Before leaving for China

Q: Is there a recommended health/travel insurance?
A: This really depends on your needs. You should take a close look at what is offered. Most insurances offer similar packages, but some insurances require a rather high co-payment (Eigenbeteiligung). You should pay special attention to what is covered by the insurance if you suffer from any mental or rare diseases, or allergies. And you should always study the small print.

Q: What kind of vaccinations do I need?
A: A vaccination against hepatitis is strongly recommended, because of food hygiene problems in China. If you want to travel in southern rural areas you should also consider getting a vaccination against Japanese encephalitis. Generally you should check if your standard vaccinations (rabies, tetanus etc.) are still up-to-date. You should also ask your standard health insurance company what kind of vaccinations they will cover for you. Please make sure that you start vaccinating in time, as some vaccinations will take several shots over the course of a few weeks.

Q: Is there a recommended airline?
A: There is no recommended airline. All major airlines (e.g. Lufthansa, SAS, Air China, KLM, Finnair) offer direct or stop-over flights to Beijing. You should compare prices online on price search engines. Some airlines provide specials if you book directly through their own website – Air China sometimes offers a second item of luggage for free. If you book a return flight, and if you are not sure about the exact date of your return, make sure that your flight can be re-scheduled easily and inexpensively. Changing the date for a cheap return flight might end up costing you more than booking a more flexible flight ticket. Make sure that you match the arrival date announced by the ECLC office.

Q: Can I apply for a double-entry visa?
A: You can apply, but probably won’t get a double-entry visa. The Chinese embassy normally only issues single-entry visas for short-term studies (less than 6 months).

Q: What will happen to my visa if I leave China?
A: Your (single-entry) visa will be invalidated, and you will have to re-apply for a new study visa. If there are serious reasons for leaving China (death in the family, serious illness etc.) you can re-apply in Europe and a new visa will be issued to you. If you visit Hong Kong, Macao or Taiwan your visa will also expire.

Q: I visited Taiwan, can I still use my passport to apply for a Chinese visa?
A: If you stayed only for a short period, and were exempt from obtaining a visa (e.g. Germans can stay up to 90 days in Taiwan without obtaining a visa), and your passport was only stamped, you can still apply for a Chinese visa. If you stayed longer and/or have a Taiwanese visa inside your passport, you must obtain a new passport, otherwise the Chinese authorities won’t issue a visa. As the circumstances may change it would be best to ask your local visa travel service in advance. Under certain circumstances the mainland authorities will accept a passport with a visum that has been issued in Taiwan.

Q: What kind of stuff should I take with me?
A: Students staying during the winter semester should take winter clothing with them. Students staying during the summer term should also bring some winter clothing (as it will still be quite cold in March), as well as clothes for spring and summer. You should also take some medication for colds, fever and diarrhea with you, and of course any special medication you might need. The flats where you will be staying are (more or less) fully equipped, so you don’t have to take bedding and similar stuff with you. Personal hygiene products can be purchased in two big drug stores (Watsons and Mannings) and most big supermarkets, but they might be more expensive than in Europe. This holds especially true for deodorant, shaving creams, razor blades and suntan lotion (you will mostly find expensive sun blockers). Other expensive stuff which you might want to bring with you includes coffee and chocolate (also as a present for the landlord and Chinese friends). If your feet are big (larger than size 43 for males, and larger than size 40 for females), you might want to take an extra pair of shoes, as buying large shoes in China can pose a problem. You do not need to bring a power travel plug adapter as mainland China uses a power voltage of 220 Volt 50 Hz AC, same as most European countries. Most power sockets support a range of different types of plugs (type A, I, C, F; C & F being the most common plugs in Europe), so there is no need to take an adapter with you.

Q: Shall I take any money in cash/travellers’ cheques with me?
A: We would generally not recommend taking large sums of cash with you to China. Changing money in Chinese banks is quite complicated (except for the money exchange booth at the airport, which offer only quite poor exchange rates), and the exchange rate you will be offered is lower than when you withdraw cash from an ATM with your banking or credit card. Nowadays Visa and Mastercards will work in most Chinese ATMs at most banks, and even European EC cash cards (search for the Maestro symbol) will mostly work without problems. The German banks DKB and comdirect offer visa cards that can withdraw cash worldwide without any transaction costs. If you feel insecure you could take a small sum of money (about 100 Euros) with you.

Q: How much money can I withdraw?
A: This depends on your banking/credit card, as well as the Chinese bank you withdraw money from. Most Chinese banks have a daily withdrawal limit of RMB 20,000, and your European card might have a daily limit (of around 500-1,000 Euros), as well as a monthly limit (normally 10,000 Euros). The withdrawal limits of your card may be raised temporarily. Please inquire with your bank.

Q: Do I need to take a dust mask with me?
A: The air in Beijing (and other parts of China) can get quite bad, especially during the winter months. You can take one or two dust masks with you (they have to be able to filter PM 2.5 particles). Or you could buy the masks in Beijing, as most convenience stores (e.g. 7-11) sell dust masks. There are several apps (e.g. aqicn.org) which can keep you up-to-date with the newest pollution data. You may also purchase an air cleaning system for your apartment in Beijing from various online outlets (e.g. JD.com, Amazon.cn, Taobao.com) and stores. You may check the current air pollution of Beijing on this website.

