Foreigners can be targeted for passports, laptops, mobile phones, purses and handbags. Major tourist sites and areas frequented by foreigners attract thieves and pickpockets. You should take extra care at major tourist sites, on shopping streets, at street markets, Beijing International Airport, major international events and conferences and popular bar areas after dark. The number of thefts can increase in the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year. If your passport is lost or stolen, report it to the nearest police station or Public Security Bureau, who will issue a ‘confirmation of loss’ report. Don’t resist any attempted robbery.
Serious crime against foreigners is relatively rare, but incidents do occur. There have been incidents of sexual assault and robbery of foreigners, particularly when travelling alone in a taxi late at night in major cities. Where possible, take an ‘official’ taxi, make sure someone knows where you are and try to take a note of the taxi’s number.
There are occasional incidents with taxi and pedicab drivers who insist the passenger misunderstood the fare. Avoid travelling in unmarked or unmetered ‘taxis’ and insist on paying only the meter fare. Ask the driver for a receipt (fapiao), on which the taxi number should be printed. You can take this to the police to lodge a complaint.
Counterfeit bank notes (especially RMB100) are increasingly common. They are generally crumpled to avoid detection but you may also receive them from ATMs. Banks won’t replace these. Unscrupulous traders may try to switch your genuine bank notes for counterfeits. Check carefully before accepting notes. It is quite normal to do so.
Beware of scams particularly in popular tourist areas. A regular example is the ‘tea tasting’ scam or ‘massage’ scam. Scams usually involve a foreign national being invited to visit a bar, shop or cafe – for example to practice English or meet a girl – or invited for a massage, but results in demands for an exorbitant fee, often payable by credit card. This can result in threats of violence, actual violence and credit card fraud. This can result in threats or actual violence, and credit card fraud.
Don’t trek alone in isolated areas, including those that follow parts of the Great Wall. If you do, always leave your itinerary, mobile number and expected time of return at your hotel or with a third party.
The areas bordering on Siberia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Laos and Burma are poorly policed. In Yunnan Province, drug smuggling and other crimes are increasing. There is a risk of attack from armed bandits in remote areas.
Fire protection standards in Chinese accommodation are not always the same as in the UK. Check fire precautions including access to fire exits. Make sure your accommodation has a working fire alarm.
There have been incidences of carbon monoxide poisoning due to incorrectly installed gas equipment. One incident caused the death of a British national. If you live in China, make sure your home has a working carbon monoxide alarm. The ‘Be Alarmed’ campaign gives practical advice on how to stay safe, and lists the symptoms to look out for.
Commercial disputes in China are rarely handled through the civil law courts. Incidents of British nationals being detained against their will to extort money or intimidate them for other gains have increased. It is rare for violence to be used, but the threat of violence is a recurring theme. You should report any threats of violence to the Chinese police.
Anyone entering into a contract in China should take legal advice, both in the United Kingdom and in China. Contracts entered into in the United Kingdom are not always enforced by Chinese courts. If you are involved in or connected to a business and/or civil dispute, the Chinese authorities may prohibit you from leaving China until the matter is resolved. This is known as a travel ban. Contract fraud is treated as a crime in China and the defendant may also be placed in custody until the dispute is resolved. For more detailed advice on business risks and commercial disputes, see our guide on commercial disputes in China and the UK Trade and Investment China page.
You will need a permit to travel to the Tibet Autonomous Region. Applications for Tibet Entry Permits can only be made through specialised travel agents based in China and travel can only be undertaken through organised tours. The Chinese authorities sometimes suspend issuing Tibet Entry Permits to foreign nationals, and may also restrict travel to Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures in neighbouring Provinces by those who have already obtained a permit. These restrictions can happen at any time, but in particular during sensitive periods or major religious festivals - especially around February and March, coinciding with the Tibetan new year festival and the anniversary of certain uprisings in Tibet. Travellers to all Tibet areas should check with tour operators or travel agents and monitor this travel advice and other media for information about travel to Tibet.
Ongoing political and ethnic tensions can lead to unrest and violent protest in Tibet. While foreigners are not normally targeted during unrest, you should be alert to the possibility of being caught up in any unexpected demonstrations or outbreaks of violence. Security measures are tight around any large public gathering and unauthorised gatherings may be dispersed by force. There continue to be a number of self-immolations, most recently on 8 December 2016, including in Tibetan areas outside of the Tibetan Autonomous Region itself.
The Chinese authorities tend to react quickly to these incidents and will increase the security presence in the area. There are reports that housing around the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in Larung valley, Sichuan province, is being demolished by the local authorities so this area should be avoided. Avoid becoming involved in any protests or calls for Tibetan independence. Don’t film or photograph any such activities.
