Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Consulate Shanghai does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens Services (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED SHANGHAI AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Please review OSAC’s China-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
Shanghai is generally considered safe relative to other metropolitan cities of comparable size. China’s high conviction rate, use of modern technology in policing, and extensive law enforcement presence throughout the city serve to deter most criminal activity. Violent crimes (homicides, burglaries, robberies) do occur, but the rate is relatively low considering the city’s large population (roughly 24 million in 2016). Petty crimes (pickpocketing, credit card fraud, various financial scams) occur at rates consistent with previous years.
Although a number of U.S. citizens visiting Shanghai reported being victims of crime in 2016, in most instances Americans do not appear to have been targeted specifically. A majority of crimes are financial in nature, and foreigners may be the victims of crime due to perceived affluence.
Pickpocketing is quite common on public transportation, in shopping areas, and at tourist sites. Small pickpocketing groups commonly work in concert when targeting their victims. At tourist sites, thieves are generally more interested in cash and are likely to abandon credit cards; in shopping areas, both cash and credit cards may be sought.
Violent crimes affecting the expatriate community most often occur at bars, clubs, and restaurants in Shanghai’s vibrant nightlife districts. Bar fights have occurred due to misunderstandings, miscommunication, bravado, alcohol consumption, or some combination. While the legal age for consuming alcohol in China is 18, most establishments in Shanghai do not require identification. Some bars are overcrowded, and safety standards are seldom enforced. Prostitutes and drug dealers may be present in some bars and clubs.
Sexual assaults have occurred, though reported incidents remain relatively rare. Most instances involve the consumption of alcohol beverages in bars, nightclubs, and massage parlors. Individuals who frequent bars, nightclubs, and similar establishments are more likely to be involved in physical altercations afterhours. Sexual assault may also occur in unlicensed taxi cabs. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.”
While there have been several reported instances of robbery by force at bars/restaurants, many cases appear to have involved a variation of the same scam. Typically, a victim is invited to a specific location for a massage, tea, drinks, or music, often by an attractive local national. Once inside, the victim is confronted and forced to turn over his/her credit card under the threat of violence. The credit cards are charged thousands of dollars in undelivered services, and the victim is forced to sign the receipt. In most cases, victims are released unharmed, but not before receiving further threats of violence if the police are notified. This trend has been occurred for several years. Local police are engaged, but little is done because the victims generally do not report the crime until after they have departed China. Police often seem unwilling to investigate crimes if the complainant is not present in China. In instances where the victim has reported the crime to the police immediately, there has been limited success in recovering lost money or valuables, and evidence of perpetrators being prosecuted is scarce.
Similarly, foreigners may be approached by two or more Chinese citizens (most often attractive females). The two will ask the foreigners to take a picture of/with them. The conversation develops, at which point the foreigners are invited to practice English over a drink at a tea shop/bar. The bill ends up being overpriced, and foreigners are threatened that the local police will arrest them if the bill is not settled. Travelers are advised to be cautious when approached by strangers and to always request to see the price list before agreeing to any goods/services.
Despite its reputation as a safe destination, travelers are strongly encouraged to remain aware of their surroundings. As a general rule, lesser-developed areas in major cities have a higher rate of crime. Statistically, more crimes of opportunity transpire during late night/early morning hours.
Individuals posing as plainclothes police officers will threaten to levy fake criminal charges against a victim. A financial solution to the problem will be quickly suggested; if accepted, the charges will disappear, and the victim will be released.
Foreigners are often approached by beggars with young children or a disabled child. Sometimes beggars will kneel and ask for money. They may approach their victims while singing sad Chinese songs out of sound amplifiers strapped to their upper bodies, appealing to the victim’s sympathy. Some of these beggars are part of a large network of criminals using children and handicapped persons in their criminal enterprise.
There has been a phenomenon throughout China in which private Chinese citizens, not associated with a political or terrorist organization, have used indiscriminate violence to express their discontent with the Chinese authorities, sometimes resulting in injury/death.
- In June 2016, a Chinese citizen detonated explosives made from fireworks near a check-in counter at the Pudong International Airport, injuring four people, and then stabbed himself in the neck in an attempted suicide. The Chinese government did not label this as an act of terrorism, but a criminal act by an emotionally disturbed person.
