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Getting around in China for English speaker

edited November 2017 in - China

I'm travelling to China (Shanghai & Hangzhou) for the first time and was wondering how difficult it is to get around without knowing any Mandarin. How much English is generally spoken? Any advice would be great.


  • Hi Jamie,

    As Shanghai and Hangzhou are quite popular travel destinations and are both quite cosmopolitan, there is more English spoken than is common in the rest of China. In most tourist areas there is English signage as well as restaurants and attractions where English is spoken.

    Getting around in Shanghai and Hangzhou is quite straightforward as there are English options at ticket stations in the subway and announcements in English. There are also English speaking ticket salespeople at the train stations in Shanghai and Hangzhou. If you are catching a taxi, it can be slightly more tricky as most taxi drivers don't speak much English. If you can show your destination written in Mandarin (ask someone at your hotel), say the exact address in Mandarin or show a pin of your destination on a Chinese map (Baidu Maps application) on your cell phone, you should be fine.

    In terms of communicating in local restaurants and shops outside of the major tourist areas, there isn't much English spoken and a lot of gesturing will get you a long way. If you don't have a chance to learn some basic Mandarin before you get to China, downloading a translation app will be very helpful when it comes to ordering food and getting around in general. Pleco is a reliable app for this.

    Hope this helps!

    Anyone else have any other suggestions?
  • Hi @AmberC and @Jamie_L do either of you know what the internet situation is in China? If many websites are banned is it still possible to access English websites?
  • Hi Sam,

    Some English websites and apps are banned in China, you won't have access to Google, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, the New York Times and a couple others. If you download a VPN it will be quite easy to access these sites, recently the Chinese government has been cracking down on VPN use but most foreigners haven't been affected by this.
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