Happy Chinese (Lunar) New Year!
Updated: Apr 1
It is the year of the Rabbit (my year), and I want to share an update on China’s travel restrictions.
For the last three years, I have had many friends ask, “When will China open its borders to foreigners?” The wait is now over! Effective Jan. 8, China has removed quarantine for international travels. The self-imposed lockdown has damaged the Chinese economy, with GDP growth at a 50 year low. With a strong USD dollar and China’s current desire to spur its economy, tourists are now being welcomed back into the country.
For those who don’t know, I lived four years in China – 2 years in Shenzhen (by Hong Kong) and 2 years in Shanghai so my love for the country is deep. While it’s been almost 10 years since I left, the rich culture and diverse food draws me back.
New Year Festivities
The Chinese New Year is typically celebrated for 7-10 days in the country, with factories and companies shutting down to allow the citizens to return to their hometowns. As such, it’s usually the WORST time for foreigners to visit as trains, planes and accommodations are packed. However, if you do manage to come during January/February festivities, the fireworks and traditions are exciting.
Fun Fact: The Chinese invented fireworks! They take their pyrotechnics very seriously and fireworks will go off at all hours of the night for at least a week around the holiday!
Lunar New Year Traditions
My favorite three traditions of Chinese New Year are:
the red envelope (hong bao) of monetary gift
Locals will do a deep clean for the new year as a way to sweep the dust away and drive out bad omens or luck. Dumplings are customarily eaten on New Year’s eve, the first and fifth day of the New Year. There shapes represent the monetary ingots used long ago, so dumplings are believed to bring wealth for the new year. The red envelope (or hong bao) are known as lucky money, and are traditionally given to children. If you want to try your luck at receiving one you can say, “Gong xi fa cai, hong bao na lai” which means “I wish you a prosperous new year, so please give me a red envelope of lucky money.” 😊
With this lesson, don’t you want to jump on a plane now and head to Asia??? As you plan your trip, there are a few things you must do before visiting China. Here are 10 helpful tips before you travel to China.
Tips to Know Before You Travel to China
Visa Application – Americans must apply for a visa before entering the country. Most choose to apply for a 10-year, multi-entry visa for $140 plus processing fees. You can now submit your visa applications online. The Chinese visa office reopens for business on Jan. 25, 2023. A complete list of the paperwork needed can be found here.
Chinese Health Declaration – While quarantine requirements have been lifted, a health declaration is still required to enter the country. You can fill out this paperwork here.
WeChat (Weixin) – WeChat is the Chinese version of What’s App. I would suggest downloading it to use while you are in country as many locals will use it to communicate tourist activities and reservations. You can also use it to communicate with your new Chinese friends along the way!
Travel Insurance – I’m usually one to “wing it” but with travel cancellations seemingly at all-time highs, travel insurance can spare you from various disruptions. I like World Nomad for short-term travel insurance. They offer 24/7 emergency assistance to help navigate the Chinese system… in Mandarin, Cantonese or a local dialect. The benefits include trip protection, emergency medical insurance, gear protection and medical evacuation.
STEP Registration – the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a free service from the U.S. State Department that allows U.S. citizens and nationals to register while traveling. In the case of natural disaster, civil unrest or family emergency, the embassy can notify you of any alerts or track you down. Check out the U.S. Department of State website for the latest travel advisories before you leave.
Google Translate – Knowing Mandarin is not an absolute necessity but it’s definitely helpful. If you ever get lost or need some help, look for a school-aged child. The younger generation is learning English in school and they are likely your best bet for help! Regardless, I would recommend buying a phrase book and learn a few sayings or have a few translator apps available on your phone for offline use. The most important ones are: ni hao (hello) and xiexie (thank you).
VPN – The Great Wall of China blocks Google, Twitter and YouTube in the country, so if you are planning any long term travel, you may want to consider purchasing a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to work around the IP address and make it seem like you are connected from the U.S. or Australia. Just note, you have to purchase the VPN BEFORE arriving in China. Some options including Express VPN or Surf Shark.
Avoid Western Food – It’s so much cheaper to eat local! Save money and savor the culinary uniqueness of Asian cuisine. Just like America, each part of the country offers different local cuisine. From hot pot in Sichuan province to Peking duck in Beijing, the flavors are all distinct! Don’t be afraid to order something new!
Bathroom Etiquette – Be prepared to squat. Unless you are staying in a foreign hotel, your WC visits throughout your trip will include a squatty potty. After years of using, I actually think they are more sanitary. But be warned, many of them will not offer toilet paper, so be sure to bring some tissues (and hand sanitizer) with you on your trip!