Expats concerned about their safety in China will focus less on the dangers travellers are usually worried about, such as pickpocketing, and more on seemingly innocuous areas such as food and driving.
Serious and violent crime in China is infrequent, and although petty theft, especially in tourist hotspots and crowded marketplaces, is the most common crime expats fall victim to, it still isn’t commonplace.
Little extra precaution needs to be taken when it comes to securing housing. Locking the doors, keeping valuables out of sight and, for females living alone, avoiding ground floor apartments are appropriate safety measures.
New residents should take routine precautions in larger cities such as paying attention to their surroundings, being mindful of their belongings in public places, and staying away from poorly lit areas at night, especially if travelling alone.
Expats should also be wary of the high levels of pollution, unregulated additives in food and reckless Chinese drivers.
At face value there seems to be little that can be done to avoid these unfortunate realities, but as is the case with normal crime, adopting certain defensive behaviours is easy and beneficial.
Pollution in China
Residents of urban centres where the infamous Chinese smog is often overbearing should make an effort to exercise regularly and use an air-purifier at night. Although particulates can cause sinus congestion, itchy eyes and a runny nose, most healthy individuals will not suffer long-term effects.
Food safety in China
As the country’s population continues to mushroom, so do the number of local food producers attempting to cut costs by using illegal additives and unsafe food practice. 'Food scandals' emerge often, and while this should not discourage new arrivals from trying everything from dim sum to thousand year eggs, caution should be exercised.
Only approach street vendors that always seem to be busy and, until a trusted local can vouch for its safety, avoid the charming but clearly dirty corner restaurant. It is also important to only purchase raw food that, at the very least, looks fresh and appealing.
Driving safety in China
Expats who insist on using a vehicle may want to hire a driver at first. When everyone else on the road seems to be openly breaking laws and violating principles of etiquette, driving defensively in China can easily get frustrating. Those who do insist on getting behind the wheel should try to stay calm and allow themselves some time to adapt to the Chinese rhythm of driving.
New residents would do well to use Chinese public transportation when it is available. It is generally fast, safe and economical, and is a good way to get to know one’s surroundings.
Don't be afraid to walk either – China can be surprisingly pedestrian-friendly, although being aware of the unpredictable surrounding traffic is important.
Terrorism in China
Terrorism is relatively rare in the vast majority of the country and the few incidents that some might group in this category are largely the result of disputes that do not normally affect expats, such as land and social status issues.
In recent times, there have been several attacks in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang province in the fairly remote northwest of the country. These attacks have largely been blamed on separatist extremists from the region's Uyghur ethnic minority. Historically, incidents rarely have effects outside of the province and expats should remain unaffected.
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