Safety and security
Serious crime against foreigners is relatively rare, but incidents do occur and less serious crime is not unusual. You should take care of your belongings at major tourist sites and other busy places, particularly where foreigners gather. If your passport is lost or stolen, you will need to go to the nearest police station or Public Security Bureau and get a report of the incident.
Avoid travelling in unmarked or unmetered taxis, as there have been incidents of sexual assault and robbery against foreigners. In marked taxis, make sure someone knows where you are and try to take a note of the taxi’s number.
Disputes over taxi fares can occur. Insist on paying the metered fare and ask for a receipt; this has the taxi number on it.
Don’t hike alone in isolated areas, including on the Great Wall. If you do, always leave your itinerary, mobile number and expected time of return at your hotel or with a third party.
There is a risk of attack from armed criminals in remote areas. The areas bordering on Siberia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Laos and Burma are poorly policed. In Yunnan Province, drug smuggling and other crimes are increasing.
Beware of scams in popular tourist areas. A common example is the ‘tea tasting’ scam or ‘massage’ scam. You may be invited to visit a bar, to participate in tea tasting or for a massage, but then face demands for an exorbitant fee. This can be followed by threats or actual violence, and credit card fraud.
Check QR code stickers on rental bicycles carefully before using them. There have been cases of the legitimate barcode being replaced with a false code, which redirects money to a different account.
Fire protection standards in Chinese accommodation are not always the same as in the UK. Check fire precautions including access to fire exits. Make sure your accommodation has a working fire alarm and regularly check that the fire exits aren’t blocked.
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Make sure your accommodation has a working carbon monoxide alarm. There have been incidences of carbon monoxide poisoning and death due to incorrectly installed gas equipment. The ‘Be Alarmed’ campaign gives practical advice on how to stay safe, and lists the symptoms to look out for.
Before entering into a contract in China you should take legal advice, both in the United Kingdom and in China. Contracts entered into in the United Kingdom are not always enforced by Chinese courts.
If you’re involved in or connected to a business and/or civil dispute, the Chinese authorities may prohibit you from leaving China until the matter is resolved. This is known as a travel ban. For more detailed advice on business risks and commercial disputes, see our guide on commercial disputes in China.
Incidents of British nationals being detained against their will to extort money or intimidate them have occurred. It is rare for violence to be used, but the threat of violence is a recurring theme. You should report any threats of violence to the Chinese police.
Tibet and the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)
You can only travel to the TAR on an organised tour and you must get a permit first, through a specialised travel agent in China. Chinese authorities sometimes stop issuing these without notice, and also restrict travel to Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures in neighbouring Provinces, even if you have a permit. You should check with tour operators or travel agents and monitor this travel advice and other media for information.
Once in Tibet you should avoid demonstrations and other large public gatherings. Ongoing political and ethnic tensions can lead to unrest and protest, sometimes violent. Security measures will be tight and unauthorised gatherings may be dispersed by force. Don’t film or photograph any such activities or outbreaks of violence. Local authorities will react negatively if you’re found carrying letters or packages from Tibetan nationals to be posted in other countries.
Photography in Buddhist monasteries requires permission and carries a fee.
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
The security situation in Xinjiang remains fragile, and conditions locally can deteriorate rapidly at short notice. There have been instances of violent unrest in Xinjiang, causing deaths. There have been allegations of the use of lethal force to disperse protests.
Be alert to the possibility of being caught up in any unexpected demonstrations or outbreaks of violence. The Chinese authorities will increase the security presence in the area and tend to react quickly and harshly to these incidents. The Chinese authorities may restrict travel to some areas of Xinjiang, particularly during religious festivals and after violent attacks. You should remain vigilant, monitor media reports and follow advice and instructions from local authorities. Avoid protests and large crowds. Don’t film or photograph any such activities or anything of a military nature.
You need a Chinese driving licence to drive in China. You must also have valid insurance.
Accidents are common in China due to the poor quality of roads, high volumes of traffic and generally low driving standards, so you should drive with caution. If you’re involved in a serious traffic accident, call the police. Don’t move your vehicle until they arrive but make sure you and your passengers are in a safe place. In cases where there are injuries, you may be held liable for medical costs. You will also be held liable if you run over a pedestrian.
There are harsh penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol, even at very low levels.
Mariners should avoid the disputed territory between China and other countries in the East China Sea. There have also been incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the area. See the Regional Co-operation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing website for further information.
You will need to produce your passport to buy a ticket and again to board the train.
Trans-Mongolian express trains (Beijing-Moscow via Ulaanbaatar) are noted for smuggling. Search your compartment and secure the cabin door before departure.
Petty theft from overnight trains is common.
China is a one-party state. Though China is very open to foreign visitors, you should be aware of political and cultural sensitivities in conversation with Chinese people.
Territorial disputes between China and neighbouring countries have caused high regional tension. There have been a number of anti-Japanese and anti-Korean demonstrations in several cities across China. These protests have generally taken place outside diplomatic missions, but some have targeted other Japanese and Korean interests.
Avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings. The Chinese authorities enforce public order strictly and you may face arrest, detention and/or deportation. Foreign journalists have been intimidated, assaulted or detained for trying to report demonstrations. You may also risk becoming a target yourself when general anti-foreign sentiment runs high. Keep yourself informed of developments and follow the advice of the local authorities. During periods of tension, some news reporting, access to text-messaging, the internet and to international telephone lines may be blocked.