Area Codes -- The local code for Beijing is 010.
Banks & ATMs -- Larger branches of the Bank of China typically exchange cash and traveler's checks on weekdays only, from 9am to 4pm, occasionally with a break for lunch (11:30am-1:30pm). Most central is the branch at the bottom of Wangfujing Dajie, next to the Oriental Plaza. Other useful branches include those at Fucheng Men Nei Dajie 410; on Jianguo Men Wai Dajie, west of the Scitech Building; in the Lufthansa Center, next to the Kempinski Hotel; and in Tower 1 of the China World Trade Center. Outside the airport, Bank of China ATMs accepting international cards 24 hours a day are now widespread, and include those outside the Wangfujing Dajie branch mentioned above. Others exist farther north on Wangfujing Dajie, outside the Xin (Sun) Dong An Plaza; on the left just inside the Pacific Century Plaza on Gongti Bei Lu east of Sanlitun (only 9am-9pm); and adjacent to the Bank of China branch next to the Scitech Building (also 24 hr.). The Citibank ATM east of the International Hotel, and the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC) machine at the entrance to COFCO Plaza, roughly opposite each other on Jianguo Men Nei Dajie, are Beijing's most reliable. There are also six ATMs at the airport.
Business Hours -- Offices are generally open 9am to 6pm, but closed Saturday and Sunday. All shops, sights, restaurants, and transport systems offer the same service 7 days a week. Shops are typically open at least 8am to 8pm. Bank opening hours vary (see "Banks & ATMs," above).
Drinking Laws -- With the exception of some minor local regulations, there are no liquor laws in Beijing. Alcohol can be bought in any convenience store, supermarket, restaurant, bar, hotel, or club, 7 days a week, and may be drunk anywhere you feel like drinking it. If the shop is open 24 hours, then the alcohol is available 24 hours, too. Closing times for bars and clubs vary according to demand, but typically it's all over by 3am.
Electricity -- The electricity used in all parts of China is 220 volts, alternating current (AC), 50 cycles. Most devices from North America, therefore, cannot be used without a transformer. The most common outlet takes the North American two-flat-pin plug (but not the three-pin version, or those with one pin broader than the other). Nearly as common are outlets for the two-round-pin plugs common in Europe. Outlets for the three-flat-pin (two pins at an angle) used in Australia, for instance, are also frequently seen. Most hotel rooms have all three, and indeed many outlets are designed to take all three plugs. Adapters are available for only ¥8 to ¥17 in department stores. Shaver sockets are common in bathrooms of hotels from three stars upward. British-style three-chunky-pin plugs also often occur in mainland joint-venture hotels built with Hong Kong assistance, but hotels of this caliber will have adapters available.
Embassies & Consulates -- Beijing has three main embassy areas -- one surrounding Ritan Gongyuan north of Jianguo Men Wai Dajie, another in Sanlitun north of Gongti Bei Lu, and the newest one, home of the new U.S. Embassy, next to Liangma Qiao and just outside the north section of the East Third Ring Road. Embassies are typically open Monday through Friday from 9am to between 4 and 5pm, with a lunch break from noon to 1:30pm. The Australian Embassy is in Sanlitun at Dong Zhi Men Wai Dajie 21 (tel. 010/5140-4111; fax 010/6532-4605). The British Embassy consular section is in Ri Tan at Floor 21, North Tower, Kerry Centre, Guanghua Lu 1 (tel. 010/8529-6600, ext. 3363; fax 010/8529-6081). The Canadian Embassy is at Dong Zhi Men Wai Dajie 19 (tel. 010/5139-4000; firstname.lastname@example.org). The New Zealand Embassy is in Ri Tan at Dong Er Jie 1 (tel. 010/8532-7000; fax 010/6532-4317). The U.S. Embassy is at 55 An Jia Lou Lu (tel. 010/8531-3000 or, after hours, 010/6532-1910; fax 010/8531-4000).
Emergencies -- No one speaks English on emergency numbers in China, although your best bet will be tel. 110. Find help nearer at hand.
Hospitals -- For comprehensive care, the best choice is Beijing United Family Hospital (Hemujia Yiyuan; tel. 010/6433-3960) at Jiangtai Lu (2 blocks southeast of the Holiday Inn Lido); it is open 24 hours, is staffed with foreign-trained doctors, and has a pharmacy, a dental clinic, in- and out-patient care, and ambulance service. They are equipped to perform surgeries and deliver babies. Other reputable health-service providers, both with 24-hour ambulance services, are the International Medical Center (tel. 010/6465-1561), inside the Lufthansa Center; and the International SOS Clinic and Alarm Center (tel. 010/6462-9112), at suite 105, wing 1, Kunsha Building, 16 Xinyuanli. You can usually schedule a consultation within 24 hours and they have an emergency ward onsite.
Insurance -- Unless you have comprehensive private medical insurance, traveler's insurance is a must in Beijing. If you find yourself in the unhappy situation of needing medical care, comprehensive services come with high price tags. X-rays for a broken bone will set you back several hundred dollars, and more serious care, such as an emergency surgery, could easily cost thousands of dollars. For China, purchase travel insurance that includes an air ambulance or scheduled airline repatriation. Be clear on the terms and conditions -- is repatriation limited to life-threatening illnesses, for instance? While there are advanced facilities staffed by foreign doctors in Beijing, regular Chinese hospitals are to be avoided. They may charge you a substantial bill, which you must pay in cash before you're allowed to leave. If this happens to you, you'll have to wait until you return home to submit your claim, so make sure you have adequate proof of payment.
