15 Common Mistakes Tourists Make When Visiting China – Don’t Do These!

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Common Mistakes When Visiting China

Don’t Make These Common Mistakes When Visiting China

Are there things you shouldn’t do in China? China may not be as sensitive as its neighbors Japan and Korea in terms of cultural faux pas you might accidentally make without realizing. It’s much more forgiving when it comes to this but there are still things you want to avoid. To help you out and make sure you don’t make these common mistakes when visiting China I have made a list.  After living there for several years these were the common mistakes I saw most often.

Don’t Forget Your Own Toilet Paper!

Let’s start with a bizarre but VERY important thing not to do in China. 

A lot of toilets in China don’t have toilet paper. In fact, I’d say you can expect toilets to not have toilet paper; and it’s a bonus if they do!

So make sure to pack some with you and keep it with you at all times. Only toilets at expensive shops, restaurants, and shopping malls will have toilet paper for certain.

Common Mistakes When Visiting China

Don’t Let Someone Pay For You…

… without a fight! Whilst in the west it might be polite to say at least “Oh no it’s OK really…”, in China you will often see people fighting over who pays for the bill. And sometimes, quite passionately!

It’s polite to at least put up a bit of a fight, and if you’re feeling confident, get more passionate about paying for the bill! This will show your appreciation.

Don’t Get into Black Cabs

You just arrived in the airport and you’ve got no idea where you’re going? Honestly, China is the worst country for black cabs trying to get you. And they rip you off badly.

Funnily enough, the taxi stand – the official taxi stand – at Beijing airport also rips you off, too! I’m not sure if the officials are in on it. But nevertheless, don’t speak to ANYONE. Not even official-looking people. Of course, official taxi areas are OK. It’s the people that bring you here that are the problem, writing you fake tickets etc…

If in doubt, ask a fellow foreigner about taxis. If you ask a Chinese person, they’re likely to have a friend waiting in the ranks ready to take you to your hotel for at least double the price.

Don’t Drink Tap Water

Nothing funny or clever here; just don’t drink the tap water! It’s not safe to drink.

Common Mistakes When Visiting China
Hot Pot In Beijing

Don’t Presume Chinese Food Will Taste Like at Home

Chinese food is vast and diverse. It changes by region, city, and even town. Flavors, spice level, and even if your food will be accompanied by noodles or rice all depends on where you are in the country. And chances are, it won’t taste much like you’re used to at home!

Go into Chinese food with an open mind. It’s my favorite cuisine in the whole world, but it’s not for everyone. Do try a bit of everything, though, and you might find something you love!

Don’t be Too Sensitive

Or too shy. Don’t be surprised by forward behavior and questions from Chinese people, either. You’re in China, and you’re now in Chinese culture. It can be intense, it can be noisy, loud, and very forward.

Chinese people are often not shy and they’re not shy to ask you questions or to raise their voices.

Just go with this, and try not to take it to heart too much.

I remember when my friend came to visit in Beijing, and we got into a taxi. I started to talk to the taxi driver in Chinese to tell him to drop us off at a specific location, and a few minutes later we arrived. My friend was silent until I closed the door and he drove off. “What was wrong, Zoe?” She asked me. “What do you mean?”

“You guys were arguing the whole time. Was he angry at something?”

I had to laugh!

The Chinese language might sound harsh and angry a lot of the time, but this is usually just a passionate way of expression and also just how the language sounds linguistically…

So don’t worry too much! You’ll know if someone is really angry with you…

Don’t Forget to Bargain

You’re a foreigner, so at a market, they’ve almost definitely added an extra zero or two onto the price tag. Bargain it down as much as possible!

Don’t Play With Chopsticks

And be mindful that you shouldn’t leave them in a bowl vertically.

Don’t Talk Politics

To be honest, generally, a rule when you visit any country… But particularly important in China. It’s really best not to bring up politics and political opinions unless you’re wanting to be positive about it.

There won’t be a great variety of opinions if you do start asking around about politics, and it’s generally not a topic that Chinese people will feel comfortable talking to you about.

As well as general politics, there are particular topics you should avoid too, including Tibet and Xinjiang.

Don’t ask about Taiwan

This goes with “don’t talk politics” but it’s so important it deserves its own little section.

Politics is sensitive enough in China without talking about possibly THE most sensitive topic. There is absolutely no reason you need to ask someone in China “Is Taiwan part of China?” because you will always get the same answer, even if the person doesn’t really think that. More often than not, though, you will find that Chinese people passionately advocate for the fact that Taiwan is part of China. You might not have that opinion. So all this question is going to do is to provoke people and it won’t turn out pretty.

Just don’t ask!

(Or strike up a political debate with someone OUTSIDE China if you must.)

Great Wall

Don’t Get Too Touchy

With your loved ones or with Chinese people you’ve just met.

Chinese people aren’t used to hugging someone they have just met, so best to keep that distance.

Plus, it’s a good idea to hold in any big public displays of affection with a loved one. Hand holding is OK, but you should be aware of your surroundings for anything more!

