Introduction to Business Travel in China
What: There are many options for business travel within China, each with advantages and disadvantages.
Why: When planning your business trip to China, you have many options at your disposal, but the best choice for price, efficiency, and timing may not always be the most obvious at face value. We’ve put together this handy checklist to help you plan your visit.
As part of the process of setting up a business relationship in China with a Chinese company, it’s all but inevitable that you will want (and need) to make at least one trip to China to meet with your prospective Chinese business representatives, conduct on-the-ground due diligence on the business’ operations, and carry out collection and verification of many forms, documents, and materials you may have received. To help you prepare for your visit, we have put together this checklist that outlines transportation options, methods of hiring translation and other cultural ambassador teams to help you navigate the landscape, considerations on the best (and worst) times to book a business trip to China, and information on travel to the various regions of China outside its largest and most populous cities and areas.
Before you book your trip, you’ll want to review the required list of documentation carefully. China has strict travel requirements to which you’ll need to adhere.
The US Department of State provides an excellent summary of requirements for travel in China. We’ve provided an overview of the key points:
U.S. Passport: must be valid for a minimum of six months and contain two blank pages
Currency restrictions (entry / exit): RMB 20,000 maximum
Members of a range of Asian and Australasian countries enjoy the use of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Travel Card, or APEC Travel Card. It’s a travel document that eliminates the need for its holder to possess a visa when visiting other APEC participating economies. The US and Canada are classified as transitional members, which means US and Canadian APEC card holders can take advantage of expedited visa appointment and immigration clearance procedures, but still need to apply for and hold current visas for travel to and within China.
Transportation options within China
If you’re coming from the US or Europe, you’ll most likely fly into one of China’s major cities and airports: Beijing, Shanghai, or Hong Kong. Unless your business affairs are centered in one of these major metropolitan areas, you’ll likely need to travel by one or more transpiration methods within China to reach your ultimate destination.
Travel by Plane
While air travel may at first appear to be the most efficient way to travel within China, it’s an all-too frequent situation to find flights delayed or cancelled altogether. Add to that the congestion of China’s principal airports (Beijing, Shanghai) coupled with their notorious delay ratings and poor customer service can make what would appear to be a short flight an all-day journey.
While some travel snags are unavailable, you may want to consider some alternative airports that can ease some of the congestion and potential delays.
|Beijing Capital (PEK)||Beijing Nanyuan (NAY)|
|Xiamen Gaoqi (XMN) |
Taipei Taoyuan (TPE)
Taipei Songshan (TSA)
|Kinmen Shangyi (KNH)|
|Zhuhai Jinwan (ZUH) |
Hong Kong (HKG)
Shenzhen Bao’an (SZX)
|Shanghai Pudong (PVG||Shanghai Hongqiao (SHA)|
|Guangzhou Baiyun (CAN) |
Hong Kong (HKG)
|Shenzhen Bao’an (SZX)|
|Shanghai Pudong (PVG) |
Shanghai Hongqiao (SHA)
Nanjing Lukou (NKG)
|Sunan Shuofang (WUX)|
|Taipei Taiyuan (TPE)||Taipei Songshan (TSA)|
|Guangzhou Baiyun (CAN) |
|Zhuhai Jinwan (ZUH)|
Regardless of which airport you fly into, you’ll want to plan your air travel carefully and pay close attention to the number of potential connections that you may need to make in order to reach your final destination.
Travel by Train
China’s vast rail infrastructure affords the business traveler in China with many options. Compared to air travel, business travel by train in China is very reliable and efficient due in large part to its fleet of high-speed trains, modern and super-sized train stations, and its extensive rail network across the country. While prices for rail travel generally are comparable to that of air travel, train travel is much more reliable. You’ll want to factor in distance and travel time as well, but even with an extended journey time, the overall business travel experience often will rank far superior to a comparable travel experience by plane.
Here’s some helpful advice when planning train travel:
Choose one of the top two classes of travel: gaotie (高铁) or dongche (动车) which are common options when traveling between major cities
Most major Chinese train stations offer English-language booking services and resources
A Beginner’s Guide to Train Travel in China (Seat 61) offers an excellent English language primer to Chinese train travel
The China Travel Guide offers English-language booking services for a fee.
If you read Chinese, the 12306.cn site allows you to self-book your tickets.
Travel by car
Business travel in China by car, especially over long distances, remains the least attractive option for a number of reasons:
Unreliability of roads and infrastructure
Inability to self-drive (holders of foreign drivers licenses aren’t permitted to drive in China)
Traveling by car over short distances and within cities generally remains the best option. Companies may arrange a private car service for you. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive, but note that it’s highly likely the taxi driver will speak only Chinese. You will want to ensure you have your destination written down for your journey if you don’t speak Chinese or have a Chinese-speaking traveling companion or staff accompanying you.
Hiring short-term Chinese guides and docents
Hiring a guide or docent on a short-term, temporary basis to help you with coordination and logistics with your on-the-ground visit can provide invaluable. Bilingual (Chinese and English) guides are relatively inexpensive and can help with everything from travel bookings to translations to general coordination and navigation of getting in and around China.
Holidays and time periods to avoid
Chinese holidays can cause mild to major delays at busy transportation hubs. Below we’ve listed some of the most common holidays, but the one you’ll want to take particular steps to avoid is the Chinese New Year period, or chunyun (春运), the 40 day span when hundreds of millions of Chinese travel home to celebrate the holiday with their families. Its timing is based on the lunar calendar so it can fall anywhere between late January and early March. It’s likely that the business you’re seeking to visit may not be operating at full capacity during the Chinese New Year period, among other services and accommodations.
Here are some other major Chinese holidays that can impact business travel within China (note that with the exception of New Year’s Day and Labor Day, other holidays follow the lunar calendar and can move around on the Western calendar):
New Year's Day (January 1)
The Qingming Festival (early April)
Labor Day (May 1)
The Dragon Boat Festival (early to late June)
The Mid-Autumn Festival (mid-September to early October)
National Day (early October)
Region, province, and city considerations
As we’ve covered in other articles here at Nuna Network, China is organized by major regions and has an extensive system of city tiers. You can anticipate that the further your travel takes you from major urban centers, the more likely you’ll encounter challenges in amenities, services, communication, and other logistical concerns. Doing up-front research is always a prudent step before planning your trip to China regardless of your final destination.
Nuna Network remains the partner of choice for small- and medium-sized businesses seeking guidance in researching, developing, and launching relationships with companies in China. We are your go-to resource for valuable information in navigating the sometimes complex landscape of business operations in China.
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