From the sprawling bamboo forests in Sichuan to the buzzing neon lights of Shanghai, it’s easy to see why many travelers are eager to check China off their bucket lists of countries. For once, the Far East actually doesn’t feel, well, all that far. But even in a country full of iconic landmarks and natural wonders, you may be wondering: “Is China safe for travelers?”
Although the People’s Republic of China attracts over 100 million visitors a year, it’s not immune to crime. Traffic accidents, theft and scams are just some of the problems that could happen during your trip.
If you’re going to China, you should always be prepared. While travel insurance can protect you in most situations, it’s still critical that you learn about the different issues that could arise.
Traveling to the world’s most populous country has its advantages and disadvantages. Just like any other country, there are certain precautions all travelers should take in order to stay safe.
Due to the country’s sheer size and population, it’s difficult to say point blank if China is, or is not, a safe place for travelers. In reality, many people visit China without any problems at all.
On the other hand, accidents can happen, just like anywhere else in the world.
Naturally, China is a sprawling country with dozens of enticing cities to choose from. These different cities and regions all have varying levels of safety.
Before you create your China travel itinerary, do your research beforehand to find out of if the cities you wish to visit are safe.
The US government currently ranks the People’s Republic of China as a Level-2 security level, and warns foreign citizens to “exercise increased caution.” Likewise, Canada and the United Kingdom have also advised their civilians to take extra precautions while visiting China.
The Australia government, on the other hand, just set up regional advisory warnings for citizens visiting the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region or the Tibet Autonomous Region.
In addition, you should review China’s local laws and customs. The legal system in the People’s Republic of China is complicated and probably different compared to rules in other western cultures.
It’s best to familiarize yourself with the local laws and to learn about Chinese social etiquette to make sure your trip runs smoothly.
Is China Safe to Visit Right Now?
The People’s Republic of China continues to attract visitors from around the world. Safety has been an increasing concern, especially during the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. Over the years, improvements have been made to clean up the larger cities.
The truth is, China is safer now than it has been in the past.
Over the last few decades, China’s economy has grown exponentially. This translates to lower unemployment and homeless rates, and therefore, a decreased rate in crime. Violent crimes against tourists and foreign citizens are very rare.
On the other hand, you need to be aware of pickpockets and scammers. Petty theft can happen in larger, populated cities just as often as in rural regions.
However, China’s air pollution in the north is a separate issue. The Chinese government has started to enforce stricter rules to control pollution. Although air pollution has decreased by 32 percent since 2014, it’s still not considered completely healthy. Before you travel, check the air quality index (AQI) of the Chinese cities you choose to visit.
Traffic and road safety is also a growing concern. There is an incredibly high traffic fatality rate, with over 200,000 people losing their lives each year. Unfortunately, pedestrians, bicycle riders and scooter drivers are at the highest risk. Driving a car or simply crossing the street is a dangerous task, as many traffic signals and rules are not followed.
Because of these issues, we always recommend investing in a good travel insurance policy. From personal property to medical emergency protection, travel insurance will have you covered in case anything goes awry on your trip.
Travel Insurance in China
No matter where you travel in the world, you should always purchase travel insurance. Millions of visitors travel to the People’s Republic of China each year, and many of them return home unscathed.
However, you can’t predict the future and plans can always go awry. In this situation, you’ll be thankful to have travel insurance in China.
As we’ve discussed, pickpocketing can be a major issue. If your camera gets stolen at the Great Wall, or your wallet gets nabbed on the subway, travel insurance will cover the cost of the lost items. Additionally, you can also get reimbursed if the airline loses or damages your luggage during your flight.
Travel insurance also covers unexpected injuries or illnesses. To give you a real life example, doctors found gallstones in my gallbladder when I was in China, and I had to fly to Singapore for surgery. Luckily, I had travel insurance, and my $8,000 medical bill was completely covered.
If you need to go to the hospital when visiting different countries, then travel insurance will reimburse your medical bills. In reality, accidents can happen to even the most experienced of travelers.
At TravelFreak, we recommend protecting your trip and your health with World Nomads travel insurance. With comprehensive medical, theft, and trip cancellation coverage, they’re one of the leading travel insurance companies out there. Fill out the form below to get a quote for your trip.
Common Travel Scams in China
Undoubtedly, the biggest threat against foreigners petty theft. Crime can happen whether you’re on a crowded bus or simply walking down the street during the day. Sometimes, pickpockets work individually or in groups using distraction techniques. Forced robbery is extremely rare, and pickpockets usually act quickly and silently.
Keep your personal belongings locked up or close by at all times. If you do have something stolen, report it immediately to the local authorities. This is a situation where you’ll be happy to have travel insurance to cover the lost items!
