China is an extremely safe tourist destination since violent crimes, especially against foreigners, are rare. However, no place is perfect, and getting ripped off or pick-pocketed is not unheard of. Always keep your eyes peeled, stay alert, and read our safety tips below to help ensure you have a safe and splendid trip through the Middle Kingdom.
• Beware that some lesser-known hotels have poor safety standards, where valuables “mysteriously” disappear into thin air. Always stay in a well-known hotel that has good reviews from this guidebook or internet resources. We only recommend establishments that treat their guests well and are safe for foreign travelers.
• When staying in a hostel dormitory, put all your valuables in the lock box. If no lock-boxes are present, many hostels will let you leave your things with them behind the counter. It’s amazing how many items get stolen in hostels from backpackers just leaving things out in the open. Remember that fellow foreign travelers can be thieves too.
• Always let your family know where you will be staying in case there is an emergency or they need to contact you. Provide the lodge’s name, address and telephone number, and let them know how many days you’ll be staying there.
• Sometimes, especially for single men staying at Chinese-owned hotels, you’ll get a knock at the door or a phone call in the middle of the night asking if you’d like a “massage.” These are prostitutes, and if you don’t want their services simply tell them that you’re not interested. Letting them in can automatically result in a fee.
• Public transportation is usually safe all across China because there are security guards and crowds to deter any threats. But always keep an eye on your wallet, purses and belongings since thieves tend to work best in large crowds.
• If taking a long distant train or bus, keep your bags as close to you as possible, especially if you’re sleeping. Things like your passport, wallet and other valuables should be taken out of your bag and kept in your pockets while sleeping.
• Weather can be unpredictable, so check the forecast to avoid long rides in poor conditions. One of the leading causes for death in China is traffic accidents, and bad conditions only increase the chances of a mishap.
• Be extremely vigilant while walking down the streets and crossing the road. Driving in China can be extremely chaotic since many don’t obey traffic lights or signs, and it’s not uncommon for cars and scooters to drive on the sidewalk. Many traffic accidents include pedestrians, so be cautious at all times while taking a stroll.
• If you are renting a bicycle, remember that bicycle theft is very common here. Always lock the frame (not the wheel) to a sturdy post even if you’ll only be away for a few minutes. If sitting at a café, grab a seat outside or a window seat to keep an eye on your ride. Some places may even let you bring the bike inside.
• Follow the same safety precautions for motorcycles and scooters as well. Always lock your ride securely with the key and put a metal lock around one of the tires in case someone hotwires it.
Obey the Law
• This may seem like an obvious one, but “not knowing the law” will not always get you off the hook with the authorities, and your embassy cannot help you if you commit a serious offense. It will be impossible to learn every Chinese law before coming here, but many are the same as the ones you follow on a daily basis back home. Basically, stick to the golden rule and treat others how you’d like them to treat you.
• Be sure to stay clear of any mass protests or demonstrations. These are illegal in China and many of the protestors can be imprisoned. It may look like a cool photo opportunity at first, but when the police come flying in to break it up (even though that will make the photo even more exciting), they will start arresting people at random. If you’re in the crowd, you’re guilty as charged, period. You do not want to end up in a Chinese jail – it’s no Holiday Inn.
• It’s also worth mentioning that speaking your mind can also be a serious offense, especially when talking about the government. DO NOT engage in political or religious conversations with locals no matter how passionate you are about a certain subject. Saying the wrong things to the wrong people can have serious consequences, so don’t take the chance. In a nutshell, stay clear from conversations regarding the Three T’s: Tibet, Taiwan and Tian’anmen Square.
• China also has draconian laws concerning drug consumption and trafficking. It’s advisable to stay clear of illegal narcotics and to always check your bags thoroughly before taking public transportation just in case someone wants to use you as their mule (although this is highly unlikely).
• Taking pictures of restricted areas (mostly government buildings or military facilities) can also be illegal. Don’t take pictures of any place that appears to be under the government’s umbrella, but if you accidently do, the worse that’ll happen is they may make you erase the picture or, in extreme cases, confiscate your camera.
Where Am I?
• Use your Panda Guides emergency card and have the staff write the address of your hotel or hostel in Chinese characters. Also take a business card from the hotel or hostel, which should have a map and the address in English and Chinese.
• Try to recognize landmarks around your lodging and/or program the address of where you’re staying into your smart-phone.
• If all else fails, find a policeman and they should be able to help get you back safely. The police are generally very friendly in China and will not hesitate to help out.
• For a lost or stolen passport, go immediately to your embassy or national consulate to issue a new one. If there are none in the town you’re in, contact the police. Having several printed copies of your passport and Chinese visa plus other kinds of personal identification will make getting a new one quicker and easier. To keep from losing your passport in the first place, carry a photocopy of it instead of the real thing, and leave the original one in a safe place back at your hotel or hostel.
• If you lose your credit card, contact your bank ASAP to cancel your card and have them send you a new one.
• Like any country, alcohol mixed with a night out on the town can lead to physical confrontations. While still rare in China, barfights are unfortunately on the rise – especially those involving foreigners (mostly men).
• Don’t get inebriated and act like a jerk. It’s OK to have a few drinks, dance and have some fun, but remember that you’re in a foreign country and you are highly outnumbered. If a fight does break out, you can guarantee that it will not be one on one, but more likely 20 against you. Always be as courteous as possible, and if things start heating up, suck up your pride and walk (or run) away. A person who runs away lives to see another day.
• Many fights, not surprisingly, occur over women. Many tourists and expats have mistakenly danced with someone’s girlfriend, an act that usual leads to trouble, possibly violence. Close friends of the girl may also get jealous, so keep an eye out for anyone giving you “the eye.” If in doubt, ask the girl if she has a boyfriend or if there is a problem with you dancing with her. If so, or if the situation feels awkward, leave. There are other koi in the pond.
• For women, don’t accept drinks from strangers unless they are sealed with a cap. If a male is being too aggressive, try being polite at first by denying him or walking away. If he persists, tell the bartender or security guard at the front that someone is harassing you, and then let them deal with the situation.
• While China is safe for males and females alike, it still might be a good idea for solo woman travelers to go out with a few friends.
• In case of an emergency, call the police at 110 (toll free) in the Mainland and Taiwan, or 999 (toll free) in Hong Kong and Macau. They should have an English speaker to help you.