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Top 10 Scams to Avoid While Touring China

Updated on July 21, 2009

An insider's guide to touring China and Beijing

1. “Budget” or super-cheap tours

These tour prices are really cheap, but there is a reason for it – they will take you to shopping places that are not listed on your itinerary, and you may spend more time at these places than at the places that you intended to visit. Usually you will be herded on to an often overcrowded and dirty bus, headed to the Great Wall for example, and you will stop on the way there at a very touristy shopping stop for 45 minutes to an hour. You may also stop at a “tourist” site – which is actually just another shop disguised as a tourist site with horrible carnival-type acts that will expect tips once they have performed. You may also have to stop at a Chinese traditional medicine “clinic” (more on that one below.) You will also likely have someone yelling into an extra loud (and usually horrible sounding) loudspeaker on the bus, either in Chinese or barely understandable English. There is nothing really wrong with taking these types of “join-in” tours as long as you know what you are getting yourself into.

2. “Black” taxis

The term “black” here does not refer to the color of the taxis themselves, rather it refers to the illegal taxis or cars that are found all over China. You may first encounter them at the airport upon your arrival, where many men will approach you asking you “where are you going” or saying “taxi” to you. Don’t even talk to these people – they will not only overcharge you but there have been reports of tourists taken out into the middle of nowhere where several of the black taxi drivers friend showed up and took all of the tourists belongings. That is very rare though, and nothing to be scared of as long as you follow the signs and take the legal taxis that are plentiful in all Chinese cities.

3. The free “tour guide” scam

These people are commonly found in tourist-heavy areas of the major cities such as The Bund in Shanghai and the Forbidden City and Tian’anmen Square in Beijing. A young, attractive male or female will approach the tourist (always easy to spot the Western tourist in China) and offer to be a free tour guide and show you around “their” city. They may actually take you to a place or two, all the while learning more about you to find the best way to get your money. The actual way that they try to scam money from you will vary according to your personality – for some, it may be that they need money for a sick family member, for others, they may take you to a bar of a fellow scammer and run up a bill that runs into the hundreds or thousands of dollars. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as a “free lunch”, nor are there truly free “tour guides” to be found in China.

4. The “tea shop or tea ceremony” scam

These people also haunt tourist-heavy areas looking for an unsuspecting Westerner. Usually female and attractive, they will approach the tourist and invite them to a traditional Chinese teashop or ceremony, and they will seem innocent and sincere. There will be a real teashop and real tea, maybe even with a ceremony, but the scam comes when it comes time to pay the bill, and it can again run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Do not fall for this one – there are real tea shops with real tea ceremonies but make sure that you only go to the legitimate ones that won’t hand you a huge bill for it at the end. The basic rule of thumb is to not follow any strangers anywhere in China.

5. The “art show/art student” scam

This scam involves young Chinese people approaching tourists and claiming to be art students having an art show nearby. They will lead you to a shop selling all kinds of various “art”, and of course they will show you the art that they have allegedly (and undoubtedly have not) produced. This one is usually more of a waste of your time than anything, and once you have realized that they are only selling the same “art” that you can find everywhere and that they are selling it at much higher prices, you can simply leave.

6. The Chinese Traditional Medicine Clinic scam

These can be found in numerous places and are often included as part of the “budget” or super-inexpensive tours that were discussed earlier. Your bus will unload in front of an alleged Chinese traditional medicine clinic, and everyone will be examined by a “doctor” of Chinese medicine, who will diagnose everyone with various ailments no matter how healthy they are. Luckily enough, they will have just the right traditional Chinese medicine for everyone’s problems, and they will sell it to you at over-inflated prices. Certainly there are real and effective Chinese medicines but only go to authorized shops with someone that you can trust.

7. Pickpockets

Although found everywhere in the world, be especially careful around the major tourist sites with your wallets and bags. Thieves have been known to come up behind tourists while they are walking and unzip their backpacks to help themselves to whatever is inside. Always keep your eyes on your bags, and carry your wallets in a front pocket or a pocket inside your coat, and constantly be aware of people around you. If you have something especially valuable in your backpack, wear it on your front – no shame in that! This is one scam where a true tour guide is very helpful, as thieves will not target tourists with a tour guide that knows how to turn them in to the police.

8. Lady Bars

Found especially near the bar streets in major Chinese cities, such as Sanlitun in Beijing, men will stand around and yell “lady bar, massage” at any foreign men that happen to walk by. Definitely do not fall for this one – at best you will get a lousy massage at a massively inflated price, and at worst – we won’t even get into that discussion but you may lose your health as well as all of your money.

