Shortly before I left for China to take up my first overseas teaching post, my family gave me some advice on how to stay safe in China.
I thought it would be a good idea to share some of this advice.
So, whether you're going to China to teach English, or you're just going for a quick visit, here are some helpful safety precautions.
1. Keep money and valuables safe
Even though China is safer than many other countries, you should still beware of pickpockets.
Keep your money and valuables in the inner pockets of your jacket, and do not put valuables in your backpack.
2. Take care at night and beware of strangers
Don't walk the streets of a new city alone at night. And, don't accept invitations from strangers to go to their house for tea.
These are common sense safety precautions.
3. Learn some Chinese
It's a good idea to learn how to speak some basic Chinese. This is absolutely essential if you're heading to China for the long term (like teaching).
Outside of your classroom, you'll be hard-pushed to find locals who can speak fluent English, unless you're in a major city like Shanghai or Beijing.
Some Chinese phrases that you may find helpful are:
- Wo yau qu….. – I want to go to…..
- Ni ke yi bang wo ma? – Can you help me?
- Duo shao qian? – How much does that/this cost?
- Ni you ….. ma? – Do you have …..?
Learning some basic Mandarin can help a lot in China.
Chinese people are generally very friendly. When you're at a bar with friends, some strangers may approach your table to drink a toast with you.
They may even help themselves to your drinks!
This is perfectly normal behavior and nothing to be concerned about.
I've written a whole blog on some helpul Chinese phrases, which is worth reading.
4. Take advantage of your mobile phone
Make sure you charge your mobile phone battery every day, and that there's always enough credit on it to make a call. I know I've been stuck before!
Remember to store the phone numbers of some people whom you can call for help, like your school contact.
Store your school's contact person in your phone.
And, most importantly, make sure that you have the name and address of your school in Chinese on your phone.
That way, you can always take a taxi back if you get lost.
5. Beware of scams in China
Unfortunately, there are numerous scams operating in China.
Some of the most common ones include:
Requests to practise English with you – you're then taken you to a bar and charged exorbitant prices for low-quality drinks.
Fake jewellery, silk, or tickets for attractions – if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.
Counterfeit money – you'll see lots of stores in China use a little machine to check your notes aren't counterfeit.
Overcharging taxis – they use fake meters, don't turn the meter on, or charge more than the agreed fare.
Beware of counterfeit money when you're in China.
Price gouging at markets – where there are no price tags, merchants may quote you an outrageous price.
Double menus – one for before you order and one for when you pay the bill.
Credit card readers that are cloning machines – don't let a waiter walk away with your card.
There are also some scams specific to teaching in China.
Hopefully this doesn't scare you too much. I guess it's better to be safe than sorry!
How to protect yourself from scams in China
So, how do you protect yourself from scams while you're in China?
Scams are generally more common in larger cities that have a large expat or tourist population.
If you're heading to China to teach, one way to protect yourself is by choosing a smaller, quieter city.
Most Chinese people in the street tend to keep their distance from foreigners. So, if one comes on a little too strong, alarm bells should ring.
Some other tips include:
- Never let anyone take you to a place of their choosing
- Check and confirm the price (preferably in the presence of a witness) before consuming any food or drink
- Buy your medication from legitimate pharmacies (these have a large green cross above their entrance)
- Avoid doing any business deals with street touts
- Bargain as much as possible
- Avoid taking rickshaws and only use public transport, licenced taxis and DiDi
- Learn what a real banknote should look and feel like, and reject any that arouses suspicion
- Only get your cash from an ATM, bank or licenced money changer.
And do not be afraid to say no!
If things go wrong at your school
Always chat with your school's liaison officer if you have any concerns about safety. They may refer you to someone else in certain circumstances.
In extreme circumstances, you can always contact your country's consulate in China.
I haven't had any major problems
Finally, I'd like to stress that in the years that I have lived in China, I have had virtually no problems regarding safety.
But this is no reason to let your guard down.
Being aware of the things that could possibly go wrong and taking sensible precautions can only serve to make your time in China safer and happier.
If you have any additional safety precautions for newcomers in China, or even if you've got a horror story, let me know in the comments.
Did you like my blog? I've also written one about what it's like teaching in China with a disability. It's worth a read!