In China

Q: What kind of SIM/phone card should I get?
A: China has three big telecommunication providers which offer mobile services: China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom. If you only want to make calls and send/receive text messages, you can choose any of these three, but if you want to have fast 4G/5G internet access, you should choose China Unicom, as this provider offers the best, fastest and cheapest service (in large cities), and its 4G/5G networks are compatible with European smartphones. Look out for special student deals at the beginning of the semester. All of these providers offer SIM cards which can be re-charged manually by buying pre-paid cards. Similar, if you want to purchase a Chinese smartphone, you should buy the version compatible with Unicom’s network, as Unicom’s 4G(LTE)/5G-networks use the same bands as most European providers.

Q: Where can I purchase SIM/phone cards?
A: SIM cards can be obtained in all official sales points of China Unicom, China Mobile, or China Telecom. Look out for special students deals during the beginning of the new semester. You will have to show your passport when you buy a Chinese SIM card, as the number will be registered to your name. Stay away from unofficial shops and resellers. A normal SIM card should cost around RMB 50 (including RMB 30-50 worth of units). For a SIM card that includes about mobile data (of several GB per month) as well as several hundred SMS you should pay about RMB 40 per month.

Q: How can I access websites that are blocked in China (e.g. Facebook, Twitter)?
A: By using the free VPN service your university offers for all students. You may also purchase a commercial backup VPN, in case that the VPN of your university fails.

Q: If I have to go to hospital, where should I go?
A: This depends on what kind of problem you have. If you only have a minor illness, like a cold or fever, you can go to a local Chinese hospital, like the PKU hospital (take your student card with you), or the Haidian district hospital. For more serious problems you should consider going to one of the international hospitals, like the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, or the United Family Hospital. All hospitals will ask you to pay up-front, so take some cash or a credit card with you. Minor illnesses won’t cost you much (normally up to RMB 1,000), but surgery and more complicated therapy may cost you some RMB 10,000. Chinese hospitals are mostly cheap, the (international station of the) China-Japan Friendship Hospital is more expensive, but still relatively cheap, and hospitals with international staff, like the United Family Hospital, are quite expensive. Your level of proficiency in Chinese may also affect your choice. Local Chinese hospitals mostly have staff who are only fluent in Chinese, the China-Japan Friendship Hospital has some staff who have a good command of English, and almost all the staff at the United Family Hospital will be able to speak English very well. If you have a more serious medical problem you can also ask the office staff to accompany you to the hospital. Dental emergencies can also be treated at the above-mentioned hospitals, or at a local dentist clinic. A list of recommended places will be handed to you during the first week of your stay.

Q: What can I do about the air pollution?
A: You may wear a mask when air pollution gets to bad. You can check websites like aqicn.org, which will keep you updatet about the pollution in major Chinese cities. Special dust masks can be purchased in most convinience stores (e.g. 7-11). If you want to improve the air quality in your room, you may also consider investing in an air purifier.

Q: My relative(s)/friend(s) want to visit me in Beijing. Do I need to invite them?
A: You are allowed to invite friends and relatives to come and visit you in Beijing. You have to produce a letter of invitation and copies of your residence permit/China visa and passport, and send these back home (by e-mail). These documents will then have to be shown by anyone applying for a visitor’s visa. In many cases applying for a normal travel visa, without providing a letter of invitation, has proven to be less cumbersome.

Q: How many days in advance can I book train tickets?
A: Tickets normally can be purchased 20-60 days in advance.

Q: Do I need to purchase train tickets in advance?
A: It depends on where you want to go. For some high-speed (short-distance) trains it is OK to buy the ticket on the same day (e.g. from Beijing to Tianjin, Nanjing to Shanghai); but for most long-distance trains you should book as early as possible, especially during the holiday season. You can check train schedules on huoche.com.

Q: I want to buy train tickets in advance for me and my friends. What should I do?
A: All travellers will have to register their passports. You may do so via the official website of China Railway or via (online) travel agencies. After registration you may purchase tickets for your friends.

Q: Where can I book a flight?
A: There are many small travel agencies on and near PKU campus, where you can buy national and international flight tickets. You can also book your flights online. Ctrip.com is one of the big and secure Chinese travel portals. You may also book flight tickets through one of the many mini apps included in WeChat and Alipay.

Q: Where can I book hotels/hostels?
A: Most Chinese youth hostels can be booked through big international portals like hostelworld.com. Chinese travel portals, like ctrip.com, also offer hotel booking. You may also book hotels and hotels through mini apps included in WeChat and Alipay.

Q: I want to send some stuff (e.g. winter clothes) back to Europe. What shall I do?
A: You can send your stuff by parcel. China Post offers three different modes of transportation: by air (fast, about 2-3 weeks, expensive), SAL (mix between air, sea and land transportation, about 4 weeks, less expensive), or by sea (slow, 1-3 month, cheap). Take your stuff to the post office and it will be packed for you. Much faster alternatives are offered by international carriers like DHL, TNT and UPS, but will cost much more. You can also inquire with your airline. Adding a second piece of luggage to your flight back home will often cost 50-75 Euro.

Q: I want to do an internship after my stay at PKU. What about a new visa?
A: The company you want to do an internship with will have to help you obtain a new visa. Most probably you will have to leave China (e.g. by going to Hong Kong) and then apply for a new (internship) visa. Make absolutely sure that the company really is able to help you obtain a new visa, otherwise you might end up stranded in Hong Kong. See also the question below.

Q: My visa is about to expire, but I still want to travel around China. What shall I do?
A: You will have to leave China to apply for a travel visa. Years ago the easiest way was to go to Hong Kong to apply for a travel visa, but the situation nowadays is more complicated. According to official rules, only foreigners with a Hong Kong residence permit can apply for a Chinese travel visa. The extent to which this rule is enforced depends on the (political) circumstances. You should ask travel agencies in Hong Kong if it is safe to apply for a travel visa before going there.