Guidelines for Business Sourcing Professionals
China is a wonderful land of opportunities for western retailers. Sourcing products from China can dramatically increase your profit margins while stocking your inventory with unique, high-quality products your customers will love. And there’s no better or more enjoyable way to find the right products and manufacturers than a trip to China!
Many business people, however, find travel to the far east a little intimidating. The language barrier can be overwhelming, and the western traveler must quickly learn the customs and ways of doing business in China.
The key to a great trip is in preparation. We want you to enjoy your trip to China and share in the vast cultural experiences China has to offer (as well as the business opportunities). With all these factors in mind, we’ve assembled this short guide to help send you on to China with a smile. We know you’ll love it!
Translators and Sourcing Agents
If you are new to Chinese travel and importing, we strongly recommend that you hire a sourcing agent, who can also serve as a translator.
A sourcing agent can help you through the entire process of purchasing and exporting your goods. As you shop, you’ll discover that most sales representatives don’t speak English, so having a sourcing agent as an interpreter is vital. The agent will also help you navigate the often-complex pricing structures from various manufacturers. But most importantly, the sourcing agent will handle all shipping and export matters. Since most manufacturers don’t handle shipping, you’ll need someone with experience in getting goods from China into your home country. It can be a tricky business, and expensive if you make costly mistakes.
A sourcing agent is well worth the 3-5% commission on the sale. The agent can do everything from help you in finding good suppliers to quality control to logistics. A good agent is your insurance policy for successful importing from China.
An agent can also help you in navigating day-to-day life in China when you’re not doing business. As you’ll see below, having a Chinese-speaking companion will help make the entire experience more enjoyable.
So how do you find a good sourcing agent? Of course, a personal referral is always the best way to be sure you’re getting a reliable and professional agent. If you don’t have the advantage of a referral, here are some things to look for:
- Be sure he has at least five years of experience in procurement as well as experience working with Chinese kitchen cabinets suppliers. He should understand Chinese business culture inside and out.
- Good Negotiator. Find out about prices he’s negotiated for others – he should be getting the best prices on goods.
- Fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin. Be sure your agent can be effective in both languages
You need a sourcing agent you can trust! If you don’t speak the language, you rely on your sourcing agent (or translator) to give you complete and accurate information about all conversations. Don’t hesitate to ask for more information if you feel your translator is skimming over the manufacturer’s statements.
When you work with Lesso Home, we serve as the sourcing agent for your purchase, so you don’t have to worry about finding a good agent in a country of 1.2 billion people. We handle the pesky details of quality control and shipping, so you don’t have to. And we can connect you with reputable manufacturers and negotiate the best deal. For small and medium-sized importers, Lesso Home can take the hassle out of importing kitchen cabinets while getting you the best possible price.
Getting a Visa
If you are a US citizen, you will need a visa to travel to China. The regulations are less stringent if traveling to Hong Kong, and we’ll note the differences as we go along. First, we advise using a travel agent to help you secure your visa. An agent can save you valuable time in the process, and she will know the procedures inside and out. You will apply for a business visa, assuming your trip is primarily for business purposes.
Here are a few things to remember:
- Plan your trip at least six weeks in advance to allow adequate time to secure your visa.
- The visa process is not difficult and can usually be completed in 3-5 days.
- When applying, you will need the following documentation:
- Invitation Letter from the Supplier. The letter should contain:
- Your name, gender, DOB, etc. – complete personal information for you
- Manufacturer’s information – name, phone, address, etc.
- Official stamp and signature of the person inviting you
- Information about your visit:
- Purpose of visit
- Arrival and departure dates
- Places you will visit
- Relationship to the person/company inviting you
- Financial source for business expenditures
- A passport-sized photograph
- If you are not a US citizen, you will need proof of legal residency in the US
If you are not using a travel agent, you will need to visit your nearest Chinese embassy to complete the process. There is no online application process for Chinese visas. A travel agent will save you the trip to the embassy.
