Taxis are a good, inexpensive, easy way to get around in Chinese cities - and frankly sometimes to get between them - as long as you know a few guidelines so you won't be caught off-guard. Read on so you'll be prepared to use this convenient way to get yourself around in China.
Have Your Destination Written Down
Assuming you don't speak Mandarin, it is essential that you have your destination written down in Chinese. Sound complicated? It isn't.
First, most large hotels have a convenient "taxi card" for you to take with you as you step out the door. In large cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, these cards have the hotel (so you can get back) written on one side and usually 10 to 15 tourist destinations on the other side. If the card doesn't have where you want to go, simply ask the concierge to write it down for you. This is common practice so don't feel like it's a strange request.
Even if your hotel doesn't have a pre-printed taxi card, the staff will be happy to write down your destination for you to give the driver. Usually, the hotel staff flagging the taxi will also tell the taxi where you want to go.
Flagging a Taxi on the Street
If you are trying to get a taxi from the street (not outside a hotel with a taxi queue), this can be frustrating. People will come stand in front of you and take "your" taxi and taxis with lights on will drive right past. It can be difficult, but you have to be patient.
What to Expect Inside the Taxi
Taxis, of course, vary from city to city, but in most cases, they are clean and the seats are covered with white cloth, usually hiding the seat belts in the back. Many Chinese hop in front with the driver - it is not unusual.
The driver will expect all persons to enter from the passenger side, therefore the driver's side back door may be locked.
Conversing With the Driver
The driver won't expect you to speak fluently but a friendly ni hao, "nee how", meaning "hello" is always nice. Don't be surprised if the driver looks at your destination written down and hands it back to you with silence or merely a nod.
Paying the Fare
It's best to keep small bills with you for taxi fares as many drivers won't have change for the large bills (100 renminbi) you'll get out of an ATM. For instance, the base fare in Shanghai is a mere 14rmb and that gets you quite far.
You won't need to bargain and the driver will use the meter. If the driver doesn't use the meter, you should insist that he stop (see below for vocabulary) and get another taxi.
Do I Tip the Driver?
Happily, no! Tipping is generally not something you need to worry about in China. Taxi drivers certainly don't expect it and wouldn't know what you were intending. They'd probably get out of the car to hand you back your change.
Get and Keep the Receipt
After you pay the fare, wait for the receipt to print and take it with you. This has the taxi's number so if you have any complaints, or happen to forget something in the car, you can call the central number to report it. This can be convenient for forgotten purchases in the trunk.
Mandarin Taxi Vocabulary
- Ni qu na li? (pronounced nee chew nah lee?) Where are you going?
- Wo qu ... (pronounced woh chew ...) I am going to ...
- Zhe li hao de (pronounced juh lee how duh) Stopping here is fine.
- Ting! Stop!
- You guai (pronounced yoh gwai) Turn right.
- Zuo guai (pronounced zoh gwai) Turn left.
- Yi zhi zuo (pronounced ee zheh zoh) Go straight.
- Xian jin (pronounced shen jeen) I pay with cash.
- Xie xie (pronounced shay shay) Thank you.
- Zai jian (pronounced zye jee-ahn) Goodbye.