Beware of the Tea House Scam in China!

Before I go into detail about the tea house scam that is popular in China, I want to make it very clear that this post in no way suggests or encourages you not to visit China just because there is a chance of being scammed. You can be scammed in any city in any country.

China is an amazing country with a long, rich history and culture. It should be considered as a travel destination for any traveller who is looking to explore a new region and experience a unique culture.

The tea house scam is quite popular in China, but you will be able to avoid it once you know about it! Please don’t let this scam deter you from visiting China. You simply have to be diligent and aware of your surroundings!

What Exactly is the Tea House Scam?

The tea house scam is an incredibly popular scam that is most prevalent in Beijing and Shanghai.

You are approached by a young person (or two) saying they either want to practice their English or are a student who is practicing their English. You are likely to be approached by either one young man or two young women.

The people who approach you will be incredibly friendly and charismatic, which makes it difficult to say no to helping them practice their English. It seems like an innocent enough request and a great way to meet locals and learn about their experiences in China.

Once you agree to helping them with their English, they will suggest going to get tea. They take you to a cafe of their choosing and order tea and/or soda without showing you the menu or prices. The owners of the cafe are in cahoots with the people you’re with, and they inflate the prices on the bill.

Your new friends will keep ordering drinks and being friendly. When the bill comes, they will either ask you to pay or say they will pay half the bill.

The bill will be hundreds of dollars.

If you’re new to China and don’t know what things should cost or the exchange rate, you could easily pay the bill without realizing how much it actually cost.

Your new friends will get a cut of the extra money you paid. The cafe and the scammers profit off of you.

Beijing China Tea House Scam

Everything You Need to Know About the Tea House Scam

Once you know about the tea house scam, it is really easy to avoid. You can recognize the signs and be able to identify who may be trying to scam you.

Where is the Tea House Scam Most Popular?

Knowing where the tea house scam is most popular will help you be aware in certain parts of China. The two cities this scam is most popular in are, unsurprisingly, Beijing and Shanghai.

In Beijing, Wangfujing (the main shopping street) and Tiananmen Square are the two places you will most likely encounter tea house scammers.

In Shanghai, Nanjing Road (the main shopping area) is the most popular place for this scam to take place.

How Does the Tea House Scam Work?

You will normally be approached by one or more locals saying that they are learning and ask if they can practice their English with you. Sometimes people they are a student when they approach you.

A solo traveller will normally be approached by a single scammer, and a group of travellers will normally be approached by two people. In my case, I was a solo female traveller who was approached by two young women asking if they could practice their English with me.

After you agree to help them practice their English, they will take you to a cafe and start ordering tea and pop without letting you look at the menu. The drinks arrive, and you start chatting. You have a great time and enjoy speaking with the locals.

Then the bills comes, and it is outrageously expensive. Literally hundreds of dollars for a pot of tea and a pop or two.

And that is when you realize that these lovely locals aren’t your friends at all and actually scammed you.

What to do After You Realize You’ve Been Scammed

There are number of things you can do once you realize you’ve been scammed.

If you realize before you pay, you can refuse to pay. However, you will most likely be met with resistance. A credit card reader will be brought if you say you don’t have enough cash, and the entrance will be blocked by a staff member if you claim you don’t have a card.

You can try bargaining with the cafe staff. You can offer to pay for the actual cost of the tea that you have consumed rather than the inflated, scam price. This way the cafe still covers their expenses, and you don’t have to shell out hundreds of dollars for a pot of tea. I’ve heard a few people say that this has worked for them, but it isn’t a guarantee.

Beijing China Temple of Heaven

Can You go to the Police After You’ve Been Scammed?

You try to negotiate with the cafe staff, but they don’t accept your offer. You end up paying the full amount of the original, scam bill for one reason or another. What now? A lot of people think going to the police will help you get your money back.

That’s what I did, and it worked for me. But I’ve read a lot of stories on the internet saying that the police don’t help. It could be because they are aware of the scam and get a cut from the tea houses. That’s one theory that has been thrown around, but there is no way to know whether that is true or not.

It appears that the Shanghai police are more willing to help tourists than the police in Beijing, but who knows. The police in Beijing helped me get my money back (I was scammed out of $800 my first night in Beijing when I was severely jet legged and wasn’t aware of the exchange rate or how much I was paying for some tea and pop).

