How To Travel In China Without Speaking Chinese

Basics of Traveling in China

Travelling to China can be a rewarding and exciting experience for anyone, regardless of their language abilities. Even if you don’t speak a word of Chinese, it is still possible to get around and enjoy yourself without any difficulties. This guide will give you a few hints and tips on how to travel in China without speaking the language.

The first thing to consider is that the most common language in China is Mandarin Chinese. However, there are also many local dialects spoken in various parts of the country, so it may be useful to learn some basic words and phrases of the local language in advance. You may also benefit from learning common signs and symbols, such as directions or the words “foreigner” or “tourist”, if you’re visiting more rural areas.

It is also important to note that many of the people in China who are willing to help a foreigner are likely to do so in English. As such, it is always helpful to have a phrasebook, dictionary or phrase app with you to help you communicate with locals. There is also a growing number of Chinese street signs and shop signs that are in English, making life a lot easier for those who don’t speak Chinese.

Another helpful tip is to familiarise yourself with the public transportation system before traveling. For example, many cities in China have underground trains or subway systems, which are easy to use. Having a good understanding of these before venturing out will make trips around the city a lot easier. Additionally, larger cities may have app-based services like Uber or DiDi, which are especially helpful in navigating your way around a foreign city.

Finally, it is worth noting that it is increasingly common for people in China to use digital payment methods, such as WeChat Pay or Alipay. And since most of the payment processing can be done in English, this makes it much easier for those who don’t speak Chinese to carry out transactions. So, if you’re travelling in China, it’s worth investing in a device which supports these payment methods to make life easier.


Traveling in China without speaking Chinese can be made a lot easier simply by choosing the right accommodation option. One of the most common and convenient options is to stay in an international hotel chain such as the Marriott, Holiday Inn or Sheraton, as these usually offer staff who speak English and who can provide assistance to foreign visitors.

Another option is to rent an Airbnb, as most of these are operated in English and it is possible to find hosts who are willing to provide assistance in English. Additionally, apartments in China can often be rented for long-term stays, allowing you to settle in for a more extended period of time.

When booking a hotel in China, it is also worth bearing in mind that many of them offer English-speaking services such as laundry or dry-cleaning. This can be very helpful for those who do not speak Chinese, as these services are often much cheaper than those in hotels.

Finally, if you’re looking for a place to stay for a short period of time, hostels are also common in many Chinese cities. Hostels are generally quite cheap and often have English-speaking staff, making them a great option for those who don’t speak Chinese.


If you’re traveling in China without speaking Chinese, there are several options available for finding food. One of the easiest and most convenient is to visit a fast-food chain. Many popular international chains, such as McDonald’s and KFC, are present in China and offer English menus with pictures, which can make ordering easier.

Another option is to try a local restaurant or street food stall. Many of these will have English menus or at least pictures of their dishes, which can make it a lot easier to choose what you want. Additionally, many of these places will also offer vegetarian, vegan, halal or gluten-free options, making them more accessible to those with dietary requirements.

When it comes to ordering food, it is also useful to remember the common phrase “wǒ bù shuō Zhōngwén” which translates to “I don’t speak Chinese”. This is one of the most important phrases a traveler can learn, as it will help to communicate with the staff and make ordering food much easier.

Finally, when dining in China, make sure to mind your manners and follow local customs. As in many other parts of the world, table manners vary from culture to culture and it’s always important to be aware of the local etiquette when eating in public.


If you need to get from one place to another and you don’t want to use public transport, taking a taxi is a good option. You can flag down a taxi from the street, or book one in advance either by phone or via apps such as Didi or Uber. It is worth noting that taxi drivers in China usually do not speak English, so it is useful to get a local friend to write the address down in Chinese characters for you so that the driver can understand where to go.

Another useful tip is to always make sure to ask for a receipt when taking a taxi. This is a good way to double-check the fare and keep a record of where you’ve been. This can be especially helpful if you don’t speak Chinese, as a receipt will usually be written in Chinese characters, making it hard to decipher.

Finally, when travelling to and from the airport, it can be useful to take the airport taxi. These are often slightly more expensive than regular ones, but the drivers usually speak better English and can be more helpful if you don’t speak Chinese.

Navigating Around in China

Navigating around China can be difficult, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the language. One of the simplest and most convenient ways of getting around is to use a GPS navigation app such as Google Maps or Baidu Maps. Both of these offer maps in English and can provide clear, detailed instructions when driving. Additionally, most modern cars in China come with GPS navigation systems which can make driving around much easier.

Another useful tip is to make sure to carry a map with you. You can buy these from most bookstores or convenience stores, although it is worth noting that these are usually printed in Chinese. Having a map with you, even if you don’t understand it, can be helpful in getting around and finding places.

Finally, if you’re travelling in the more rural areas of China, it could be useful to get a local person to show you the way. Many locals in China are very friendly and are willing to help foreigners, especially if they know that they are lost and trying to find their way around.

Being Respectful

Finally, when traveling to China, it is important to remember to be respectful of the local customs and culture. Even if you don’t speak Chinese, you should still make an effort to learn about the local rules and regulations and behave accordingly. Additionally, it is always beneficial to be polite and culturally aware when interacting with locals, as this will make your visit to China much more enjoyable.

It is also important to be aware of your body language and to dress appropriately. Although it is not as strict as it used to be, it is still important to dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites. Additionally, it is best to avoid talking too loudly in public, as this is often seen as impolite.

Finally, when taking photographs, be sure to ask for permission first and be respectful of the locals. As with any other country, it is important to not act inappropriately when taking photos, as this could cause possible offence or discomfort.

Final Note

Travelling to a new country can be a very rewarding experience, and China is no exception. Even if you don’t speak Chinese, it is still possible to travel around, explore and meet new people. All it takes is a little preparation and the willingness to get out and experience the country for yourself.

So, with these tips in mind, you should be well prepared to start your journey and make the most of your trip to China.

Bernice Sorrells

Bernice A. Sorrells is a freelance journalist and travel writer from the United States. She has written extensively about China, covering topics such as culture, history, politics, and economics. Bernice has traveled extensively throughout China, visiting many of its provinces and cities.

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