According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, China has been assessed as Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (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 Beijing as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Please review OSAC’s China webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
Beijing, with a population greater than 20 million, is generally considered safe when compared to other urban areas of a similar size. 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 Beijing and other large Chinese cities.
Petty crimes, including pickpocketing, credit card fraud, and financial scams, occur regularly and often target Americans and other foreigners. This type of crime tends to take place on public transportation, in shopping areas, and at tourist sites. Thieves commonly target cell phones, cameras, and other high-value items. Travelers are advised to place their wallets in their front pockets. Purses should be kept with the straps draped across the body. Travelers are discouraged from keeping valuable items inside backpacks, which may be out of view and more vulnerable to thieves. As a general rule, lesser developed areas in major cities have a higher rate of crime.
Although violent crimes, including workplace assaults, occur periodically and may garner significant media attention, such crimes are generally not considered normal. Violent crime affecting the expatriate community most often occurs in the bars and clubs of Beijing’s nightlife districts. Cultural miscommunication, xenophobia, and the consumption of alcohol all play a role, with certain bars garnering a reputation for violence. Bar fights are common, and recent years have experienced an increase in reports of violence against Westerners. Bouncers often play a role in the violence and have been physically aggressive with patrons. Although the legal age for consuming alcohol is 18, most establishments do not require identification. Some bars are overcrowded and safety standards are not routinely enforced. Prostitutes and drugs are known to be present in some clubs. There have been instances in which prostitutes lure foreigners to a room, where they are assaulted and robbed by organized criminals. In such instances, victims are forced to use their credit or debit cards to access cash. Such robberies usually begin in bars and clubs frequented by foreigners. Statistically, more crimes of opportunity transpire during early morning hours; for example, individuals who frequent bars, nightclubs, and similar establishments are more likely to be involved in physical altercations after midnight. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.”
Criminals use various scams to defraud foreign victims.
One scam involves locals approaching tourists and asking to practice English, visit an art house, or experience a traditional tea ceremony. Victims are often charged exorbitant sums (up to US$1,000). The victims are forced to turn over their credit cards under physical intimidation or threats that the police will arrest them if they do not comply. The credit cards may be charged hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars, and the victim is forced to sign the receipt. In most cases, the victims are released unharmed – though distraught or embarrassed – and threatened not to notify the authorities. When the local police are engaged, little is done because the victims generally do not report the crime until after they have departed China. Police are often unwilling to investigate crimes if the complainant is not in China. In instances where the victim has reported the crime to the police immediately, the evidence of perpetrators being prosecuted is scarce.
Another scam involves individuals posing as plainclothes police officers who threaten to levy fake criminal charges against a victim. The perpetrators typically propose a financial solution to the alleged crimes. If the victim agrees to pay the proposed fine, the charges “disappear,” and the victim is released.
Scam artists have also sent text messages and emails referring to fraudulent bills and/or traffic tickets to con people into transferring money.
Visitors may be approached by beggars with young and/or disabled children on the street. Another variation involves beggars with sound amplifiers strapped to their upper bodies who sing sad Chinese songs in an effort to appeal to the visitor’s sympathy. Some of these beggars may be part of a larger network of criminals who use children and handicapped persons in their criminal enterprise.
A scam commonly seen in taxis involves a passenger paying with a 100 RMB note. The driver then switches the original bill with a counterfeit, returns it, and demands a genuine note. This may be repeated until the victim has lost several hundred RMB worth of genuine currency.
China is known for the use of sophisticated cyber capabilities including spear phishing, targeting of mobile devices, social engineering, and network manipulation. Viruses, malware, and other forms of malicious software are common.
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”
Road Safety and Road Conditions
The physical road conditions in most of China’s larger cities are good; in contrast, road conditions in rural areas are often poor. On average, Beijing adds 1,200 newly registered vehicles to the roads every day, causing already congested roads to come to a standstill during rush hour. Additionally, a great number of pedestrians and bikers weave through traffic, creating a hazardous environment.
Traffic signals are absent at key locations, and road closures are poorly or not marked. Yielding to oncoming traffic and/or pedestrians and using turn signals are virtually unheard of. Busy roads often lack shoulders, forcing drivers to contend with many bicycles in driving lanes. Where there are shoulders, cars generally use them as another travel lane, especially on crowded highways. It is common to see drivers back up on the highway to get to an exit they missed, stop on the side of the highway to drop off passengers and slowly turn back into high-speed travel lanes, or veer horizontally across several lanes of traffic to get to an off ramp. Individuals driving under the influence of alcohol are also fairly common.