Travel scams are also common in popular tourist destinations. Sometimes the scammer is looking to sell you counterfeit products by claiming the item is authentic. Other times, they might just be increasing the price of tickets or products simply because you aren’t Chinese.
One common scam is the “tea ceremony scam”. You are approached by a group of Chinese citizens posing as friendly students who invite them to a traditional tea tasting ceremony. After being served a few cups of tea, the tourists are usually hit with a bill of several hundred dollars.
Although scammers may seem friendly, it’s best to approach the situation with caution. If the person is reluctant to provide references or identification, or unwilling to share more information, then they might be a scammer.
If you plan to do any shopping, especially in a market, be prepared to bargain! It’s common for shoppers to bargain for a lower price. The truth is, most shop owners will initially quote foreigners a price five to 10 times higher. Bargaining can be a tricky skill to master, but it will save you extra cash in the long run.
China Safety Travel Tips by City
With over 100 urban cities and 23 provinces, the People’s Republic of China is one of the largest and most diverse countries on the planet. Issues will vary depending on where you visit. However, there are a few important travel safety tips to take into account for specific places and regions.
Mixing ancient traditions with modern architecture, Beijing is a must-visit destination for many visitors. China’s imperial capital in the north is home to the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and even the Great Wall of China. In addition, Beijing is one of the safest places in China for internationals. However, there are a few precautions you should take while you’re in Beijing.
Traffic accidents while rare, can still occur. Reckless driving can be a real problem. Many drivers do not obey traffic rules or stop lights. As a pedestrian, always cross the streets with extra caution. You don’t necessarily have the right of way even if the walking signal is green.
Similarly, make sure to fasten your seatbelt when riding in a car or taxi. Although taxi drivers rarely wear their own, you should still protect yourself in case of a car accident.
Beijing also suffers from severe air pollution. On some days, the city’s smog reading can be 15 times higher than what is considered healthy. But don’t worry, there are very few side effects of short-term exposure.
The cosmopolitan city of Shanghai is China’s economic and financial hub in the east. With towering skyscrapers and colonial buildings dotting the skyline, it’s easy to see how Shanghai draws in millions of visitors each year. Yet for a busy metropolitan city, Shanghai is okay to visit.
As with most major places, pickpocketing can happen in Shanghai. Keep an eye on your belongings when visiting major attractions such as People’s Square or East Nanjing Road. Busy subways and crowded buses can also be crawling with pickpockets.
In a similar fashion, money scams can also be a big threat to foreign travelers. There are millions of counterfeit bills in circulation, and if you can’t tell the difference, you might be given back a fake 50 or 100 RMB note. Always get money from an ATM or reputable bank, and don’t be afraid the inspect the bills if they look fake.
Nestled on the Pearl River in the southern province of Guangdong, Guangzhou (or Canton) is a popular destination for visitors. This commercial city is a shopper’s paradise, with markets, shopping malls and retail stores around every corner.
Because Guangzhou attracts crowds of foreigners and locals alike, you should always be aware of pickpockets. Not only do thieves go after your backpacks and wallets, but they will also try and take your purchased goods in busy shopping areas.
Sichuan’s capital is a bustling urban city with historic temples and soaring skyscrapers. Chengdu is also home to adorable giant pandas and mouth-numbing spicy foods. Furthermore, Chengdu is considered a fairly safe city.
Besides petty theft and pickpocketing, Chengdu has a low financial crime rate compared to other places in the republic. Of course, you should make sure to keep your belongings close to you at all times. Be extra cautious when visiting busy tourist focused areas. Pickpockets tend to use distraction techniques and work in teams.
Known for its archeological ruins and historic monuments, Xi’an is a great city for exploring China’s cultural past. Not only is Xi’an is one of the oldest places in the world, but it’s also one of the safest.
Every year, over 1 million visitors come to Xi’an to visit the 2,000-year-old Terra Cotta Army. Just like at any big tourist destination, scams can be a big problem. Beware of illegal guides or ticket resellers tempting you with low prices and free lunch. Unless the guides are certified, you can’t guarantee entrance into the burial site.
Souvenir shops around the Terra Cotta Army site and other popular destinations can also scam you. Figurines and antiques are often advertised as authentic, but in reality, are just mass-produced souvenirs. China’s counterfeit industry is extremely advanced. It’s often difficult to tell fake merchandise from legitimate antiques.
Visiting Tibet and the Tibet Autonomous Region is a once in a lifetime opportunity. For one, Tibet is the perfect jumping off point for exploring the Himalayas. In addition, Tibet has a distinctly different culture compared to China.
Due to domestic conflict and political unrest involving the Chinese government, visiting Tibet might be more difficult than you think. The only way to get from China to Tibet is with an organized tour.
