What time is it there? Tips on scheduling when doing business with China

I have been living in Beijing for over four years now. To this day, probably the most frequent question I get on phone calls with the U.S.A. is “So – what time is it there?” I sometimes find it amusing that people can’t figure it out, particularly with people that I communicate with on a regular basis (“It’s the same time as it was the last week!!!).

Having said that, I was reminded this week while traveling to Monaco for a conference of how difficult juggling international phone calls and virtual meetings can be. I found that Monaco is 6 hours behind Beijing time. I had to keep that in mind during the conference as I needed to coordinate with my team in Beijing. On top of that, I had to schedule a few calls with the U.S., which typically is 12 hours behind me in Beijing. Since I was in Monaco, though, I had to readjust as Eastern Standard time is 6 hours behind Monaco. Things could’ve really gotten ugly if I had to coordinate with someone in LA or even Dallas, all of which are on different time zones, of course.

To make sure you keep things straight when talking to China and don’t miss a meeting because of a time mix up, here are some quick tips:

1. Google It – Simple and easy. Literally just google “What is the current time in {insert city here}.” You will always get the actual current time reliably. ‘Nough said.

2. Check for Daylight Savings Time Observations – Even though Google can be your best friend at the moment, its always good to plan ahead and know about when times are going to change. It’s pretty interesting to see which countries observe daylight savings time and which don’t. I always have to keep in mind that when I’m communicating with the U.S., from March 8 to November 1 I am 12 hours (EST) ahead in Beijing, but from November 1 to March 8 I am 13 hours ahead. Each country is different, though, which makes it more complicated. Some observe it, some don’t, and each country is on its own schedule. For a complete list, check on Wikipedia.

3. Use clear language and time indicators when scheduling emails – I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been burned on this one. Countless times I’ve been on the line waiting for someone to jump on that never comes, only to get an email the next day from the person I had a meeting scheduled with say “Oh, jeez, I’m sorry I thought you meant 10AM EST…” Tired of getting burned on this, I now always make sure to include in each email a very clear, all CAPS indication of time for each person on the call and specify the date depending on the time. For example:

“Mr. Johnson,

We are confirmed to have me call you on your office phone, (999) 999-9999 at the following time:



Looking forward to our discussion.


Dan Redford

Phone: 999-000-0000

Make sure to always leave both persons’ phone numbers in case there is any confusion.

4. Bonus Points: E-Calendar confirmation – Whenever possible, make sure to send an e-invite to the person and have him/her or his/her secretary confirm the invitation. That way, it syncs with both calendars according to each person’s respective calendar in his/her respective time zone. The one I use is the gmail calendar, but you can adjust depending on your preferences.

5. Save money: Use Facetime or Skype – We live in the 21st century, people. International calls can be expensive. If you are having a two or even three way call, Facetime or Skype can be a great way to carry out your conversation free of charge. Note: I did not mention Google Hangouts here because unfortunately Google is still blocked, and hosting a google hangout in China is not very reliable.

Obviously, this is not an end all solution as it is highly dependent on having a stable Wifi connection. Still, particularly if you are having frequent calls, you would do well to get in the habit (or getting the person on the other end of the call to get in the habit) of using Facetime or Skype. It saves a lot of money and is way more hip. As I say in the example in number 3, make sure to leave both phone numbers as a back up.


Good luck!






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