given to you by the school or your Gotoco representative. Most transport hubs/tourist sites have bilingual staff in case you need help, likewise many people in China are able to speak some English in case you need to ask for assistance. Please also read this FAQ on Mandarin.

If you need to travel from the airport to another location for pick-up, make sure you have clear written instructions in English and Chinese, as well as contact phone numbers. Showing the directions for where you need to go, such as a train station or bus connection, to someone by pointing at the Chinese characters you have written down will help you find your way. Though not everyone speaks English, pointing and miming can still get you a long way.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on your passport and other valuables when leaving the airport and travelling on to your school – with everything else going on, and the fact that you may be tired from the long journey, it can be easy to forget about your valuables. While petty theft is often less prevalent in many parts of China than in the UK or USA, you should always still be very vigilant with all your valuables – especially in transit areas/tourist hubs. It might be a good idea to familiarise yourself with this list of scams that tourists sometimes encounter – http://travelscams.org/asia/common-tourist-scams-china/ transit hubs/ – tourist areas are the usual places where you could encounter these.

If you have any problems, don’t hesitate to ask for help—contact either the Gotoco team or staff from your school (or both). And if there are problems connecting to a phone network, try looking for somewhere with free wifi or calling options, e.g. in the airport, in cafés, or restaurants.

Once you arrive on your programme, your school should arrange for you to register your location with the police. This is a normal procedure for all foreigners in China. Speak to your programme coordinators to make sure you have done everything you need to do, and contact Gotoco if you have any concerns.

Internet access behind the ‘Great Fire Wall’ of China. Banned sites and how to access them?

Wi-Fi is provided on your programmes so you may want to take a laptop or other handheld device to access the internet and prepare lessons well or just chat to your families/friends. As you may know—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Google, Gmail and other foreign sites  and platforms (even Tinder..) are not accessible in China. Prior to entering China, we suggest you get a VPN or take measures to ensure you are able to access alternate means for communication—such as hotmail (if you are a Gmail user, as its banned..) or WeChat prior to coming out.

VPN – the key to access internet without restrictions

If you wish to access Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Google, Gmail and other blocked sites while in China, please configure a VPN now.  If in doubt about whether you can access a site, please check here.

VPN means ‘virtual private network’ it allows you to bypass Chinese internet restrictions, it gives you access to the internet of whichever nation’s IP address you log into. Most universities around the world offer a VPN for free to their students, which is intended for you to be able to access sites that you need to be in campus to view, such as JSTOR and other academic journals. Please contact your university to check if they have a VPN service which you can use. We suggest you get a premium VPN, as outlined below:

Our favourite VPN: Our Beijing office team need access to Facebook etc everyday, we live behind the Great Fire Wall so have some opinions on VPNs which you may find helpful. At present, August 2019, our preferred VPN is this one: https://www.sednax.com/  in our experience, it only works well on Laptops and not phones/tablets. It is very cost effective and works very well in China, but is a little tricky to setup. It has a totally different system to most premium VPNs available it is worth the effort getting setup because we haven’t had a single day in our Beijing office where it didn’t work this year. Otherwise, you can pay around £5 a month for an easier to configure VPN that works on devices and laptops, for those options read the next paragraph (these VPNs mentioned below aren’t recommended by our Beijing office team as they are too unreliable long term, but they would be fine for a short trip/short usage.)

Easier to setup premium VPNs:  If the option above is to hard to setup, then you can pay £5-10 a month for a decent private VPN service. One of the best ones is called Astrill, you can read about it here , for it to work well you will need to purchase the add-ons such as dedicated IP/VIP.  An alternative to Astrill is Express VPN (but it tends not to work so well in China…) both VPNs are easy to setup and work on computers and phones. There are quite a few VPN providers offering service for free, but you get what you pay for… Some premium VPN services also allow you to cancel within 30 days at no cost, which might mean you can use their services and cancel before you are charged. Generally, our Beijing office team finds these popular VPNs to be unreliable but they tend to work a little bit of the time…Unfortunately, any premium VPN service ends up being popular and once it is used alot then the government tried to sniff it out and crack down on it.

Please test your VPN before you head to China, its much harder to get setup once in country: After downloading a VPN and turning it on, it should change your IP address. To test whether it works please first go to this link without it turned on,  and then go there again with it turned on. If the IPs are significantly different then the VPN should be working and will function in China.

