Avoid making embarrassing mistakes by following these tips from an experienced Chinese business consultant
There are a lot of opportunities for British businesses in China – no matter whether you’re looking to export your products or looking for a competitive edge by outsourcing your suppliers.
However, China is a world away culture wise and it can be very intimidating for Western expats arriving for the first time. It can also be easy to make a faux pas as social and business etiquette is very different from what you have been used to. Whilst most Chinese will likely be polite and forgiving, you’ll no doubt want to make the best impression you can.
We have therefore asked British Expat and Chinese business consultant, Gareth Gibson for his advice for British expats looking to make a business trip to China for the first time.
Originally from Manchester, he has spent six years working in Guangdong Province advising both British businesses on doing business in China as well as Chinese business people on visiting the UK.
Top Tips for Business Trips to China from Gareth Gibson, Longley International Consultants
How to Apply in the UK For a Business Visa For China
You will need to ask the client/factory you are visiting to send you a business invitation letter in order to apply for a business trip visa (M Class). Typically for British citizens you will get a multiple entry 2 year visa.
Manchester China Visa centre is my favourite so far. If you’re in a pinch then you can go to Edinburgh too, I’ve used that one and they were very quick. I’ve not used the London centre yet, though I am told it is always very busy and you might be waiting over a month for an appointment. Normally, you book an appointment with the centre, go in and give them all of your documents, a week later they will call you back to collect your passport with the visa inside.
Don’t Forget to Get Your Residency Permit Upon Arrival
Once you have checked into your hotel you will need to go to the local police station to get your residency permit. Your hotel reception should be able to give you the address of the nearest place to get it done. Take your passport, and a photocopy of your ID page and visa page, and a spare passport photo.
I’ve met many people who do not get their residency permit, even for short visits. To be honest, in my early days in China I was the same, though I do not think it is worth the risk, if you are caught without the permit then best case scenario is a £200 fine, worst case is your visa being revoked, and slap a 10-year ban on top (though that is incredibly unlikely!).
Get a VPN So You Can Stay Connected
You will also need a VPN for China, especially if your phone runs on Android. Outlook works well in China so you can sync your Google email account to that, works well for me. WhatsApp, Facebook, Google, Twitter and so forth are all blocked. Even sites that aren’t blocked, if foreign, will be given lower bandwidth speeds than a local site, so a VPN is pretty much essential.
How to Meet and Greet a Chinese Person
Please don’t bow! That’s Japanese. Every time I see a Western businessman meet a Chinese client and they bow, I get to watch the whole room cringe, please don’t do it! A couple of times I’ve seen the Chinese client assume that bowing is a UK custom and bow back ha!
Just shake hands like a normal person.
Hugs or kisses on the cheek would be a bit odd (we’re not French!), though if you get along well with your client, resting your hand on their shoulder when you’re walking is normal, he might do the same to you so don’t be worried, and it is a display of friendly affection, not alpha dominance.
Bring a Gift
If you are going to China to meet a regular / important client, bring a gift. You should get them something local to you, and something that can’t be readily found in China. You don’t have to wrap it up, though the packaging is better if it looks ‘grand’. In terms of gift ideas, you should think of 3 things:
- Something he can share with his high-flying mates (to show off)
- Something he can share with his wife on a special evening
- Something to decorate his office (to show off)
Whisky and wine work well for all three. They also love good old traditional and quaint Britain, something quite cute and old fashioned would be nice. I’ve seen my Chinese clients bringing cigarettes, Australian wine, historic mini-statues, a painting, a traditional looking bag, and others for British clients.
No green hats, clocks, shoes, nor umbrellas– they all have rude connotations.
Should You Go Cashless?
If you are only in China for one week and no more, then it’s hardly worth going through the trouble of going cashless. If you plan to be in China fairly regularly, or for a long stretch of time, then it’s worth noting that most of China is cashless now. Even beggars accept We Chat Pay.
To go cashless, upon arrival you will need to find a bank. I’ve been using ICBC for 6 years now and they haven’t been any trouble. In the major cities you will always find someone in the branch who speaks English, which is of great help!
Typically, in Chinese banks you will be queuing for a long time (try to go during normal working hours), but once you get to the banker everything will be done there and then and you will walk out with a functioning bank card, your online banking set-up, the Secure Key for online banking etc., you don’t need to wait for everything to arrive in the post a week later.
Once set-up you should ask your attendant to help you connect your We Chat to your bank account, and from there on you are good to go. It is honestly a lot less painless than you might think.