In most cases, your visa will be approved quickly if your documents are well-prepared.
If you are traveling to Hong Kong, be aware that the government operates as a separate entity from China (even though Hong Kong belongs to China). There are several differences:
- US passport-holders are eligible for a 90-day on-arrival visa for Hong Kong. You will still need a Chinese visa – not available on arrival – if you plan to travel on to mainland China through Hong Kong.
- Hong Kong uses a different currency.
- Hong Kong uses a different cellular/mobile network.
There are too many small differences to name them all here, but the three mentioned above are the most important to most travelers. A good travel agent will help you with any important details about traveling to Hong Kong.
When traveling to China in economy class, most airlines allow one checked bag with a maximum weight of 20-30 kg (about 45-65 lbs). Be sure to check your specific carrier for weight restrictions for your classification. Additional weight will result in excess baggage charges.
In general, you can bring three bags with you:
- A checked bag, 20-30 kg
- A small cabin luggage bag, approx. 7 kg (15 lbs)
- A personal bag – laptop case, purse, etc.
While most American wall sockets are 110V, 60Hz, he standard for AC electrical power in China is usually 220V, 50Hz. Hong Kong has yet another standard, 200V, 50Hz. The plugs are also in different configurations, so the best thing to do is bring a Universal Travel Adapter like the one below:
As you can see, it has a variety of plugs and sockets, and it can also help convert to the proper voltage and hertz settings for your US or European devices. Please note that some universal adapters only change the plugs without changing the voltage. Be sure your adapter will fully adapt to your devices or purchase a separate voltage converter.
Using Your Mobile Phone
Since you’re traveling for business, you’ll probably want to use a cell phone during your trip. International mobile calling is notoriously complicated, so it’s best to check with your carrier to see if your phone will work and if you’ll be charged outrageous amounts for using it. International plans vary based on:
- The country
- Your calling plan
- Your specific phone
- The services you want to use
There are also some services that will work well on wi-fi (if you can find it) that don’t work as well on the cellular network.
Here are a few hints to keep you connected:
- Talk to your service provider and see if you have the right phone and plan for international and be sure your international roaming is on. Some plans allow unlimited texting in some countries, so that might be an option for a lot of your communication. Again, you may be able to use wi-fi calling for free anywhere – check with your carrier.
- There are also some good alternatives you can use once you get to China:
- Purchase a local prepaid sim card for your phone after arriving in China. You’ll have to have an unlocked phone for this option, however. Buying is easy – all you need is your passport, and you can get it at the airport – and it takes up to two hours to activate. You can add money to your prepaid balance at 7/11 stores or several other locations.
- Purchase an inexpensive phone in China. You can pick up a cheap phone for $50 or so, also with a prepaid balance.
The most important advice on this subject is to ask your local cell service carrier. It’s best to just call – there’s a lot of misinformation about plans out on the internet.
As you may know, the internet is restricted by the Chinese government, so you won’t be able to use some of the sites you visit in the US on a regular basis. Restricted sites include:
- That’s right, the Google you use every day. Google pulled out of China because of government censorship, but they may be re-entering the market with a new version. Watch the news for developments.
- Since Google is restricted, all its sister sites and services are restricted as well: Gmail, YouTube, the list goes on.
Many other sites are restricted as well, but China has its own version of many familiar sites.
In fact, China has its own internet eco-system, and you can easily use these sites while in China. “Everyday” Chinese sites include:
- WeChat (Text & Voice Communications)
- Alipay (Payment)
- Didi (Taxi Booking)
- Youdao Translator (Language Translator)
- Flightview (Flight Status)
Most Apple devices and services work well in China, but that doesn’t mean your cell phone will work without the right plan and roaming options.
If you want to bypass the Chinese restrictions and go to any site you like, you’ll need to subscribe to a Virtual Private Network (VPN). VPNs are paid services, and many Chinese businesses as well as foreign visitors use them. A couple of options are:
- Express VPN
You’ll want to be sure your VPN is configured BEFORE you leave for China, especially if you’ll be using an Android device. Remember, Android is owned by Google, so many Android functions are limited without the use of a VPN.
