5 Tips for Using the China Subway System

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You will probably use the subway on your next trip to China. Using a China subway system can be intimidating to foreigners. People who are don’t use public transportation in their everyday life are often more nervous than most to use the China subway system.

The China subway system isn’t hard to use. In fact, it is easier to use than many other subway systems in the world. The China subway system is so easy to use even for people with no experience.

There are, however, a number of things you should know to help you better navigate the China subway system.

1. Your Items will go Through an X-Ray Machine

Your personal items will have to go through an x-ray system before you enter the ticketing area of the subway station. This is a quick process that doesn’t take much time (even during rush hour).

There will be 2 or 3 people in uniform at the entry to the subway system standing beside a small x-ray machine. You will have to put your personal belongings on through the x-ray machine and pass through a metal detector. The personal items you will have to put through the machine include purses, luggage, and heavy coats.

You are allowed to bring water and food into the subway station, so you don’t have to worry about items like that being confiscated like they would be at an airport. The x-ray machines and metal detectors are looking for weapons and other harmful substances.

It can be a bit of a pain to get your items x-rayed if you are carrying all your luggage, but it isn’t too much of an inconvenience. It is an efficient system that barely slows your trip down, but you should allow for 5 or so minutes extra when you are figuring out how long your subway trip will take.

Xi'an China 5 Tips for Using the China Subway System

Pssst: Are you interested in reading more about China? Check out my 20 Things to Know Before You Visit China article for more helpful China travel tips.

2. The Ticket Machines are Easy to Use

The subway stations in China have automated ticketing machines. They are incredibly easy to use, and you can change the language to English. You simply select the station you want to go to and the number of tickets you want, insert your money, and retrieve your ticket.

The ticketing machines take cash, but they only take small denominations of bills and coins. If you only have larger bills, you will have to purchase your ticket at the ticket counter. The ticket counter employee doesn’t always speak English. You should be able to show the employee what station you want to go to by pointing at a map.

The Bund Shanghai 5 Tips for Using the China Subway System

3. Stops Announced in Chinese and English

In most major cities, the stops will be announced in both Chinese and English. This makes it very easy to know when to get off. The China subway system makes it difficult for people to get lost or get off at the wrong stop.

You don’t need to worry about getting off on the wrong stop if you’re in a smaller city that doesn’t announce the stops in English. There should be a map in the subway car that has English along with Chinese characters.

You should always have a picture of the Chinese characters for your stop on your phone just in case there isn’t a map or English announcements. It is unlikely that you will need to use it, but it is a good thing to have. I also like to count my stops, so I know exactly when to get off. If I know I want to get off in 5 stops, I know that the fifth time the subway stops and the doors open, it is time for me to get off.

Xi'an China Terracotta Army 5 Tips for Using the China Subway System

4. Know Your Exit

The China subway system in any particular city is huge and covers a lot of territory. There will be multiple exits at every stop, so you should know what exit you want to leave the station from.

The exits can cover multiple blocks so knowing what exit you need will help reduce the chances of you getting lost when you get to ground level. You will want to know what exit you want to take before you exit through the turnstile because some exits are only accessible by exiting through certain turnstiles.

There will be signs when you get off the train and into the open part of the station. You should look at the signs to determine what exit you need. You just need to look for the sight you want to visit and see what exit is closest to it.

The website of the attraction you are visiting will normally tell you what exit you want from the nearest subway station. You should look at the website before you get on the subway if you want to be confident that you are taking the proper exit.

If you are concerned about taking the wrong exit, you can always as an employee. They don’t always speak English, so you will want to have the attraction you want to visit written in Chinese characters to show them

Yu Garden Shanghai China 5 Tips for Using the China Subway System

5. Avoid Rush Hour

The China subway system is very busy during rush hour. You will want to avoid rush hour if at all possible. You will be crammed into the subway system with no room to move if you use it during the rush hour.

Rush hour in China is from 7-9am and 5-7pm. This is when the subway will be busiest. You should do your best to use the China subway system outside of these times.

It will make for a far more enjoyable experience if you don’t use the subway during rush hour. Trust me.

If you are using the subway during rush hour, be prepared to be cramped and uncomfortable. You should also try to avoid taking luggage on the subway during rush hour. There may not be enough room on the trains for your luggage during rush hour. You may be forced to wait for a number of trains before you are able to get on with your luggage.

Travel Insurance

You should always travel with travel insurance. It is a safety precaution that no traveller should leave home without. Travel insurance is particularly important when you’re going to foreign countries. You may eat something that doesn’t suit your stomach, accidentally drink water that isn’t sanitary, or fall while exploring the beautiful city you’re visiting.


The China subway system is very easy to use. You won’t have any issue trying to navigate it- especially now that you know these 5 tips!

You can feel confident using the China subway system. English is widely used in the major cities, so you won’t have to deal with a language barrier. The most challenging thing about using the subway in China is figuring out what exit to use. But even that is simple.

You can feel confident using the China subway system. It is just as easy to use as any other major transit system in the world.

5 Tips for Using the China Subway System

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