Internal Travel In China
Distances between the major Chinese cities are quite vast, comparable in size to European travel. For example it’s 1200 miles between Beijing and Shenzhen – the same as the distance between Manchester and Gibraltar!
If you plan to only visit clients in a provincial area (i.e. Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong) then the high speed train is a no-brainer.
High speed trains in China go to every city you would ever need to visit, they are cheap, comfortable, and fast. It is also worth spending an extra 10% on your ticket in order to go 1st Class, so you can have a comfortable nap and a free pair of slippers.
A train from Guangzhou to Shenzhen will cost you around 70 RMB (£8) each way and takes around 30 minutes.
Why Train Can Be Better Than Flying – Even For Longer Trips In China
If you need to go a longer distance in China, for example Shenzhen to Beijing, you would naturally think that flying would make more sense. This however is not often the case; the below picture illustrates one of the major problems with internal flying:
Most of the airspace in China is owned by the military, and civil aviation is limited to narrow corridors. As you can see, there are quite enough planes using these corridors, and this always results in a build-up of planes circling the airport waiting for a slot to land. The Economist talked about this in length, saying, “the seven worst airports for delays are all in China.” The average delay is around 43 minutes.
If you need to be arriving at your destination at a certain time for an appointment, it’s always best not to rely on planes.
A train from Shenzhen to Bejing takes around 9 hours (best to get 1st class, overnight, and the chairs are very reclining so you can get a decent sleep) for around 1,000 RMB (£114).
A flight will take 3 hours and cost around 2,500 RMB (£287), but you have to take into account flight delays, and travelling to and from the airport.
Getting To Your Final Destination
Once in a city, you will probably be visiting factories off the beaten track, likely outside of city centre. For this reason, it is usually best to get your client to send someone to pick you up from your hotel, or ask your hotel to get you a taxi.
If you are meeting clients in city centre, the Metro network in China is modern, clean, and cheap, and most importantly: English friendly (with a pinch of salt).
Also, don’t try to travel in China during a public holiday:
Coping With The Weather In China
Prepare for a hot and sweaty climate. Temperatures in the summer can easily reach 35c and it can be very humid, especially in southern China.
If you can choose which season to come to China, always pick winter. In July you will find that by walking from your hotel to the Metro station, and the Metro station to the office, you will be sweating before you arrive, so taking a taxi is often a good option for keeping fresh.
I always tell visitors to keep a pack of tissues and bottle of water with them at all times, this is not for the restroom, simply to help combat the heat.
Bear in mind that during the summer in China you will spend 90% of your time, or more, inside air-conditioned buildings, so it’s very important to keep hydrated or else the A/C will dry out your body and you will get quite sick.
Also, due to all the sweating you will need to replenish your salt levels. Chinese food tends to contain more salt than our own so you might be alright with just that, if not, a cheeky pack of French fries from McDonalds will do the trick.
Dress-wise, a shirt and light coloured trousers do the trick. In the summer months you will look ridiculous in a jacket or blazer. You will likely want to bring a pair of shorts for when travelling or if you have a free evening (yes, even at 2am you will still be sweating).
Winter In Northern China Is Freezing!
Whilst we associate China with hot weather, you should also remember that winter months can be very cold especially in Northern China. In Beijing temperatures can drop to -15c and that’s before taking into account the wind chill!
Following Up After Your Visit
Upon your return to the UK, always remember to follow-up with your clients. Even if you don’t plan to pursue, let them know how great it was to meet them(?)how thankful you are for their hospitality, and always say something nice about China.
Who doesn’t appreciate a compliment about their home town?
The original version of this article was published on the blog Engage East
Get Expert Advice To Help Make Your Trip Go Smoothly
We hope these tips give you a head start with your business trip to China. But this, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg and there are many more things you should consider.
You can choose just to ‘wing it’ and muddle your way through, but an alternative would be to get a local guide, such as Gareth Gibson, who understands the local Chinese culture as well as the needs of Western businesses.
Gareth founded Longley International Consultants which operates from Shenzhen, China and assists foreign businesses and individuals with the opportunities they are looking for in the Far East.
Doing business in China is as much about who you know as understanding local customs. Gareth and his team not only have years of experience, but also a network of friends, partners and other contacts that will help you get the most from your trip to China.
If you’d like to chat to him about your Chinese ambitions you can reach him through his website. Don’t forget to mention you were recommended by PSS International Removals!
Shipping To China And Hong Kong
If you are making the move to live and work in China or Hong Kong, why not consider taking some of your home comforts with you?
Shipping boxes, excess baggage or even whole house removals can be surprisingly cost effective with our personal shipping and international removals services.