It's extremely rare for travelers to come into any problems with physical safety in China. Safety issues while traveling in China usually end up being petty thievery, like pick-pocketing, and maybe some issues with travel sickness.
Regardless of China's safe reputation, travelers should still be appropriately careful, especially female travelers. If you can learn a bit of Chinese before you go or while you travel, it will probably be useful if you get into a pinch. But otherwise, as long as you keep your personal belongings safe and you use general good sense, including being careful about water and food safety, you will have a successful and safe trip to China.
- As of November 24, 2020, the U.S. State Department warns travelers to "Reconsider Travel" to mainland China and Hong Kong due to COVID restrictions and the arbitrary enforcement of local laws.
- The U.S. State Department warns visitors that the Chinese government arbitrarily uses detentions and exit bans to detain both Chinese nationals and international visitors, with limited legal recourse if you are caught up.
Is China Dangerous?
If you're wondering if China is dangerous in terms of robberies or violent crime, then the answer is no, not really. The crime rates in China are some of the lowest in the world, even lower than countries like Spain, Germany, and New Zealand (and much lower than the U.S.). Crime still exists, of course, and you should always take the basic precautions. But, in general, you can explore freely in China without having to worry about being robbed or assaulted.
That's not to say there aren't other safety concerns, with one of the main ones being the Chinese government itself. The national government does not take well to criticism, and even a private text message disparaging the leading Communist Party could be considered too offensive. Foreign visitors have been detained without a clear reason or access to a lawyer, so it's best to refrain from sharing your opinions until after you've left the country.
Is China Safe for Solo Travelers?
Whether you're sticking to big cities like Shanghai and Beijing or exploring the rich countryside, traveling solo around China is perfectly safe. If you don't speak the language, it isn't always easy to communicate and there may be difficulties trying to navigate, but that's all part of the adventure. Consider buying a SIM card to use with your phone when you arrive so you have access to the internet wherever you are and can easily pull up a map or an online translator.
One area that solo travelers especially need to be wary of is protests. Any type of manifestation against the government is not taken lightly, and police officers or even soldiers are likely to show up and respond with violence. As a lone foreigner, you're even more likely to stand out. It's best to avoid protests completely if you don't want to run the risk of being detained.
Is China Safe for Female Travelers?
Local Chinese people you meet might think it's odd that you would elect to travel by yourself as a woman, but this perception will be more in terms of their questions about where your friends are and why you don’t have a boyfriend or husband along with you. If you are younger, other questions might arise about why your parents would allow you to travel on your own if you don't have to.
Keep in mind that these questions arise because people are curious about you and why you're in China. It is safe to say that most of the time, these questions are meant with no ill will so try not to take offense, even if you find the questions slightly intrusive.
Generally, you do not have to fear for your physical safety when traveling alone in China. It would even be pretty unusual for you to experience catcalling.
Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers
LGBTQ+ rights in China are complicated. While same-sex activity and choosing your gender identity are both permitted under the law and tacitly accepted, LGBTQ+ rights are by no means "celebrated" in the country. Events such as Pride are routinely canceled, and a law passed in 2015 prohibits the depiction of "abnormal sexual behaviors" in all visual and audio content, which includes gay relationships.
Despite the repression, China is still a relatively safe place to visit for LGBTQ+ travelers. Locals may ask single travelers if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend, and it's up to you to feel the situation out and decide whether or not to respond truthfully. Public displays of affection are looked down upon for all couples, straight or gay, and not recommended.
Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers
China's general safety applies to BIPOC travelers as well, although foreigners are still a novelty to many local residents and non-Chinese visitors are likely to attract attention, even in cosmopolitan cities like Shanghai. Travelers of color, and Black travelers, in particular, are likely to receive stares and even have their picture taken by strangers. It's not uncommon for parents to hand you their babies to get a photo together. The attention may seem quirky at first, but it can also grow tiresome. If you don't feel like being approached, just remember that it's a cultural difference and comes from a place of sincerity. The best response is to smile and say, "bu yao, xiexie," or "no, thank you."
- Pedestrians in China do not have the right of way. Always look both ways before crossing a street, even if there's a crosswalk or a stoplight giving you permission.
- Taxis are generally safe to use in China, but make sure you flag an officially designated cab and that the driver turns the meter on once they start driving.
- Keep your valuables secure in your front pocket or a closed-bag to deter pickpockets, especially when visiting touristy areas.
- Air quality can reach noxious levels around big cities or industrial areas, so keep an eye on daily pollution levels through newspapers or online. Use a face mask and, on particularly smoggy days, consider staying inside, especially if you're asthmatic.
U.S. State Department. "China Travel Advisory." September 14, 2020.
Numbeo. "Crime Index by Country." 2020.