Taking a Cab in China – What You Need to Know

chinese taxi

When visiting China or living here one thing is obvious from the moment you step off your plane: taxis are in abundance, there is absolutely no shortage of taxi drivers no matter what time of the day it might be.

Before I landed in China I was told by other expats that taking a taxi is one of the most convenient ways to get to where you need to go but they do differ from city to city. Below are the pros and cons of taking a taxi in China.


You can practice your Chinese

Taxi drivers love speaking to foreigners because they are genuinely curious to know more about us. This is a perfect time to use someone to practice your Chinese and improve your speaking and listening skills.  

At first I would have absolutely no idea what a taxi driver was saying to me if I was taking a taxi alone, but after only a few months I can catch onto a few words and even make sentences. Every Sunday I have a personal taxi driver who drives me to one of the school locations I work at and we teach each other words and sentences each week. I’ve noticed that his English has improved and so has my Chinese. Yay!

Cabs can be pretty affordable for Westerners

Depending on what city you live in a taxi can be very affordable compared to back home. Depending on your city, taxis can start off as low as 5 RMB which converts to approximately $1 Canadian. In my city the taxis start off at 8 RMB which to me was a steal.

My most recent taxi ride from the downtown core to my apartment was a 30 minute cab ride and it only cost me a mere 35 RMB! That’s less than $10 Canadian. At home a 30 minute cab ride would easily cost me over $50. #winning

You can haggle

If you don’t want to pay by the meter you can sometimes agree on a flat rate with the driver.  Most of the time they will agree but there is the rare occasion where they will insist you pay by the meter. Haggling is good when you feel like you might be very far from your destination and it may be cheaper to pay a flat rate rather than pay by the meter. I would suggest to only take that chance with a licensed taxi driver because if he tries to make any rash decisions like change the price on you, you can always take down their information and file a complaint.

Carpooling is normal

There have been many occasions where I have been in a taxi and the driver will stop to pick up another passenger while we were on the way to my destination. At first it was extremely weird to me because back home if a car is occupied they won’t even glance at you. I quickly changed my mind when I was in a hurry to get somewhere and two seconds later a taxi that already had another passenger inside pulled over and asked me where I was going and quickly motioned me to get inside.

I’ve also seen taxi driver’s reject passengers because their locations were not close to or in the direction we were going.


Very few drivers speak English

If you have very limited knowledge of the Chinese language sometimes taking a taxi to where you need to go can be very challenging.  I would suggest before you jump into any taxi to have the address of your destination written out in Chinese or have a map handy to show the driver, be sure to include a close-up map of your final destination and a photo for reference. This helps to avoid any confusion and abstain from paying extra if the driver does get lost. Always have the phone number for someone at your destination if you feel uncomfortable speaking to the taxi driver.

They assume you’re rich

Many taxi drivers will assume that because you are a foreigner, especially one from America or Canada you are very well off.  With this in mind unnecessary detours can occur to try to get more money from you.

There are illegal taxi’s

Most people refer to these taxis as “Black” taxis. Some of these taxis will not have a meter and some of the meters may also be doctored. Although this occurrence is rare it happens and I know from experience. I’ve been inside a taxi where my regular fare would have been 50 RMB to my destination but that particular taxi driver’s meter ended up showing me 112 RMB, I was furious. Another tip off will be the taxi driver will try to drop you off on the street instead of the entrance of your destination to avoid being detected. Many of these illegal taxi’s may not have a taxi certificate on the dashboard of their car, a fake license plate or the incorrect number of the the taxi company printed on the receipt.

What’s a speed limit?

Most drivers simply don’t adhere to the speed limits but one thing I can say is their reflexes are astounding. Time is money for taxi driver’s so their goal is to get you to your destination as soon as possible so they can get another passenger. You may get into a taxi and start praying because you think your life may end but their abrupt stops, swerves in and out of traffic will surprise you. The lines marking the lanes might as well not exist. With that being said, make sure you buckle up… if there is a seat belt available.


If you have any great taxi stories or tips please share them in the comment section below! Stay Restless my friends!

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