China is a relatively safe place to move to, with comparatively low crime rates; this is also due to the fact that public order is enforced strictly by the local authorities. You may be checked by the police at any time, so keep your passport and residence permit with you at all times and leave copies of both at home. Try to avoid large crowds and, particularly in tourist areas, watch out for pickpockets.
Expats in China should also be wary of scams. There have been cases where foreigners are drawn into a conversation and invited under a pretense to join a Chinese national for a visit to a local landmark, tea house, bar, etc. These visits typically end with exorbitant fees, as well as credit card fraud to boot. Better be safe than sorry: be wary of any such offers of joint excursions when made by strangers and, in case you should end up being scammed nonetheless, make sure to report this to the police as soon as possible!
Expats should also be careful when it comes to driving in China. In the countryside, winding roads of sometimes questionable quality are one of the main reasons for China’s high death-toll on the roads. In the big cities, on the other hand, extremely heavy traffic poses a certain danger to road-users and pedestrians alike, as not everyone follows the traffic rules diligently.
One crime in China that does seem to be on the increase is the distribution of counterfeit money, particularly of 100 CNY bills. In order to reduce the chances of you getting such counterfeit money, it is advisable to carry small bills and use these when paying in cash. Stick to ATMs from well-known financial institutions instead of free-standing ones, as some of the latter have also been distributing counterfeit money.
Despite improved patent, trademark, and copyright laws, China is still a haven for counterfeit goods, from shoes and handbags to phones and tablets. As tempting as it may seem to get an “iPad” for little money, it is recommended that expats and tourists alike stay clear of pirated goods.
While it may not be illegal in China to buy them for personal use, you may get into trouble when importing them back home during your repatriation. And in extreme cases, the lower quality of the goods may even be hazardous for your health.
Considering the sheer size of the country and the different climate regions in China, it is not surprising that the country is fairly regularly hit by natural disasters. Whether this might pose a danger to you, however, very much depends on where in China you are staying.
Particularly during China’s wet season (May to November), typhoons regularly hit the south of China, as well as the coastal regions in the east. During such tropical storms, high winds, storm surges, and heavy rainfall can cause major damage to infrastructure and people alike, as well as cause flooding and landslides.
Expats should make sure to keep an eye out on regional weather forecasts, take any weather warnings seriously, and follow the instructions of the local authorities. You can check for current weather warnings on the website of the China Meteorological Administration.
Floods and landslides are not only caused by typhoons that hit the coast, though. During past wet seasons, huge areas of land in western, southern, and central China have been flooded, especially along the Yangtze River. Landslides are particularly common in the mountains of China’s southwest. If you are planning a trip to these areas, be sure to check the weather forecast in advance.
China’s southwest, particularly the Tibetan plateau, as well as the Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, has also been hit by a number of major earthquakes in the past few years. The worst of these in recent history was the 7.9 Sichuan quake in 2008, which killed over 68,700 people and left millions without a home. The reason for the high seismic activity in this area is its specific location above the point where the Asian and the Indian tectonic plates meet: their collision created the Himalayas millions of years ago.
If you are planning a journey to the Autonomous Region of Tibet during your stay in China, be aware that travel is restricted and that you will need a special Tibet Entry Permit to do so. Depending on recent events or particular dates (e.g. anniversaries of Tibetan uprisings), the issuing of such permits may be halted.
Also keep in mind that due to continuing ethnic and political tensions, unrests and protests are not uncommon, despite tight and strictly enforced security measures. In a struggle for independence or at least genuine autonomy within China that has been going on for decades, violent protests in the Tibet Autonomous Region, as well as in neighboring provinces, are always a possibility. Expats are strongly recommended to stay clear of any political demonstrations and avoid large crowds.
The situation in the Autonomous Region of Xinjiang is similarly precarious. Since 2013, there have been an increasing number of violent outbreaks and terrorist attacks. In Xinjiang, which was originally inhabited by a majority of Uighurs (ethnically Turkic Muslims), a large number of ethnic Han Chinese have moved to area since China re-took control in 1949. As a consequence, Han Chinese now make up about 40% of the population. Uighurs, on the other hand, amount to roughly 45% of the region’s residents.
Fearing a loss of the Uighur culture and feeling oppressed by the Chinese government, the tension between the Uighur and the Han Chinese is high. In response to a number of attacks in recent years, the Chinese authorities’ security measures have also been tightened. Expats traveling to the region, especially its capital, Ürümqi, should be vigilant, avoid large crowds, and keep up-to-date on current news.
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