Legality:

People often ask us if it is legal to use a VPN in China. This is a fascinating question! Some estimate as many as 10% of China’s population use a VPN, legal issues have only arisen in minority cases for those people selling VPNs. It is very normal among urban, young, student segments of China to use a VPN – so don’t worry!

WeChat

WeChat, a mobile app similar to Whatsapp, is highly popular in China. It will be invaluable during your time in China for communicating with the team at your school and making friends locally, so we urge you to download it now. Not only is it useful for messaging friends and family, businesses often give discounts to customers following their WeChat account.

Many people pay for their goods and services by scanning a business owners’ QR code through their WeChat app. However, this requires you, the user, to link your bank account or add money to your account.

Find out more about WeChat here. For information on phone and data usage in China, please read this FAQ.

China has a health system that differs significantly from what you may be used to in the West. While there is huge reform going on in healthcare in China, there is currently no system of primary care in place that offers Western medicine—all medical issues that require Western medical attention are treated in large general hospitals.

This can mean long waits, distant journeys and high treatment prices for those hoping to get seen to for minor ailments . The primary care that is offered usually comes in the form of pharmacies that specialise in Chinese medicine. There are certainly benefits to both systems, however if you are used to Western medicine we suggest coming to China with a well stocked first aid kit so that you can treat yourself for minor issues such as

  • colds or influenza
  • minor wounds, such as blisters
  • mild food poisoning, such as traveller’s diarrhoea
  • headaches

Please also be sure to have enough medicine to cater to any long standing conditions you may have. It will be hard to acquire replacement medications in country. Among other things be sure to be well stocked on

  • asthma inhalers
  • nasal decongestant sprays
  • EpiPens
  • other prescription medication
If you’re concerned about the length of the flight to China, it is worth bearing in mind that it is possible to break up a flight into multiple legs by transferring. Those joining us from European countries (including the UK) can split their travel into two roughly six- and seven-hour flights with Emirates, Qatar, Etihad, Aeroflot and others; similar transfer options are available from the US.
For those doing a long-haul flight for the first time, please note that conditions tend to be far better than those found on regional carriers, such as Easyjet/Ryanair in Europe; there is normally better leg-room on larger aircraft, with complimentary baggage, meals, drinks and films included. The only exception to this rule that we are aware of is Ukrainian Airlines—they operate a no-thrills service on the Europe-China route. It is worth bearing in mind that, usually, the more premium the airline, the more likely it is that they haven’t sold out their seats and so will have rows and rows of empty seating—so if you’re lucky you could be able to get two or more seats to lie down.
It is also worth considering that you can usually book significant layover durations if you like, to give you time for a rest and to explore a new city. In the past, participants have taken 24 hour layovers in Vienna (Austrian Airlines), Prague (Hainan Airlines), Amsterdam (KLM), Paris (Air France), Istanbul (Turkish Airlines), Moscow (Aeroflot), Helsinki (Finnair), Warsaw (LOT), Dubai (Emirates) and even Astana and/or Almaty (Kazakh Airlines), lots of other destinations are also available based on how you plan your route.
If you would like a longer layover, please consider breaking up your journey; it can sometimes be cheaper to make your own way to the first city, such as Paris, and have a return booked from there. *Of course, if you like the sound of this, be sure to check that you don’t need a visa for the mid-way destination before booking!
Please check out the following search engines to find the best rates. The top two are Chinese and so are usually the best for China flights
  • https://itunes.apple.com/cn/app/qunar-find-cheap-flights/id965784666?mt=8 (www.qunar.com is usually the cheapest site with the most route options—but it is only accessible in English as an App.)
  • http://www.trip.com/
  • http://www.momondo.com/
  • https://www.kayak.com/
  • https://www.skyscanner.com/
  • https://www.studentuniverse.com
There are lots of low-cost direct flight options available: often you cannot find these on search engines, but you can by checking promotions on airlines’ own websites. To ascertain which airlines have direct flights from your preferred airport, you can check the airport on Wikipedia to see a list of all flights operating from there. Those coming to China from the UK should note that there are now direct flights to Beijing from Manchester with Hainan Airlines, very comfortable transfers from Birmingham with Etihad or Emirates and lots of options from London.
Please check out the following search engines to find the best rates. The top two are Chinese and so are usually the best for China flights:
  • https://itunes.apple.com/cn/app/qunar-find-cheap-flights/id965784666?mt=8 (www.qunar.com is usually the cheapest site with the most route options—but it is only accessible in English as an App.)
  • http://www.trip.com/
  • http://www.momondo.com/
  • https://www.kayak.com/
  • https://www.skyscanner.com/
  • https://www.studentuniverse.co.uk/

When crossing a border into Mainland China, whether by a land crossing (e.g. Hong Kong), or sea crossing (e.g. from Taiwan) or air crossing (e.g. any international airport), you will need to follow the standard border formalities—immigration and customs.

