Despite being well-seasoned travellers, China being our 45th country and having just completed 4 months in Eastern Europe we have yet to come across many scams. We are not the naïve first time traveller but at the same time we consider many of the regions we have been to as being well known for their honesty. Coming over to China then was a rude awakening, after 26 hours of travel and over 24 hours being awake we fell for our first scam within hours of us touching down on Chinese soil! Luckily we got off lightly but this made us much more aware of the scams china commonly has on the go… here we’ve put together a China scam list to make you aware before you travel! Here are the common scams in china, the top scams in china and scams in Beijing to avoid when you visit this crazy and beautiful country including Chinese fake money, the tea house scam, fake monks, Shanghai scams and dodgy tour guides!
China Scam List:
First on our China scam list is before you even arrive in the country! Not exclusive to China but common with many different countries that require visas. You should always be cautious of which website you use and go down either official channels via the government website. Or, if you need help with your China visa then use a trusted professional visa service to avoid being overcharged or worse not actually getting a real visa.
The Tea House Scam: (The One We Got Done For!)
The tea house scam, the absolute classic Chinese scam! It all starts with a nice young lady, or group of them approaching you and being really friendly and is one of the most common scams in Beijing so it’s one your really must look out for on our China scam list.
Asking where you are from and if they can speak to you and practice their English whilst they show you the way to your hostel. At first it all seems really nice and a lovely exchange where you have already gotten to meet some locals. That’s when they enquire if you would like to join them for coffee or tea and they will share with you some advice for the city. This is when the real start of the tea scam.
This is where the tea house scam really kicks into gear. You’ll chat and order snacks, coffee and tea whilst having a lovely old time. That is until you are left with an extortionate bill for just a cup of coffee after your new friends have slipped away!! The tea house scam is one of the scams China is quite famous for and so easy to fall for if you don’t know about it.
We got off relatively lightly when we fell for the tea house scam, paying £30 for a cup of tea, coffee and some snacks. We were just too tired too see it coming and unsure on the exchange rate too. Some people end up with a bill totalling hundreds of £/$ as a result of the tea house scam! The tea scam is a common Beijing and Shanghai scam.
But it was a lesson learnt and in the end probably saved us from getting scammed again! This is probably one of the most the most common scams in china to be aware of especially in Beijing and Shanghai!
The Shanghai tea scam is also one of the most cynical in our opinion, taking the openness of travellers to meet locals and chat turning it against them.
Common Scams in China: Bar/ Karaoke/ Gallery scam
Pretty much the same M.O as above and another on of the common scams in Beijing. You get approached by a friendly local who wants to chat with you or help you on your way. After building a rapport with you they will suggest going to a gallery, bar, karaoke or any number of local sights. It’s another frustrating trick on our China scam list as it makes you very paranoid.
This seems like a great way to get some local knowledge, but in the end you pay a fortune for this with overpriced drinks, entrance fees or even forced poker games!! This has to be one of the top scams in china that get unwilling tourists, especially after they had a drink! Large cities are where this is most common and it’s one of the beijing and Shanghai scams to be really aware of.
The Classic Taxi Scam & Fake Taxies
Taxis the world over are known for their scheming and scamming and it has to be not only one of the top scams in China but in the world but with it being particularly common here it had to go on our China scam list.
Many in the cities here are fake cabs who charge double the fees for a ride. Some rig the meter or install a fake one, others start with a preset initial charge that bumps up the cost. Some drive off with luggage in the boot/ trunk, or claiming a pre-agreed fee was per person or suddenly jacking it up from 40 to 400! It’s one of the scams in Beijing you really need to be aware of as well as in other big cities.
Make sure to only used licensed cabs, those in Beijing always have a licence plate beginning with B, and always used the meter and have an idea of how much the journey should cost. Keep your luggage with you if you can and don’t get out of the cab without it. Use the official lines at the airport and even take a photo of the drivers licence plate to be sure to not fall foul of one of the most common scams China has “on offer!”
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China Scammer List: Fake Discount Tours
In many touristy locations you may be offered a discount tour, but often you get what you pay for. The best scenario is that you end up wasting a bit of time or getting a bit of a disappointing tour. The worse is that you end up spending all day being taken to a stream of shops where your guide receives commission and you get completely ripped off, losing a lot of money! They also often come up with reasons you must pay more or are ran by guides with poor levels of English.