There are active cyber threat actors targeting foreign governments and members of the private sector. Foreign individuals and organizations in Shanghai should remain vigilant against potential intrusions or other threats to their networks and proprietary information. Connecting to unsecured wireless networks (at hotels, coffee shops) is discouraged.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
The physical road conditions in metropolitan Shanghai are generally good. There is a significant volume of vehicle traffic that frequently results in congestion and delays. Driving conditions in rural areas in the Shanghai Consular District can be poor. While English-language drivers, directions, or maps may be found in more developed areas, these conveniences may not be available in remote/rural locations.
The greatest road hazard remains local drivers. Many have limited experience operating motor vehicles and may be overly cautious/aggressive, frequently leading to traffic accidents. More often than not, traffic-related injuries involve motor bikes and bicycle operators being struck by motor vehicles. In traffic accidents involving vehicles operated by foreigners, the foreigner is often ruled at fault. Those involved in traffic accidents are encouraged not to argue with the other party, regardless of who may have been responsible. Drivers are also encouraged not to overreact to aggressive driving by local nationals and to defuse situations in a safe and level-headed manner.
The presence of traffic police at heavily congested intersections increased in 2016; however, traffic laws are often ignored, and enforcement is done remotely by video cameras, primarily through speed traps. Road signs and traffic signals are often blatantly disregarded, and drivers frequently fail to signal or to oncoming traffic and pedestrians, even in crosswalks.
Pedestrians share the sidewalks with motor bikes, bicycles, and cars and must remain alert.
Public Transportation Conditions
Public transportation in Shanghai is generally considered safe, and, other than petty theft, crimes are relatively uncommon.
Shanghai has a 16-line subway system that is generally reliable and punctual. Access to the subway is monitored by CCTV, and security personnel are deployed throughout. Guard-operated X-ray machines are used in most stations, and passengers are required to undergo inspection prior to entering some stations. Levels of enforcement, however, may appear inconsistent. Most stations feature safety devices that prevent individuals from falling on the tracks.
Buses are generally modern and in good working order.
In a limited number of cases, foreigners have reported being sexually assaulted, have had their luggage stolen, or have been charged exorbitant fares when using unregistered taxis. Luggage theft typically involves a taxi transporting individuals to/from the airport and the driver intentionally leaving before bags have been unloaded. Other examples of problems with taxis include rigged taxi meters that can charge up to double the rate.
RSO recommends travelers research the indicators of official taxis in the cities they plan to visit and that they use only official taxis (in Shanghai, these are two-tone sedans). Travelers are encouraged to use official taxis with meters. If a driver refuses to use a meter, exit the vehicle and use another taxi. Since the majority of taxi drivers have limited proficiency in English, travelers are encouraged to have their destination written down in Chinese characters.
Shanghai is a modern city with two international airports: Hongqiao (SHA) and Pudong (PVG). The Hongqiao transportation hub brings together the Hongqiao International Airport with interprovincial and local metro trains, buses, and other for-hire vehicles.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED SHANGHAI AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
China’s domestic counterterrorism efforts remain primarily focused against the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM, East Turkestan Islamic Party, ETIP), a Pakistan-based group that seeks independence for the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwestern China. In public statements, government officials have singled out the “Three Evils” (extremism, separatism, and terrorism in XUAR) as the main terrorist threat to the nation and have characterized Uighur discontent as terrorist activity.
In 2016, the Chinese government characterized numerous incidents in which police and other security officials were attacked with edged weapons and explosive devices as terrorist attacks. Some of these confrontations, a majority of which occurred in Xinjiang, resulted in the death of both police officers and civilians.
Shanghai did not experience any incidents related to terrorism in 2016, and RSO is unaware of a significant transnational terrorist presence in China.
Protests outside official U.S. facilities in Shanghai were relatively uncommon in 2016, and those that occurred typically involved lone protestors. In these instances, individuals were quickly removed by Chinese security officials.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED SHANGHAI AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
There are occasional demonstrations and protests, often in connection with issues related to labor, education, and the environment.
- In August 2016, preparatory work for the construction of a nuclear waste processing plant in Lianyungang in northern Jiangsu province was suspended following days of protests by local residents worried about the possible health risks.
- In May 2016, thousands protested in Nanjing and other cities in Jiangsu province after the government announced that 38,000 slots in Jiangsu universities would be reserved for students from other provinces, including poorer regions like Guizhou and Guangxi.
Human rights organizations maintain that China uses counterterrorism as a pretext to suppress Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group that comprises a large percentage of the population in XUAR.
Since late 2013, the provincial government in Zhejiang province has embarked on a campaign to demolish scores of crosses and other Christian structures in churches. The campaign has resulted in the arrests of several pastors and parishioners who attempted to halt the demolitions. The number of demolitions and related protests appeared to have decreased in 2016.
