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, there are some health risks that may be new to you, and accidents do happen.
China Travel General Information
China is conditionally open and can be visited. Cross-province tours are allowed in China (except for areas with medium or high risk).
For more information, please see China Travel Reopening: Live Updates on Restrictions.
Here is a simple table for a quick look at what you need to visit some of China's top destinations. This is for reference only. Feel free to contact us for more specific requirements.
Is China Safe NOW?
In 2019/2020, China has been in the news for unrest in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, but these areas and China generally are safe for tourists to travel.
Of course, the big news in the last four months is COVID-19, the coronavirus pandemic. Although China has now contained the outbreak well within its borders, there is the underlying risk of a resurgence, especially from imported infections. For this reason, there are many travel restrictions at present, and many preventative measures are policy in China [May 22, 2020]. See section 5 below.
Recent natural disasters have been increasingly well managed and have caused no loss of life to foreign tourists. Warning systems and amelioration are constantly improving with China's heavy infrastructure investment. Similarly, there have been very few outbreaks of bird flu and swine flu in humans in recent years. These have been minor, contained, and all over now.
Expat travel is currently possible in China, but quarantine requirements make foreign inbound tourism impractical. Here is a recent example of the start of the tourism recovery in China...
An Encouraging Story: Guide's First Foreign Tourist in 4 Months
May 17th 2020 was a normal day to most people, but it was an unusual day for our tour guide Gerry, who has been working as an English-speaking tour guide in Hangzhou for years. That day, he served his first international guest since the outbreak of novel coronavirus in January 2020.
This was also a notable day to many people in the tourism business. After nearly four months of waiting, finally we have ushered in the dawn of post-COVID-19 tourism.
Below is some of tour guide Gerry's diary entry (translated and paraphrased):
After a brief introduction, we drove to Meijiawu Tea Village, where we did a half-day adaption of China Highlights' One-Day Dragon Well Tea Culture & West Lake Tour.
This itinerary couldn't be more common when compared to any before the epidemic. However, at such a special stage in China's tourism recovery, when everyone in the domestic tourism business is facing a huge challenge, today's work was so meaningful! It indicates that the sun is coming out after the storm!"
1. The Largest Safety Risks in China
The most likely causes of harm to you as a tourist in China come from more mundane causes: pre-existing health issues (from high blood pressure to allergies), 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 Accidents
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
Tourism Related Accidents
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, 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.
China Travel 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.
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), overexertion, 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. Remember to take any medicines you need.
This is no more important than in the current coronavirus situation.
2. Crime in China
By and large, China is a relatively low crime country, but petty crime is still an issue and tourists are particularly vulnerable. A basic knowledge of potential risks and common scams is useful to help you have a smooth and safe trip in China.
- Take precautions and use common sense, particularly around the tourist areas and in crowded places like markets.
- Be particularly careful at night. At all times try to stick to busy, well-lit places.
- 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 in China
- Wallets, mobile phones, cameras, jewelry and laptops are tempting targets for thieves.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Purse snatching is a risk. Keep valuables close to your person.
- When you get up from taxis, buses, trains, etc, check nothing has fallen out of your pockets. It may not be there five minutes later if you come back for it.
- 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.
Keep Your Valuables Safe
- 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.
- Never leave valuables lying around your hotel room or in your car. Use a safe deposit at your hotel.
- Carry a photocopy of your passport and other vital documents separately.
Be aware that local laws and penalties, even those which may seem harsh by your home country's standards, do apply to you. For example, there are strictly enforced laws that 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.
As China celebrates the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China and continues to feel the trade war with the United States, officials have tightened up their enforcement of visa laws. It is important to keep your visa up-to-date and stay within the visa guidelines. Immigration officials have become much more vigilant about foreigners overstaying their visas or working in China while under a tourist visa. However, workers are still welcome in China as long as they stay on the right visa, and tourists are still warmly welcomed by the government.
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. Also carry a card with your hotel's name and address in Chinese.
3. Natural Disasters and Adverse Weather
If a natural disaster occurs you should follow the advice of the local authorities.
Flooding and Landslides
The rainy season occurs between April and September. Rural areas near the Yangtze River, the Li, 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 the monsoon season in China's mountainous areas, like Yunnan and Sichuan provinces and Tibet. They may block access in the summer, but equally snow and meltwater may cause problems in the winter and spring.
Sichuan Province has experienced several 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. The 2017 Jiuzhaigou earthquake devasted the area, stopped tourism for 2 years, and killed at least 8 tourists. Other quakes in remote areas haven't affected tourism.
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.
4. Other Possible Concerns
Travel in Hong Kong
Recently, protests have sprung up in Hong Kong and have made international news. While these protests show no sign of ending soon and have disrupted Hong Kong local government, there is no indication that these protests or Hong Kong police response to them poses any threat to international visitors to Hong Kong. Caution should be exercised when traveling in Hong Kong, especially near areas of protest action, but Hong Kong remains relatively safe to the international traveler.
One final issue that have also arisen in the news media recently are the exit bans imposed by the Chinese government. Exit bans are used to restrict travel outside China and keep foreigners and Chinese nationals from leaving the country. As the US/China trade war continues, these are being used more frequently on international business travelers from the United States. However, the vast majority of exit bans are used on Chinese citizens trying to leave China, and not on American or other foreign travelers.
Again, China still encourages international tourists to come, and there have been no documented cases of an exit ban being used on an international traveler with a tourist visa.
5. COVID-19 Policy for Travelers
- To enter hotels and tourist attractions, you will need to show an ID card or passport with your Health Code (you will need to register on the Alipay health monitoring app, which only takes a few minutes).
- Double check which hotels can accept foreigners before you book (fewer can during the outbreak).
- All inbound visitors (including from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau) must be quarantined in specific places.
- If coming from “high-risk areas", you have to provide a nucleic acid test certificate and/or blood test certificatedated within 7 days. You can check with us if you want to learn more details about high-risk areas and testing.
Though more and more tourist attractions are reopening, there are strict safety procedures and requirements. If you are already in China and want to travel, our professional travel consultants are always ready to help!
With China Highlights Your Are in Safe Hands
With our on-the-ground long-term local experience, we can help you to have a trouble-free trip, from the moment you get through customs on your arrival, to the point where you go through customs to leave again after a pleasant time here packed with wonderful memories.
With our fully-customizable services, we can offer you as much — or as little — help as you need in making your arrangements to your own specifications. Why not contact us and see what we can do for you?