9. Child Beggars and Flower Sellers

Found just about everywhere that you can find tourists, these children will beg for money, sometimes even grabbing onto your legs until you pay them some money, or try to sell you flowers for your girlfriend or boyfriend (no matter who you are with.) There are reports that these children may have been kidnapped from other places specifically to be used for begging purposes, but regardless of the truthfulness of these accounts, these kids are forced to stay up far too late and do the dirty work of begging for adults who are too lazy to work. The best policy is just to ignore them, as any money that they are paid goes straight to the adults who are controlling them, and it just serves to further the problem by showing them that it is a profitable venture to enslave children this way. Furthermore, if you give money to one beggar, all of the others will flock to you to be paid off as well.

10. Bar tabs

Most bars frequented by foreigners are good about keeping proper bar tabs, but it never hurts to check to make sure that you are paying for exactly what you received. Better yet, pay as you go, without having to worry about whether you had four or five beers at that last stop.

China is an incredibly interesting place to visit, and crime here is probably no worse than any other tourist destination in the world. Violent crime is almost unheard of, but it can happen. The best advice is just to always be aware of yourself and your surroundings, and do not allow strangers to talk you into going anywhere with them or doing anything that you don’t feel comfortable doing, no matter how sweet and innocent they may seem. A good idea is to book your Beijing tour through a reputable tour company. Be careful, and enjoy your trip to the Middle Kingdom!

original photos by Beijing Discovery Tours


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    • tanveerbadyari profile image


      5 years ago

      very informative hub, there are lot of scams in china and the people are very smart in duping the tourists.

    • Onesimus profile image


      5 years ago from The Kingdom of God

      Basically, if someone is offering you a service and their lips are moving, realize they're going to try and take you if you are a foreigner. Whatever price they offer, I'd suggest going for half or less. I hate being so skeptical, but after living here so long and being cheated ruthlessly so many times, you gotta be careful.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Scam #1 should now be KTV.

      Whether you enter on your own or taken by a Chinese “friend.” You are in for a major screwing, not literally. It looks like a karaoke place, but wait. You enter the room to sing a few songs and have a few beers. Suddenly girls appear and want to drink with you, “No Charge.” You feel it looks like fun and you say okay. Suddenly a cart appears with lots of snacks and a six pack of beer. The snacks are NOT free and they are expensive–but more on that later. The girl wants a brandy and you say okay; brandy is 130 rmb [later it turns out that is per ounce--the drinks obviously turn out to be three ounces each].

      The waitress wants to drink and you say, NO. She says no problem she will buy her own drink. When she finishes it is placed on the table. The girl will play you and rub up against you and dance for you. She can really drink, [though you notice she leaves the room after each drink {only to find out later she spits it in a can or vomits it up.]

      Each time the waitress buys her own drink she places it on the table.

      When you have drunk too much and know you need to leave, the waitress says you must tip the girl and the waitress as they live on tips only, they do not get paid. What is normal tip? 600rmb a $100 each?????? Oh, and they must get tipped before bill. Why? Because they know there is no way in hell you will tip them after the bill comes.

      When the bill comes it is over $2000 for four of us!!!! Interestingly all the waitress’s drinks got counted on the bill. They merely count all the bottles and glasses on the table many of which the waitress or the girl escort were going to buy for themselves!

      You ask to see the manager and he agrees to lower the bill to $2000 but no lower. You explain you do not have that cash. No problem–one of there big guys accompanies you to the ATM conveniently located right outside the bar. On the way back to the bar you poke your head inside a room and tell some college kids to watch out they are going to get fleeced, you are ushered out so fast your head is spinning.

      After too many beers you are not thinking to just not pay, hide your credit cards in your shoe, run away, or call the police, they are counting on too much alcohol and not much clear thinking.

      Once outside I meet four young guys from America who had each been ripped off for $300 each. In talking to other people anything marked KTV and you are going to get fleeced.

      I am meeting with the Chinese consulate to see what can be done.

      But Scam Number #1 should be avoid KTV bars!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      got scammed just few hours ago by chinese bar... da*n..

      a nice good girl offering for some massage, and then i have asked to wait in karaoke room, and then a lady who will be massage me accompany me in that room, and said that i have to wait for a minutes while massage room is prepared.

      i only order for a bottle a beer and then the girl drink a very tiny cocktail... 20 minutes ran in that room, i feel it is quite strange for everything, i was offered by full massage for 1600 RMB, and then i refused it and take a body massage for 100RMB.. and u know what that i was took into other karaoke room for a very lousy massage.. i asked the girl to stop and wear my clothes again...

      the surprising thing is the bill come from karaoke... it is 2800RMB!!!!...

      the tiny glass cocktail is 380RMB while my beer only 40RMB... and the the girl took lot of glass... i dont even count the glass...

      i refused to and debate with the karaoke owner... and then some security came to me, and said.. that's the rules...

      Just wondering that it was in my country... i will fight them back and make pursuit the karaoke company downnn!!!..

      but i'll prefer to stay away from trouble and make those tragedy as my bad experience...

      as for you know, the bar is near from Novotel Place Beijing... at Wang Fu Jing..

      Beware for that Bar guys..

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      great post


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