Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Consulate General Guangzhou does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS unit cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment and assumes no responsibility for the quality of services provided.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Guangzhou as being a low-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government officials.
Please review OSAC’s China-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
Guangzhou, one of the largest cities in the world, is generally safe when compared with other urban areas of similar size. Police, security services, and private security guards are heavily present and serve to deter most serious crime; however, petty crimes do occur with some regularity. The income disparity in Chinese society has been a source of social friction and has been identified as a root cause of much of the economic crime experienced in Guangzhou. This includes pickpocketing, bag snatching, credit card fraud, and various financial scams, often targeting foreigners.
Travelers are encouraged to make copies of their passport photo page and visa, as well as credit card numbers (to include telephone contact information in the event the card is stolen); these copies should be stored in their hotel or residence in the event the actual items are stolen.
The most common criminal incidents are economic in nature, and victims are often targeted because of their perceived wealth. Pickpocketing on public transportation (subway, buses), in shopping areas, and at tourist sites is common. Thieves target cash, credit cards, cell phones, cameras, and other electronic devices.
The Consulate recommends that long-term visitors purchase cell phones and that short-term travelers contact their provider to determine if coverage is provided.
Confidence schemes are common in Guangzhou, and criminals often view foreigners as wealthy, gullible targets. Americans who are approached on the street or contacted by email should remember that offers too good to be true often are.
Violent crime is less common but does occur. Violent crime affecting the expatriate community most often takes place in bars and night clubs.
In 2016, during the Spring Canton Fair, an American male was stabbed at a bar.
Some bars are overcrowded, and safety standards are not routinely enforced. While the legal age for consuming alcohol is 18, most establishments do not require identification. Prostitutes and drugs are known to be present in some clubs and karaoke bars.
Armed break-ins are relatively rare
There was an attempted burglary of a Consulate residence in 2013, during which the burglar armed himself with a club.
China is known for the use of sophisticated cyber capabilities, including spear phishing, targeting of mobile devices, and social engineering/network manipulation. Viruses, malware, and other forms of malicious software are common.
Other Areas of Concern
On January 1, 2017, China implemented a law regulating operations of foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These regulations require foreign NGOs to register their offices with the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and limit the scope of permissible activities. The law states that NGOs must not undermine or damage China’s national interests. The MPS has published NGO registration guidelines on its website, although some requirements and procedures remain unclear. Employees working at a foreign NGO in China should be aware that the Chinese government’s interpretation and implementation of these guidelines could vary widely. RSO recommend any entity that could be interpreted as a foreign NGO consult with a local lawyer familiar with the specific regulations and procedures for registration. NGOs and their employees should also ensure they comply with all relevant statutory requirements, particularly if working in sensitive areas or fields. Foreigners working for NGOs have faced additional scrutiny. Foreigners should insure that they have the proper visa status to conduct their activities.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
The physical road conditions in larger cities are generally good to excellent, with driving conditions in rural areas are usually poor. Roads in Guangzhou are extremely crowded, and many drivers are new to operating a motor vehicle. Drivers are often either overly cautious or aggressive, resulting in numerous accidents every day. Traffic laws are rarely adhered to, and policing is done remotely by video camera (mainly through speed traps). Yielding to oncoming traffic/pedestrians and signaling one’s intentions in advance is virtually unheard of. Traffic signals are absent at key locations, stop signs are non-existent, and road closures are poorly, if at all, marked.
Overloading of vehicles, poor training, and lack of safety checks are major contributors to accidents. Most accidents are minor and are resolved on the scene. Cars must remain at the scene of the accident and are not expected to pull over to the side of the road. In traffic accidents involving foreigners, the foreigner is often ruled at fault, regardless of the actual cause of the accident. The police should always be called, and those involved are discouraged from making unofficial agreements and/or arguing with the other party regardless of who is responsible. If an accident involves a vehicle/bicycle and a pedestrian, the driver is generally assumed to be at fault. An ambulance responding to the scene will not take a pedestrian to the hospital unless the driver rides along to ensure payment for treatment.
