For anyone doing business with a Chinese company, the likelihood is that at some point you are going to need to visit China. With that in mind we have prepared this simple Business Travel China guide to help you understand your options.
For the uninitiated, a business trip to China might seem like a daunting prospect. If that applies to you, you’ll be pleased to know it’s not as fraught as you might imagine. We’ve put together this quick-fire guide on options for business travel in China, covering:
- Transport options
- Hiring temporary local staff for the visit
- Further issues to consider
We’ll also look at how China Checkup can help you plan your visit to China and reduce costs.
Business Travel China by…
First, let’s look at options for getting around China and our recommendations for which option to choose.
Getting between locations in China by plane is an obvious choice considering the potentially vast distances involved. You can arrange tickets in English via services such as Ctrip, eLong or Skyscanner.
However, whilst travel by plane is the fastest option on paper, in practice that is often not the case due to the huge proportion of flights in China that end up delayed. Beijing and Shanghai’s airports are the most delayed airports in the world, and chances are very high that your flight will not depart on time. Customer service and solutions to situations such as these can also be very poor.
Unlike air travel, travelling by train in China is extremely reliable and generally very pleasant. China’s rail infrastructure, including its fast trains and massive stations, is highly impressive. Train ticket prices are quite comparable to air travel, but trains are far more reliable. Whilst the stated journey time for train travel is obviously much longer than that for air travel, the huge difference in reliability makes train travel quite an attractive option for business travel in China.
China’s train services are separated into different categories of train and supporting infrastructure. You will generally want to travel on the top two categories where possible: gaotie (高铁) and dongche (动车). These categories are available for travel between the majority of China’s cities. You can learn a lot more about China’s rail services at the excellent Seat 61.
Major stations will have English-language booking windows available, and tickets can also be booked online through the Chinese-only interface at 12306.cn.
An English-language booking interface is available from China Travel Guide, but this will incur a fee for their service. If you’re hiring temporary local staff for your visit (see below), having them arrange your rail tickets is a very good option.
We would recommend that you avoid long-distance road travel in China, due to safety concerns and the fact that road travel’s only advantage is its lower cost. Air and rail are so much more pleasant, and rail so much more reliable, that there seems little benefit to travelling long distance by road. Travelling long-distance with your own car and driver (you can’t drive in China on a foreign driving license, so hiring a local driver would be essential) would likely eliminate the cost benefit of road travel.
For shorter-distance journeys, though, road travel is the obvious choice. You may find that Chinese companies you are visiting will arrange a car to pick you up. For travel within cities, licensed taxis are very cheap and convenient, provided you’ve got your destination written in Chinese or have Chinese-speaking staff with you (or you speak Chinese yourself, of course). Don’t expect to be able to communicate with drivers in English!
Hiring Temporary Staff for Your Visit
Hiring temporary local staff for a business trip to China may sound like an expensive prospect, but it’s actually very affordable. You can hire a recent graduate with good English as an informal assistant at very reasonable rates of pay.
Their help is often indispensable, as they can deal with language issues, organisation and general navigation of daily activities for business travel in China.
Further Business Travel China Issues to Consider
Busy Times of Year
Although all of China’s public holidays are busy, this really applies to one period of the Chinese calendar: chunyun (春运).
This is the Chinese New Year period during which hundreds of millions of people return home to spend the festival with their families. It has been described as the largest human migration event in the world, and it happens every year.
The timing varies on the western calendar as Chinese New Year is a lunar calendar event, but it roughly occurs between late January and early March. The chunyun period lasts for around 40 days, during which China’s transport network becomes fantastically busy.
Even if you can get hold of tickets during this period, you will find that navigation of airports and train stations becomes something of an ordeal. Further, there’s some chance that the company you’re visiting won’t be fully operational over the Chinese New Year period. Other services may also be affected.
Because of this, we would advise you to avoid business travel in China during chunyun.
Type of Location
You should also consider the type of city, or tier, that you’ll be visiting on your business trip.
China’s cities are often categorised into different tiers of economic development, and whether or not this is an accurate categorisation, it will likely be an important consideration for you.
Your trip will be easiest in first tier cities, and progressively trickier as you move down the rungs, from the availability of services and amenities, to language and cultural issues and the options for hiring local staff to help you navigate them.
At the most extreme end of the spectrum, China’s rural areas demonstrate why it is still classed as a developing country, despite locations such as Beijing and Shanghai.
How China Checkup can Help
This Business Travel China Guide wouldn’t be complete without us explaining how China Checkup can help you decide whether or not to visit a company before you even get on the plane to China.
There is nothing worse than spending a whole day and hundreds of dollars to visit a poor factory that is completely unsuitable for your business. With this in mind, we recommend that you first carry out some screening of potential suppliers, before you decide to pay them a visit.
China Checkup’s Company verification reports can be used for this purpose. Just think how much time, money and hassle you could save yourself by verifying that a company is legitimate BEFORE you visit them.