For Customs:

China’s customs rules abide by global norms, while tending to be less strict than those for EU states, USA, Australia etc. Nevertheless, you still need to familiarise yourself with and abide by their rules. You may find a rundown of these rules by checking Google (we advise this just in case the information we provide becomes out-of-date due to new regulations. This link provides fairly comprehensive guidance on what you may/may not bring to China:

It goes without saying that illegal drugs, and anything else that you wouldn’t cross a border with in your home country, shouldn’t be brought into China.

Occasionally we are asked if you might have problems for importing certain media/book items into China. Generally, you are permitted to import media/book items for personal consumption that are considered legal globally—obviously anything that is illegal in your country will probably be illegal in China.

*In the past we have been asked whether it is okay to bring: religious books (e.g. Bibles), political books (e.g. Western authors writing about China) etc. Generally these items are fine as long as they are clearly for personal use and not for dissemination in China. There may be certain items that could be confiscated on arrival—these would be any extremely sensitive item, such as writings by the Dalai Lama or Liu Xiaobo, or books about outlawed movements, e.g Falun Gong. Airports tend to be liberal about these policies, the only border we are aware of in China that is strict is the one between Nepal and Chinese Tibet—Lonely Planet guides that depict Taiwan as a non-Chinese territory in their map, and anything mentioning the Dalai Lama have been know to be confiscated upon arrival. Likewise, at the border between North Korea and China, iPads that have anti-North Korean items, such as the film ‘The Interview’, are sometimes confiscated. The borders which our participants usually enter China through tend to be more liberal about these policies.

For Immigration:

You will be expected to fill in a short form on arrival (see below). It should be very straightforward to fill in. The only point to remember here is that the tick-box section for ‘purpose of visit’ should be in accordance with the visa type you are using.

We have advised all participants to process F visas which are for cultural exchange, internships, and short non-tourist visits. If you have an F visa, then on the form please tick ‘Visit访问’.

If you are on any other type of visa, then please tick the appropriate box:

E.g:

  • Tourist (L visa) should tick ’Sightseeing/in leisure/参观/休闲’
  • Any type of study visa (X) should tick ‘Study/学习’
  • only those on work visas should tick ‘Employment/就业’, our projects are usually short-term, non-remunerated, non-work, cultural exchange projects so the majority of participants will not have processed a work visa. Most people should not, therefore, tick ‘Employment/就业’

*For more information, refer to articles on Google such as this: http://www.vagabondjourney.com/4-easy-tips-for-filling-out-immigration-arrival-forms-correctly/

Hong Kong and Macau enjoy special status within China as SARs (Special Administrative Regions.) They have their own immigration policies which are separate to China’s.

This means that, for the sake of your visa, going from China to Hong Kong/Macau is equivalent to leaving China and going abroad. So, if you make this journey you will lose one entry on your visa—most people are issued a double entry visa, you can check this by looking at your visa’s number of entries. If your visa is single entry, then please do not plan to visit Hong Kong and return to China after your initial entry into China, unless you plan on obtaining a new visa for China in Hong Kong. If you would like to visit Hong Kong and only have a single entry visa, then consider flying to and from Hong Kong and visiting the region at the beginning or end of your trip so that it doesn’t affect your China visa.*

In certain circumstances, you may only be issued a 30-day visa instead of the standard 60 or 90 days. When this happens, if you have a double-entry visa, then you can make a trip to Hong Kong/Macau to activate the next 30 days (this is applicable if you hold a double- or multiple-entry 30-day visa). If you only hold a single-entry 30-day visa and need longer, then you may extend within China or otherwise visit Hong Kong/Macau to apply for a visa from our recommended agent there. If you are from the UK, USA or Canada, as well as many other countries, then you do not need a visa in advance of travel to Hong Kong or Macau.