All drivers must possess a Chinese driver’s license. International or U.S. licenses are not valid.
Public Transportation Conditions
Public transportation in major metropolitan areas is comparatively modern. Buses, subways, and taxis are of relatively new design. Buses and trains are often crowded, with individuals employed specifically to “wedge” additional passengers into conveyances that are already loaded well beyond recommended capacity. Bus accidents are common.
Marked taxi cabs are generally safe, inexpensive, and relatively reliable. While taxi cabs come in a variety of colors, they are easily identifiable. In Guangzhou, travelers are encouraged to use yellow or blue taxis, as the two transportation companies that own them are considered to have a higher level of service standards and a good reputation. Travelers are discouraged from using unofficial taxis. Passengers should insist that the taxi driver use the meter and should not have to negotiate the price of a trip.
In a limited number of cases, Americans have reported having their luggage stolen, and some have reported being charged exorbitant fares. Luggage theft typically involves a taxi transporting individuals to/from the airport and the driver intentionally leaving the scene before bags have been unloaded.
Uber, Didi, and similar ride sharing services are popular, and many community members report using these services without incident. Nevertheless, conflicts between drivers and other taxi services have been reported.
There are numerous domestic and international flights out of Baiyun International Airport (CAN). Flight delays are common at CAN.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED GUANGZHOU 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, the East Turkestan Islamic Party (ETIP)), a Pakistan-based terrorist group that seeks independence for the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of northwestern China. In public statements, Chinese government officials have singled out the “Three Evils” of extremism, separatism, and terrorism in Xinjiang as the main terrorist threat to the nation and have characterized Uighur discontent as terrorist activity. Human rights organizations maintain that China uses counterterrorism as a pretext to suppress Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group comprising a large percentage of the population in Xinjiang. Some local incidents include:
On January 18, 2017, a small explosive device was detonated in a public bus in the Nanhai district of Foshan, injuring four people. A second device was detonated approximately 30 minutes later on another bus in Foshan, injuring two. Police apprehended a suspect, who confessed to carrying out the two incidents; no motive was provided, and the case is still under investigation.
On September 30, 2015, a series of parcel bombs targeted public buildings in Liuzhou, Guanxi province, killed 17 people and wounded approximately 50 others. The government attributed the bombings to the actions of a lone criminal.
On March 24, 2015, a local man armed with a knife attacked people at a shoe wholesale market, approximately one kilometer from the Guangzhou Railway Station. Four people were injured, and the assailant jumped to his death after being cornered by security. Press reports indicate the man was “emotionally disturbed.”
On March 6, 2015, 2-3 attackers with knives wounded 13 people at the Guangzhou Railway Station. Police shot and killed one of the assailants and arrested another. Some reporting indicated a third suspect got away. Witnesses indicated the attackers were ethnic Uighurs.
On May 22, 2014, two SUVs with five assailants drove into a market in Urumqi and threw explosives at shoppers. The vehicles crashed into shoppers, collided with each other, and exploded. The attack resulted in 43 dead, including four of the assailants, and wounded more than 90. One attacker was arrested. Official media labeled it a terrorist attack.
On May 6, 2014, a knife wielding man wounded six, including one Westerner, at a train station in Guangzhou. However, the government did not label this as a terrorist event.
On May 1, 2014, two assailants set off explosives and stabbed passersby outside Urumqi’s largest train station, killing themselves and one other person and injuring 79. Official media labeled it a terrorist attack by religious extremists.
In March 2014, eight attackers armed with knives killed 29 people and wounded 143 at a train station in Kunming. The government labeled the incident a terrorist act and blamed Islamic extremists from Xinjiang. Four of the attackers were shot and killed, three were sentenced to death, and one was sentenced to life in prison.
