It’s impossible to say that a certain country is completely safe, especially when it comes to China.
China is a huge country, with an incredible diversity of cultures, peoples and cities. With that kind of variety, there are naturally pockets of trouble and unsafe areas.
However, when you visit China as a tourist or to work, chances are that your stay will be completely safe and trouble free.
To help ensure that’s the case, here are some ideas for travelling in the wonder and strangeness that is China.
Crime in China
The truth is that China is safer to travel now than it has been at any time in history.
Since the Beijing Olympics and the tourist boom, the Chinese government has gone to great lengths to ensure that visitors have a safe time travelling around the country.
Specifically, they’ve been making a lot of safety improvements in cities that are focused on tourism, which can only be good when it comes to travelers’ safety.
Couple that with very high conviction rates and penalties, and you have an environment where female foreign tourists can walk around and feel safer than they do in their own country.
In fact, any type of violent crime against tourists is very rare in China, so you shouldn’t face any serious safety risks on that front.
China’s economy has also grown a lot over the last few years.
This means that the rates of homelessness and poverty are down as well, and this translates to a markedly decreased crime rate.
Petty crime still exists
However, in certain cities there are still areas where you may experience petty crime such as pickpockets, credit card fraud and scammers.
That’s why it’s important that you use your common sense and stay on guard. If you’re concerned about pickpockets, this is what you can do:
- Stay alert in crowded tourist areas.
- Wear your backpack on the front.
- Never leave valuables unattended.
- Keep your bag on your lap in restaurants.
- Never put any valuables in your back pocket.
- Make a scene if someone tries to grab your stuff, because this will usually drive them away.
Scams in China
Scams are becoming more common in China.
These can take a variety of different forms, and if you get caught up in one then it will seriously affect your trip.
One of the most common is known as the tea ceremony scam. This is when a group of locals approach a tourist and invite them to a traditional tea ceremony.
At the end of the visit, the tourist is left with a huge bill and no new friends.
So, if you’re approached out of nowhere, be cautious and just walk away if something feels wrong or if they try to pressure you to go somewhere in particular.
Another common but less involved scam is the price mark-up that tourists experience, particularly in markets.
Most vendors will raise their prices 5 to 10 times the actual value of an item when they see a tourist.
This is why you absolutely must learn to bargain when you’re in China, especially if you like to shop at markets.
One safety concern that you may not have considered is the traffic.
Despite having a modern traffic system with signs, lights, and lined streets, many Chinese drivers take them as suggestions rather than rules.
While you’re in China, you will frequently see drivers running red lights, driving on the sidewalks, and barreling straight through pedestrian crossings.
What you need to remember is that privately owned cars are a fairly recent development in China, which means that most people haven’t been driving very long.
And you don’t want to even think about how many people are driving on the roads without a license or any kind of training.
Unfortunately, this means that China’s roads are extremely dangerous.
In fact, China has a very high traffic fatality rate, with 700 people losing their lives in traffic accidents every day.
More than half of those victims are pedestrians, with bicycle riders and scooter drivers also at high risk.
To avoid becoming one of these statistics, here are some tips for surviving China’s traffic:
1. Stay off the scooters
You may think scooters are easy to drive, but the truth is that you probably don’t have the experience to drive them in China’s traffic.
The locals are taught to drive scooters from the time they are about 12 years old.
If you visit China in your 20s and expect to be able to match their experience and reflexes, you’re probably in for a painful surprise.
2. Look both ways
Look both ways every time you cross the street, even if the traffic is only going one way.
It isn’t unusual for motorcycles and scooters to come zipping up the street the wrong way.
This is a popular trick at peak hour, when they can avoid the traffic by weaving between the parking lot that the roads become.
And they move fast, so if you don’t check both ways, you’ll end up a statistic.
3. Take out the headphones
Chinese drivers prefer to use their horns rather than their brakes.
This is part of what makes peak hour such a noisy time in Chinese cities.
It also means that you need to be able to hear the honk of horns, just in case it’s meant for you, so take out your headphones when you’re walking around.
And you don’t get a free pass if you’re on the sidewalk.
Chinese drivers will drive up on the sidewalk to get out of the traffic and then get angry at you because you’re in the way!
4. Cross the road in crowds
Always try to cross the road with a crowd of locals.
Drivers in China will and do ignore pedestrian crossings and red lights.
But it’s harder for them to ignore a group of people crossing the road, though they’ll still try.
5. Bigger is better
Unlike in most Western countries, pedestrians never have the right of way in China.
Instead, the bigger vehicle has all the rights, and everyone has to give way to them. So, don’t expect people to stop for you, ever.
Watch out for buses because they’re usually the worst offenders.
General tips for China safety
There are a few other dangers that you need to be aware of when you travel to China.
Follow these tips to stay safe during your travels:
1. Be aware of local laws
China isn’t your home country, and the laws are different.
So, before you spend any time there, make sure that you’re aware of the laws.
For instance, drugs in China are very much frowned upon and the laws around them are extremely strict.
Drug tests can also be carried out on tourists and the penalties can be severe.
It isn’t like at home, when a drug charge usually means a slap on the wrist.
If you’re caught with drugs in China, it could and probably will ruin your life.
So don’t even think about it.
2. Watch the air pollution rating
Most major Chinese cities have a major problem with air pollution.
The government has put changes in place that seem to be improving this problem, but it’s still a major threat to your health and to your lungs.
So, while you’re in the major cities or cities known for air pollution, pay attention to the news on the air pollution rating for each day.
And stay indoors as much as possible on high pollution days or wear an air filtering mask.
3. Beware of ATMs
When you need to get money out, only use cash machines (ATMs) that belong to reputable banks in China.
This will cut down your chances of getting fake notes or having your details stolen.
4. Check your banknotes
There are literally millions of counterfeit notes in circulation in China.
Inspect any banknotes you’re given, particularly the 100 yuan notes which are notorious for fakes.
5. Look out for fakes
If you’re buying souvenirs and the vendor tells you that they’re antique or very expensive, then look again.
Chances are that they’re just mass-produced souvenirs.
Don’t let that stop you from buying the souvenir if you really like the look of it, but make sure you bargain the price down first.
6. Keep your passport on you
The police in China can do spot checks at any time and all foreigners are meant to have their passport on them at all times.
If you don’t want to keep your passport on you, at least have a photocopy of your visa to prove that you are allowed to be in China.
This may save you a lot of trouble and hassle.
So is China safe then?
China is a relatively safe place to travel.
In fact, you’ll probably feel safer walking its streets than you do in most of the areas back home.
As long as you use some common sense and avoid the obvious traps, you should have a safe and comfortable trip and arrive back home again with lots of great stories to tell.