I am off to China on Monday for a couple of weeks for both the Canton Fair and Global Sources Summit and also to visit a few new Suppliers. I used to be someone who would pack for two weeks prior to leaving for China. Now I pack two hours prior to leaving as I've developed a pretty good system of what I need (and don't need). Here's a run down of my 10 most critical items I bring when traveling to China. All of these things are going to make your trip to China much easier and reduce tons of frustration.
My 10 Critical Items when Traveling to China
- Prepurchased Hong Kong Sim purchased off eBay like here
- Gifts for Suppliers
- Samples of competitor products
- My ‘real' business cards and my ‘China trade shows' business cards
- Prepurchased and installed proxy service like Panda Pow
- Photographs of my first night's hotel name in Chinese and a phone number
- My old Canton Fair badge
- Chinese Travel Adapter OR remove the Third ‘Ground' Plug Off My 3-Pronged Items
- Passport complete with 10 year visa
Prepurchased Hong Kong Sim Card
Getting a SIM card in China is a complete pain now. You have to find a China Unicom store and deal with staff that almost certainly won't speak English. By the time you find a China Unicom store, you'll realize you've forgotten your passport, which they require. And you're still going to be stuck with slow internet speeds and being behind the Great Firewall.
So here's the easier solution: just buy a prepaid Hong Kong sim card off of eBay like here. They're cheap (about $15), reloaded easily, and best of all you won't be behind the Great Firewall. Plus, it's super nice to have internet on your phone the second you get off the plane.
Gifts for Suppliers
I always stock up on gifts for Suppliers and other people I'm meeting in China. Gift giving is absolutely critical in Chinese culture. No Chinese would ever come from abroad and not bring some type of gift. Will your Chinese colleagues hold it against you if you don't bring gifts? Probably not – they'll accept that you're just an ignorant laowai. But you'll look all that more sophisticated if you do bring gifts. My most popular gifts include:
- American Ginseng, Salmon/Fish Oil, or other high quality vitamins
- High class local liquor (in my case, Ice Wine or Canadian Whiskey)
Don't bring cheesy gifts like mugs with your city name on it. Chinese want luxury items.
Samples of Competitor's Products
I always like to have a good idea of what types of products I'm looking for. Often, however, I've seen competitors' products with slight variations and improvements that I want my Suppliers to do some R&D on (ripoff and duplicate). By giving them a complete sample, they can see the product live in the flesh will have an easier time duplicating it.
Often I will also bring product catalogs from competitors as well that double both as a gift for my Suppliers (they love seeing actual retail catalogs of things being sold in Western countries) and also as way for them to generate their own product ideas which ultimately benefits us both.
Real Business Cards and ‘China Trade Show' Business Cards
I bring my real business cards for vetted Chinese Suppliers but I also have business cards specifically for visiting trade shows in China. When you visit a trade show in China, EVERYONE is going to ask you for your business card, even before you step into the venue. At least some of these people are going to stick your email address on a Chinese manufacturer email list. Being on these email lists aren't actually that bad as some legitimate manufacturers will email you product catalogs and price lists. However, you need an option to at least filter out these emails.
My ‘China trade show' business cards simply contain an alternate email address. Basically I setup an email alias in gmail like ‘firstname.lastname@example.org' instead of ‘email@example.com'. Once the marketing emails become too frequent, I can either disable the email address or create a special filter for emails sent to that address,
Pre-Purchased Proxy Like Panda Pow
You need some type of proxy while you're in China if you want to access anything Google or any social media. My preference is Panda Pow which is $9/month. Purchase and install this before you leave as it can be a pain to do from China both because of the Great Firewall but also because of slow internet speeds. Make sure you purchase a monthly plan that does not auto renew (unless you really want it to).
Hotel Name and Address in Chinese Characters
Probably the biggest mistake foreigners make when they get off the plane is to have the name of their hotel written only in romanized Chinese Pinyin. The majority of Chinese, especially taxi drivers, can only read Chinese characters. Make sure the address of your hotel is written in Chinese characters. Most hotel websites on their contact us page should have the address written in English and Chinese characters.
Old Canton Fair Badge
I made the mistake of throwing away my badge from last year's canton fair. Stupid. Now I'll have to pay 200rmb (about $35) and worse, wait in line waiting to get another badge. If you have a badge from a previous session of the Canton Fair, save it: you can re-use it on a future session of the Canton Fair.
Chinese Travel Adapter OR cut the Third ‘Ground' Plug Off My 3-Pronged Items
China has one of the most messed up (or smartest, depending on how you look at it) power plugs in the world. Most Chinese plugs have two different adapter types: the standard American/Japanese style 2-pronged plugs and then the Australian 3-pronged plug. Just to make it fun, some Chinese outlets even accept European plugs.
This is great and it means most North American travelers shouldn't need a travel adapter except for their 3 pronged items. Unfortunately, many items are still 3-pronged, especially non-Apple laptops. Now I'm wise enough either bring a travel adapter rather than trying to desperately remove the third prong on my laptop charger at some Chinese Starbucks.
My 10 Year Chinese L Visa
OK a passport and visa is so obvious that I don't even include it on my packing lists any more. I've forgotten just about everything imaginable but never my passport. But I mention a passport on this list for a couple of reasons. First, if you're applying for a Visa try and make sure you get a 10-Year visa if at all possible. This should be automatic but make sure you ask whoever you're applying to the visa for about the 10 year visa. Second, I see a lot of people worrying about getting a Chinese business visa because they're visiting a trade show. Yes, you probably should technically have a business visa for visiting trade shows and there might come a time when I get scrutinized by customs for not having one. But in 10 years of traveling to China it's never happened and I've never heard of anyone else getting scrutinized for it.
These are the ten critical items I bring with my to Chinese each and every time. China is one of the safest countries to travel to and has some of the most helpful and welcoming people. But, there are a lot of cultural nuances and differences which can also make travel difficult and frustrating. These ten items help make traveling in China just a bit easier.
Are there any critical items you bring with China not included on this list? If so, share them below in the comments box.