If you must take a tour then do your research and use a reputable company to avoid these China tourist scams. We also always find that hostels do good tours and are usually more trustworthy than many hotels too. For tourists visiting the popular spots I would say this is one of the most likely common scams in China you will come across.
To avoid one of the most common scams in Beijing you should also think about booking online with a well known company where you can read reviews too.
Top Scams In China: Card Fraud
Again, it happens the world over but the Chinese are well known for it and it’s one of the most common scams in Beijing and other large cities.
There are many ways to fraud your card and a popular one is to refuse cash and then charging your card a fortune. There are also stores that have been known to use card swipers. This is one of the most common Shanghai scams to be aware of.
Always use the ATMs at the big banks where you can go inside. These are well monitored and also safe from opportunist thieves too as many have locks and guards. Only use your card at reputable establishments and use cash anywhere else. Of all the common scams in china this is probably the one you will notice last and will affect you the most, be careful out there!
Fake Guides/ Advice For Major Attractions/ Fake Buses
We have noticed this one a lot around the Great Wall and Terracotta warriors, luckily we read a really informative post and did our research before setting off to see these things so knew what to look out for and where to go. It’s one of the most common scams in Beijing and around tourist hot spots.
It is basically the same scam for each place but it was more blatant at the Great Wall. If you don’t take a tour you have to get the bus and a taxi up to Mutianyu, they take advantage of you not quite knowing where to go and basically drag you away from the correct bus stall and over to another bus.
With the great wall they usually take you away from the 916 and tell you it is now the 980. They even wear bus driver uniforms to make it seem legit. Now you are on a bus taking you further away from the wall that you need to be, once you get off you are stuck and the mini bus drivers instead of charging around 10 yuan each to get to the wall will sting you for much more. This is one of the Beijing scams you really need to be aware of if you’re visiting the Great Wall.
There are even people who get on the right bus all along the way and tell you to get off before the bus station and onto their dodgy mini bus! Again, for tourists following the usual trail of must see sights it is probably one of a few of the the top scams in China you are very likely to come across. Along with the Chinese tea scam this is one we personally came across many times and we got quite an angry reaction when they knew we were on to them!
There are also other variations of this scam to be aware of, taxi drivers making fake bus stops using stickers and signboards. More tourists build up in the queue but the bus never turns up. Taxi drivers turn up to take the frustrated tourists to their destination. The driver telling them that if they share the ride it’s cheaper and faster!
Make sure when heading to popular destinations on your own that you do your research on which buses/ trains to take, how long they take and how much you should pay. Stick to your route no matter what anyone says!
Fake monks are all over, we even saw some over in Japan. Basically they get you to donate to their cause and use manipulative tactics such as social pressure to get your to do so.
They also often give you things like prayer cards and then ask for an crazy price for them. Showing you a book with donations from people all over the world as proof that they are real! This is often found near to temples as well as being a common Shanghai scam.
They aren’t, the money won’t be going to the temple or some good cause, but straight into the pocket of the fake monk! Be sure to research what monks usually wear in each place and we wary of any asking for monetary donations especially outside of the temples and on the street.
Like with the tuk-tuks in Thailand you need to be very careful when getting in one of the Rickshaws in China, and honestly the risk of being scammed is so high I really wouldn’t bother unless you get something organised by your hostel, it’s especially one of the most common scams in Beijing.
Many are very well versed in scamming westerners and often hike up the agreed price, stop in a secluded area and demand more money or take you well out of your way to shops and it is also regularly combined with the China tea scam to make it even more profitable. They are everywhere and will shout you and follow you along the street. Just ignore them!
With the high probability of getting scammed not once but twice by the rickshaw riders if they combine it with accommodation scams and the tea house scam Beijing is famous for. I would generally steer clear at all costs from road ride rickshaws and if you want to take one organise one through a trustworthy accommodation or tour booking site. Rickshaws really are one of the biggest tourist scams in china!
Not as scam as such more just daylight robbery and not just one of the top scams in China but something you have to be wary as you travel anywhere!