Getting cash and using credit cards in China is similar to most countries, with a few additional quirks. Be sure to call your bank and your credit card companies before leaving and let them know you’re traveling to China (some banks have an online option to inform them about foreign travel as well). If your bank sees your Chinese transactions as “suspicious,” they’ll cut off your credit and debit cards, and calling to straighten out the mess will most likely be more difficult when you’re calling from China.
- Most ATMs in China accept Visa and Mastercard for withdrawing cash. In most cases, you’ll get the best exchange rate and lower fees by withdrawing your cash from an ATM.
- Carry an adequate amount of cash when in China. Though credit card use is prevalent, you may find yourself in a situation where using a card is not an option.
- WeChat is widely accepted as a method of payment in China. Load money into your account before leaving. If you don’t have a WeChat account, signup is easy and free.
- If you’d prefer not to carry a lot of cash, travel cards and traveler’s checks are a good option. With a pre-loaded travel card, you can withdraw RMBs from ATMS (be sure your travel card is a Mastercard or Visa).
Remember that mainland China and Hong Kong do NOT use the same currency. If you’re traveling to both, you’ll need to be sure you have adequate amounts of Hong Kong dollars and RMBs.
Getting around in China can seem intimidating, but there are several apps that can help you negotiate the various systems. When going from place to place, having a good translator with you will save you a lot of headaches and frustrated sign language.
Most major Chinese cities have excellent, accessible metro systems. In most places, announcements and information are available in English.
In addition, the metro systems have mobile apps that provide information in English. You can get fares, approximate travel times, routes, etc. on your phone for easier planning. Some of the major apps – available for Apple and Android - are:
Traveling by Bus
Chinese bus service is excellent for intra-city and even inter-city travel. For non-Chinese speakers, however, bus travel can be difficult. If you plan to travel by bus, it’s best to have a translator or a local assist you in planning (or even traveling with you). Much of the information on the Chinese bus systems will be provided only in Chinese.
Traveling by Taxi
Didi is the “Chinese Uber,” serving all major cities in China. The app is available in English, making it easy to secure a taxi, and you can link your credit card to Didi just like using Uber or Lyft in the US. There are a few difficulties for the non-Chinese speaker however, so we recommend using a translator or local help to be sure you get where you’re going.
- Although the app is in English, many destination names will appear in Chinese.
- Most drivers will not speak English, so having a translator talk with the driver will make the entire trip smoother and more enjoyable.
If you don’t speak Chinese, we recommend having someone with you – a translator, a sourcing agent, or just a local acquaintance – when you go out.
It’s best to prepare for any ongoing or emergency medical situations before leaving for China.
- Be sure to take plenty of your prescribed medications with you on the trip. Plan ahead! Check the amount of medication you have long before the trip and get refills as needed. It will be extremely difficult to get a prescription medication in China.
- Consider purchasing travel insurance in case of emergency expenses. Check with your bank, insurance agent, or travel agent for the best insurance for your needs.
If you have a medical emergency while in China, you can get treatment at any government hospital. If possible bring a Chinese-speaking person with you to the hospital – emergency rooms are no fun when you DO speak the language!
Doing Business in China
When working with Chinese manufacturers and suppliers, remember that business tends to be highly relationship-based in China. If you’re looking for a long-term relationship with a manufacturer, they’ll probably want to get to know you and spend some time after hours with you. Casual conversation over a meal is very important to Chinese business people, so be sure to participate in these activities when you can. That’s why it’s so important to understand how to get around in China – these interactions will prove to be one of the most enjoyable activities of your trip.
Traveling to China for business can be rewarding, both personally and professionally. If you have additional questions or concerns about your trip, contact the professionals at Lesso Home. We understand Chinese business, and we want to show you the best of China!