How Safe is China – A Guide for Travel in 2023

As China begins to open up after three years of its harsh zero-covid policy, let’s take a look at how safe is China in 2023. Having lived in the country for six years (two of those during lockdowns) and travelled the length and breadth, mostly alone, I will bring you my experience in all areas of safe travel in China.

With its low level of violent crime, excellent infrastructure and friendly people, China is one of the safest countries to visit in the world. Chinese cities are safer than similar-sized cities in the west and crime against foreigners is almost unheard of.

I’m as excited to return to the Middle Kingdom as many others that have been waiting a lot longer than me to get back to this incredible country. So let’s dive right in and see, is China safe to visit once more?

*Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links, which means should you click and purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.



How Safe is China Right Now?

China Landmarks - Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven, Beijing

Update December 2022: China has now scrapped the need for quarantine upon arrival from 8th January 2023. Although tourist visas are not currently being issued, it looks like the country will finally be opening up for travel again in 2023 with all the right noises being made.

Update January 2022: China remains closed for tourism and this will likely continue to be the case until at least 2023. The country’s zero-tolerance position on covid means that international travel is still a way off, but there are signs that the country is getting ready to open again next year.

When travelling around China in 2021 and beyond, there are a few differences to pre-covid travel. Expect lots of questions about where you have come from, how long you have been in China, and if you have travelled to any high-risk areas within the last three months.

What Covid Measures Are Still in Force?

Covid19 is being downgraded from a Class A disease to a Class B from 8th January 2023 as announced by the National Health Commission. Anyone travelling to China after 8th January will need to present a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of departure.

Do You need a Vaccination or PCR test to Travel Within China?

A green health code and face mask are all you need to travel in China right now, though some municipalities/hotels may ask for a negative test. The situation is constantly changing, so pay attention to instructions from your employer in China, WeChat groups and your own government advisories for up-to-date information.

You can access the green health code by scanning the QR code at airports, stations and attractions and inputting your details (passport details, Chinese phone number and recent travel history.


Is China Safe to visit for Solo Travellers?

Backpacking in China
Backpacking in China

China is very safe for solo travellers. I have travelled the country alone from north to south and east to west and never felt unsafe or in danger. Walking in cities late at night is much safer than back home in London and violent crime is almost unheard of (though of course, it can happen anywhere).

The only place that some might consider a problem is the far west region of Xinjiang which is discussed in more detail in my article, is Xinjiang Safe? Answer: yes it is, although travel in the region is a little more difficult.

Check out my new guide to backpacking in China


China Safety Tips for Solo Travellers

  • Avoid clubs or places where a lot of young men congregate and get drunk
  • Use registered taxis and never take the unauthorized ones
  • Keep valuables hidden
  • Never get blind drunk
  • Stay away from military and border areas (will be signposted)

These tips really should be common sense for wherever you travel and aren’t specific to China.


Is China Safe for Trekking?

Xingping
Xingping

Trekking is very safe in China due to the fact that most routes tend to be part of large national parks with a lot of facilities. The same goes for China’s famous mountains, where stone steps will usually lead you to the summits.

It is possible to get off the beaten track a little in the wilder areas of western China. If going into the Gobi Desert which stretches from Inner Mongolia into Gansu and Xinjiang, then precautions should be taken.

Ensure you have a map and compass and not just rely on your phone’s GPS to stay away from the border areas (China shares land borders with 14 different countries).

As China is a vast country the temperatures can differ wildly. The winters in northeastern China are extremely harsh with temperatures dropping below minus 40 Celcius.

The southern part of China is warm year-round and the far south tropical region is hot throughout the year with a monsoon climate.

For those trekking away from civilisation for more than a few days then think about getting encephalitis and rabies shots.


Is China Safe to Travel Around?

Zhangjiajie
Zhangjiajie

Road Safety in China

Traffic in Chinese cities can be a little crazy. Never rely on the green light at crossings and always check before crossing the street. E-bikes can mount the pavement so it pays to have your wits about you when walking in towns and cities.

