Sunday, November 22, 2015

China & Hong Kong: Trip Tips

Things I learned from doing this trip. This is only for a leisure trip from an U.S. national point of view.

1. Yes, you need a passport to enter and return to the U.S.

2. You need a visa for China but not for Hong Kong. Before you even fill in the application, make sure you have paid for flights going to and coming back from China. Also, you will need to identify the place you are staying at in China. Read the China Consulate Visa page very carefully for how to complete your application, what documents are needed, and how to get your application processed. I was lucky that I live close to the China Consulate in New York City so I could do the submission myself. It required a minimum of two trips -- one to drop off and get application approved. and the other to pay for and pick up your passport with the China Visa placed (really glued onto a page) inside.

3. You can now get a China Visa which provides you multiple entries for 10 years. It's best to get this option as I'm sure you want to save $140 processing fee.

Hong Kong - only one way to write it
4. China considers Hong Kong a "special administration region" aka SAR. Hong Kong has its own government and still follows many of the British practices. Visiting Hong Kong does NOT require a visa. The other China SAR is Macau. If you decide you want to visit Macau while you are in Hong Kong, it does not require a visa either.

5. If you bring supporting paperwork for your China visa application, make sure the names on all your documents are the same. If they are not, please be sure to bring legal documentation supporting the name change. For example, my birth certificate has a different name from my naturalization and passport documents. I had to go back to the U.S. courts to get a legal document saying my name was changed during my naturalization which they forgot to send me. This missing piece halted my original plan to visit China in 2014. I had to get that straighten and start the whole visa process again in 2015.

5. You will get a stamp in your passport each time you enter and exit China. You will need to complete an "Arrival" form when entering and a "Departure" form when exiting. Both these forms are surrendered to China Customs.

6. Hong Kong will not stamp your passport. Instead, they will print you a small slip which you keep with you. On entry, you will complete a duplicate form. The original will be taken by Hong Kong Customs. The duplicate should be kept inside your passport (or a safe place) as it will be taken by Hong Kong Customs when you exit the country.

1. Notify all credit card and financial institutions (ATM cards) that you will be traveling outside of the country. My credit card companies were easy as they had an automated system to record this information for you. You do not want to find out you cannot use your credit card or ATM card while you are out of the country. Better to take care of this while you are still in your home country.

2. I find you use more cash, less credit card, while in China and Hong Kong. I did not bring foreign currency with me. Instead, I withdrew money from an ATM machine in the country I visited. Once you get your foreign currency, you will want to use your hotel or a bank to break down your currency into smaller bills -- for tipping or riding public transportation.

3. From the many sites I read around the internet, it is cheaper to get foreign currency in the country you are visiting. Ideally, you should have a small amount of small foreign currencies with you before you arrive in the country for tipping purposes or quick purchases. I didn't do that because my bank had an ATM machine at the airport where I could get cash. Sadly, when I arrived in China I could not locate the machine. I think it may have been in the other terminal. When I got to my hotel, I needed to tip my driver and a bell person. Guess what I used, I gave them American money. I won't be caught in this situation next time. See next paragraph for why.

3. Of course, I now have foreign currency left over. As I plan to return to China and Hong Kong in the years to come, I will keep the small denominations and some large bills. The rest I will redeposit back into my bank account. I discovered that Citibank's Citigold account gives you lots of freebies when it comes to dealing with foreign transactions -- free ATM use, no foreign transaction fees, free currency exchange, plus some other good freebies. The only bad thing about Citigold, you need to maintain a balance of hefty balance for a no service account fee. Otherwise, it's a month $30 fee.

If I have any more tips as I continue to write about my trip, I do another write up with them.

Do you have any tips? Post them in the comments.

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