• Michael Healy

Doing business in China – helpful tips

Doing procurement implementations takes us all over the globe.  One of our star team members, Leigh Weimer, writes about her recent business trip to China and shares some handy tips which might help prepare you should you visit that part of the world.

Doing business in China – tips from Nanjing

Despite hours of planning for a five -week business trip to Nanjing, there were many aspects of the trip that I wasn’t prepared for. Here are a few tips for future travellers.

Don’t be surprised when few Chinese speak English

This was one of the most surprising aspects of the trip. Perhaps it’s arrogant of English-speaking travellers to assume that all foreign people we meet would speak English. At the five-star hotel I was staying, a small contingent of staff spoke English, but only the very basics. Ordering anything from the room service menu that was not a hamburger confused the staff (even though I thought that I was pronouncing the Chinese words perfectly). Our rendition of the Chinese words we tried to pronounce weren’t understood.  The best thing to do is to download a translator app on your mobile phone and ensure you have your mobile phone with you all the time.

Take your hotel address with you when you go out

Road signs everywhere are in Mandarin.  If you get hopelessly lost, you can flag down a taxi and give the driver your hotel address.  People are very friendly, but you still need to be able to tell them where you want to go. In some cases I went prepared with Mandarin sentences written down on paper in the hope that I would be directed with hand signals.

It helps if the hotel you stay in is near the station

Taxis are extremely expensive. Conversely, trains are not only clean and efficient but surprisingly affordable.  They enable you to get all over the city at a fraction of the price of taxi fare. All the sights we wanted to visit over the weekends were accessible via train with minimal walking. The stations have multiple kiosks where you can plot your trip and pay. If you know the station you are coming from, and the station where you want to disembark, you can plot your route.  Routes are coloured and numbered, with stations clearly highlighted on the train and at each station. The route is announced in English and Mandarin at each point of the journey.  Be ready to jump on or off when the train stops. You have 30 seconds, with throngs of polite but determined passengers at each station.

Don’t expect to find your brand of medication in their pharmacies

All the Chinese pharmacies we frequented stocked Chinese traditional medicine and a range of Chinese brands printed in Mandarin. None of the pharmacy assistants spoke English.  Without my Chinese colleague, the simple task of finding the correct medicine would have been daunting and confusing. Prescriptions are needed for anything stronger than Nurofen, so I would recommend taking a backup range of medication – just in case.

Tipping isn’t required

Tipping is not expected and leaving tips can cause confusion at restaurants. The waiter will assume that you left your money by mistake!

Your bank card won’t be accepted at all banks

Not all banks will recognise your card or travel wallet. Don’t be alarmed when this happens – rather be aware that only the major banks will dispense cash at ATMs with your card, despite it having been enabled for travel.

Cash is still required at many restaurants and shops

It’s worth taking Yuan with you or having the facility to draw cash from an ATM regularly.  You will need Yuan for taxis, trains, small shops, take‑away vendors and on most of the sightseeing trips.

The plug for your laptop will not work

The plugs in China require square pins.  Either take an adaptor with you or get one as soon as you arrive.

Google is scarce

When you can’t google things, the fault is not with your laptop or phone.  You can only get Google in international hotels where it’s available as a service to its guests.

Leigh is a seasoned Supply Chain Professional. She is an MBA graduate, with a proven, 20-year track record in Supply Chain Management. She is a senior manager and sourcing specialist at Supply Chain Partner


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