Be aware that traffic is probably the biggest danger to travellers in China.


Are Taxis Safe in China?

Registered taxis are generally safe in China and are plentiful and easily recognizable. Avoid unofficial taxis which you will usually find near railway stations and tourist attractions. Just find the official taxi rank.

Many people use Didi, the Chinese equivalent of Uber. There have been reports of crimes committed against female passengers, but this remains rare. If in doubt, stick to official taxis.


Is Hitchhiking Safe in China

Hitchhiking is not common in China outside of rural areas and you may struggle to find a lift. People would usually expect a small payment so be clear upfront about your intentions.


How Safe Are Trains in China?

A Tibetan entering the train to Lhasa
The Qinghai Express, the highest railway in the world from Xining to Lhasa in Tibet

China has a modern, fast and safe rail network, making train travel a joy in the country. The slower overnight trains are perfectly safe. Lone females may feel safer with a hard sleeper as these carriages are open-plan, unlike soft sleepers where you will be sharing a compartment with three other people.

For full information on China’s rail network, see my article on how to buy train tickets in China.


How Safe is China’s Aviation Industry

Air travel is cheap and convenient and China’s safety record is generally good with no airlines being banned from flying to Europe.

On 21st March 2022 a China Eastern Airlines plane crashed en route from Kunming to Guangzhou. It looks as though pilot suicide (and mass murder) was the probable cause, and as with a similar Germanwings crash in 2015, is not unique to China.

That being said, with such a fantastic rail network of both high-speed bullet trains and sleeper trains, there really is no need to fly and I always chose the train over internal flights when travelling in China, no matter the distance.


Is it Safe to Take Photos in China?

Crescent Moon Lake, Dunhuang
Crescent Moon Lake, Dunhuang

I took approximately 50,000 photos across the whole of China and also used a drone which I never had any problems with (though be sure to check current regulations before bringing one in).

As with pretty much anywhere, do not take photographs of police, soldiers, government buildings or borders!

Although this is a sensible rule of thumb anywhere, in communist countries such as China, paranoia can be high and this can land you in serious trouble compared with elsewhere (think a long spell in prison for spying).

Provided you follow the above, China’s beautiful landscapes and architecture are perfect for photographers!


Political Gatherings

It’s unlikely that you will ever come across a political gathering in China, though perhaps this could be possible in Xinjiang. However, if you witness large groups of people and police gathering, turn around and leave (this should be a general rule when travelling anywhere and is not specific to China).


Scams in China

The most common scam is the “Tea Shop Scam” which tourists may encounter at large tourist attractions in Beijing (be particularly aware around the Forbidden City). In this age-old scam, someone will try and befriend you in good English. This could be anyone from a seemingly educated older man to a young, attractive woman.

They will suggest going to a nearby tea shop to chat, however, the bill will be ludicrously high and violence may be threatened for non-payment. If a stranger offers to take you anywhere, politely decline their offer. Someone tried this with me in Beijing in 2016 but I was well aware of the scam.


Crime in China

Due to China’s authoritarian regime and the now infamous social credit system, crime doesn’t pay in the People’s Republic!

Violent crime remains rare and rarer still for travellers to become embroiled in such situations. Even on public transport pickpocketing is not really an issue (though it can happen anywhere). I have travelled hundreds of times on trains and buses across China and never had any problems.

The notion of “Face” is very important in China and Asia generally and if people are seen to lose face, situations can become ugly.

An example of this is if you are drinking in a bar and drunk Chinese men want you to come and join them. Try and avoid these situations and just be polite, rather than angry or aggrieved. The best way to avoid this is to stay away from nightclubs and stick to bars popular with other foreigners.


Do I Need Vaccinations to Visit China?

