Expat Life in China: Safety precautions for newcomers in China

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Expat Life in China: Safety precautions for newcomers in China

1. Keep money and valuables safe

Even though China is safer than many other countries, as an expat life in China,  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. 

People eating together as part of their Expat Life in China

3. Learn some Chinese

As an expat life in China, it’s a good idea to learn how to speak some basic Chinese. This is 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 yao 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 …..?


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.

People standing in a queue

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.

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, numerous scams are operating in China.

Some of the most common ones include:

·Requests to practice English with you – you’re then taken to a bar and charged exorbitant prices for low-quality drinks.

·Fake jewelry, silk, or tickets for attractions – if it seems too 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.

People hanging out during their Expat Life 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.

Hopefully, these scams didn’t scare you too much. I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Photo showing several norms as part of an Expat Life in China

How to protect yourself from scams in China

As an expat life in China, you need to know 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, licensed 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 licensed money changer. 

And do not be afraid to say no!

Illustration showing Expat Life in China

If things go wrong at your school

Always chat with your school’s liaison officer if you have any safety concerns. 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 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.

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