After 25 years in high tech I am making my first trip to mainland China (I have done business in Taiwan for years) so I thought I would make sure that I did my homework before the trip. In my opinion you always want to make the right impression the first time and that means being polite and abiding by the correct customs and etiquette when visiting a new Country.

It’s also fascinating how each culture and place can have totally different ways to do things and small things that can have a very big impact. One of the first things I learned is that like many Asian cultures the business card and it’s usage is very, very important. I will cover this issue first as you will need some time to get this part ready and it’s one of the most important things for a new business person trying to get started.

Business cards

For businessman and businesswoman who is going on a business trip to China, they are quick to realize that meeting a business partner without bring business card doesn’t give good impression of professionalism and friendliness.

The exchange of business cards is an important first step in business meetings in China. It’s absolutely OK to bring your business card in English as it is. But to most of your Chinese counterparts, reading your business card in Chinese will make you a good first impression.

Not that unusual right? Now here’s the rub. You need to get a Chinese “name”..!

Just like many Asians adopt a new name like “Fred” when coming to the US, we need to do the same when going the other way for the same and different reasons. The same reason is the pronunciation – its very important for both cultures to be able to “say” your name correctly and both parties have issues with each others language. 

The other reason to have a “special” name (and the correct Chinese characters used on the card) is that a name means much more in China and getting the wrong translation of your first and last name may “come out wrong” or may have negative associations. This is very bad. So beware using Google to translate your card, I suggest using a proper naming Company like these guys:

In China, the quality of a business card is important. A well-crafted business card wins respect and opens doors.


What about card etiquette?

OK so now you now have the correct name, the correct card with the correct “characters”, now you need to give out the card to people in the correct fashion.

Again, be very careful, unlike the western way to both handing a card and shaking at the same time you need to “present” the card with both hands with your name facing them so they can read it and receive the card the same way!

As you receive a card, take time to read it and make some positive comments before putting it in your pocket or purse. Always have your cards ready – maybe in the pocket of your suit coat.

If you follow this advice. Your Chinese counterpart will feel flattered. A little detail makes a long-lasting impression.

OK, so this is a great example of why you need to some research before visiting and hoping to do business with another culture, especially one that is more conservative where a long time is required to build trust.

Here are some other useful tips:

(thanks to my friends who are Asia experts)

* Do I need a VISA?

Yes, and you need to leave a week to get that done.

* What cities/areas are best for what in Tech?

Shenzhen and Guangzhou are more hardware hi-tech locations. Beijing and Shanghai tend to be more software and telecoms hi-tech. Hong Kong is only 45mins away from Shenzhen so this has easier export, access and western connections.

* What is the no. 1 cultural faux pas I should watch out for? Don’t want to offend anyone?

Don’t be late to meetings. Big cities in China are very open and friendly. You pretty much don’t need to worry about anything. Chinese like foreign visitors.

But avoiding political topics such as Tibet and Taiwan issues would be smart. Also Chinese ladies are not used to getting hugs from strangers. Hand-shaking is considered more appropriate when meeting for the first time.

* What is the usual business clothing expected for meetings and social? (Suit – jeans, in between)

Suit (and tie) for business meeting (they will think you’re not sincere if underdressed). Suit is good for any government meeting. But given the heat there, a jacket without a tie is fine. Most of the hi-tech people dress casually.

* How good is the English in bigger towns and what should I watch out for when trying to get around?

Usually English is spoken to some extent. You can pretty much chat in English with any young person you meet on the street of Beijing or Shanghai. But older generations don’t know English at all. If you need to ask for directions on the street, find someone who look like college students. They’re very eager to help out. You should have no problems speaking. English in hotels or resorts. Some cab drivers can speak a little bit English, but not much. When travelling bring your hotel’s card with you so that you can easily hand it to a driver to take you back to your hotel. Virtually none of the taxi drivers speak English. 

But if you want to make progress in business take a Mandarin speaker with you for business meetings. If not then make sure they have a good English speaker.

* Is a special travel insurance policy a good idea in case of illness or medical issues?

Medical insurance is a must, on top of good business travel insurance. Hospitals are actually OK. If your insurance has world-wide coverage, you should be fine.

* Is crime on the streets a problem, or on public transport?

Crime is not a problem if you stay in the populated areas. But do keep your belongings around you at all times. If you are walking along the street and are approached by a normal looking Chinese woman who wants to speak English. She’s not just trying to learn English if you know what I mean! But other than that it’s really pretty safe. But do bring some cash with you at all times (4-5K RMB).  It’s good to watch out pickpockets if you’re on subway, but they’re pretty rare.