Local authorities will react negatively if you are found carrying letters or packages from Tibetan nationals to be posted in other countries.
Photography in Buddhist monasteries requires permission. You will need to pay a fee, which is normally negotiated in advance.
The security situation in Xinjiang remains fragile, and conditions locally can deteriorate rapidly at short notice. There have been several instances of violent unrest in Xinjiang. In September 2015, at least 16 people were reported killed in attack on police and civilians at a coal mine in Aksu Prefecture, and in November 2015, 28 people were reportedly killed in a security operation. There have been allegations of the use of lethal force to disperse protests.
Whilst outbreaks of ethnic violence remain sporadic, and foreigners are not normally targeted, you should be alert to the possibility of being caught up in any unexpected demonstrations or outbreaks of violence. The Chinese authorities tend to react quickly to these incidents. They will increase the security presence in the area and their response may be heavy-handed. The Chinese authorities may restrict travel to some areas of Xinjiang, particularly during religious festivals and after violent attacks. You should remain vigilant, keep up to date with local security advice and media reports and take extra care when travelling in Xinjiang. Avoid becoming involved in any protests and avoid large crowds. Don’t film or photograph any such activities or anything of a military nature.
Public transport is popular, inexpensive and widely available, though it can become extremely crowded, especially at holiday/festival times like the Chinese New Year. At busy times, trains and flights are often fully booked weeks in advance.
Visitors and tourists are not allowed to drive in China. Only foreign nationals with a valid residence permit may drive in China. You will have to pass a driving test and get a Chinese driving licence. An International Driving Permit is not sufficient. You must have valid insurance.
There are harsh penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol, even at very low levels.
The poor quality of roads and generally low driving standards lead to many accidents. If you are involved in a serious traffic accident, call the police. Don’t move your vehicle until the police arrive but make sure you and your passengers are in a safe place. If there are no injuries and damage is minimal, the parties involved often come to an agreement on the spot. It is customary in China that the larger vehicle carries liability. In cases where there are injuries, you may be held liable for medical costs. You will also be held liable if you run over a pedestrian.
There are areas of disputed territory between China and other countries in the East China Sea. Mariners should be vigilant and avoid disputed areas. There have been incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the East China Sea. The Regional Co-operation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC) recorded 40 incidents in 2014 and 10 in 2015. See the ReCAAP ISC’s website for updates on incidents and trends.
Only cash payments are accepted for tickets, including on high speed services. You will need to show your passport to buy a ticket and may need to show it again before boarding.
Trans-Mongolian express trains (Beijing-Moscow via Ulaanbaatar) are noted for smuggling. Search your compartment and secure the cabin door before departure. Petty theft from overnight trains is also common.
China is a one-party state. Though China is very open to foreign visitors, you should be aware of political and cultural sensitivities in conversation with Chinese people.
Territorial disputes between China and neighbouring countries have caused high regional tension. There have been a number of anti-Japanese demonstrations in several cities across China. These protests have generally taken place outside diplomatic missions, but some have targeted other Japanese interests.
Avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings. The Chinese authorities enforce public order strictly and you may face arrest, deportation or detention. Foreign journalists have been intimidated, assaulted or detained for trying to report demonstrations. You may also risk becoming a target yourself when general anti-foreign sentiment runs high. Keep yourself informed of developments and follow the advice of the local authorities. During periods of tension, some news reporting, access to text-messaging, the internet and to international telephone lines may be blocked.
There is a general threat from terrorism in China, but the risk of attacks is higher in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region. You should take particular care and remain vigilant when travelling to or within Xinjiang. Although foreigners haven’t been specifically targeted, attacks may occur in places visited by foreigners. Attacks have targeted public places including railway stations and an open air market. Be vigilant and take extra care when transiting public transport hubs.
On 1 March 2014, a terrorist knife attack at Kunming railway station killed 33 and injured more than 140. In September 2015, Chinese official media reported that 16 people were killed in an attack on civilians and police at a coal mine in Aksu Prefecture in Xinjiang, with a further 28 people killed in a police operation in November 2015 that appeared to be related to the mine attack.
You should take particular care and remain vigilant when travelling to or within Xinjiang where the threat is higher.
There is considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
The Chinese criminal justice system differs greatly from the UK’s. Police have the power to arrest, detain or withhold your passport if you are suspected of a crime. Suspects may be detained for weeks or months before charges are laid or given a travel ban preventing them from leaving China. Courts don’t generally grant foreigners bail. Travel bans can also be imposed on people involved in private or business disputes.
Some lawyers may be reluctant to accept cases involving foreigners. Contact the British Embassy or Consulate if you experience such difficulties.
The Chinese authorities undertake random drug testing on foreign nationals including on entry to the country. If a foreign national tests positive, the Chinese authorities can prosecute regardless of where or when the drugs had been consumed. There are extremely severe penalties for drugs offences, including the death penalty. A British national was executed in China for a drugs offence in December 2009. Other foreign nationals have been sentenced to death for drugs offences since then. On 1 January 2014, Khat (or Qat) was classified as an illegal drug in China and now carries the same penalties as other illegal drugs.
China doesn’t recognise dual nationality. If you enter China on a Chinese passport or identity card, the British Embassy may not be able to offer consular assistance. Any person born in China to a Chinese national parent will be considered by the Chinese authorities to have Chinese nationality. Travellers holding British passports who also hold Chinese citizenship may be regarded by the Chinese authorities as a Chinese citizen, even if you travel to China on a British passport. If you have formally renounced Chinese citizenship, you should carry clear evidence that you have done so.
Foreign nationals over 16 years of age must carry their passport with them at all times. Police carry out random checks, especially during periods of heightened security and major sporting or political events. Failure to produce your ID can lead to a fine or detention. If you renew your passport while you’re in China, you must register your new passport with the authorities promptly or face a fine.
The Chinese authorities maintain controls on internet access. Websites like Facebook, Youtube and Twitter are blocked. Other websites or e-mail services (especially Google and Gmail) are blocked from time to time.
Gambling is illegal in mainland China.
There are restrictions on certain religious activities, including preaching and distributing religious materials. The Falun Gong movement is banned in China.
Homosexuality is not illegal although there are no specific laws in place to protect the rights of LGBT people. You can find information on LGBT life in China on the British Embassy website.
China has its own laws and regulations on endangered wildlife trade and transportation, and is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and Flora (CITES). Anyone who intends to move wildlife products into or out of China must check with the relevant Chinese authorities or a lawyer first. Carrying, transporting, posting endangered wildlife and its products including ivory without permission could violate CITES or relevant Chinese laws and result in a fine, confiscation of property, detention and/or imprisonment.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
British nationals need a visa to enter mainland China, but not Hong Kong or Macao. For mainland China, you must get a visa prior to arrival, including for Hainan Island, although some exemptions may be available for tour groups travelling to certain parts of the country. For details of entry requirements to China contact the Chinese Embassy or the China Visa Application Service Centre well before your proposed trip.
Check your visa validity carefully. Don’t overstay your visa or work illegally. The authorities conduct regular checks and you may be fined or detained for not complying with the conditions of your visa or work permit. If you remain in China longer than 6 months, you may need to get a Residence Permit.
If you visit Hong Kong from the mainland of China and wish to return to the mainland, you will need a visa that allows you to make a second entry into China.
If you hold a British Citizen passport and are transiting by air through Beijing Capital International airport, and airports of other cities including Chengdu, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Dalian, Shenyang ,Kunming, Guilin, Xi’an, Xiamen, Harbin, Wuhan and Tianjin, and you’re travelling on to a third country, you can enter China visa-free under a 72-hour visa waiver. Travel restrictions apply and you may need to remain in the city municipality (or within Guangdong province in the case of Guangzhou) and have evidence of your onward journey.
If you’re transiting through ports (including airports) in Shanghai, Zhejiang Province or Jiangsu Province, and travelling on to a third country within 144 hours, you can enter China visa-free. You must be staying in Shanghai municipality, Zhejiang Province or Jiangsu Province, and have evidence of your onward journey to a third country within 144 hours of arrival.
These visa-exemptions are for transit only – you can’t use them to enter China with return flights.
In all other circumstances, if your stopover requires you to leave the airport terminal you will need a transit visa for both the outward and return journeys. If you’re staying within the airport for up to 24 hours, you don’t need a transit visa.
Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months from the date of your visa application. If you have less than 6 months’ validity on your passport, but have a valid visa, you should be able to enter China for the duration of that visa.
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from China. You may be required to show a police report indicating how you lost your full passport.
If your ETD has been issued in China, you will need an exit visa from the Public Security Bureau before you can travel out of China. This process can take up to 5 working days. The ETD can be used for a return journey back to China providing you have evidence of residence within China.
You must register your place of residence with the local Public Security Bureau within 24 hours of arrival. Chinese authorities enforce this requirement with regular spot-checks of foreigners’ documentation. If you’re staying in a hotel, registration is done on your behalf as part of the check-in process.
If you are entering China for employment, study or private purposes for a stay of over six months, you must produce a health certificate, which includes a blood test for HIV, legalised by the Chinese Embassy.
