When you first arrive in China, or definitely when you travel around the country, you’ll be staying in hotels or hostels. Checking in and out of a hotel can be a long and semi-confusing process in China. I had been so used to the Chinese way, that when I came back to the United States and stayed in a hotel, I was amazed at how easy it was.

First Steps

If you’ve already booked your room, you should be on record with the hotel. Remember the website where you booked from. Some websites will ask you to print off a page or remember a confirmation number associated with your reservation. See the bottom of the post for hotel booking websites

If you do not have a reservation, you’ll have to check with front desk for available rooms. Oftentimes, there will be a placard listing the hotel’s room types and the associated rates. DO NOT pay the rates listed on the sign. Real prices will almost always be lower. Instead, ask the staff for the best price. You may even be able to negotiate it down a bit, depending on the season and current occupancy rate.

Checking In

In China, people (and foreigners especially) must be registered with the police. So, whenever you check in at a hotel, you’ll need to present the front desk with your passport.You need your passport, you will not be able to check into ANY hotel in China without your passport. They’ll record a bunch of information, such as passport number, visa number, date and place of entry into China, etc. This usually takes several minutes as they need to record the data and scan or copy pages out of your passport.

Room Deposit (yājīn)

Before you go to your room, you’ll have to pay a deposit (yājīn). The deposit varies immensely and doesnt necessarily correspond to the room rate. I’ve stayed at a 200 RMB/night room with a 300 RMB deposit, and I’ve also stayed at a 30 RMB a night hostel that has a 200 RMB deposit. The deposit is insurance for the hotel in case you destroy the room or steal anything. If you are using your credit card, the hotel may swipe it twice, once for the deposit, and once for the rate of the room. After you leave, they will just cancel the deposit transaction.

If you are paying in cash, you’ll need to pay both the deposit and the room fee upfront. Then, when you check out, the deposit will be refunded to you. If you do pay cash, the front desk will give you a receipt for your deposit. Keep this with you, because you will need it when checking out to actually get your deposit back.

Your Hotel Room

You may find that your room is listed with an “8” in front of the number. If your room is 8702, this most likely means your room is on the 7th floor. The 8 is lucky in China, so it is often just added in.

Rooms are most often opened with a keycard, which you will then have to place in a slot right inside the door in order to turn the electricity on for the room. This can be annoying if you leave the room and yet still want to be running the heat or air conditioning. If you find yourself in this situation, stick another one of your cards in the slot (probably not your credit card).

Checking Out (tuìfáng)

Check out time is usually 11 or 12am. When you decide to check out, take all your bags down with you to the lobby. Tell the front desk you want to “tuì fáng” meaning “check out.” They will usually get on a radio and ask one of the maids to check the room you were staying in. They’re checking both for damages, and to make sure you didn’t forget anything. Once the maid radios down to the front desk, they will give you your deposit back, and you will be good to go.

Staying in a hotel in China can be difficult at first, but once you get used to the systems, it will be a breeze (except for that long check-in!)

Useful hotel booking websites: