While a lot of travel security and safety advice is generic in nature, different locations often have specific conditions that make them worthy of special mention. In this blog post, we discuss travel safety in China. Our area of expertise is the Asia-Pacific region and we’ll be discussing several different countries in this area in the coming weeks. You can also hear us discuss it on the Wheels Up podcast over here.
The commentary is based on several visits to China, including cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan, and Nanjing among others. Though they are all part of China, the diverse locations within the country also give exposure to the diverse cultures and languages that coexist within the nation.
The first point to make is that Chinese people are very friendly by nature and have become very used to hosting visitors in the nation with more than 60 million inbound tourists staying each year (2015 stats). As friendly as they are, it takes time to earn their trust so business travellers need to take this into account. Follow our expert advice and tips on travel safety in China.
Before You Leave
You’ll hear us say time and time again that most travel security concerns can and should be addressed before you leave for your destination.
The obvious consideration for most destinations is visa requirements. China has a fairly stringent process that normally takes time to work through. If you are travelling on business then make sure you apply for the correct visa type. If the need is urgent they can turn a visa application around within 2 days but, as you’d expect, you pay a premium for this service.
For first-time visitors, you will only qualify for a single-entry or double-entry visa. On subsequent visits, you may qualify for a multi-entry visa.
Arrival and Beyond
If you have connecting flights that you pick up in Shanghai or Beijing, note that both of these cities have two major airports with some distance between them. Your booking agent or travel manager should point this out when making the booking but check your itinerary to see which airports you are arriving and departing from as you may also need to arrange transport between them.
Travel Safety in China
Most cities in China are quite safe but keep in mind that due to censorship laws the media, and even social media, may not reflect the full story. On occasion, we’ve heard of violent crime happening while we were there but only through word of mouth as the incident was unreported in the media.
In general, high levels of real-time surveillance probably help make parts of China safer than other parts of the world. This includes facial recognition software in a lot of circumstances so be aware that your movements will probably be traceable as you would have likely been scanned on entry. If you’re behaving above board though, that shouldn’t be an issue.
Cyber Safety in China
From a cyber safety point of view, China has some pretty sophisticated criminal syndicates so do your best to protect your digital information. Keep your devices off as much as possible (especially at airports as they are a fertile hunting ground for hackers) and use a ‘burner phone’ with minimal data on it. If you have to go online, make use of a virtual private network (VPN – we’ll have a post and podcast episode on that soon).
Keep an eye out for counterfeit currency as tourists are the least qualified to spot it. The official currency includes a watermark of Chairman Mao on the side or edge of each note. You should also be able to feel the image of Chairman Mao as being raised relative to the rest of the note.
Taxis in China
We usually recommend a security driver for business travel but accept that many travellers prefer to use taxis. Most Chinese taxi drivers do not speak English so be well prepared. Ask the concierge at the hotel or someone from the meeting(s) you have attended to write down your destinations in Chinese. If you have multiple destinations in a day have them create a list so you can work through them.
Ask the concierge also for an approximate price so you know if you’re being ‘taken for a ride’ so to speak when it comes time to pay up. Most operators will use the meter but some may try to offer you a flat rate. Best to avoid these as the rate will be tipped in their favour. Where possible, ask them to put the meter on or have the concierge at the hotel ask them for you.
Speaking of being taken for a ride, male travellers should beware of offers from your taxi driver to take you somewhere for ‘entertainment.’ If you find yourself on the seedy side of town, you could very well find yourself at the mercy of undesirables and facing a large cab fare to get you back to safety.
Intercity Travel Safety in China
If you’re fortunate enough to travel via private jet in China you’ll be at an advantage. However, be aware that flight windows can be very small. If you are slow getting out of the hotel or extend a meeting there’s a good chance you’ll miss your window and find yourself delayed unnecessarily. Make sure your team is in contact with the fixed-base operator (FBO) and heed their warnings if they tell you the schedule is tight.
If a private jet is beyond your budget, consider rail for secure intercity travel. At more than 500 km/hour (300 mph) these are a swift and often more reliable means of getting around than air, especially considering that the military can often close airspace at random times.
If you find yourself having some downtime in China, be cautious of ‘students’ asking if they can share some tea with you so they can practice their English. Chances are they will lead you to a tea house that is charging exorbitant prices and giving them a kickback for bringing them there.
Another travel security risk to be highly warry of is Chinese contacts inviting you out for a karaoke evening. Karaoke is often a front for something seedier and you could well find yourself in a compromising situation. This can even extend to having your drink spiked and you being put into situations beyond your control. At worst it can involve you being relieved of your wallet or your hotel room being ransacked.
Food in China
It’s no secret that the Chinese have an appetite that goes beyond what most of us would eat at home. It’s no secret to the Chinese either so in most cases they will understand if you respectfully decline to eat a particular dish. Err on the side of caution because if whatever is on the menu isn’t so agreeable, it could compromise the success of your visit.
Travel Security Tips and Hospitals
Most hospitals that a traveller might come into contact with in China are of a reasonable standard. Where possible though, we recommend using a private hospital if the choice is available and your insurance covers it. Our observation is that they tend to be better equipped and have more qualified staff than some of the state-run facilities. As we’ve said in our post and podcast about travel security in general, try to identify potential hospitals in advance where possible.
Corruption and fraud laws in China are similar to most countries but the consequences may be greater so be cautious about entering into any dodgy practices. Having said that, gifts are commonplace in Asian culture so don’t be afraid of giving or receiving these. Just ensure that the magnitude of the gift couldn’t be mistaken as a bribe or some other way of circumventing legitimate business dealings.
It goes without saying that China has much less freedom of speech than most of us enjoy. Don’t think that as a foreigner that you might be exempt from these rules. Be conscious of what you say to others and, if using social media, ensure that there’s nothing that might inflame local authorities. At best, you might put future visas at risk and at worst, you could find yourself in the confines of a local police cell. If you’re in their country, respect their laws, their customs, and their culture.
As mentioned earlier, China hosts more than 60 million tourists who stay overnight or longer each year. Most pass through without incident and most have an enjoyable time. Consider our Business and VIP Travel Safety in China is an essentials guide to help you make informed decisions regarding safety, security, and risk mitigation. Furthermore, stick to the rules and follow the tips we’ve shared above and you’ll likely find the same for your travels.
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