Planning a meeting in China? It’s essential to find strong local partners who can communicate your requirements to vendors on the ground, said Patrick Chen, deputy director of the Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration.

The subtleties of planning meetings in China were the focus of Chen’s session at PCMA’s Convening Leaders meeting in Boston on January 14, with many audience members sharing their experiences as well.  

Following are seven tips from the session:

1. Familiarize yourself with the new visa regulations.

The new rules went into effect in fall 2013. An excellent resource is the U.S. & China Visa Law Blog by attorney Gary Chodorow.

2. Get help with attendee visas.

Consider hiring a company to assist you with the letter of invitation, which needs to be issued locally. Also, some attendees could require multiple-entry visas, and others tourist visas, if they are planning to extend their stays.

3. Ignore the hotel rating system.

The system is so different from ratings in the U.S. or Europe that it’s not helpful. A site inspection is essential, said many audience members who had met in China.

5. Use a customs broker.

Certain items, such as CDs, can not be brought into the country. You will need to create or purchase them locally.

5. They don’t take American Express.

The most commonly used cards are Visa and MasterCard. American Express is more difficult to use in China. The ways around this are to rely on your DMC or PCO to accept payments (if they take Amex) and pay sub-suppliers directly, or to directly wire funds to vendors.  

6. Fix your exchange rates.

The exchange rate is volatile. The best route is to use a customs broker to fix your rate.

7. Anticipate challenges outside the largest cities.

The major Chinese cities have grown both their infrastructures and levels of experience by hosting large-scale events such as the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, and the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou. But if you are traveling to a second-tier city, you could be faced with inferior facilities, as well as authorities and vendors who might not be familiar with the meetings business.