Area & Country Codes -- China (86); Hong Kong (852); Macau (853).
Business Hours -- Offices are generally open from 9am to 6pm but are closed Saturday and Sunday. Most shops, sights, restaurants, and transport systems offer the same service 7 days a week. Shops are typically open at least from 8am to 8pm. Bank opening hours vary widely. In Hong Kong and Macau, most offices are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm, with lunch hour from 1 to 2pm; Saturday business hours are generally 9am to 1pm. Most Hong Kong and Macau shops are open 7 days a week, from 10am to at least 7pm.
Car Rentals -- Self-drive rental options are very limited in China and driving is not recommended.
Drinking Laws -- With the exception of some minor local regulations, there are no liquor laws in China. 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. In Hong Kong, liquor laws largely follow the U.K. model; restaurants, bars, and clubs must obtain licenses to sell alcohol for consumption on the premises, and shops must have licenses to sell it for consumption off the premises. In either case, licenses prohibit sale of alcohol to persons under 18. The same holds true for Macau. Licensing hours vary from area to area.
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. If you have 110V devices your hotel may be able to supply a voltage converter. 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) variety used in Australia are also frequently seen. Many hotel rooms have all three, and indeed many outlets are designed to take all three plugs. Adapters with two or three flat pins are available inexpensively in department stores, and good hotels can often provide them free of charge. China is quite sophisticated in this area, and one can easily buy a power strip that has the requisite plug to go into a Chinese wall outlet and eight universal outlets that will accept any type of plug used in the world. Shaver sockets are common in bathrooms of hotels from three stars upward. In Hong Kong and Macau, the British-style three-chunky-pin plugs are standard, although Macau also has round-pin varieties.
Embassies & Consulates -- Most countries maintain embassies in Beijing and consulates in Hong Kong. Australia also has consulates in Guangzhou and Shanghai; Canada and the U.K. in Chongqing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai; New Zealand in Shanghai; and the U.S. in Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Shanghai. See those relevant chapters for further information.
Emergencies -- Little English is spoken on emergency numbers in China, although your best bet will be tel. 110. Find help nearer at hand. In Hong Kong and Macau dial tel. 999 for police, fire, or ambulance.
Internet Access -- Internet connection is widely accessible in China via Internet cafes, broadband, and Wi-Fi in hotel rooms, lobbies, and cafes. As a slower, last resort, anonymous dial-up is also readily available.
Language -- English is widely spoken in Hong Kong, fairly common in Macau, and rare in the mainland, although this is changing. There will often be someone who speaks a little English at your hotel and you can ask that person to help you with phone calls and bookings. Information, booking, complaint, or emergency lines in the mainland rarely have anyone who speaks English.
Legal Aid -- If you get on the wrong side of 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 using mailboxes. 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, although hotel staff will often help. Letters and cards written in red ink will occasionally be rejected. Overseas mail: postcards ¥4.20, letters under 10 grams ¥5.40, letters under 20 grams ¥6.50. EMS (express parcels under 500g): to the U.S.: ¥180 to ¥240; to Europe ¥220 to ¥280; to Australia ¥160 to ¥210. Normal parcels up to 1 kilogram (2 1/4 lb.): to the U.S. by air ¥102, by sea ¥20 to ¥84; to the U.K. by air ¥142, by sea ¥22 to ¥108; to Australia by air ¥135, by sea ¥15 to ¥89. Letters and parcels can be registered for a small extra charge. Registration forms and Customs declaration forms are in Chinese and French. The post offices of Hong Kong and Macau are reliable, but both have their own stamps and rates.
Newspapers & Magazines -- Sino-foreign joint-venture hotels in the bigger cities have a selection of foreign newspapers and magazines available, but these are otherwise not on sale. The government distributes a propaganda sheet called China Daily, usually free at hotels, and there are occasional local variations. Cities with larger populations support a number of self-censoring entertainment magazines usually produced by resident foreigners and only slightly more bland when produced by Chinese aiming at the same market. Nevertheless, these do have accurate entertainment listings, restaurant reviews, and local healthcare details. A vast range of English publications is easily available in Hong Kong and Macau, as well as local newspapers such as the South China Morning Post.
Police -- Known to foreigners as the PSB (Public Security Bureau; gong'an ju), although these represent only one of several different types of officer in mainland China, the police (jingcha) are best avoided unless absolutely necessary. If you must see them for some reason, then approach your hotel for assistance first, and visit the PSB offices listed in this guide as dealing with visa extensions, since these are the most likely branches to have an English-speaker. In Hong Kong and Macau, however, you can usually ask policemen for directions and expect them to be generally helpful.
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 and is growing fast, especially now that young women are starting to take up the habit. About one million people a year in China die of smoking-related illnesses. In the mainland, nonsmoking tables in restaurants are almost unheard of, and nonsmoking signs are favorite places beneath which to sit and smoke. Smokers are generally sent to the spaces between the cars on trains, but they won't bother to do so if no one protests. The same is true on air-conditioned buses, where some will light up to see if they can get away with it (but usually they'll be told to put it out).
Taxes -- In mainland China, occasional taxes are added to hotel bills, but these are minor and usually included in the room rate. Service charges appear mostly in joint-venture hotels, and range from 10% to 15%. Many Chinese hotels list service charges in their literature, but few have the nerve to add them to room rates unless the hotel is very full. However, restaurants may add the service charge. There is no departure tax for domestic and international flights. There are also lesser taxes for international ferry departures at some ports. In Hong Kong, better hotels will add a 10% service charge and a 3% government tax to your bill. Better restaurants and bars will automatically add a 10% service charge. In Macau, better hotels charge 10% for service as well as a 5% tax. Marine departure taxes are included in ticket prices. Transit passengers who continue their journey within 24 hours of arrival are exempted from passenger tax.
Time Zone -- 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 (summertime), so subtract 1 hour in the summer.
Tipping -- In mainland China, tipping is not necessary or expected and will likely be refused if offered. The Chinese do not tip, but those used to dealing with foreigners (five-star hotel bellboys), or involved in the tourist trade (bus drivers, guides, tour leaders) are familiar with tipping and are unlikely to refuse it if offered. If you are on an escorted tour, your leader may well collect a kitty to be distributed as appropriate; let them know if you think a service provider was, or wasn't worth a tip, from bellboys in five-star places, and those associated with the tourist trade (guides, tour leader, and drivers).
In Hong Kong and Macau, even though restaurants and bars will automatically add a 10% service charge to your bill, you're still expected to leave small change for the waiter, up to a few dollars in the very best restaurants. You're also expected to tip taxi drivers, bellhops, barbers, and beauticians. For taxi drivers, simply round up your bill to the nearest HK$1 or add a HK$1 tip. Tip people who cut your hair 5% or 10%, and give bellhops HK$10 to HK$20, depending on the number of your bags. If you use a public restroom that has an attendant, you may be expected to leave a small gratuity -- HK$2 should be enough.
Toilets -- Street-level public toilets in China are common, many detectable by the nose before they are seen. There's often an entrance fee of ¥.20 to ¥.50, but not necessarily running water. In many cases you merely squat over a trough. So, use the standard Western equipment in your hotel room, in department stores and malls, and in branches of foreign fast-food chains. In Hong Kong and Macau, facilities are far more hygienic.
Water -- Tap water in mainland China is not drinkable, and should not even be used for brushing your teeth. Use bottled water, widely available on every street, and provided for free in all the better hotels. Tap water is drinkable in Hong Kong, but bottled water tastes better.
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.