If you need more advice on this, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

*Please note, in 2016 one applicant made a mistake which you should try to avoid. They chose to fly into Hong Kong with a stop in Beijing where they planned to undertake tourism for 2 days. They then flew to Hong Kong and re-entered China from Hong Kong where they found out the visa had expired because it was only single entry and they had stamped their single entry in Beijing already and then left to fly to Hong Kong. In the end, they had to stay in Hong Kong for 3 days to get a new visa, at some expense. If you have a similar plan to this, please make sure you check that your visa has more than one entry.

If you wish to fly into China for a short period and fly out again, then you could also take a 72- or 144-hour visa on arrival in a major city such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen or Tianjin. Please read more here: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/free-72hour/faq.htm   Make sure you meet all of the eligibility criteria if you wish to try this. Particularly, when you fly from overseas to China make sure the airline is informed that you will request a visa on arrival, they then communicate with the Chinese immigration officials. A key stipulation is that this visa can only be obtained if you have onward tickets to a 3rd country within 72 or 144 hours of arrival into China. A 3rd country means a country other than your home country or China, Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan count as 3rd countries in this law.

If you have queries about this, you can try calling the airport immigration teams on these numbers: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/free-72hour/faq.htm

Participants on our programmes often comment on how much safer China feels than the UK, Canada and the USA. Though people typically have a great time in China, you should still exercise a sensible level of caution and be prepared: be careful and sensible and avoid taking any unnecessary risks. Keep your valuables safe and secure at all times. Raise any concerns about the security of your accommodation with your programme coordinator and contact Gotoco if you need more assistance.

Neither our organisation nor our partner schools can accept liability for any difficulties that you may encounter–but naturally we will do all we can to assist in any way possible. We have provided placements to hundreds of participants over the years, and never yet encountered any major problems.

Before coming, make sure you have photocopies of your passport information page, visa and travel/health insurance policy. Keep the copies in a different place to the originals so if you lose your bag, you can use them to get a replacement. Foreigners are supposed to carry their passport round with them in China, but we recommend only carrying photocopies of your passport and visa, to reduce the risk of losing these important documents. You can use a driving licence or other national ID for entry into bars, if necessary.

Be careful crossing roads—there are normally multiple lanes of traffic and cars/bikes/scooters/buses to watch out for. The volume of traffic is generally quite high, but also quite stop-start and motorists are generally ready to slow down for pedestrians and bikes if necessary, but ensure you make eye contact with the driver and are certain they will stop before stepping into the road. Generally it is best to wait until the road is quiet before crossing, as you would at home. Make sure you follow all traffic signals.

Always be alert and aware that the rules of the road are different to what you’re used to. Use of car horns is very common and can be irritating when you’re not accustomed to it, but it helps to warn others that a vehicle is coming, rather than being used infrequently (as in the UK) as a sign of danger or extreme annoyance.

The most common hassles travellers run into are instances of petty theft at tourist sites and traveller’s diarrhoea. We suggest you

  • exercise normal caution
  • avoid suspicious situations
  • take care of your belongings
  • do not eat anything suspect
  • carry a basic first aid kit
  • use common sense
  • do not break any local laws

Check out this link which has been recommended by previous travellers.

For more information, check

  • travel advisories of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office accessible here
  • travel warnings section of the U.S. State Department at (202) 647-5225
  • travel advisories of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control at (877) FYI-TRIP or online here

Chinese food is delicious and there are usually plenty of delicacies to choose from—spicy and non-spicy, hot and cold, savoury and sweet. Be prepared to try new things, even if you have no idea what they are exactly. The food in China is very different from the dishes you might be used to seeing in Chinese restaurants at home in Europe or North America, so don’t be surprised if the food you’re presented with looks very unfamiliar. It’s all part of the experience and most of the time you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

If you think you’ll miss English food, maybe bring a couple of things with you from home—Marmite, biscuits, crisps and chocolate all help reduce any cravings for home comforts. Tea is also a good example of something which you can get in China but isn’t quite the same as it is in the UK, so if you’re addicted to English Breakfast Tea maybe consider bringing teabags. There will be plenty of opportunity both to try new foods and to buy things which you recognise from home. Supermarkets contain some interesting surprises and can be fun to explore. The variety of flavours of crisps is particularly impressive, ranging from standard flavours to more diverse ones like yoghurt and cucumber.

