Nervous about how to take a taxi in China? You don’t have to 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 about how to take a taxi in China – plus some excellent taxi alternatives!
When traveling across the country, no matter where you are, taking a taxi in China is usually the easiest, most efficient way to get from point A to point B.
Sure, you could get a Chinese driver’s license and try to drive yourself, but let’s be honest…
The problem is that most travelers are either too nervous about taking a taxi in China (what if I get ripped off!?!?)
Or they don’t understand the alternative options available to them. Until you get used to the system, it can feel quite scary, I realize.
So what I’d like to do is not only explain the three most common ways to do private transportation, but also show you how to use them. I’m going to break this up into five different parts which you can jump straight to using the links here:
Let’s dive in!
Using a Traditional China Taxi
Taxis are ubiquitous throughout China in every city you visit.
They are usually distinguished from all other cars by their bright colors (yellow, green or red) and an LED “flag” in the front windshield. This flag shines bright when the taxi is empty and goes dark when there is a passenger.
How much is a taxi in China?
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 or more. Your final price is a combination of this base rate plus distance and time, just like taxis anywhere else in the world.
Before you wave down a Chinese taxi on the street there are a couple things you might want to have with you:
- Bring Cash – Cash is still king with taxis in China. While most taxis now accept Chinese mobile payment options, it’s not something that is readily available to most travelers. Cash is the one method that will never steer you wrong. When it comes to carrying Chinese currency, make sure you’re paying with smaller bills (50 RMB and smaller) because some taxis won’t break a 100 RMB bill.
- Your Destination – If you’re traveling to China without speaking Chinese, you’ll want to have the name of your destination 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.
By law, Chinese taxis must use the meter, so if a taxi driver starts to negotiate a price with you, politely ask about or point to the meter and if they refuse, exit the vehicle.
Alternatives to Taxis in China
The biggest challenge, though, is often just finding an open taxi in China.
There are times, especially during rush hour and in bigger cities, when it’s easier to win the lottery than to find an open taxi. When that’s the case, you’ll want to consider a few other private transportation options like a black taxi or “Chinese Uber” ride.
China’s “Black Taxis”
When you’ve been waiting on the side of the road for a taxi in China and there’s been nothing for 10-20 minutes, you might start to feel this sense of hopelessness. Then, all of the sudden, you might see some cars honking at you or blinking their headlights and slowing down.
These cars come in many shapes and colors but they are collectively referred to as “black taxis”.
Technically, they’re illegal (gasp!!) but practically they’re indispensable.
A black taxi is usually just a regular Chinese person who is either unemployed or driving back home from work. They’re hoping to offset their gas costs by finding somebody else going their direction and giving them a ride.
After you’ve waved down a black taxi, they’ll usually 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 Chinese black taxi if you need to. Otherwise, you might be waiting on the street corner for a long time!
Of course, taking a black taxi requires at least an intermediate grasp of the Chinese language.
If this isn’t you and you’re having a hard time finding a traditional taxi in China, there’s still one more option you can try: the Chinese version of Uber.
DiDi Chuxing (aka “Uber in China”)
It used to be that you could use Uber in China, but that is no longer the case.
They eventually lost too much money and sold the business to Didi Chuxing in 2016. Now, Didi Chuxing (滴滴出行) 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 even better news is that the app is available in English and travelers can use their foreign credit cards to issue payment for services (eliminating the need to carry the right cash with you).
You’ll want to download the DiDi Chuxing app on your phone before you arrive in China (similar to how you’ll want to download a VPN before you leave for China) and set up your payment method.
Although the app works in English, you’ll get the best results if you’re able to input the Chinese characters for your destination (which requires knowing how to write Chinese).
To start, download the app on either Google Play or iOS:
Once downloaded, the app works almost identically like Uber or Lyft. You put in your destination and a driver will come to pick you up.
In my experience, most drivers try to call before they pick you up. With the English version of DiDi Chuxing, you can text them preset messages which are translated into English for you.
Payment is automatically applied to your payment method when you exit the car, so there’s nothing you need to tell or give the driver.
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). In most cases, all you need to do is wave your hand at an empty taxi to pull them over.
Now that we’ve covered the three most common modes of taxi transportation in China, you should read through a few of these important tips before you go:
- Always Enter and Exit a Taxi from the Passenger Side: This is true even when you’re in the back seat. Sometimes the driver’s side door doesn’t even open. Most of the time you are allowed to sit in the front seat unless it’s late at night (for safety reasons).
- Make Sure the Driver Drops the Meter/Flag: Or, in the case of a black taxi, that you’ve negotiated the price before getting in the car. Many times, especially when I’ve been exiting the airport/train station/bus station, I’ve had drivers try to take advantage of me and “bargain” a price with me. 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 taxi fare is 10 RMB, don’t give the driver a 100 RMB bill. Some travelers have reported receiving fake bills in return and sometimes drivers won’t even have the correct amount of change. This is first of five common scams in China that are easily avoidable.
- Don’t Tip the Driver: This isn’t a custom in China and he’s not expecting it…even from foreign travelers. No matter if you’re in a taxi, black taxi or Uber-like car, just say a thank you and be on your way.
- Keep the Receipt: If you’re in a traditional taxi, keep the receipt for 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
Although I highly recommend you consider purchasing a useful China phrase guide or taking advantage of some of the amazing voice translations apps for China, I still wanted to list a few of the most common phrases that you’ll use in a taxi.
I’m not including the Chinese characters here. Rather, I’m typing out the pinyin and then adding some helpful pronunciation prompts.
- 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 jian! (zeye jan) – Goodbye.
How to Get a Taxi in China
My hope is that after reading this, you’re now much more confident to get a taxi in China or consider one of the other two alternatives. The bottom line is that if you can take a traditional taxi, that’s what I advise that you do.
For those that feel a little more comfortable both with their travel expertise and their Chinese language, using a black taxi can be a good alternative, even if there are risks involved.
Finally, if you’re tech-savvy and your phone is connected to a Chinese network, you can use DiDi Chuxing to order a private car to get you where you need to go. No Chinese language required!
Whichever option you choose, make sure you feel safe and don’t be afraid to ask for help from your hotel or even strangers on the street!