* How do you avoid being ripped off by taxi drivers? Any airport scams to avoid?

Taxi industry is very tightly regulated in China. One or two complaints from customers can make them lose their license, so normally cab drivers won’t rip you off too much. The taxi stop at the airport is supervised by a special team. You’ll wait at the line and the operators will call the cab for you. Make sure you always get the receipt in case you left something in the car.

You should also think about getting a hotel car to pick you up this is usually like 2-3 times more expensive ($60) but is a much more comfortable ride after a 12 hour flight and they know where they are going.

If you have a lot of meetings, it would be better to hire a car and driver. Traffic is impossible and at some times of the day it could take an hour to get a taxi.

* What’s the best hotel chain for value/comfort?

Just get any 5 or 4 star, but make sure you are not stuck out away from the action. Central West in Beijing is best. There are a lot of Starwood hotels in C
hina (Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis, W). The Westins and Sheratons are really great – avoid the Sheraton Great Wall in Beijing and stay at the Westin Chaoyang not the Westin in the Financial district. Any W Hotel is really amazing.

For value in Beijing I stayed at a Chinese hotel, much lower cost: Yulong Hotel, Fucheng Road 40,Haidian District. Local currency (RMB): 320.00 per night!

* What’s the roaming cell phone/internet charges like? Any special advice on saving money here?

Us carriers get hit with 2 bucks a minute roaming. Take a unlocked 3g phone and you can usually buy a local SIM in the airport. Often there are girls at kiosks selling these in the baggage claim area or outside of arrivals. These will give you a local number and great rates back to the US and of course locally. Some even have data plans.

* Are credit cards accepted everywhere? Best way to get currency?
China is more of a cash country, credit cards are becoming more common but are not in use as much as you see in the U.S. and Europe.  Bring a bigger wallet or pouch… China is like Italy when they had the Lira. Cash is preferred, however, in international establishments credit cards work just fine. Regarding currency.  Everywhere you go you pay the exchange rate.  Personally, I use the Citibank teller machine either at the airport or around town and withdraw cash.

* What’s the best food and food to avoid? Best places to get a great dinner in general? (i.e. hotels or out)

Food in the Western hotels is really good. Often Sinophile Western chefs move to China because of a wife or something and they land up running the Western hotel restaurants. I’ve had some of the best Western food in Western hotels in China. If you are going for Chinese food, Sichuan and Cantonese versions of Chinese food  will be the most familiar to you. (Chinese food is very regionally oriented). Beijing food is very plain and not great for the Western palate you may not like Shanghai food either! Chinese restaurants are good value. Go for high end local cuisine outside hotel for the best experience.

Don’t get your hopes up about choices of wine. Don’t drink Chinese wine despite what they are saying about being able to copy anything. Most wines in restaurants will be from Aus or NZ.

Do try the night market in Beijing. It’s a lot of fun and you can sample many styles of Chinese food (some of them can be really exotic and bizarre though). And you don’t want to miss Peking Duck. The best place to have that is Quan Ju De. This is a restaurant that have more than a hundred years of history of making ducks. Superb!

* What’s the best place to visit in Beijing if you can only have time for one? Hong Kong?

You should definitely do a day trip to the Great Wall – preferably during the week not the weekend. There are 4 locations that are the most popular. Badaling is cool because they have a slide to get you down the mountain after you are done. Moutainyu is probably the largest but farther away from Beijing. Normally most tours to the Great wall depart very early (6 a.m.) in the morning. Most popular entrance is Badaling.  The further you walk along the wall the less crowded it will get.  I wanted to get well off the beaten track and headed for Huanghua. You can also hire a private car for I believe 200 RMB for about 4 hours. Try to go with someone who is local, if possible, unless you are comfortable on your own.  Have a map to hand. 

Of course the other thing to do is visit the Forbidden Palace off of Tiananmen Square. It’s worth saying you’ve been there because it’s the most iconic site in China. But not as interesting in my opinion as the Great Wall.

In Hong Kong, go to the top of Victoria Peak. You take a funicular train up there and there are fantastic views up there. There are a couple of museums up there too.

* Any advice on a decent company to org a trip? or to help with meetings and other business related events? see

I have tried to cover things not in the usual travel guide but do read these too!

So there is your quick primer on visiting China for business. There are many other smaller issues to watch out for like never pouring your own tea at dinner, and how to say thanks and what to do with chopsticks so I also suggest that you read one of the good guides on the country too.