Due to government control over media and information, threat information is limited. As a result, many look to questionable online media outlets, which results in unverifiable threat reporting.
Protests outside of official U.S. facilities occasionally occur, but gatherings are typically small, relatively peaceful, and generally focused against the Chinese government.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED GUANGZHOU AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
While Chinese society overall remains stable, there has been a noticeable uptick in civil unrest over certain issues. In the past few years, labor disputes, environmental concerns, and contested land seizures gave rise to several large-scale protests in southern China. Protestors, regularly numbering in the thousands, often clashed with large numbers of riot police.
Geo-political events often influence the occurrence of political demonstrations, but such demonstrations are rarely out of the control of security services. Police are generally quick to react to violent outbreaks, sometimes using force to subdue disturbances.
The government remains focused on maintaining social stability and preventing civil unrest over economic and social grievances. In recent years, the largest and most violent incidents have taken place in ethnic minority areas (Tibet, Xinjiang) where grievances over human rights abuses and discriminatory policies have resulted in spontaneous outbursts of violence targeting the government and Han Chinese interests. The frequency of large-scale violent incidents in Xinjiang increased significantly in 2015.
The 2014 knife attack in Kunming illustrates that other areas are not immune to religious/ethnic violence. The government has been preventing people from crossing the border in Guangxi, and Vietnam has increasingly remanded illegal border crossers to Chinese custody.
China’s southern coast is subject to heavy rainfall, flooding, and monsoons, usually July-September.
In December 2015, a landslide in Shenzhen caused by construction waste and attributed to human negligence destroyed 33 buildings and killed approximately 69 people.
In July 2014, Super Typhoon Rammasun struck Hainan Island and Xuwen County in Guangdong province, resulting in 14 deaths. Thousands of people were evacuated, and widespread property damage and power outages were reported on Hainan Island. It was the strongest storm to hit Hainan since 1973.
Accidents and fatalities continue to plague China’s heavy industries. Worker safety and quality assurance are lacking.
In August 2015, a series of explosions at a container storage station at the Port of Tianjin killed 173 people and injured nearly 800. The initial blast, caused by unknown hazardous materials in shipping containers in a warehouse, triggered a series of secondary explosions that continued for several days.
The distribution of counterfeit currency is a common risk, to both official and private Americans. Unsuspecting Americans are passed fraudulent notes at restaurants, stores, ATMs, and taxi cabs. Large numbers of 100 RMB and 50 RMB counterfeit notes circulate, while even fake 10 RMB and 20 RMB denominations have been reported. A common tactic seen in taxis involves a passenger paying with a 100 RMB note, followed by the driver switching the note with a counterfeit bill, “returning” the bill as counterfeit, and then demanding a genuine note. This can be repeated until individuals have lost significant sums of money.
Business travelers should be particularly mindful that trade secrets, negotiating positions, and other business sensitive information may be taken and shared with competitors, counterparts, and/or Chinese regulatory/legal entities.
Additionally, counterfeit products are readily available, but it is illegal to import them into the U.S. U.S. Customs officials have the authority to seize suspect goods and impose fines on travelers caught attempting to enter the U.S. with counterfeit items.
All visitors should be aware that they have no expectation of privacy in public or private locations. There are regular reports of the human and technical monitoring of U.S. private businessmen and visiting U.S. citizens. The areas around U.S. and other foreign diplomatic facilities and residences are under overt physical and video surveillance; dozens of security personnel are posted outside of facilities and around residences, while video cameras are visible throughout the diplomatic offices and residential neighborhoods. Overt placement of microphones and video cameras are common in taxis.
Activities and conversations in hotel rooms (including meeting rooms), offices, cars, and taxis may be monitored onsite or remotely. Hotel rooms, residences, and offices may be accessed at any time without the occupants’ consent/knowledge. Personal possessions, including computers, in hotel rooms may be searched without the knowledge/consent of the owner. Elevators and public areas of housing compounds are under continuous surveillance. In 2016, there was a reported increase in the tampering of locks on the front door of their residences, either suggesting forced entry or resulting in door locks that no longer operated as intended.
