Great Wall of China

Essentials For Traveling in China, By a Former Expat

China isn’t the easiest country to navigate on this planet. Not just because of the language barrier, but also because of the cultural differences and the Great Firewall.

That’s why it’s extra important to know what is needed to make your travels in China a bit smoother.

After extensively traveling and living in China, I know what is essential during your travels here. This article covers what you really need to know before you travel to this fascinating country.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links below may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase.


Essentials for your travels in China

There are a few things that will make your travels here a lot easier. And believe me when I say they are truly necessary. Here are the most important essentials for China:


A VPN is essential in China, because of the Great Firewall. Google and Western social media won’t work here.

If you get a good VPN your chances are a lot higher that you can use Instagram and Facebook for example. Do keep in mind that a lot of routes on Google still won’t work.

Check out which VPN is actually working. This can vary from time to time. During Golden Week, a national holiday, they often throw out the one that’s working, so it’s good to be aware of this.

A VPN which is often considered working well in China is Express VPN.

Update: ExpressVPN doens’t seem to be working that great anymore in China. The most common VPN used in China right now (March 2024) is Astrill.

Golden Week in China
A picture during Golden Week in China

Sim card or E-Sim

Definitely get a sim card or e-sim for your travels in China. WiFi is not enough here. I remember arriving in China when starting my studies at Jiao Tong University Shanghai.

I thought the first few days without a sim card would be fine and I could just connect to WiFi everywhere.

I’m here to tell you: this is not the case. Often, you can only connect to the WiFi if you have a Chinese phone number or it would just be a puzzle to figure out how to connect to it.

Personally, nowadays I always get a sim card when I arrive somewhere. It depends on your preferences which one you should get, but I highly recommend getting a sim card or e-sim, as it’s very handy to have a Chinese phone number here.

You can order one beforehand or buy one at the airport. If you order one beforehand, make sure to choose the right city.

Download necessary apps

There are a couple of very useful apps to use when traveling in China. The most important ones include WeChat and Didi.

Didi is a common taxi app. You can use WeChat as an alternative to Whatsapp and Instagram, and you can even use it to pay with it. You also have Alipay, which you can use to pay. ( 饿了么 (è le me) in Chinese) is a useful app for quick food and drink delivery.

You might want to wander to the serene Confucian Temple in Shanghai, however Google Maps doesn’t work sufficiently here, so you won’t find a walking route. That’s why you need to download other maps such as Baidu Maps or instead.

Don’t forget to download a good translating app such as Papago or Baidu Translate.

Shanghai Confucian Temple
Shanghai Confucian Temple

Take multiple payment options with you

I cannot stress this enough: take several payment options with you. So, not just one card but multiple cards you might pay with. I also highly recommend bringing at least one credit card.

There have been several times in Shanghai when my family came to visit me and their cards suddenly didn’t work here. They had never had that problem anywhere else in the world while traveling.

I would meet them at the airport and found them lost in the McDonalds not being able to order anything.

We still laugh about it, but if they were there completely on their own, it would’ve been a nightmare for them.

So always make sure to bring several payment options with you including at least one credit card. If you don’t have a credit card, I recommend getting one just in case.

Bank of China near SJTU

In conclusion

This article has covered the most important essentials for your travels in China. Of course, there are a lot more things you can bring with you and there are hundreds of apps you can download.

However, the ones mentioned above will be the most necessary ones, hence I only cover these. Hopefully they will make China a bit easier to navigate, so you’ll be able to fully enjoy your adventures here.

Away with Danae

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