The Great Wall, Badaling
The Great Wall at Badaling

No vaccines are mandatory for entry to China (unless coming from certain high-risk countries) but the following shots are recommended:

  • Rabies
  • Hepatitis A
  • Typhoid
  • Tick Borne Ecephilitis

If you have received both doses of a covid vaccine, then travel to China will be easier. For more information see this article. In 2021 China finally approved Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson in addition to their own Sinopharm vaccine.


Is China Water Safe to Drink?

Don’t drink water straight from the tap without boiling first or using a filter. Bottled water is ubiquitous and cheap costing ¥1 to ¥3 per 500ml bottle, however this isn’t great for the environment.

I use a Lifestraw filter bottle whenever I am travelling as you can just fill it up from the tap and it will filter out bacteria, parasites, microplastics and many other nasties.


Dangerous Animals in China

Is China Safe to Visit - Chinese Cobra
A Chinese Cobra I saw when walking in Sanya

Although once famed for tigers roaming the country, outside of a few very mall places in northeastern and southeastern China, you are extremely unlikely to ever come into contact with a tiger.

Mosquitos can be a problem in much of the country and they can carry diseases such as malaria in the far south (Sanya and Guangdong). Ensure you use bug spray and better to wear long sleeves when trekking in the forest/jungle.

Southern and central China is home to some quite venomous snakes including king cobras and kraits. Wear sturdy shoes or boots when trekking.

Ticks are present in the steppe and mountains in spring and summer so wear long sleeves and check yourself each day for tics. Leaches can be a problem in the far south.

In the event you do find a tick, the best advice is to have it professionally removed by a trained medical expert, but if this is not possible and you are a few days from help then you can read about how to remove ticks safely in this guide from the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention.


Healthcare

I have had to use Chinese hospitals on a number of occasions (not least for my annual health checkup). The hospitals are generally clean and the service is usually quick (quicker than back home in England).

Costs for things like consultations and x-rays are low, however if you need to stay in hospital for something serious, this can cost thousands, so ensure you have adequate travel insurance!

Pharmacies (drugstores) can be found in all towns and cities and are usually indicated by a green cross as elsewhere in the world. Chinese pharmacies will have both traditional Chinese medicine and western medicines such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.

Although it is a very safe country, the deserts and mountains can pose a hazard for unprepared travellers. Ensure you have comprehensive cover before departing.

Our partners at SafetyWing specialise in insurance for adventurous destinations and you can get a free no-obligation quote on their website.


Internet in China

As you will likely be aware, the internet is tightly controlled in China. It is possible to circumvent this by using a VPN. You can find out all about how in my article about the best VPNs for China.


Conclusion – How Safe is China?

So, to answer the question; is China safe to visit, is a resounding yes. Use usual traveller caution and common sense and you will have a fantastic experience in this unforgettable country.

So, now that you know how safe is China, what is there to see and do? Check out my complete guide to China’s famous landmarks to find out more!

Places to visit in China:

Beijing

Dunhuang

Harbin

Hong Kong

Luoyang

Sanya

Tibet

Xi’an

Dunhuang, Gobi Desert, China

About the author:

Steve Rohan is a writer from Essex, England. He has traveled to over 60 countries, lived in Armenia, China and Hong Kong, and is now living the digital nomad life on the road.

Steve prefers “slow travel” and has covered much of the world by train, bus and boat. He has been interviewed multiple times by the BBC and recently featured in the documentary Scariest Places in the World. See the About page for more info.

Where I am now: Yerevan, Armenia 🇦🇲

One thought on “How Safe is China – A Guide for Travel in 2023

  1. Rafael says:

    Hello Steve.
    I’m planning to go Tibet taking the train from Beijing, you think is a good idea or should I go for the Qinghai Express.
    Once in Tibet I would like to take an overland tour to Kathmandu, have you done it? Do you recommend any tour companies? I’m holding a Spanish passport, therefore no need visa for China

    Appreciate your comments when you have time.
    Thanks in advance.
    Rafael.

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