Nervous about taking a taxi in China? Don’t be. It may seem overwhelming at first – especially if you don’t speak Chinese – but it’s easier than you think. Allow me to walk you through everything you need to know to take a taxi in China.
When visiting almost anywhere in the country, taking a taxi in China is usually the easiest, most efficient way to get from one place to the next.
Taxis are ubiquitous and are usually distinguished from all other cars by their bright colors (yellow, green or red) and an LED “flag” in the front windshield that shines bright when the taxi is empty and goes dark when there is a passenger.
Each Chinese city sets the taxi’s base rate, which means that some Chinese taxis start at 5 RMB while those in bigger cities like Beijing or Shanghai start at 13 RMB. Your final price is a combination of distance and time, just like taxis anywhere else in the world.
There is plenty that makes the Chinese taxi system different, though. The key to successfully navigating the system is to come prepared.
Before You Take a Taxi in China
Before you even step foot inside the taxi there are a couple things you might want to have with you:
- Cash – Cash is king with taxis in China. While there are other methods to pay (see below), cash is the one method that will never steer you wrong. Make sure you have smaller bills with you to pay for short rides.
- Mobile Payment Methods – If you’ve set up WeChat or Alipay in China, there are a number of taxis that will accept this as a form of payment. Not always, but this is becoming more and more common.
- Your Destination – If you don’t speak Mandarin very well, you’ll want to have the name of the place you’re going written down on a piece of paper. It’s not hard, so don’t worry! Most hotels can help you by writing down your destination in Chinese characters and you’ll want to pick up a card in the hotel lobby that says the name and address of that hotel. When entering the taxi, just hand the card over and they’ll know where to go from there.
Black Taxis and the “Chinese Uber”
There are often times when I stand on a street corner in China looking for a taxi and 15 minutes go by with not a single open taxi. This is especially true during rush hour.
It’s because of this frequent shortage of taxis that two alternatives have become popular: black taxis and Didi Chuxing (the “Chinese Uber”).
Black Taxis in China
When waiting for a taxi in China, you’ll probably have a lot of cars honking at you or blinking their headlights if they see you on the side of the road. These cars come in many shapes and colors but are collectively referred to as “black taxis”. Technically they’re illegal but practically they’re indispensable.
Wave them down and they’ll drop their window to ask where you’re headed. This is important: tell them where you want to go and then ask how much they’ll charge. You must get the price negotiated before you jump in the car or you’re just asking for problems down the road.
Don’t be afraid to take a black taxi if you need to. Otherwise, you might be waiting on the street corner for a long time!
Uber used to have a presence in China but eventually lost too much money and sold its business to Didi Chuxing in 2016. Now, Didi Chuxing is one of the only ride-hailing services in China. At the very least, it’s the biggest.
The good news is that using Didi Chuxing is extremely fast and efficient. The bad news is that it’s not always simple for a foreign traveler to set up.
The app can be downloaded in English on your phone but you’ll need to know how to write your destination in Chinese characters (which requires knowing how to write Chinese). Also, you’ll need to be able to pay via one of China’s mobile payment apps.
Expert Tips for Chinese Taxi Travel
Taxis vary from place to place in China, including both the condition of the vehicle and the price. In many cities there are general places that are easier to get taxis than others (close to hotels, for instance), but all you need to do is wave your hand at an empty taxi to pull them over.
At this point here are a few tips to make your journey as painless as possible:
- Always enter and exit from the passenger side – even when you’re in the back seat. Sometimes the driver’s side door doesn’t even open. Most of the time you can sit in the front seat unless it’s late at night (for safety reasons).
- Make sure the driver drops the meter – this is especially true when exiting the airport/train station/bus station. Some drivers will try to take advantage of you and “bargain” a price with you. This is illegal and you’ll probably get ripped off if you do so. Make sure they “drop the flag” on the dashboard meter to start your service.
- Pay Using Small Bills – if your fare is 10 RMB, don’t give the driver a 100 RMB bill. Many travelers have reported receiving fake bills in return and sometimes drivers won’t even have the correct amount of change.
- Don’t Tip the Driver – this isn’t a custom in China and he’s not expecting it…even from foreign travelers. Just say a thank you and be on your way.
- Keep the Receipt – at least for a few days. Why? The receipt has the vehicle number, so that if you happen to lose your wallet you can have your hotel call up and locate the exact taxi driver to return your belongings.
Chinese Language Phrases for Taxis
Use these phrases to make things a bit easier when taking a taxi in China:
- Ni qu nar? (nee choo nar) – Where are you headed? (asked by driver)
- Wo qu… (woh choo) – I am going to…
- Ting che! (ting chuh) – Stop the vehicle.
- You guai. (yo gweye) – Turn right.
- Zou guai. (zo gweye) – Turn left.
- Zhi zou. (jer zo) – Go straight.
- Xie xie! (sheh sheh) – Thanks!
- Zai zhan! (zeye jan) – Goodbye.