If you’re doing business in Singapore, chances are you’ll be making a trip to China at some point. Trade flows between Singapore and China were valued at a whopping US$54 billion (S$73 billion) last year, making China one of the most important trading partners in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.
Fortunately, travelers holding a Singaporean passport are one of the few who are able to enter China without a visa, providing they stay in the country for no longer than 15 days. As such, business travel between the two countries is significant, with tens of thousands of people making the journey every single year.
If this is your first time traveling to China for business purposes, there is a lot you’ll need to get to grips with. China differs vastly from the semi-autonomous state of Hong Kong, in terms of culture, business etiquette, and governance. In order to make sure your business trip is a success, read this essential guide on how to prepare.
As already noted, Singaporean passport holders do not need a visa to enter China. The same goes for holders of a Japanese and Brunei passport. However if you plan to stay more than 15 days you’ll have to apply for a visa at your local embassy, consulate, or visa processing center. A standard single-entry visa for Singaporean nationals cost S$85, although holders of western passports will have to pay around S$250. Also, note that your passport will be required to have at least sixth months’ validity, wherever you’re from, and that you’ll need to have at least one blank passport page.
One of the most important things to prepare for when traveling to China is internet access, which is strictly controlled by the so-called Great Firewall. This form of censorship often results in business travelers being unable to access emails via Google and Outlook accounts, whilst social media will also be off-limits. For this reason, having a VPN to use in China is absolutely essential. A VPN will allow you to bypass the Great Firewall and ensure your business activities continue unimpeded. Also note that WiFi access, even in conference centers and large hotels, may be patchy at times, so try and prepare for this by downloading important documents.
As you probably already know, the official Chinese currency is the yuan (RMB), with one Singaporean Dollar being equivalent to around 5RMB at the time of writing. Consumer prices in China are generally much lower than in Singapore, but cities like Shanghai and Beijing are now reaching similar prices, with expat consumer goods and venues often costing more than what you’d pay in Singapore. If you want to save money, stick to local shops, restaurants, and bars. However, if you’d prefer to do expat activities with colleagues and clients, know that a beer in a typical expat bar will cost you around 80RMB, whilst a meal in a mid-range restaurant will cost you north of 400RMB.
Having a basic understanding of Chinese business etiquette is absolutely critical. ‘Face’ is incredibly important in Chinese business relationships and any breach of etiquette will be viewed as an attempt to undermine your Chinese counterpart’s ‘face’. There are many conventions, but as long as you know the basics, you’ll be alright. First of all, always receive a Chinese person’s business card with both hands – take the time to look at it and thank them for it. Second, the oldest person in the room is always the most senior in any meeting or informal setting, regardless of their position in the company. Third, Chinese business talk often involves agreeing to everything at once in person, but this may not turn out to be the case a few days later. Do not take this personally, as it is just a means of ensuring a cordial atmosphere.
You’ll be pleased to know that all of China’s cities have brilliant, modern, clean, and affordable metro and bus systems. You can buy a metro card from a ticket machine, although this will unlikely offer services in any language other than Mandarin (unless you’re using the Shanghai Metro, which offers services in English). When using taxis, always check to see that the taxi is licensed, and ask for them to turn the meter (“da biao”) on as soon as you step inside the vehicle. If possible, download WeChat, which is what everyone in China uses for all forms of communication. You can also use this to order a taxi via a platform called DiDi, which accepts payment via WeChat. Always have your destination written down in Mandarin, as it is highly unlikely that your driver will know any English. Also, tipping is uncommon in China and may even cause offence, so don’t bother tipping your driver.
Once you’re equipped with this information, you’ll be all set. Follow these tips to ensure you close that deal on your next business trip to China.
Featured Image Credit: The Viveur