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An expat guide to CNY travel in China

CNY has started, and this year it looks to be one of the biggest yet in terms of travel. In order to help ensure the season goes as smoothly as possible we have created this short guide for expats who will be traveling over the New Year.

Posted on Jan 26, 2016 by Rob McBroom

The end of January is almost here, and with it comes the start of Chunyun, or the Spring Movement. This annual period sees one of the world's largest mass migrations, with nearly the whole population of China travelling home to celebrate the new year. Those who don't travel home will head out of the country to various destinations in Asia and beyond. In fact, according to an article published in the Shanghai Daily, "China’s transport authorities forecast that more than 2.9 billion trips will be made around the country during the 40-day travel period."  

To many not living in China, this number is simply mind-boggling. To those living in China, it's business as usual for this time of year. As with other years, this many people travelling at the same time will lead to complications for nearly any method of transportation you can think of. This year, it appears issues have started early with the arrival of a record-setting cold snap, with delays being reported at numerous airports and train stations across the country.

While delays are pretty much inevitable in China during the travel season, there are a number of things you can do to avoid them, or, at the very least, avoid being affected too negatively by them. Here are our top five.

1. Leave plenty of time to get to the airport/train station/bus station

We've all heard this before, and anyone who has flown to the US is well aware of the fact that they need to be at the airport early. The fact of the matter is, any major transportation location you visit will have long lines - check in and security at the airports will be nuts, and the border between Shenzhen and Hong Kong will be especially hectic. You are likely to need to add extra time to your travel plans in order to accommodate this while still making your flight, bus, or train.

How much time is hard to say, but historically 3+ hours for the airport, and at least an hour for a train or bus would be a good idea. If you have to cross a border, you may want to add extra time in order to ensure you get through in time.

It is also a good idea to check when you are scheduled to leave. For example, a flight out on a Friday night will be a lot busier than, say, a flight in the mid-afternoon, or even in the morning. Many travel experts in China also recommend avoiding all train travel if possible; especially to the more rural areas of China, as this is how many people will be heading home, which will make the trains incredibly busy.

If you are staying put for the new year, it may be a good idea to leave yourself extra time when heading out for the day. Many shops will be closed the first few days of the new year (February 7-9) and others may be heading out of the city which means traffic will be quite heavy in certain areas.

2. Pack some emergency supplies

Every year there are horror stories from travellers about massive delays, traffic jams miles long, breakdowns, accidents, etc. Combine this with the cold weather generally seen around the country this time of year, and the fact that many facilities may be closed or short of stock, and you could quickly find yourself in a bit of trouble.

In order to avoid this, or minimize the impact of delays it would be a good idea to pack emergency supplies. Exactly what to pack can be a tough choice, but many travel experts will recommend packing food, water (if you can), and some sort of candy to help tide you over while in the air, on the train, or the bus.

It's not just food you need to think about packing, however. As we noted above, the weather is generally cold, which means you should think about packing a few extra layers. The absolute last thing you want is for the bus you are on to break down outside of Beijing and all you have is a light jacket. We suggest packing at least a jacket, hat, and gloves or mittens. If you are heading to a colder part of the country, or to a colder country, then packing for the climate is essential.

3. Be sure to track the status of your flight/train

We are all pretty much constantly connected these days, and have access to a wealth of information - including the status of our flight or departure. It would therefore make sense to follow the status online so that you are aware of any changes before they can really derail your plans.

If you are flying, websites like Flightaware can be an invaluable tool. Tracking of trains and busses can be a bit tougher, especially if you don't speak Chinese. One option is to check with the various travel sites like CTrip, which have schedules and do a decent job of keeping track of the trains and availability. Your best bet, however, would be to follow the WeChat account of the company you will be travelling with. For example, the China Railway Corp.'s account and WeChat booking app are both extremely popular and regularly updated with useful information.  

4. Purchase travel insurance

Missing a flight or a connecting train can quickly become a nightmare during the travel season, and seeking compensation is often nearly impossible or so frustrating most people just give up. In order to avoid this, it would be a good idea to purchase travel insurance before you leave.

Aside from helping ensure you receive some form of compensation, this type of insurance is designed to help cover for things like lost bags, broken items, or even medical expenses and emergency evacuation should it be necessary.

In short, it gives you peace of mind that could help make any travel issues less stressful.

5. Be sure to have health insurance

While travel insurance can go a long way in helping cover any travel issues, there is one downside to it when it comes to medical coverage: Most plans are designed to provide basic coverage with minimal limits. (Usually enough to get you back to your home where the plan will not have to cover the rest of your care.) This means that if your injury or sickness is severe enough, you are going to have to pay for medical care. If you prefer to seek care from private or international facilities then you are likely facing an expensive bill that your travel insurance will not cover.

The best way to ensure that you are covered, should any medical emergency happen, is to purchase a robust health insurance plan. The health insurance experts at Pacific Prime China can help you identify a plan that will meet your coverage needs, and because many of our plans offer worldwide coverage with high limits, you will be able to receive care from the best institutions in China and around the world. Contact our experts today to learn more about how we can help before you take off for your holiday.   


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