Cell Phone Travel China

Challenges of Traveling China with a Cell Phone

Smartphones have revolutionized travel, allowing us to easily navigate new cities and access nearby attractions. However, traveling to China with a cell phone is an entirely different experience. Although most digital services are widely available, there are a few things travelers should keep in mind before tapping away on their device.
Censorship and Control
China remains the most censored and controlled country in the world, and this applies to its internet service as well. According to researchers at the Open Observatory of Network Interference, nearly all content is blocked, including Google, Facebook, and YouTube. Furthermore, travelers will have to sign up for a VPN service to access their favorite sites. However, travelers should be warned; the use of VPNs is restricted in China and could lead to legal pushback.
Security Challenges
Roaming data plans offered by most phone companies are often quite expensive, and this can make using smartphones while in China very expensive. Furthermore, China’s weak data security protocols can leave devices vulnerable and easy targets for hackers. To avoid either case, travelers should seriously consider disabling all data services and connecting to only secure networks.
Roaming Fees
For travelers wishing to stay connected with their home country, local SIM cards are the best cost-effective option. Visitors can unlock their phone and exchange their home SIM card with that of a Chinese one. However, some foreign visitors still have to pay international call rates and extra fees to use their phone in the country. For others, signing up for Wi-Fi at a local cafe or restaurant may prove to be the better option.

Language and Navigation

Whether travelers plan to stay in touch via page, Skype, or text, the language barrier may prove to be a major obstacle. Chinese is a tonal language, and its pronunciation and grammar are not easy to learn. Furthermore, using a map service can be challenging, as many maps are not available in English.
Furthermore, the Chinese language can be quite difficult to learn. Written Chinese characters are not alphabetical and represent an entirely different logographic writing system. Thus, for travelers who want to master this incredibly complex language, they should plan to learn separate phrases for each city they visit.
Translation Apps
To avoid language barriers, travelers can make use of free translation apps. Google Translate can be a big help for visitors who want to communicate with locals. It’s important to note that this app does not translate everything flawlessly and makes for more of a conversational exchange rather than a literal translation.
Navigation Apps
Travelers who want to get around China without the use of paper maps can use navigation apps such as Amap, Gaode Map, or Apple Maps. For visitors with little knowledge of Chinese, it’s important to practice navigating with these apps before leaving. Moreover, travelers should take note that these services may be slightly different from what they are used to, and familiarizing themselves with them beforehand can save a lot of trouble further down the road.

Communicating with Home

For travelers who need to stay in touch with their loved ones back home, communication options are plentiful. To make international phone calls, travelers can use China’s National Calling Card or purchase replacement SIM cards.
Skype and Facetime
For those who want to stay in contact for free, Skype and Facetime are alternatives. However, travelers should be warned that these services are blocked in China. Additionally, travelers should consider their data usage, as streaming video quality can quickly burn through data caps.
Meridian App
If travelers want to take advantage of their current data plan, they can opt to use the Meridian app. This messaging service has end-to-end encryption, which makes it a safe way to communicate with home without worrying about government interception.

Emergency Situations and Local Services

To ensure the safety of travelers, it’s important to familiarize themselves with the local emergency services contacts provided by their home country’s embassy. However, for travelers who need immediate assistance, the best option is to contact the Chinese Embassy and notify them of any emergencies.
Chinese Emergency Numbers
In emergency situations, travelers should be aware of the local emergency numbers. In case of medical emergency, the number to call is 120. For police and safety assistance, the number to dial is 110. Travelers should note that the local emergency services may be hard to access without speaking some Mandarin.
International SIM Cards
For travelers who need to stay connected, purchasing an international SIM card might be the best option. These cards are expensive but offer unlimited internet access and free calls to the United States, Europe, as well as other services. Consequently, many travelers elect to purchase one of these cards before traveling.

Digital Payment Services

For most transactions in China, cash is king. However, travelers will be happy to know that digital wallets from Alipay and WeChat are accepted in many businesses throughout the country. For visitors who plan on stocking up on some local currency, it’s best to exchange enough money to cover most purchases during the stay.
ATMs and Credit Cards
Travelers who want to withdraw cash using credit cards will be happy to know that many ATMs in China accept foreign cards. However, visitors should be warned that their banks may charge an extra fee for international transactions and withdraws.
Data Privacy
Storing personal information on devices can be dangerous, and travelers should be aware of potential dangers. To avoid unwanted data collection and potential identity theft, travelers should delete their data before entering the country. Additionally, travelers should make sure to disable all location services and delete the apps when not in use.

Health Insurance and Emergencies

Before traveling, travelers should invest in health insurance that covers their stay, as even a minor injury can lead to thousands in medical bills. Furthermore, travelers should also make sure to pack a first-aid kit with the necessary supplies.
Medical Facilities
In case medical attention is required, travelers should research certified medical facilities in the area. Furthermore, travelers should consult with their insurance provider for more information on medical care coverage while abroad.
Most pharmacies carry a limited selection of common drugs. It’s best to pack a small medical kit with pain medications, antidiarrhea medication, and other necessary items during the stay.
Preventive Measures
It’s important to take all necessary preventive measures before, during, and after the stay. Travelers should be conscious of their diet and avoid drinking tap water. Furthermore, visitors should consider acquiring the most updated vaccinations prior to their arrival.

Legality and Courtesy

Although cell phones enable easy communication and navigation, it’s important to understand the local laws and customs when traveling in the country.
Photography is prohibited in certain areas, and travelers should take extra caution when taking pictures of locations near or inside government buildings, airports, or military installations.
Voice recordings
It’s best for travelers to avoid recording conversations with locals, as many are not aware of the laws governing the privacy of conversations on public places.
Courtesy and Respect
Public displays of affection between couples are not accepted in many public places, and visitors should be aware of this when traveling in the country. Additionally, travelers should do their best to practice basic politeness with the locals.

Bernice Sorrells

Bernice A. Sorrells is a freelance journalist and travel writer from the United States. She has written extensively about China, covering topics such as culture, history, politics, and economics. Bernice has traveled extensively throughout China, visiting many of its provinces and cities.

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