Is China Safe to Visit? — Traveler Safety Information

Generally speaking, China is a safe country to travel around, and most people you meet are friendly, honest, and trustworthy. However, China is far from  immune to crime, the weather can affect travel plans, and accidents do happen.

Insurance: To be on the safe side, we are affiliated with some of the best online travel insurance companies selling insurance for your China vacation.

Is China Safe NOW?

Yes. There are currently no major threats to tourist health and safety.

You may have heard about the Beijing-bound plane disappearance on March 8, 2014. Apparently it was not targeting China, and air travel remains statistically one of the safest means of travel.

Or Xinjiang separatist violence at Kunming Station on March 1, 2014: the attack was ended in minutes and the attackers have been caught... China has a relatively low murder rate, similar to the UK and Canada, and less than half that of the US.

Or recent earthquakes: there's been nothing notable this year, and apart from one all have been in remote non-tourist areas. The 2013 Leshan quake injured no tourists, and tourism resumed as normal in a month or so. 

Or outbreaks of bird flu / swine flu in humans in recent years. These have been minor, contained, and all over now.

The Largest Safety Risks

The most likely causes of harm to you as a tourist in China come from more mundane causes: road traffic accidents, accidents during other tourist activities, or getting ill through poor hygiene or not keeping warm/cool enough and well-hydrated.

Road Traffic Accident

China is ranked around 90 in the world for road death, better than most developing countries, similar to India, and less than 20% worse than the United States. You are far safer statistically traveling with China Highlights private transport.

See Traffic in China and How to Cross the Road Safely in China.

Tourism Related Accident

While touring follow your guide's advice and safety instructions. Though many of China's attractions, thoroughfares, and facilities are well-designed and risk-ameliorated, being a developing country there are still probably more dangers than in your home country. Watch where you tread. Take care against slips, trips, and falls. Mind your head, and be careful of sharp protrusions, loose objects and wires, etc.

More dangerous activities like rock-climbing, swimming, white-water rafting, mountaineering, etc. are done at your own risk. Make sure your travel insurance covers what you plan to do.

Health Issues

The main risks to your health are ordinary things like eating something you shouldn't, inadequate clothing for the conditions (see our weather pages for the month/destinations you will be traveling in for what to bring), over exertion, and exposure to infection. (Also altitude sickness in areas over 2,500 meters, mainly applicable to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.)

Come prepared and take precautions. See Keeping Healthy in China.

Crime

By and large China is a relatively low crime country, but petty crime is on the increase and tourists are particularly vulnerable. A basic knowledge of potential risks and common scams are useful to help you have a smooth and safe trip in China.

  1. Take precautions and use common sense, particularly around the tourist areas and in crowded places like markets.
  2. Be particularly careful at night. At all times try to stick to busy, well-lit places.
  3. Make sure that you take notice of advice from our local guides. If they tell you an area is unsafe, do not go there.

Theft

  1. Wallets, mobile phones, cameras, jewelry and laptops are tempting targets for thieves.
  2. Try not to carry large amounts of money or obvious symbols of wealth, and keep your wallet or purse out of sight (back pockets are a big no-no). Do not flash a wallet around when paying for purchases and carry some loose change for beggars.
  3. Pickpockets tend to operate in crowded areas, for example on public buses, on trains, at city center bus stops and big shopping streets, so you are advised to keep a watch of your belongings when in busy and crowded places.
  4. Don’t get caught in a crowd with lots of valuables dangling from you: camera, purse, backpack etc. You can’t keep an eye on everything.
  5. Purse snatching is on the increase. Keep valuables close to your person.
  6. When you get up from taxis, buses, trains, etc, check nothing has fallen out of your pockets. It probably won’t be there five minutes later if you come back for it.
  7. If you fall asleep on transport, beware people leaning over or reaching round you to get at your possessions. Put your valuables well inside your bag, so that they are not accessible by someone quickly opening a zip, or reaching into a pocket.

See Avoiding Tourist Traps for common scams.

Keep Your Valuables Safe

  1. Make sure that you protect your passport, tickets, visa documents, etc. by carrying them on your person, preferably underneath clothing in a pouch or money belt.
  2. Never leave valuables lying around your hotel room or in your car. Use a safe deposit at your hotel.
  3. Or if you are backpacking or staying in hostels, buy a padlock so that you can secure your possessions in lockers.
  4. Carry a photocopy of your passport and other vital documents separately.

Local laws

Be aware that local laws and penalties, even those which may seem harsh by your home country standards, do apply to you.  For example, there are strictly enforced laws which prohibit demonstrations unless they have prior approval from the government.  Penalties for drug offenses are severe, and include the death penalty, as do certain other serious crimes.

When Lost or in Difficulty

The police in China are generally very friendly, though they speak very little English except in Beijing, Shanghai or Shenzhen, where some police can generally speak simple fluent English. If you are lost then ask for directions as they will usually be happy to help.

For better communications, simple notes with common expressions both in Chinese and English are recommended, and also carry a card with your hotel’s name and address in Chinese as well as English writing. Learn Chinese

Natural Disasters and Adverse Weather

If a natural disaster occurs you should follow the advice of the local authorities. See China Travel Insurance.

Flooding and Landslides

The rainy season occurs between April and June in southern and eastern China (e.g. Guilin, Suzhou, and Hangzhou), from June until August in the north and west (e.g. Yunnan Province and Tibet), and between May and September for the areas near the Yangtze River (e.g. Chongqing and Yichang).

Rural areas near the Yangtze River and other rivers may be subject to flooding during their respective rainy seasons, and this may affect tourist activities on or near rivers.

Landslides are more likely to happen in southwestern China's mountainous areas, Yunnan and Sichuan provinces and Tibet, from May to September when the areas see plenty of rain.

Earthquakes

Sichuan Province has experienced two sizable earthquakes in recent years. The 2013 quake caused some disruption to tourism around the Panda Research Base and Leshan, but no tourists were injured. Most recent quakes occured in remote mountainous areas of West China with no effect on tourism.

Typhoons

Typhoons can occur during the wet season, usually from June to August, along the southern and eastern coasts. You should monitor weather reports if traveling in affected areas.

Related Reading

Safety and Travel Tips for Various Traveler Types

Any questions about traveling in China? View our Q&A page and find the answers.

Hi, I'm Gavin Van Hinsbergh
I updated this article on March 19, 2014
See all my travel articles
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