Carrying cash in China is a necessity as most places don’t accept western cards and you also don’t want to risk it at many places. Buisier places are more dangerous and it’s a common Shanghai scam as well as in place like Beijing, Chengdu and other large cities especially on public transport.
Pickpockets target tourists and can be very well organised. Make sure you keep your valuables close. I usually have them in a zipped compartment inside of my middle section of my backpack that is then locked up with a padlock. Though nothing is impenetrable the harder you make it for them the more likely they will move on to an easier target.
Chinese Fake Money
Now another problem with the cash heavy economy in China. Many visitors are not overly familiar with the appearance of Yuan at first and the local scammers will take advantage of this. You will be given Chinese fake money rather than legitimate notes instead or lower value notes of similar colours.
Make sure to avoid shading looking stalls and pay in correct change or small notes if you can as well as familiarising yourself with how Yuan looks so you don’t fall foul of the Chinese fake money scam.
The land of fakes strikes again. Even buying a ticket for major attractions is fraught with trouble. Make sure you know the correct price and search out the official ticket booths. If someone is selling you a cheaper ticket then you can bet that its fake! Be aware of the other stands outside the terracotta warriors and only buy yours from inside the large building near the car park. Then main entrance is also inside here.
The forbidden City I.D Scam
Recently scammers have been telling tourists at the Forbidden City and Mao’s mausoleum that you need official ID to get in or even proper shoes and dress which again needs a permit to say you are wearing the right clothes to enter! Of course, they offer to provide you with these for a price! This is not required at all, although you should take some ID with you to get inside the security perimeter around Tiananmen Square.
Your Accommodation Is Closed
This is also often used with “the attraction is closed”, taxi drivers or just local people trying to help you find your accommodation or the attraction will tell you it is closed and then direct you to their overpriced alternative. This is most common in Guilin and Yangshuo but we did also come across it in Beijing. Be sure to make your own way to your accommodation and book via a reputable source.
Price Gouging On Menus
It seems that in most places in China they don’t have set prices, be aware that in most cases then the price will be pretty much made up. This is one of the common scams in Beijing to keep an eye out when in tourist hot spots.
For westerners this usually means a price hike of sometimes huge amounts. Always barter the price and have in mind what you want to pay. If they won’t come down then just walk away, you would be surprised when you can end up paying sometimes up to 90% less than their original quote.
Also be aware of double menus at restaurants or those that change when you come to pay. Always try to get a bilingual menu from the start or make a note of the price in front of the staff. Not only one of the common scams in China but also common in Italy and Turkey too!
Common Scams In China: General Advice
There are so many scams out there in China that it can make you feel like you are watching your back at all time. In all honestly it does spoil the experience a little and it makes you wary of every person who approaches you. It might seem to counter the travellers way of interacting with locals but honestly it just isn’t worth getting scammed for, save that enthusiasm for other countries!! After falling foul the tea house scam in Beijing it unfortunately had an effect on the rest of our time here for better and for worst.
In China I would say that a general rule is to treat anyone who approaches you with suspicion, especially if they speak good English and go from there. Listen them out but just be very careful as we experienced many of the common scams China is famous for during our time there on an almost daily basis. It can make travelling here quite stressful
Most Chinese people keep their distance from foreigners and despite maybe a few stares or the occasional photo of you will leave you alone! It does make your time in China feel a little on edge but my tactic after a while was to just pretend that I couldn’t speak English if I was suspicious of the person and if they were particularly persistent.
Of course, we had some great times in China and met some amazing Chinese people. The frequency of which we came across these scenarios we’ve mentioned on our China scam list was quite alarming and did sometimes make us feel a bit skeptical of the country and its people. But we had to try hard to not let it ruin our whole experience and also not to colour our impression of the Chinese people. We just felt we had to much much more wary than we were in other countries before and after. We found that getting in a good hostel was a great way to organise trustworthy tours or experiences and get tips about how to stay safe and local things not to miss. Many hostels have a China scam list on a board so you are aware what to watch out for.
China Scam List: Useful Numbers
Police (Calling): 110
Police (Text message): 12110
First-aid Ambulance: 120
Traffic Accidents: 122
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