You should research your prospective employer before coming to China and get the correct visa to allow you to work legally. You can only work if you have a Z visa - tourist and business visit visas don’t allow you to do so. The local police regularly carry out routine checks on companies/schools. Violation of Chinese Immigration Laws can result in severe penalties, including imprisonment, fines, deportation, a travel ban preventing you from leaving China, and an exclusion order, which prevents you from returning.
Although your employer/an agency may submit the application on your behalf, it’s your responsibility to make sure you abide by Chinese immigration laws. You can do this by contacting the Chinese Embassy to check visa requirements and making sure you (rather than an employment agency) research the institution you’re going to work for before you leave the UK. When submitting your visa application, check that the details are correct eg, the name of the company and that your job title and location match your role and city you are working in. If they don’t, you can be detained.
If you intend to change employer you should check with the Chinese authorities whether a new visa is required.
Teaching in China can be a rewarding experience but it’s important that you research the school or university thoroughly before you travel. There have been increasing incidents of teachers being arrested and detained (which could lead to deportation) for working on the wrong visas. Some have also got into disputes with their employers, who have refused to pay their salaries.
You can help avoid this by making sure you (rather than an employment agency) research the institution and visa regulations properly before you leave the UK. It’s illegal to work in China on a tourist or business visit visa. If you intend to change employer in China you should check with the authorities whether a new visa is required.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
If you’re on prescription medication, make sure you either bring enough with you, or have access to a supply once in China. Certain medicines may not be available in China (including major brands readily available in the UK), and you may be prohibited from bringing some medicines into the country. For more information and advice, check with your GP and the Embassy of China before travelling.
Depending on which hospital you’re taken to, medical care is generally good in major cities, though some hospitals can be very crowded and waiting times long. Outside major cities, the standard of healthcare is variable; sometimes poor, and disorganised. Healthcare is not provided free of charge in China and medical bills can be high. Medical evacuation from China is very expensive. Make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance covering healthcare for the duration of your stay.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 120 and ask for an ambulance. Ambulances can be very slow to arrive and may not have trained responders. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment. The British Embassy, Beijing publishes a list of hospitals and specialist medical service providers in China.
The high levels of air pollution in major urban and industrialised areas in China may aggravate bronchial, sinus or asthma conditions. Children, the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions may be especially affected. You can check the pollution index levels for many cities on the aqicn.info website.
It is not unusual for guests to consume large quantities of strong alcohol served at business dinners in China. On rare occasions this has led to severe illness or even death. Fake alcohol is also sometimes sold in bars; this can be more damaging to health than genuine products.
Tap water in China is generally not safe to drink. You should drink only bottled water.
The extreme altitude (over 3,000m) in some mountainous areas of China, including Tibet, parts of Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province, may cause altitude sickness.
The Chinese authorities react quickly to any outbreaks of any infectious disease, including enforcing quarantine for those showing symptoms. There are occasional incidents of influenza transmitted to humans from animals, notably birds and pigs. Outbreaks are usually confined to rural areas and infection is believed to arise from close contact with infected birds or animals. For more information see the NaTHNaC website.
Dengue fever is present in some parts of China mainly during the rainy season. There has been a large increase in cases of dengue fever in Guangdong province. You should take appropriate precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
China is located in an active seismic zone and can experience major earthquakes.
An earthquake of magnitude 5.9 struck parts of Xinjiang province on 8 December 2016. The deadliest earthquake of recent times was the 7.9 magnitude earthquake which stuck Sichuan province on 12 May 2008, where an estimated 69,000+ people lost their lives
To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, see the US Federal Emergency Management Agency website
Latest tsunami warnings can be found on the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre website
Flooding is common during the wet season (May to November). In June 2015, flooding and storms affected the provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan, Guizhou, and Chongqing leading to a number of fatalities and injuries. Shanghai was also flooded, with some roads said to have been under 30 cm of water on 17 June 2015 after heavy rainfall.
Monitor local weather reports and follow any evacuation orders.
The typhoon season in China normally runs from May to November, affecting in particular the southern and eastern coastal regions of China. You should monitor the progress of approaching storms on the Japan Meteorological Agency and the China Meteorological Administration websites.
Avoid visiting isolated or rural areas if a typhoon system is forecast. There are sometimes large-scale evacuations, particularly in the coastal regions of southern China. You should follow the advice of the local authorities. Air travel and other forms of transport can be affected. Check with your airline or travel operator for further details and try to keep in touch with family and friends.
See the FCO’s Tropical Cyclones page for advice about what to do if you are caught up in a typhoon.
China remains largely a cash economy although in major cities many people prefer to use other means of payment. Outside major cities, credit cards are not always accepted and the availability of ATMs is limited. It is not possible to exchange Scottish or Northern Irish bank notes.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.