Policing is done remotely by video camera, mainly through the use of speed traps. All drivers must possess a Chinese driver’s license; international/U.S. licenses are not valid.
Since private ownership of vehicles was not allowed until the last decade, most drivers are inexperienced, and traffic laws are routinely ignored. According to China’s official English-language newspaper, China Daily, nearly 50% of accidents in Beijing are caused by drivers who have less than four years of driving experience; the newspaper also reported that traffic accidents were the leading cause of death to individuals under 45 years old.
The Embassy responds to dozens of traffic accidents involving official and private U.S. citizens each year. Most of these incidents are minor and are resolved on the scene. In many cases, bicyclists strike a static or moving vehicle. In traffic accidents, the foreigner is often ruled at fault, regardless. Individuals involved in traffic accidents are encouraged not to argue with the other party, regardless of who is responsible, and to defuse situations in a safe, expeditious manner.
For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”
Traffic patterns and driving habits make crossing the street in Beijing a danger, as pedestrians do not have the right-of-way, even when walking with the light. A limited number of crosswalks, poorly maintained sidewalks, and bike lanes that are not respected by motor vehicle drivers make all forms of non-vehicle transportation very risky.
Public Transportation Conditions
As one of the world’s most populous cities, all forms of public transportation in Beijing are crowded but can become dangerously so during peak times (morning/evening commutes).
Few Embassy personnel take public buses, as they are often overfilled to dangerous levels, have poor temperature controls, and do not provide route information in English.
While the subway system is fairly extensive in the city center, many of the lines that serve the Embassy community in the city are among the most crowded. Families with small children cannot safely take the subway during even moderately busy periods.
As a result of the break-neck expansion of high-speed rail lines within the country, train safety remains a concern. Trains and train stations are extremely overcrowded during holiday travel periods; in 2014, 266 million travelers rode the country’s rail system during the Lunar New Year, surpassing the Hajj Pilgrimage as the world’s largest annual population movement. In recent years, train stations have been the target of several terrorist incidents in western and southwestern China, resulting in a tense environment at stations across the country. Inter-city train trips can be quite long due to the large distances between most major cities.
Travelers are encouraged to research the likeness of an official taxi in the cities that they plan to visit. In Beijing, visitors are encouraged to use official taxis (typically two-tone sedans) that employ meters. If a driver refuses to use a meter, exit the vehicle and use another taxi. Beijing taxi fares are artificially suppressed, making taxis reasonably priced but difficult to hail. Supply often falls far short of demand. Taxis routinely refuse to stop for foreigners, particularly those of African descent. Stories abound of foreigners who have been stranded for long periods because they could not get a taxi or the taxi driver demanded an unreasonable surcharge. Taxi drivers often refuse to take fares that require them to leave the center of the city, making it very difficult for the large percentage of U.S. Embassy families who live in the suburbs to rely on taxis. Taxis rarely have working seatbelts.
Most drivers do not understand English and are unfamiliar with local destinations. As a result, there is a high possibility of getting lost unless the passenger knows the exact destination and can explain it in Chinese. Visitors are advised to ask their hotels for taxi cards written in English and Mandarin that include the name and address of the hotel and other points of interest.
In a limited number of cases, foreigners have reported that they were sexually assaulted, had their luggage stolen, or were charged exorbitant fares when using unregistered taxis. Luggage theft typically involves a taxi transporting individuals to/from the airport and the driver intentionally leaving the scene before bags have been unloaded. Other examples of problems with taxis include rigged taxi meters that can charge up to twice the actual rate.
The Embassy continues to receive reports of foreigners taking rickshaws or pedi-cabs at tourist sites in Beijing and being driven through hutongs (walled neighborhoods) where they are shaken down for money and eventually released unharmed. These incidents have also taken place at tourist sites, such as Tiananmen Square and Houhai Park.
Air travel out of Beijing, both domestic and international, remains quite expensive, as prices and competition are regulated by the government. Moreover, flight delays are normal, making travel planning particularly difficult and unpredictable. Flight delays may result from sudden military closures and are often not announced or explained. Beijing International Airport (PEK) has experienced frequent delays in recent years, often making rail a preferred and more dependable mode of transportation.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Beijing 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” of extremism, separatism, and terrorism in Xinjiang as the main terrorist threats 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 that comprises a large percentage of the XUAR population.
In 2017, 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 occur in XUAR, have resulted in the death of police and civilians. The lack of transparency and information provided about alleged terrorist incidents greatly complicates efforts to verify details of those and other violent acts. In many of the domestic incidents characterized as terrorism, China alleges that ETIM influenced or directed the violence through its online propaganda. China prevents foreign journalists and international observers from independently verifying official media accounts, which are often the only source of reporting on violent incidents. Foreign and non-state media access to information about incidents in recent years were heavily restricted and often limited to official accounts that were not timely and lacked detailed information.
