Useful Apps and Things to Bring to China and Guangzhou Canton Fair!

What an experience the Guangzhou Canton Fair 2024 was! We were told that it was even less crowded than pre-pandemic levels. Like Jakarta, I wanted put this tip guide out there for future reference - the mobile apps we used, the things we needed to set up BEFORE the trip (VERY IMPORTANT!) and the essentials to bring for the trip! Hope this list can be useful and will guide you as you come again to China for the first time as well 😊

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I would advise you to bring/download and set up the following:

Things to Bring

  • Masks - The pollution and people smoking cigarettes are everywhere in the city like Jakarta. If you are highly sensitive to dust, smoke and smell like me, please bring disposable masks and allocate around one per day. You might also need this during car rides. You can take a breather inside malls since I think smoking is not allowed there.
  • Ecobag - This is for groceries. 
  • Umbrella with UV - Please check your weather app for this if there is rain. You can also use this for the sun but I didn't see a lot of people using it.
  • Sunblock and Sunglasses
  • Rubber shoes - Aside from walking long distances while commuting or inside the mall, this is to make sure not step on poop or puddles. The Canton Fair Halls are also huge and it's easy to spend the whole day in just one hall. Be prepared to walk not just one day. Luckily, I brought 2 pairs with me.
  • Cardigan or jacket - If you get cold easily while inside the malls and establishments, I would advise to wear a light cardigan or jacket. The Canton Fair halls were also fully airconditioned.
  • Bag - This is to carry any bottled water with you at all times. We found ourselves constantly thirsty during the trip - not sure if due to the heat. In restaurants, tea is charged.
  • Power bank - This is very important because we mainly used our phones for navigation, translation, booking rides and all. You wouldn't want to run out of battery anywhere in the city.
  • Outlet plug - They have a 3-pronged bent tip outlet. Bring this with you from your country.
  • Cash for small stores and emergencies - This is very important. Even though Alipay was linked to my Philippine credit card and I used it all the way, there was still one instance when the QR code wasn't working for one of the small stores so I paid in cash. I wouldn't bring more than 6000RMB in and out of the country though and $5000 cash due to China custom limits per person. I only used 4RMB though for the last trip to Guangzhou 😅 They are really all cashless already in that city at least!
  • Credit cards - Good thing they accepted our Philippine-issued credit card for most restaurantssupermarkets and stores. I also linked this to the Alipay app, where we clicked on Didi Transport for easy ride-hailing everywhere! Make sure to call your bank before your trip to inform them of your trip dates!
  • Passports/Temporary Residence Permits/Visas - Do carry your passport with visa at all times in China! They ask for it in sites, hotels and registrations, even in apps. The police at the Canton Fair booth also looked for the visa.
  • Old Canton Fair ID Badge or the Canton Fair successful registration email for New registrants - Before the Canton Fair event, we went to one of their accredited hotels to get our new badges and our friend to verify his old badge at the designated Westin hotel lobby booth. This saved us a LOT of time! We needed to show our passports with the email for them to print our badge. We were told that this badge will be good for the future Canton Fairs so make sure to keep them! Registering to the Canton Fair for the first time took a few weeks FYI so register online ahead.
  • Trolley/Luggage, Business Cards and other essentials for the Canton Fair - A lot of people we saw brought small luggages to the Guangzhou fair, even us! It was very convenient to just roll around those bulky brochures. We found a red permanent pentel pen (to write on brochures) and stapler, useful as well. Almost all the exhibitors wanted our WeChat QR code as well, in lieu of business cards, so that they can follow up via chat.   
Things to Consider BEFORE your trip
  • Make sure to book in a hotel and dont change locations if you can! There's such a thing as a Temporary Residence Permit for all foreigners coming into China. In Chinese it is called 临时住宿登记表/证明. Basically, you need to register for a temporary residence permit if changing hotels and upon landing within 24 hours at the Entry and Exit Administration Department of Guangzhou Municipal Public Bureau or at a local police bureau nearest your residence. You need to bring photocopy of passport and visa, as well as 2 pcs 2x2 photo. Without this permit, you will be fined 2000RMB if caught I think! 
  • BUT there is a solution to this!! Make sure your hotel is for foreigners! Because the hotels, major registered ones will do it for you upon check-in at the hotel. Ask and double check with the front desk if they will do this for you. Get a copy of that form and bring it with you at all times. 
  • I saw there are some hotels that will say "for locals only", don't book there because I read that it means they will not do the registration for you. The hotels we booked know about this temporary permit and told us they will take care of it for us and that's why they ask for all of the guests' passports upon check-in. So if they don't, please ask or ask ahead of time. Or book a cancellable booking, ask them via email or chat and choose another hotel if they won't do it for you before the booking is no longer cancellable. Worst case, you only have to divert some of your time to register at the local police bureau. Take note: Within 24 hours of your arrival!
  • Also, every change of your residence location/hotel in China needs a resubmission. Therefore, if it were me, it's better if you're staying in one place (and preferrably big hotel chains) in one city. You will be on your own if you stay at Airbnbs, small unregistered apartments and staying at your friends' or relatives place. What if you arrived on a weekend and the offices are closed too? So think about your where you're staying before you arrive and ask ahead.