Don’t Tip!

Unless you are on a tour with other foreign tourists, there is nowhere in China where it is expected of you to tip. Not only that, but it is weird if you do. It’s not part of the culture at all, so don’t think you’re doing a nice thing by tipping.

In some high-class places that are used to foreigners, it may be appreciated. But generally, local places might find it a bit odd.

If anyone asks you for a tip or suggests you give them one, tell them where to go. They’re saying this to you to rip you off because you’re a foreigner.

I still remember getting a taxi back home from the airport once. I’d lived in Beijing for over a year, but I suppose the driver must have thought I’d just arrived. Bizarre, since I spoke pretty good Chinese already. Anyway, he dropped me off then started shouting ‘tip! tip!’. I was so confused at first – that had never happened to me before.

I gave him a confused ‘… No…?’ And he drove off angrily.

Common Mistakes When Visiting China

Don’t Rely on Credit Cards / Cash Machines

Funnily enough, China is a country that kind of missed the credit card generation. It went straight from paper money to digital payments.

Their Digital payment system is probably the most advanced and ubiquitous in the world. I very rarely actually touch money in China – which is just as well because the fake money market is booming (more on that below).

Don’t Go For Tea With A Stranger

A bit specific, but hear me out.

The Chinese tea scam is one of the biggest scams in China. And honestly, people still fall for it all the time.

It is very common in tourist spots for young Chinese women and men to start talking with foreigners and say they will take you to a great place for tea or to see a play and in exchange, you can practice their English with them.

Well, you will end up not speaking much English but come back with a very hefty bill that you have to pay…

Other scams include taxi drivers and the fake money scam. Fake money is a problem in China. Often, taxi drivers will take a note from you and say ‘oh, this is fake. Please give me a different one’. He will hand back the note and you’ll give him another note. Only, in that time, he has swapped your real note for a fake one. So now he has two real notes and you’re left with one fake one…

VPN

Don’t Forget to Download a VPN

Absolutely 100% necessary in China, do not forget to download a VPN. And don’t download one when you’re already there! In fact, you’ll find it quite impossible to do so. So make sure to download a VPN BEFORE you get into China.

Otherwise, you won’t be able to access pretty much any of the internet you’re used to, including Facebook and any Google services.

So that’s it! Things you should definitely NOT do in China.

For some more blogs on things not to do in Asia, learn about important cultural faux pas and things you shouldn’t do in Japan or Korea!

Common Mistakes When Visiting China – Final Thoughts

Hopefully these tips will help you on your next trip to China.  There are some that you probably already knew but hopefully there are a few you now know to be on the look out for.  Avoiding these common mistakes when visiting China can save you some embarrassment, hassle or maybe a few bucks along the way.

Zoe Stephens
Zoe is a freelance writer from Liverpool, UK. She spends her time travelling between China, where she is based, and North Korea, where she works as a tour guide for Koryo Tours. You can follow her journey and see her content from North Korea on Instagram (@zoediscovers) and YouTube. You can see more about her life stuck on Tonga on Instagram @ifyouwerestrandedonanisland.

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10 COMMENTS

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10 COMMENTS

  1. For context I’m half Chinese, have lived in China twice (total of 6 years) and have been doing business in China for 30+ years.

    While I share the adverse feelings noted by others about the Chinese governmental actions and policies regarding Xinjiang, Taiwan and Hong Kong, I nonetheless encourage everyone to visit China not only to see the many sights which will never be the same but also to meet/interact with the Chinese people who I believe you will find are much like us (except that they value education even more than we do).

    China will be part of our future and it’s always besst to know who you’re dealing with.

    One comment about Chinese food in China — Rule #1: When presented with a mystery dish don’t ask what it is until after you’ve tried it! (If you do have food allergies be sure and mention those up front as medically dangerous, i.e. before accepting a dining invitation).

    Final comment – Don’t get into an alcohol toasting competition! One excellent excuse is to have a prescription bottle of pills that you place on the table when first seated along with the explanation that you cannot consume alcohol while on such medication.

  2. Great advice , my first trip to china was in 1972! I traveled until 2000 and not surprised that not much has changed, though when I went very very few Americans were even allowed into china,so we were watched all the time

    I too will not go back

  3. Eh, go for tea with a stranger.
    I was approached by a guy in Tianamen Sq who invited me to have tea. It was a freezing cold winter day. I accepted his invite. We walked a block or two, sat in a tea place and chatted for a bit, had some nice warm tea. At the end of it, I bought a bunch of overpriced tea that I brought back to the USA and never used. So what? It was worth it for the experience. Probably cost me about $50.

  4. China is not on my travel plans anytime soon and I don’t think I’m alone. From not being open and transparent in regards to the origins of covid and not cooperating with WHO investigators, Hong Kong crackdown and human rights abuses with Uighurs… I will not support the Chinese government (nothing against Chinese people though).

    • Ditto. China was off my travel list before the pandemic. No way in hell I’m setting foot there now (and I’m half Chinese).

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