Is China safe for travelers? You might be surprised to learn that over the past decade, China has maintained one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Regardless, there are plenty of China travel safety tips you should be aware of when planning your trip.
Having traveled all over China with my family (including two young boys), I’m happy to say that I’ve never felt any immediate danger. Over the past 10 years we have never been assaulted, mugged, or threatened.
However, I also know that there is a lot more to consider in regards to your personal safety than violent crime and petty theft.
This seems important to discuss, especially when I get a lot of people asking me my opinions about travel advisories issued about China.
Based on my own experience, I’d like to share with you eight crucial China travel safety tips. Hopefully many of these safety tips will answer questions you may have been thinking about as well as other China travel safety pointers you may have never considered.
Watch What You Eat in China
The most important China travel safety pointer is to be mindful of food safety. Don’t get me wrong – there is a ton of great food worth trying in China, but you have to realize that a new cuisine, however tasty, can be a shock to your system.
The majority of travelers to China generally say they got sick at one point from food during their trip. Here are some tips to help reduce the risk of that happening to you:
- Eat street food at your own risk: China is a street food culture, and while I personally LOVE eating street food, it comes with risks as so many street vendors don’t abide by quality food and sanitation standards. If you want to take part in the street food scene, ask your hotel or hostel where to find safe and delicious street food.
- Eat mostly at clean restaurants: Among the best China travel safety tips is knowing how to spot a clean restaurant. Apart from what you would generally consider clean and sanitary, choose restaurants with lots of customers and take that as a sign that locals not only eat there because the food is delicious, but also because it’s likely clean.
- Keep hand sanitizer on you at all times: Chinese public bathrooms seldom have hand soap and those that do are so watered down to where there is more water than actual soap. Therefore always keep a travel-sized hand sanitizer on you to clean your hands before any public meal or snack.
Say a Prayer Before Crossing a Street in China…
…or at least carefully look both ways so you don’t get hit.
In Western countries, we pedestrians typically have the right-of-way when crossing streets. Things are somewhat different in China where incredibly congested streets follow a “cars first” culture.
This is true even when you have notification that it is your turn to cross the street.
To stay safe, always remember you do not have the right of way when crossing streets in China. You should always look both ways before crossing streets and most importantly, scan for cars that are turning onto the road you are crossing.
Drivers will always honk at you should you be in their way and while this is a nuisance, take it as an additional reminder to stay alert from oncoming vehicles.
Take Steps to Avoid Petty Theft in China
Petty theft is something you will have to be cautious of during your trip to China. The most common and favored item thieves steal are cellphones.
With that in mind, try to AVOID the following:
- Overtly use your latest iPhone in public. That attracts attention from thieves looking for an easy target.
- Leave your phone in your jacket pocket. This makes a thief’s job so much easier when nicking your phone.
- Keep your handbag open. Rather, seal it shut so thieves cannot easily remove your phone or other valuables from inside.
There are a number of other common travel mistakes people make in China that are super easy to avoid. For example, you can put your wallet in your front pocket, keep limited cash in your wallet, avoid incredibly congested areas, keep your backpack in front of you when taking public transportation, etc.
All of these small steps add up, and hopefully it deters any petty theft that could quickly sour a vacation.
Choose Your Taxi Wisely
During your time in China, it’s likely you will take your fair share of taxis. Generally speaking, this is a very safe form of transportation, but it’s natural to be concerned if you’re a solo or female traveler.
To lessen any risks, here are some China travel safety pointers to follow:
- Only take officially-marked cabs. In China, it’s common to see ordinary drivers ask you where you are going when you hail a cab. These are known as “black taxis”. While generally safe, these unofficial taxis are more likely to cheat you with increased fees whereas marked cabs almost always have standard rates.
- On the note of standard rates, make sure your taxi driver starts the meter so you will be fairly charged. The meter is controlled by pushing down the “free for hire” sign on the car dashboard.
- Have small bills available to avoid awkward situations where a driver cannot give you change. Trying to pay an 8 RMB fare with a 100 RMB bill is annoying to most taxi drivers and an invitation to be given fake currency in return. And if you’re not familiar with what real Chinese renminbi looks and feels like, it’s easy to get scammed like this.
In the early morning or evening, taxis may be hard to find with rush hour. Similarly, in lesser populated areas, the chances of hailing a taxi can be close to zero. For these situations, you may be stuck having to take an illegal taxi.