There have been isolated incidents in China in which private Chinese citizens, not associated with a political or terrorist organization, have used indiscriminate violence for unknown or unclear motives.
In 2016, outside a Beijing church, a Jamaican woman was attacked by a Chinese national with a meat clever after being asked if she spoke Chinese. The woman suffered severe cuts on her face and hands.
In 2015, a Chinese national approached a couple at a shopping mall in the Sanlitun area. The attacker murdered the woman, who was a Chinese national, and attacked her French husband with a samurai sword. The husband suffered severe cuts on his body but survived.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Beijing as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
The government remains focused on maintaining social stability and preventing civil unrest stemming from economic and/or political grievances. The largest, most violent incidents have taken place in ethnic minority areas, such as Tibet and XUAR, where grievances over human rights abuses and discriminatory policies have resulted in spontaneous outbursts of violence targeting the government and Han Chinese interests.
China experiences a wide range of environmental hazards: rainstorms, floods, hail, droughts, and earthquakes.
China’s southern coast is subject to heavy rainfall, flooding, and monsoons.
In 2010, southern China experienced massive mudslides, resulting in significant property damage.
Due to its location along a number of fault lines, earthquakes are not uncommon.
In May 2008, a 7.9 earthquake struck Sichuan province, killing more than 69,000 people and leaving nearly five million homeless.
Severe snowstorms have brought parts of China to a virtual standstill. Snow removal is typically slow and is accomplished by employing thousands of laborers using shovels and brooms. Even smaller-scale storms often lead to multiple traffic accidents.
Critical Infrastructure Concerns
Accidents and fatalities continue to plague China’s heavy industries. Worker safety and quality assurance are lacking. Commercial transportation accidents are relatively common due to poor driver training, overloaded buses, and a lack of safety checks.
In August 2015, a series of explosions at a container storage station at the Port of Tianjin resulted in the death of over 100 people and hundreds of injuries. Fires caused by the initial explosions burned uncontrolled for days, repeatedly causing secondary explosions. Chinese state media reported that the initial blast was attributed to a warehouse owned by a firm that specialized in handling hazardous materials.
Counterfeit products are readily available, but it is illegal to import them into the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in the U.S. have the authority to seize suspicious goods and impose fines on travelers caught attempting to enter the U.S. with counterfeit items.
Counterfeit currency remains a concern, as evidenced by the scrutiny exercised by storeowners when receiving cash payments and the widespread use of money counting machines to ensure the authenticity of notes. Travelers are advised to understand the signatures of genuine currency and avoid changing money with individuals in the street. Money changers offering unrealistic exchange rates may be trading counterfeit currency.
All visitors should be aware that they have no expectation of privacy in public or private locations. All means of communication, including telephones, mobile phones, faxes, emails, and text messages, are likely monitored.
There are regular reports of the human and technical monitoring of American businesspeople and visiting U.S. citizens. Activities and conversations in hotels, offices, cars, and taxis may be monitored onsite or remotely. Overt placement of microphones and video cameras are common in taxis. All personal possessions in hotel rooms, residences, and offices may be accessed without the occupants’ consent/knowledge. Elevators and public areas of housing compounds are under continuous surveillance. Business travelers should be particularly mindful that trade secrets, negotiating positions, and other business sensitive information may be shared with Chinese counterparts, competitors, and regulatory/legal entities.
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 of Beijing. Embassy employees are warned not to discuss sensitive information in their homes, vehicles, or offices, and members of the private sector should take precautions to safeguard sensitive personal and/or proprietary information. In 2016, U.S. Embassy employees reported an increase in the tampering of locks on the front door of their residences, suggesting forced entry. In some cases, the tampering led to door locks that no longer operated as intended.
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 in China. Wireless access in major metropolitan areas is becoming more common. As a result, Chinese authorities can more easily access official and personal computers. U.S. Embassy 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 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, and activate the microphone or camera. Bloggers are subject to particular scrutiny and may have their content blocked depending on the profile, following, and content of their posts.
Personal Identity Concerns
U.S. citizens have been interrogated or detained for reasons said to be related to “state security.” In such circumstances, citizens may face arrest, detention, or an exit ban prohibiting their departure 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.
Many locations lack equipment to support disabled persons on public transportation systems.
Drug consumption exists, but drug-related crimes do not appear to be a significant issue affecting the U.S. private sector. Although illicit drugs are present, enforcement efforts are widespread, and the punishments for the use or trafficking of drugs can be severe.