If you are vegetarian or have any food allergies or dietary requirements, you should ask one of your contacts at the school how to communicate this to others. Get your manager to write it down in Chinese and English, and carry it with you at all times.

If you have a nut allergy, make sure you communicate this clearly before any meals and have it written down to show restaurants. Peanut oil is used quite commonly in China and you must be very careful to avoid it, if you have allergies.

It is not uncommon for foreign visitors to suffer low intensity traveller’s diarrhoea during their time in China, please consider having medication to cater to this if it occurs, and drink plenty of water.

Avoid drinking tap water in almost all locations in China. Bottled water is readily available and you should always make sure you have enough water overnight or if you’re going on activities. This is especially true in rural areas, where shops might close earlier in the evening or you might have to wait for transport into town—stock up on large bottles of water to make sure you always have enough.

Hot or boiled water is also more common than cold water. Many Chinese people much prefer drinking hot water to cold, claiming health benefits, and you will find that you are often given boiled water in restaurants. This water is fine to drink, but if you feel uncomfortable then bottled water is usually available for purchase. You may also be surprised by the benefits of hot water with lemon and ginger when you’re feeling a bit run down or tired! You might also want to purchase a flask if you would like to save money (and plastic!) by boiling water for your own consumption.

In terms of other drinks—please enjoy the variety on offer, with many soft drinks being different to what you might be used to at home, although all the regulars like Coca Cola are also available. If you’re in Beijing and like fizzy drinks, then make sure you try Arctic Ocean (Běibīngyáng 北冰洋)! Otherwise, all sorts of bottled drinks are available throughout the country; first time visitors usually get excited about the delicious range of flavoured teas, soy milk drinks, ‘Bubble Milk Tea’, hot tea and, of course, alcoholic beverages.

If you drink alcohol, then please take note: occasionally venues (usually glitzy nightclubs and bars) might sell adulterated hard spirits, which can give you a bad hangover or make you very inebriated. There have also been stories of people being poisoned by adulterated spirits, so do be careful. However, most locations are perfectly safe, you should just make sure to be careful to always know what you are drinking, as you should anywhere in the world, and always drink in moderation.

You may also be introduced to Báijiǔ白酒—China’s famous rice spirit. It is occasionally referred to as ‘white wine’ or ‘rice wine’. Please drink with moderation, it is stronger than most spirits you are used to! People in China tend to be very hospitable, and in the evenings might treat you to rounds of drinks—be sure to know your limits and drink sensibly.

It is not uncommon for foreign visitors to suffer low intensity traveller’s diarrhoea during their time in China, please consider having medication to cater to this if it occurs, and drink plenty of water.

We work with diverse programmes all over China, and the vast majority provide airport pickups. In cases where this isn’t possible, there will be a designated staff member at the programme who is in charge of making sure your pickup is co-ordinated in an easy manner.

Before you come to China, you will be put in touch with your programme coordinator through your interview and will stay in contact with them from your interview until you come out to China. They will provide you with all the information you need, including arrival procedure and airport pickups. Your programme coordinator and the Gotoco office team will support you throughout the process to make sure everything goes smoothly for you.

Of course, if you prefer to travel around China before your programme begins, then that is fine too (and highly encouraged!). Please just make sure you can meet the programme and the rest of your team at one of the designated pickup locations on the right date.

For more information on arrival procedures, please read this FAQ on what happens when you arrive at the airport.

Chinese visa costs vary depending on your passport type and the duration of stay and number of entries you may need in China. Some nationalities have their visas for free while others must pay a price. British passports, for example, incur a total cost of £151 but luckily get longer stays/numbers of entries than other European passports, you can read more about pricing at this helpful link

We usually advise our participants to process their visa application with the help of a local China visa expert agency, this can add to the overall price. For example, our trusted UK agent adds a £15 commission while our North American agents add $30-50. We suggest this because the Chinese visa application is quite a difficult process and working with an agent ensures that you a/obtain the correct and most legally appropriate visa, b/ avoid mistakes on your application which could cost you a penalty charge (sometimes China charges you double price if errors in your application cause you to resubmit your visa application.c/ get treated well, looked after by experts, and charged a fair price

 

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