Earthquakes are not uncommon in China.
Other possible natural disasters include rainstorms, floods, hail storms, and droughts. China’s eastern seaboard is subject to heavy rainfall during monsoon season; typhoons bring floods and strong winds and can trigger landslides.
Shanghai does not experience significant snowfall, but even small amounts of snow can bring parts of the city to a standstill.
Accidents and fatalities continue to plague China’s heavy industries. Worker safety and quality assurance are lacking.
Commercial transportation accidents are not uncommon. Trucks are often overloaded and drivers are poorly trained.
Counterfeit products are readily available, but it is illegal to import them into the U.S.
Counterfeit Chinese currency remains a concern, as evidenced by the scrutiny exercised by storeowners when receiving cash payments and the use of a money counting machine prior to acceptance to ensure validity. Travelers are advised to understand the signatures of authentic currency and to not change money with individuals on the street. Money changers offering unrealistic exchange rates may be using counterfeit currency.
Visitors have no expectation of privacy in public or private locations. The Consulate regularly receives reports of human and technical monitoring of U.S. business travelers and other visiting U.S. citizens. The areas around U.S. and other foreign diplomatic facilities and residences are under overt physical and video surveillance, security personnel are posted outside facilities/residences, and CCTV cameras are visible throughout Shanghai. Overt microphones and video cameras are common in taxis.
Hotel rooms and offices are subject to on-site or remote technical monitoring. Hotel rooms, residences, and offices may be accessed without the occupants’ consent/knowledge. Elevators and public areas of housing compounds are under continuous surveillance. Consulate employees are warned not to discuss sensitive information in their homes, vehicles, or offices. Members of the private sector are encouraged to take similar precautions to safeguard sensitive, personal, and/or proprietary information.
All means of communication (telephones, mobile phones, faxes, e-mails, texts) are likely monitored. The Chinese government has access to the infrastructure operated by a limited number of Internet service providers (ISPs) and wireless providers in China. Wireless Internet access in major metropolitan areas is becoming common, so the Chinese government may have greater access to official and personal computers. The Chinese government has publicly declared that it regularly monitors private e-mail and Internet browsing through cooperation with local ISPs. Some bloggers are subject to particular scrutiny in China, where such activity is often monitored and in some cases blocked. Popular Western social media sites and applications (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter) are blocked.
Personal Identity Concerns
Foreigners working for NGOs face additional scrutiny and should ensure they have the proper visa status required to conduct their activities in China.
Citizens of the U.S. and other countries visiting or resident in China have been questioned for reasons said to be related to state security. In such circumstances, citizens face the possibility of arrest, detention, and/or an exit ban prohibiting their departure from China for a protracted period. Dual U.S.-Chinese nationals and U.S. citizens of Chinese heritage may face a higher risk of such scrutiny.
Many locations lack equipment to support disabled persons on public transportation systems.
Illicit drugs are available in Shanghai, but drug-related crimes do not appear to be a significant issue affecting the U.S. private sector. The Chinese government is concerned about domestic drug use, and enforcement efforts are widespread with severe punishment for violators.
Kidnappings are not common; however, RSO has received accounts of businesspeople being held against their will in a hotel room while being forced to pay a debt or settle a labor-related dispute. Preventing a person from leaving a location due to a commercial or business dispute is not viewed as kidnapping by Chinese law enforcement. Labor disputes have resulted not only in protracted stoppages, but in temporary detention of expatriate managers by workers demanding continued employment or better severance packages.
There have also been reports of taxi drivers transporting passengers to remote locations and forcing them to pay a fee under threat of injury. Such reports are relatively rare and are often secondhand, circular accounts.
Urban police units are better trained and equipped to respond to calls, especially in Shanghai and other first-tier cities where authorities spend millions of dollars on security-related infrastructure. Local police are effective at deterring crime; most responses to alarms/emergency calls are sufficiently prompt if the police are informed that the victim is a Westerner or person of importance. Investigative training techniques and forensic equipment continue to improve, but they are not at the same level as those of developed countries.
Policing in China is different than in the U.S., and preserving social harmony is a large component of the Chinese policing doctrine. In some cases, local police will serve as a mediator between the complainant and another party to agree upon financial compensation (sometimes in lieu of jail time).
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
In the event of arrest, American citizens should contact, or request authorities contact, the U.S. Embassy/Consulate for guidance.