All means of communication -- telephones, mobile phones, faxes, emails, text messages -- are likely monitored. The Chinese government has publicly declared that it regularly monitors private email and Internet browsing through cooperation with the limited number of internet service providers (ISPs) and wireless providers operating in China. Wireless access to the Internet in major metropolitan areas is becoming more common, so Chinese authorities can more easily access official and personal computers. Official U.S. government employees have reported seeing unknown computers and devices accessing their home networks; these intrusions likely required advanced computer knowledge and network password hacking to enable such a connection.
Many popular services and websites (Google, Twitter, Facebook) are blocked. WeChat and other alternative Chinese applications are nearly ubiquitous; however, they have built-in features that allow the Chinese government to monitor and censor messages, access the device’s address book and photos, track the user’s location, or even activate the microphone/camera. Bloggers are subject to particular scrutiny and may have their content blocked depending on the profile, following, and content.
Personal Identity Concerns
In recent years, U.S. citizens and of other countries visiting or resident in China have been interrogated or detained for reasons said to be related to “state security.” In such circumstances, individuals could face arrest, detention, or an exit ban for a prolonged period. Dual U.S.-Chinese nationals and U.S. citizens of Chinese heritage may be at a higher risk of facing such special scrutiny.
The government is concerned about domestic drug use, and enforcement efforts are widespread. The government was active in conducting drug arrests in 2015 and 2016, seizing an unprecedented amount of drugs.
In October 2016, Guangdong Drug Enforcement seized more than 2,000 kilograms of crystal meth. The drugs are being produced in Guangdong and trafficked to Southeast Asia and internationally via Hong Kong.
Even with the increase in drug enforcement, certain drugs (marijuana, stimulants) are easily accessible to foreigners, especially around bars and night clubs frequented by expatriates.
Kidnappings occur mostly over business disputes and might better be categorized as “unlawful detentions,” often in the office or hotel room of the victim. Victims are generally allowed to use their mobile phones (to arrange the resolution of the dispute) and should immediately call the police for assistance. Some local businesspeople who feel that they have been wronged by a foreign business partner may hire “debt collectors” to harass and intimidate the foreigner in hopes of collecting the debt. Foreign managers or company owners have been physically “held hostage” as leverage during dispute negotiations. In addition, travel bans have been placed on foreigners involved in business disputes. The U.S. Department of State has no legal or law enforcement authority and cannot get involved in private disputes nor give legal advice.
Police response to foreign victims of crime depends upon the type of infraction, where it transpired, and the social status of the victim (private citizen, diplomat, VIP). Urban forces are better trained and equipped, especially in Guangzhou and other first-tier cities, where authorities spend millions of dollars on security-related infrastructure. Local police are somewhat effective at deterring crime. Most responses to alarms and emergency calls are sufficiently prompt if the police are informed that the victim is a Westerner or a person of importance. In many cases, local police authorities will serve as a mediator between the victim and criminal to agree upon financial compensation, sometimes in lieu of jail time.
Police officers have the right to assess fines at the scene of an incident. This may be perceived as soliciting a bribe, but it is not.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Police have the authority to detain and deport foreigners for a wide variety of reasons. Travelers who do not have their passport with them may be detained for questioning. If an American is arrested, the U.S.-China Consular Convention requires Chinese authorities to notify the U.S. Embassy/Consulate of the arrest within four days. If a traveler holds the citizenship of another country and entered China using a passport of that country, authorities are not required to notify the U.S. Embassy/Consulate. Typically, the police will not allow anyone other than a consular officer to visit the traveler during the initial detention period. Bail is rarely granted, and persons can be subject to detention for many months before being granted a trial.