  • If you are heading to the Canton Fair, some hotels offer free shuttles to the exhibition area. Our Hotel Somerset at the Haizhu Centre was not bad. The shuttle times were 3x in the morning and 3x at the late afternoon during the fair days. Or you can ride a Didi to the Westin Hotel and just use their entrance and exit gate to avoid traffic (1 hour) or going back to the hotel.
Apps to Download BEFORE your trip
    • The Alipay app (not the HK version, Chinese name: 支付宝 Zhifubao) with the linked credit card to book cars and pay everything! The icon is a blue 支 in the App store at the moment. You must do all the verification and card activation BEFORE you arrive in China. According to my research, you will no longer be able to do this when you get there so I don't know how you can survive honestly 😆 From here, you can do ride hailing, translation, train search, Trip.com bookings, etc. inside the app. We were able to set this to English mode. If you go to Alipay >> Membership, sign in every day to get Points and watch videos, etc. The Points can sometimes be converted to Didi Discount. You also earn points per Alipay transaction so you need to press Collect. 😊  Oh, and you can also pay the Metro Subway using the Alipay app (Transport tab when you change your location to China, no need to buy tickets, just tap your phone in and out like a virtual subway card)! There's also a Bus payment but we haven't tried that yet. Remember your Alipay password! Sometimes, upon payment, it will ask for your password to proceed with the successful payment.
    • We also installed WeChat (微信, Chinese name: Weixin) and set up WeChat pay from there under Services. You also need to do this and all verifications BEFORE you arrive in China. One thing I noticed was that it rejected credit cards with not the same name as the account holder. WeChat can be used to scan QR codes for ordering in restaurants. WeChat Scan is our default QR reader and from here you can access the menus. In some restaurants, the menu QR will be at the table and this is the ONLY way to order. It will connect to your table number and pay via WeChat thru the credit card that we linked. So you need WeChat pay as an alternative to Alipay because some vendors only have ONE - Alipay or WeChat pay - as mode of payment. We were able to set this to English mode.
    • Currently, if departing from the Philippines, you need to set up your eGOV app account and submit a travel declaration for each arrival and departure from the Philippines. You can submit the travel declaration 72 hours from your date of departure only.
    • For ride-hailing, we always booked Didi Travel (滴滴出行) from the Alipay app. You only need to carefully pin your current location and check the side of the road you're in, then paste your destination. Several options and car types will appear. I always don't chose the one with Approx. Fare unless I don't have a choice since the indicated amount will most likely add up based on distance, idle time in traffic plus base fare. Choose the Upfront Fare under Discount Express/Express/Didi Flash car type if you can. We rode one Premier and it was super nice experience though, very VIP! If you go to Alipay, sign in every day to get Points. The Points can sometimes be converted to Didi Discount. We never tried other ride-hailing apps so I can't comment on it yet. Oh, the driver will ask for the last 4 digits of the mobile number you used to register in Alipay to confirm you are the passenger.
    • Jeff uses Gaode map app (Chinese name: 高德地图) for bus, car and walking. Mine is set to Chinese only. I can't find English.
      • I installed the Baidu map app (Chinese name: 百度地图关怀版) for bus, car and walking. Mine is set to Chinese only. I can't find English.
      • The regular Baidu app (Chinese name: 百度) is like Google browser slash TV/Youtube/Movie Player. I can also paste the restaurant name there and see reviews or videos about it. If you type in English at the search bar, it can also be a Translator. Unfortunately, I can't set it to English as well.
      • The Nomad eSIM app we used was great! We purchased an E-sim per person via Nomad and activated the eSIM BEFORE arrival to China. Free internet is scarce outside and sometimes you need to scan the menu to order at a restaurant (sometimes the Free WiFi is limited to the network of the restaurant so that you can order in their website). There may be free Wifi in the malls but not very fast. 5GB was enough for us per person (1 week for $10) with Maps being the biggest data use. You can also share your mobile data with your partner if he runs out. Our hotel had decent free WiFi. but if you connect via the WiFi there, Instagram and Facebook don't work. The Nomad e-SIM may have VPN since it works. Use my Nomad eSIM promo code MELOSYCB so that both you and I get $3 off discount!
      • Google Translate for reading menus and signs DOESN'T work if you are on China WiFi but take a photo on the iPhone and there's a Translate icon at the lower right corner. As I said, you can also use the Alipay app and there is a voice function if you don't know how to pronounce the word! BUT,  if you use the Nomad eSIM it works! Google translate has no voice though so just point or copy paste it hahaha. Or you can also download a VPN and set it up BEFORE your arrival.
      • I downloaded the Meituan app 大众点评 (Pronunciation: Dazhongdianping) but I can't get past the verification with my Philippine number (might need a Chinese number so if you get a SIM with one, maybe it will work). We haven't tried ordering food yet! But some hotels have high-tech robots that go up the elevator by themselves, call your hotel room and send the packages all the way up to your room 😜
      For now, these are all I could think of. I would update this post if ever I think of more but I think this is a pretty comprehensive note to self if ever we come back to Guangzhou or any part of China again 😉