For information on traveler's insurance, trip-cancellation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling, please visit www.frommers.com/planning.
Language -- English is rare in Beijing. If you're staying at a reputable five-star hotel, use their well-trained, English-speaking staff to help you with phone calls and bookings. Almost no information, booking, complaint, or emergency lines in Beijing have anyone who speaks English.
Legal Aid -- If you get on the wrong side of what passes for the law in China, contact your consulate immediately.
Mail -- Sending mail from China is remarkably reliable, although sending it to private addresses within China is not. Take the mail to post offices rather than dropping it in a mailbox. Some larger hotels have postal services on-site. It helps if mail sent out of the country has its country of destination written in characters, but this is not essential. Hotel staff will often help. Letters and cards written in red ink will occasionally be rejected, as this carries very negative overtones. Costs are as follows. Overseas mail: postcards ¥4.20, letters under 10g ¥5.40, letters under 20g ¥6.50. EMS (express parcels under 500g): to Australia ¥160 to ¥210; to Europe ¥220 to ¥280; to the U.S. ¥180 to ¥240. Normal parcels up to 1kg: to Australia by air ¥70 to ¥144, by sea ¥15 to ¥89; to the U.K. by air ¥77 to ¥162, by sea ¥22 to ¥108 to the U.S. by air ¥95 to ¥159, by sea ¥20 to ¥84. Letters and parcels can be registered for a small extra charge. Registration forms and Customs declaration forms are in Chinese and French.
Newspapers & Magazines -- Sino-foreign joint-venture hotels in the bigger cities have a selection of foreign newspapers and magazines available, but these are not otherwise on sale. The government distributes a propaganda sheet called China Daily, usually free at hotels. For the most current information on life in Beijing, particularly restaurants and nightlife, see the intermittently accurate listings in the free English-language expat-produced monthlies The Beijinger or Time Out, available in hotel lobbies and at bars in the major drinking districts (see chapter 10 for these). Online, City Weekend (www.cityweekend.com.cn) manages to update its website with fair regularity, and Local Noodles (www.localnoodles.com) offers user-generated reviews on restaurants and bars around town.
Police -- Known to foreigners as the PSB (Public Security Bureau, gong'an ju), this is only one of several different bureaus in mainland China. The police (jingcha) are quite simply best avoided -- honestly, they are looking to avoid doing any work. Ideally, any interaction with the police should be limited to visa extensions. If you must see them for some reason, approach your hotel for assistance first, where you are likely to find an English speaker of sorts.
Smoking -- The government of China is the world's biggest cigarette manufacturer. China is home to 20% of the world's population but 30% of the world's cigarettes. About one million people a year in China die of smoking-related illnesses. Nonsmoking tables in restaurants are almost unheard of, and NO SMOKING signs are favorite places beneath which to smoke, especially in elevators. Smokers are generally sent to the spaces between the carriages on trains, but they won't bother to go there if no one protests. You'll find the same attitude on air-conditioned buses.
Taxes -- Service charges mostly appear only in Sino-foreign joint-venture hotels, and range from 10% to 15%. Airport departure taxes are now included in the cost of your ticket.
Time -- The whole of China is on Beijing time -- 8 hours ahead of GMT (and therefore of London), 13 hours ahead of New York, 14 hours ahead of Chicago, and 16 hours ahead of Los Angeles. There's no daylight saving time (summer time), so subtract 1 hour in the summer.
Tipping -- In mainland China, as in many other countries, there is no tipping, despite what tour companies may tell you (although if you have a tour leader who accompanies you from home, home rules apply). Until recently, tipping was expressly forbidden, and some hotels still carry signs requesting you not to tip. Foreigners are overcharged at every turn, and it bemuses Chinese that they hand out free money in addition. Chinese never do it themselves, and indeed if a bellhop or another hotel employee hints that a tip would be welcome, he or she may be fired. Waitresses may run out of restaurants after you to give you change, and all but the most corrupt of taxi drivers will insist on returning it, too. In China, the listed price or the price bargained for is the price you pay, and that's that.
Toilets -- Street-level public toilets in China are common, many detectable with the nose before they are seen. Ladies, always carry a pack of tissues with you, as free toilet paper in public bathrooms is rare. Entrance fees have been abolished in Beijing, but someone may still try to charge you for toilet paper, ¥.20. In many cases you merely squat over a trough. Use the standard Western equipment in your hotel room, in department stores and malls, and in branches of foreign fast-food chains. This is the principal benefit of the presence of so many branches of McDonald's.
Visitor Information -- The Beijing Tourism Administration maintains a 24-hour tourist information hot line at tel. 010/12301. Staff actually speak some English, so it's unfortunate that they rarely have the answers to your questions, and simply refer you to CITS. Hotel concierges and guest relations officers are at least close at hand, although they often have little knowledge of the city, will be reluctant to work to find the answers if they can convince you to do something else instead, and, when they do find the answer to a question, do not note it down for the next time a guest asks. Beware of strong recommendations to visit dinner shows or other expensive entertainments, as they are often on a kickback.
You can also try the new BTA-managed Beijing Tourist Information Centers (Beijing Shi Luyou Zixun Fuwu Zhongxin) located in each district and all marked with the same aqua-blue signs. The most competent branch is in Chaoyang, on Gongti Bei Lu across from the City Hotel and next to KFC (tel. 010/6417-6627; fax 010/6417-6656; daily 9am-5pm). Free maps are available at the door, and staff can sometimes be wheedled into making phone calls. Ignore the extortionist travel service.
Water -- Tap water in mainland China is not drinkable. Use bottled water, widely available on every street, and provided for free in all the better hotels.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.