Depending on the crime for which a foreigner may have been detained, s/he may be asked to negotiate for monetary damages with the alleged victim. This may be driven by the belief that if everyone is in agreement with a monetary arrangement, no further quarreling should take place.
Crime Victim Assistance
If private U.S. citizens become the victim of a crime, they should contact the police (110). Westerners who do not speak Mandarin can ask to speak to an English-speaking official and they will be transferred to an English speaking officer. For foreign victims of crime, police response depends upon the type of infraction, where it transpired, and the social status of the victim.
Police reports are not taken at the scene of a crime or vehicular accident; if a report is deemed necessary, all involved parties have to respond to the attending officer’s police station. Visitors to China must report any criminal victimization at the nearest police station. Any attempts to do so while out of China are generally ignored by the Chinese authorities. The victim must be present in China if any judicial actions are to be taken.
Americans may also contact American Citizen Services (ACS) for assistance. ACS officers can recommend appropriate medical facilities, provide contact information for local attorneys, notify family members, and explain how to transfer funds to China.
The Chinese police training system has not yet evolved into one that is sympathetic to victims. The victim must have evidence to support his/her claims and could likely have the assailant present in the same room while s/he narrates the incident to the police.
The Shanghai Police fall under control of the Ministry of Public Security. The Shanghai Police enforce laws enacted by the National People’s Congress and any local municipal laws passed by the Shanghai municipal government. The Shanghai Police have uniformed officers and specialized investigative units. The People’s Armed Police do not perform traditional law enforcement responsibilities, but they do provide static protection of Chinese government buildings, ministries, foreign missions, and public transportation centers.
Although police officers in some cities, including Shanghai, have begun carrying firearms, the majority of officers on the street are unarmed. Patrol officers are sometimes augmented by armed specialized units (SWAT). SWAT officers are occasionally deployed during special events, at air/railway stations, and in response to protests/demonstrations.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
Parkway Health Medical Centers
Shanghai Center Clinic
203 West Retail Plaza
1376 Nanjing Xi Lu
Hong Qiao Clinic
2258 Hong Qiao Lu
Parkway Health In-Patient Clinic
170 Danshui Lu
Global Health Care
Eco City, Suite 303
1788 Nanjing Xi Lu
Tel: 5298 6339
Huashan Hospital (for acute medical problems)
12 Wulumuqi Zhong Lu (access off Chang Le Lu before 2100)
Foreigners Ward 15th floor (24-hours)
Tel: 6248 3986; 6248 0775 (after-hours)
Shanghai United Family Hospital (24-hours)
1139 Xian Xia Lu
Tel: 400 639 3900 (normal); 2216 3999 (emergency)
Children’s Fudan University Hospital
399 Wan Yuan Lu, Minhang
Tel: 6493 1507
Available Air Ambulance Services
International SOS (Medical Evacuation – Alarm Center 24-hours)
Tel: 6295 0099
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for China.
OSAC Country Council
Shanghai has an active OSAC Country Council that meets every other month. To reach OSAC’s East Asia & the Pacific team, please email OSACEAP@state.gov.
U.S. Consulate General Shanghai Location and Contact Information
Consulate Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Consulate General Shanghai
Main Address: 1469 Huaihai Zhonglu, Shanghai 2000031
Hours: 0800-1700, Mon-Fri (except U.S. and Chinese holidays)
Consulate Contact Numbers
Consular Section (24-hrs): 86-21-3217-4650; 86-010-8531-3000
Embassy Beijing: http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/service.html
Consulate General Chengdu: chengdu.usembassy-china.org.cn/
Consulate General Guangzhou: guangzhou.usembassy-china.org.cn/
Consulate General Shenyang: chengdu.usembassy-china.org.cn/
Consulate General Wuhan: wuhan.usembassy-china.org.cn/
On January 1, 2017, China implemented a new law regulating the operations of foreign NGOs. This law requires foreign NGOs to register with the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and limits the scope of their funding and activities. The law also states that foreign NGOs must not undermine or damage China’s national interests. The MPS has published foreign NGO registration guidelines on its website, though some requirements/procedures remain unclear. Employees of foreign NGOs should be aware that the Chinese government’s application, interpretation, and implementation of these guidelines could vary widely by location and issue. The Consulate recommends that any entity that might be characterized as a foreign NGO, particularly those working in sensitive areas or fields, consult with a local lawyer regarding the legal requirements and procedures for registration.
U.S. citizens residing or traveling in China are reminded to register in the Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) by entering their travel itinerary and contact information. In case of difficulties registering online, please contact the closest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance.
China Information Sheet