Crime Victim Assistance
If U.S. citizens become the victim of a crime, they should contact the police by dialing 110, though English-language capabilities may vary significantly. They may also contact American Citizen Services (ACS) at the Consulate. ACS officers can recommend appropriate medical facilities, provide contact information for local attorneys, notify family members, and explain how to transfer funds to China.
For all life-threatening medical emergencies, call 120 for ambulance service. Ambulances are typically staffed with a physician and nurse and take patients to the nearest hospital emergency room. English-speaking capabilities may be limited or non-existent. Ambulances generally do not carry sophisticated medical equipment, but personnel may have limited advanced medical training. Traffic congestion can be severe, as there is not a tradition of yielding to emergency vehicles. As a result, injured or seriously ill Americans may be required to take taxis or other immediately available vehicles to the nearest major hospital rather than waiting for ambulances to arrive.
There are some Western-style medical facilities with international staff in Guangzhou, including a large modern hospital in Panyu, a southern district. Payment of hospital and other expenses is the patient’s responsibility. While the quality of care is improving, many people prefer to travel to Hong Kong for even routine medical care.
In rural areas, only rudimentary medical facilities are generally available. Medical personnel in rural areas are often poorly trained, have little medical equipment, or availability of medications. Rural clinics are often reluctant to accept responsibility for treating foreigners, even in emergency situations.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
International SOS maintains a 24-hour alarm center for visitors to China. SOS representatives will advise on the availability of care in most urban areas. Collect calls are accepted.
Beijing: 400-818-0767 (inside China); 86-10-6462-9100 (outside China)
Hong Kong: 852-2528-9900
EurAm International Medical Center
Tel: 3758-5328; 137-1041-3347 (24-hour emergency line)
United Family Clinic
Tel: 8710-6000; 8710-6060 (24-hour emergency line)
Available Air Ambulance Services
Air ambulance service varies. International SOS is the main Western air ambulance provider along China's east coast. MEDEX also provides regional air ambulance services; its representatives can be contacted via the Internet at http://www.medexassist.com/.
Visitors are strongly encouraged to purchase medical evacuation insurance prior to travel, as medical evacuation by air is expensive: US$60,000-$100,000 per flight depending upon the patient's condition and medevac destination.
Know what medical services your health insurance will cover overseas. If your health insurance policy provides coverage outside the U.S., carry both your insurance policy identity card as proof of insurance and a claim form. Although many health insurance companies will pay "customary and reasonable" hospital costs abroad, very few will pay for medical evacuation back to the U.S.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for China.
OSAC Country Council Information
Guangzhou has an active OSAC Country Council. Please contact OSAC’s East Asia and the Pacific team with any questions.
U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information
U.S. Consulate Guangzhou
43 Hua Jiu Lu, Zhujiang
New Town, Guangzhou 510623
Hours: Mon-Fri, 0800-1700 (except U.S. and Chinese holidays)
Consulate Contact Numbers
Main (Switchboard): 86-20-3814-5000
Regional Security Officer (RSO): 86-20-3814-5006
Medical Unit: 86-20-3814-5884
Consular Affairs: 86-20-3814-5775; 86-185-2067-6921 (after-hours emergency)
Marine Post One: 86-20-3814-5444
Consulate Chengdu: https://china.usembassy-china.org.cn/embassy-consulates/chengdu/
Consulate Shanghai: https://china.usembassy-china.org.cn/embassy-consulates/shanghai/
Consulate Shenyang: https://china.usembassy-china.org.cn/embassy-consulates/shenyang/
Consulate Wuhan: USConsulateWuhan@state.gov
For the latest security and other information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Alerts, and Travel Warnings can be found, as well as important information for Americans who face emergencies abroad.
U.S. citizens are reminded to register with the Consulate by entering their travel itinerary and contact information into the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). In case of difficulties registering online, please contact the closest U.S. Embassy/Consulate for assistance.
China Country Information Sheet