China is generally very safe, and per capita, one of the safest places in the world, however, westerners are often preyed upon by cheats and touts. Be especially cautious in the inner city and on the tourist-crowded routes.
Always ask for a receipt from a taxi driver so that you can complain if you have been cheated or for tracing purposes if you happen to leave your phone or camera behind in the taxi.
Make friends with the Chinese whenever you can. They love to meet foreigners and will make good tour guides. Just buy a small present as a small token of appreciation. They will be available 24/7 to help you when you get in trouble.
Sneaky tip: When visiting tourist attractions, hang around a group that has an English speaking guide if you cannot afford one!
Take care about meeting “students” who direct you to tea sampling shops. It is free to sample tea for locals, but for tourists… you should ask. In one incident, after sampling 5 types of tea with two “students”, a group of tourists were confronted with a bill for RMB 1,260 (126 Euro). They even produced an English Menu with the extortionate prices for sampling.
Bars, KTV and some beauty salons are largely places for prostitution (male or female) and often, paid through “bar bills” or “beauty treatments” that can easily top several hundred dollars if you let it.
The rule of thumb I use is the price is too good to be true, it’s generally fake. If the product (particularly food and drink) is popular in China, it’s generally fake.
Be wary of fake money. You may observe Chinese people inspecting their money carefully, and with a reason: there are a lot of counterfeit bills in circulation. The most common are 100’s and 50’s.
Most “well” drinks, wine, beer and soft drink can be fake in China – be warned. All Corona beer prior to 2012 in China was fake. Coca Cola in the north east of China had more fake coke sold on the streets than real.
The lovely little old ladies you see “recycling” plastic bottles, are often only returning them to a private “factory” nearby, where drinks are refilled, resealed and re-sold… all within minutes. Crush a plastic bottle or can before throwing it away to guarantee it cannot be refilled (easily).
When in a bar, order bottled beer, bottle of wine, or cans of soda, and watch them open it, and only drink from the bottle or can. Further, generally only those consumable items that sell in the millions are usually faked – so when it’s a really common item, anticipate some are fakes. Best way to minimize fakes, is select something not so common.
Chinese who live their life in China have built up immunities, but most foreigners will get sick at very basic things. Health needs to be a focus. Either pollution levels affecting dizziness and eyesight and throat, fake food and drink, or even more basic, brushing teeth or having a shower with your eyes open. Water quality in China is very poor and you may develop slight intestinal problems if you use tap water to brush your teeth, or if you eat vegetables which have not been cooked after having been rinsed in tap water. Bring Pepto Bismol help prevent intestinal troubles and Imodium for when it’s too late.