Kidnappings are not common; however, the Embassy 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. In some cases, labor disputes have resulted not only in protracted stoppages, but in temporary detention of expatriate managers by workers demanding continued employment or enhanced 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.
The extensive presence of police and security personnel, high conviction rate, and use of modern technology in policing tend to serve as a deterrent to most criminal activity. Police response for foreign victims of crime depends upon the type of infraction, where it transpired, and the social status of the victim (private citizen, diplomat, VIP, foreigner, etc.). Local police are semi-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 person of importance. Local police cooperation with the Regional Security Office (RSO) remains limited and requests for assistance from the RSO are often not met.
Visitors should understand that Chinese policing doctrine places an emphasis on preserving social harmony. 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. This may be driven by the belief that if everyone is in agreement with a monetary arrangement, no further quarreling should take place.
Urban forces in Beijing and other first-tier cities are generally well-trained and well-equipped due to considerable spending on security-related infrastructure. Investigative training and forensic equipment is improving but remains substandard compared to that of developed countries.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
In the event of arrest, American citizens should contact the U.S. Embassy or nearest Consulate for guidance.
Crime Victim Assistance
Victims of crime should contact the police by dialing 110. English speaking capabilities may be limited.
Victims who are U.S. citizens may also contact American Citizen Services (ACS) at the Embassy or nearest Consulate for assistance. ACS officers can provide information about local medical facilities, provide contact information for local attorneys, notify family members, and explain how to transfer funds to China.
Regardless of the crime, the victim must visit the nearest police station to report it. Any attempts to do so after leaving China will be ignored by the authorities; the victim must be present if any judicial actions are to be taken. The victim must have evidence to support his/her claims. The Chinese police training system has not evolved into one that is sympathetic to victims. In some instances the assailant may be present while the victim narrates the incident to the police. Expressions of sympathy or support to the victim should not be expected.
If a passport is stolen, the victim must apply for a new passport at the nearest U.S. Embassy/Consulate. A new Chinese visa will also be required. To receive a new visa, Chinese officials require that the victim immediately file a police report about the stolen passport at the police station nearest to where the theft occurred. The victim may also be directed to file a report at the local Entry/Exit Bureau.
Western style medical facilities with international staff are available in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and a few other large cities. Many hospitals in major Chinese cities have so-called VIP/Special Needs (te xu) wards with reasonably up-to-date medical technology and skilled physicians who typically speak English.
Ambulances do not carry sophisticated medical equipment, and ambulance personnel generally have little/no medical training. Therefore, injured or seriously ill Americans may be required to take taxis or other vehicle to the nearest major hospital.
In rural areas, only rudimentary medical facilities are generally available. Medical personnel in rural areas are often poorly trained and have little medical equipment or availability to medications. Rural clinics are often reluctant to accept responsibility for treating foreigners, even in emergency situations.
Contact Information for Available Hospitals/Clinics
For a list of available medical facilities, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.
Available Air Ambulance Services
The availability of air ambulance services varies by city. For a list of Air Medical Evacuation Resources covering China, please refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance webpage.
All Americans traveling to China are encouraged to buy foreign medical care and medical evacuation insurance prior to arrival. The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and if it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Most hospitals will not accept medical insurance from the U.S. Hospitals in major cities may accept credit cards for payment, but U.S. citizens have frequently encountered difficulty due to cultural and regulatory differences. Travelers are typically asked to post a deposit prior to admission to cover the expected cost of treatment.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
Air quality can be an issue for employee health and safety. Air quality ratings for Beijing and other U.S. Mission China posts can be found at the Air Quality Index website.
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for China.
OSAC Country Council Information
Beijing has an active OSAC Country Council. Interested private-sector security professionals should contact OSAC’s East Asia-Pacific team with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Embassy Beijing
No. 55 An Jia Lou Lu, Chaoyang District
Beijing, China 100600
Hours: Mon-Fri 0800-1700 (except U.S. and Chinese holidays)
Embassy Contact Numbers
Telephone: + (86-10) 8531-3000
Post One: + (86-10) 8531 4444
Consulate Chengdu: https://china.usembassy-china.org.cn/embassy-consulates/chengdu/
Consulate Guangzhou: https://china.usembassy-china.org.cn/embassy-consulates/guangzhou/
Consulate Shanghai: https://china.usembassy-china.org.cn/embassy-consulates/shanghai/
Consulate Shenyang: https://china.usembassy-china.org.cn/embassy-consulates/shenyang/
Consulate Wuhan: https://china.usembassy-china.org.cn/embassy-consulates/wuhan/
U.S. citizens traveling to China should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.
China Country Information Sheet