During your stay, it’s best to avoid any political protests, rallies or demonstrations. Not only can protests get out of hand and turn violent, but they could also land you in jail. For this reason, you’re better off avoiding areas of conflict altogether.
The Semi-Autonomous region of Xinjiang may be China’s best-kept secret. Located in north part of the country near Mongolia, Xinjiang is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. The region is filled with beautiful glistening lakes and red sand deserts.
Unfortunately, heightened ethnic tensions between the Han Chinese and the Uyghurs citizens have made some parts of Xinjiang more volatile than others. If you plan to visit Xinjiang, expect increased security measures and police checkpoints in public areas. Keep a copy of your passport and visa on you at all times, as identification is often required at the security checkpoints.
Despite internal conflicts, Xinjiang is still a region worth visiting. The Uyghur locals are extremely hospitable, welcoming foreigners and travelers with open arms.
Solo Travel in China
From breathtaking landscapes to a never-ending supply of cheap eats, China is a popular destination for backpackers and solo travelers. In fact, exploring it alone can be an amazing experience.
As a solo traveler, you will probably face many of the same issues that other tourist groups encounter. However, solo travelers should always take extra precautions. To start with, let your family and friends know about your itinerary and travel plans.
Staying at a hostel is a great way to meet new people. At the same time, it’s also important to keep an eye on your personal belongings. Lock your bag before leaving the room, and make sure to keep valuables like phones, passports, and cameras in sight at all times.
China has some of the best nightlife in Asia. Drinks are affordable, and most bars and nightclubs are open around the clock. When going out late at night, watch your alcohol intake as pickpockets and scammers tend to target inebriated solo travelers.
If you’re traveling alone, you might be worried about not having someone around to help you. Despite the language barrier, Chinese citizens can actually be very friendly and helpful, especially in times of need. In fact, many Chinese citizens go out of their way to make you feel welcomed. Whether you’re dining at a family run restaurant or shopping at a neighborhood market, it’s not uncommon to strike up a conversation with a local.
Traveling alone is a great experience that you shouldn’t shy away from. Although you’re traveling by yourself, you won’t ever feel really alone in China.
Safety for Americans in China
China’s relationship with the United States is, to say the least, complex. Centuries of political unrest and trade wars have caused complicated tensions between these two powerful nations. Despite the ongoing economic disputes and conflicts, China isn’t dangerous for American citizens to visit.
As with most places around the world, Americans should be aware of their surroundings when traveling to different countries. This means paying attention to local laws and learning about social customs.
In early 2019, the US State Department raised the travel advisory for US citizens. There have been documented instances where United State citizens have been prevented by the Chinese government from leaving the country, even with a visa. These situations are rare and should not cause any serious safety concerns. Nevertheless, it’s something that all American citizens should be aware of when visiting the People’s Republic of China.
If you do run into problems abroad, locate the nearest United States embassy or consulate. Although there is only one embassy in Beijing, there are consulate offices in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Wuhan.
Unlike the United States and other western cultures, the Chinese government heavily restricts freedom of speech and expression. Several conversation topics are off limits, including the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and the autonomous region of Tibet. Don’t start political debates or attend political rallies and demonstrations, or else you might find yourself deported, detained, or imprisoned.
Keep in mind that United State citizens must obtain a visa before entering China. This means that you need to apply for the visa in person directly at one of the six United States-Chinese embassies. If you don’t live near one of the embassies, you must use a passport visa service to get the visa on your behalf. Visas are issued for 6-months, 1-year, or 10-years.
Solo Female Travel in China
When I was in my early twenties, I traveled north to Beijing and simply fell in love with the place. Before I knew it, I ended up staying for the better part of a year. During my trip, I traveled by bus to small villages and wandered through the city by day and night. As a solo female traveler, I never felt unsafe or at risk.
Gender equality in China has come a long way. Historically, the country was a male-dominated society where women were expected to be more subservient. They had less freedom and less choice about their futures and careers.
However, these confined gender roles have started to shift. Now, women make up 46 percent of the Chinese workforce, which is considerably higher than female citizens in the United States, Brazil and Germany, according to research published in the Nature International Journal of Science. Although women play a larger role in society, the gender gap still persists. Despite this, women are generally well respected in China.
During the day, I felt safe walking, going out to eat and taking the subway with other female travelers. I occasionally got a few stares and questions from Chinese citizens about why I was traveling alone. But this turned out to be more about curiosity rather than a safety concern.
It’s extremely rare for women to hear catcalls or whistles. However, solo travelers are a bigger target for pickpockets, especially after a night of drinking.