Here are my China travel safety tips for taking illegal taxis:
- Negotiate the rate before getting into the car. This is the most important thing to remember. Should you arrive at your destination without even mentioning the fee, you will find yourself in a potentially unsafe situation where your driver is asking for an insane amount of money.
- Use your phone calculator to show the amount you are willing to pay if you cannot speak Chinese. You can also try using English-Chinese voice translator apps on your phone to communicate.
- It’s often the case that there is an expected fee for illegal taxis. Ask your hotel how much it typically costs and use this number when negotiating the fee with the driver. However when you are traveling to a far distance, you should expect the fee to increase.
- If the illegal taxi charges too much, find another illegal taxi. There are plenty of illegal cabs out there looking to make easy money.
- Use Didi Chuxing – China’s equivalent of Uber and Lyft. If you’re willing to give it a try, the DiDi Chuxing app removes all the stress of finding a taxi and you will know how much you will pay upfront. But it requires having a local bank account to use.
If you’re still apprehensive or if you want more information, read my traveler’s guide to taking a taxi in China.
Watch out for Scams in China
Scam artists in China view foreigners that come to their country as opportunities for easy scores.
The best way to avoid scams is to learn about them in advance to recognize them during your trip. While there are a good many scams to prepare for, here are two China travel pointers to follow:
- Learn to Bargain Well. Don’t settle on the first shop offering a particular souvenir, fruit or vegetable you plan to buy. Often times locals up-charge their rates when coming across a foreigner. The same item is likely available at the next stall, so do multiple price checks before bargaining for a better price.
- Know the Most Common Scams. For example, are you familiar with the tea scam? Or the art student scam? Check out this list of common tourist scams in China to make sure you know what to expect.
Get Help Choosing a Safe China Hospital
Hospitals in China are generally all safe and staffed with qualified doctors and nurses. For most basic illnesses such as a fever, severe cold, or other common illness, I’d visit the nearest hospital to receive treatment.
However, for more severe illnesses or injury – like a concussion or a wound that requires stitches – my advice is to keep the phone number for your travel insurance provider’s emergency hotline handy. Write it down or store it as a contact in your phone. You never know when you’ll need it.
An example of this would be the World Nomads 24-hour Emergency hotline. In the event of a health question, major illness or injury, you can call the hotline to get assistance as to which nearby hospital to visit. They also have doctors available over the phone to answer any medical questions.
I personally used an emergency hotline during one trip to China where I was dealing with a concussion and it saved me a tremendous headache – granted I already had one – in finding a nearby hospital to treat me.
Buy Travel Insurance in China
Since we’re on the subject, if you haven’t already done so, I strongly encourage you to consider buying travel insurance.
This is one China travel safety tip that applies to everybody.
Your primary insurance likely does not cover you internationally. Therefore in the event of severe injury or illness, you can get stuck with a hefty bill. This is what travel insurance is designed for and is something you don’t want to skip over when preparing for your trip to China.
When considering multiple plans, the primary thing you want on any plan is comprehensive emergency evacuation coverage.
With this coverage, your insurance will cover any medical fees incurred in the event you take a spill on a hike or suffer some injury or illness requiring emergency evacuation.
Don’t Engage in Political Discussion
Speaking from experience, it’s always tempting to get local perspectives on sensitive topics like the Tiananmen Massacre, Taiwan, and Tibet.
But speaking about sensitive topics with complete strangers brings risks to both yourself and possibly to the local you speak with.
For you, the primary risk is inviting a conversation with local police. Depending on the situation, it could also result with you taking the next flight home (very rare). But this would also require you doing something extreme, like waving a “Free Tibet” sign in Tiananmen Square.
So while there aren’t any real safety risks to you, for whomever you talk to, the consequences are more severe.
There have been many cases with journalists interviewing Tibetans, Uyghurs and even Han Chinese on sensitive topics resulting in their imprisonment. Should you engage in a politically sensitive conversation, my China safety travel tip is to take extra care that it occurs in a safe place and remains confidential.
Final Thoughts | China Safety Travel Tips
My final China travel safety pointer is to remember that no matter how safe any country is – including China – it still benefits you to be cautious.
Obviously you want to take care of your valuables, but as I’ve mentioned above, it also includes watching what you eat, how you cross streets and how you take a taxi.
Do you have additional safety questions or travel safety tips of your own? Please share them in the comments below!