Taking a taxi in China

Photo by (WT-shared) 木更津乃風

Taxis in many Chinese cities are still relatively cheap compared to many other countries. The expense can mount up if you use them exclusively to get around, but they can be a very convenient alternative to public transport. Here’s some guidance on cabbing your way around in China.



Before you get into a taxi, make sure you have cash. It’s possible for Chinese citizens to make taxi payments using a combination of taxi-finding app Didi Dache and popular messaging app WeChat, but foreigners are not able to use this service yet. Taxis in most Chinese cities do not accept card payments (Shanghai is one exception).



If you don’t speak Chinese, it’s also a good idea to have your destination written down in Chinese characters. Ask somebody to write it down for you if necessary. The traditional method of carrying around a travel guidebook or a local English-language listings magazine (in larger cities) will still stand you in good stead, but this is largely being rendered unnecessary with widespread smartphone adoption meaning passengers can look up addresses using 3G.

Also, be aware that some drivers are not able to read, and others have limited knowledge of the cities they are driving in. Do not jump to conclusions and assume that taxi drivers are trying to cheat you. Some will, but the majority are pretty honest. Be patient.


Finding a taxi

To stop a taxi, just raise your hand straight out in front of you. Taxis in different cities are identified as vacant in different ways, but in many, a vacant taxi will have a “taxi” sign lit up on its roof, and sometimes a light in the driver window next to the rear-view mirror.

It is getting more and more difficult to find taxis in big Chinese cities. Here are a few tips:

  • Do not wait at a crossing. Drivers generally won’t stop at traffic lights and might think you are waiting to cross the street rather than take a taxi. Likewise, they won’t always stop if there is no safe place to do so (though many will have no such qualms) so make sure you’re not on a busy road with no layby.
  • Avoid morning and evening rush hours if possible. Be prepared for a wait.
  • When it rains or snows, taxis are doubly hard to find. Many drivers simply opt to go home in bad weather, as traffic becomes nightmarish and accidents more likely.
  • If you can’t find an official cab, unlicensed (“black”) cabs and pedicabs are an alternative option to public transport. Pedicabs can of course be a little dangerous, but they will get you to where you’re going – it’s your decision whether to use these. The main consideration with both black cabs and pedicabs is cost. Drivers will ask for more than the equivalent cost of taking an official taxi – think of it as paying a premium for the convenience of getting yourself moving, rather than standing around looking for an official taxi. Decide how much you’re willing to pay and try to talk the driver down. Whatever you do, make sure both you and the driver are clear on how much you’re paying before you get into their cab. See here for more info on taking unlicensed vehicles.



Pay using small banknotes if possible. Drivers prefer not to break large notes for change. If pressed, they generally will find a way, but in some cases they’ll expect you to go to a store to break the note yourself. Another reason for paying with smaller notes is the risk of being scammed: we’ve heard numerous reports of taxi drivers “refusing” 50 or 100 yuan banknote, then switching the passenger’s note for a fake while they rummage for other money, leaving the passenger in possession of a fake note. For other scams in China, see this page.

Don’t tip drivers. Ever. This is absolutely not a custom in China and drivers who ask for tips are taking liberties. Saying thank you will suffice.

Keep your receipt (aka fapiao). The receipt has the vehicle number printed on it, and this will be invaluable if you leave something in the taxi. Call up the taxi company (number also printed on the receipt) and quote the car number. The company will contact the driver and try to return your belongings. It doesn’t always work, but the taxi companies can be pretty efficient at times: we have had items returned before that initially seemed lost for good.


Other tips

Always enter and exit taxis from the passenger side. The driver’s side door is generally locked for security reasons, and the driver-side rear door may also be disabled to avoid customers stepping out into traffic. You can sit in the front seat or back – some of you may feel safer sitting in the back seat at night, although in some cities, such as Beijing, the rear seatbelts often do not work. 

In official cabs, make sure the driver turns on the meter. This is especially true when exiting airport, train and bus stations. It’s illegal for the driver not to do so. If you have a problem with a taxi driver, note down their driver number (usually printed on an ID-style certificate posted on the dashboard on the passenger’s side) and take the receipt. Call the company’s number as printed on the receipt and report the driver’s number. The company will handle your complaint behind the scenes.

See the image below for a breakdown of the information printed on taxi receipts.



Useful Chinese words and phrases

出租车 chū zū chē taxi
黑车 hēi chē “black” cab
三轮车 sān lún chē pedicab/rickshaw 
打车 dǎ chē take a cab
司机 sī jī driver
停车 tíng chē stop the cab
piào receipt








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