Many women are apprehensive about going to China alone. But in reality, it’s a nation that culturally accepts international travelers. This is true regardless of if gender. By taking certain precautions, women can travel through the People’s Republic of China without fearing for their safety.
Drinking Water Safety in China
To put it simply, tap water in China is not okay to drink.
For one thing, the water quality is not well regulated even in Beijing or Shanghai. Even if the water looks crystal clear, it could still be contaminated with bacteria, sediments, or other hazardous materials.
Tap water should always be boiled before drinking. Likewise, bottled water is fine to drink. It’s available almost everywhere.
In Chinese restaurants, it’s common to get water with your meal. This water is usually boiled and safe to drink. However, you can always order bottled water instead if you want to be really sure.
Another option is to travel with a filtered water bottle, such as LifeStraw Go. Not only does it filter out harmful bacteria and matter, but it also cuts down on the amount of single-use plastic bottles.
The LARQ Water Bottle is another one of my favorite travel water bottles worth checking out.
Food Safety in China
China is a gastronomic country that takes food very seriously. While some foreigners are worried about the quality of food, it’s actually safe to eat in many places.
However, taking extra cautionary steps will prevent you from landing in the hospital with an angry stomach.
Over the past few years, food regulation at restaurants and cafes has become safer and more reliable. In general, the biggest concern has to do with food that has been contaminated by tap water or left out for too long.
When dining at a restaurant, try to order food that is seasonal and fresh. This goes for meat as well as produce. Most raw fruits and vegetables should be safe to eat. But they can still contain bacteria from the tap water that could make you sick.
For extra precaution, stick with vegetables that have been thoroughly cooked.
Street food and snack stalls are on almost every corner in all cities. On the one hand, most street foods are made using fresh ingredients that are cooked right in front of you.
However, you might find a stall where it’s unclear how long the food has been sitting out. Especially in summer, avoid snacks and raw meats that have been baking in the sun.
Are Taxis in China Safe?
Taking a taxi in China is, in general, an affordable and safe method of transportation. However, there are a few tips you should keep in mind before waving down the first car you see on the street.
First of all, always take official, colored taxis. Avoid taking black cabs, or unlicensed taxis, as they tend to target unaware foreigners. You’ll either be overcharged using a fake meter or hit with a big bill at the end of your ride.
Speaking of which, only accept fares that have meters. Some drivers might try to take advantage of you by charging you a flat price. This is illegal and almost always more than what you’ll pay on the meter. Unsure about the average taxi rate? Ask your hotel concierge for a quote.
Third, make sure you have your destination address written down in Chinese characters. If you’re staying at a hotel, the front desk can write down where you need to go on a business card or piece of paper. You shouldn’t assume that your taxi driver speaks or reads English.
Finally, ask for a receipt at the end of your trip. The receipt will always have the license plate number on it. This is in case you leave something behind or need to report an incident.
Is it Safe to Live in China?
According to the last census, there are over half a million expats living in the People’s Republic of China. Many international expats choose to live in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong. That’s because there are plenty of international businesses and companies. As a result, it’s safe to say that China remains a desirable and livable country for foreigners.
Some major cities also have expat communities that closely resemble western suburban neighborhoods. Not only are the homes more spacious, but the management staff usually speaks English as well. In some cases, there might also be western grocery stores and shops nearby.
Many foreigners live in big cities. But it’s not uncommon to find international expats in more distant regions of China. However, English is not a common language in these smaller villages. This means that expats should have some level of Mandarin or Cantonese. Smaller cities also have the reputation of being less welcoming.
So, Is it Dangerous in China?
Safety is broad topic that it’s almost impossible to give a single answer. Like we’ve discussed, many people have nothing but positive experiences when in China or Hong Kong.
Violent or personal attacks on foreigners while rare can still happen during the day or night. Citizens also need to be aware and take caution that pickpocketing and scams can also be major issues.
In general, you should take the same precautions as you would with other countries in the world. However, it’s impossible to predict what type of crime could happen on your trip. Accidents can always happen and plans can always change. For this reason, it’s vital to travel with travel insurance.
Despite these concerns, the People’s Republic of China is absolutely worth visiting. For a country that’s constantly evolving, China somehow manages to remain timeless.
It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what makes this country so incredibly magical. Maybe it’s the country’s rich and colorful 4,000-year-old history of imperial dynasties and reigning emperors. Or perhaps its the tantalizing smells and aromas of dried spices and steaming hot noodles. Whether you’re exploring the underground Terra Cotta Army or trekking the north border of the Great Wall, China is guaranteed to be a memorable experience.
With that being said, you should always be alert and aware of your surroundings. With good judgment and excellent travel insurance, you’ll have an unforgettable time exploring this immortal country.