I guess the takeaway should be that the police will potentially help you, but it is better to not get into a situation where you need their help.

How to Tell What Locals Genuinely Want to Talk with You and What Locals are Looking to Scam You

One inevitability for (white) tourists in China is that people are going to approach you to take pictures, etc.

The truth is that most people that approach you in China are kind and don’t want to scam you.

There are some warning signs to look out for that will help you recognize the scammers:

  • People who approach you within a tourist sight that has an entrance fee normally aren’t scammers. Scammers tend to hang out in free tourist sights (as listed above).
  • Scammers will insist you go to for tea even if you suggest something else. They also make you go to a cafe they suggest because the cafe staff is a part of the scam.
  • Most Chinese locals will take a picture with you and a have a brief interaction with you then move on with their day. The scammers tend to hang around longer and are more aggressive in trying to get your attention.
  • Scammers tend to say they are from a different city, but they have a suspiciously in depth knowledge of the city you are in.
Tiananmen Square Beijing China

Of course these are only generalizations. There are locals who want to speak with you and practice their English without scamming you. There are ways you can still take precautions and ensure you aren’t being scammed.

The best way to test whether someone wants to speak with you versus scam you is to suggest your own tea house.

You suggest a different cafe you want to try. If they agree, they probably aren’t trying to scam you. A scammer will insist that you go to the cafe they suggest. There really is no better test.

Conclusion

The tea house scam is something you have to be aware of , but you shouldn’t let it stop you from visiting China. The scam is very easy to detect and avoid.

You simply have to know that the scam exists, where it is most common, and how to recognize it. It is so easy to avoid once you are knowledgable of it. It is also easy to test whether someone who approaches you is genuine or not. Meeting locals is a great travel experience, so you shouldn’t be too weary of it. Just make sure they aren’t scammers!

I recommend you share this information with anybody you know visiting China.

The more people who know about the scam, the fewer people scammers can take advantage of and the less money they make.

A Guide to the Forbidden City in Beijing, China

One of the most iconic tourist attractions in China is the Forbidden City in Beijing. It was home to the emperors of China for over 500 years and is a major part of Chinese history.

The Forbidden City is located in central Beijing and is, unsurprisingly, one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of China. It is so popular that the government of China put a cap on how many people can enter the City in a single day at 80,000.

You read that correctly. They are limiting the number of people to 80,000 people per day. You can only imagine how incredibly busy the Forbidden City was before the cap!

You should make sure to visit the Forbidden City while you’re in Beijing. It is a magnificent complex and gives you a taste of the history of China. This post will give you all the information you need to visit the palace to have an amazing day.

Forbidden City Beijing China

Where is the Forbidden City Located?

The Forbidden City is located in the heart of Beijing. You can see the Forbidden City from Tiananmen Square, and it is a 10 minute walk from Behai Park.

You can easily walk to the Forbidden City from any centrally-located hotel. The walk should be less than 30 minutes, and you will find signs pointing you in the right direction as you walk. It is pretty difficult to get lost while walking as long as you have a general idea of what direction you should be going.

Public Transportation

You can easily use public transportation to get to the Forbidden City. You are able to get there either by bus or by using the subway.

I would recommend using the subway. You are guaranteed to get to the palace on time because you don’t have to worry about a traffic jam like a bus on the street. The subway is also easier to use, can be less crowded, and is definitely less hot than the bus in the summer.

Bus

If you choose to take the bus, the following lines stop at the Forbidden City:

  • 1
  • 2
  • 4
  • 10
  • 20
  • 22
  • 37
  • 52
  • 59
  • 120
  • 126
  • 728
  • 802
  • TE 1

You will want to get off at either Tianan men dong or Tianan men xi. You should listen for those stops or write down the Chinese characters for them, so you can know when you need to get off at based on the screen at the front of the bus.

Subway

If you are taking the subway, there are multiple stops you can get off at:

  • Metro Line 1: Tiananmen West or Tiananmen East
  • Metro Line 2: Qianmen Station

You will have a short walk to the entrance of the Forbidden City no matter what station you get off at. You should read the signs when you exit the station to make sure you are taking the right exit and then follow the street signs to the Forbidden City.

It will be easy to find the entrance to the palace. It is very well marked, and there will be huge crowds.

Forbidden City Beijing China

Hour of Operation

The palace has different hours of operation depending on what time of year you are visiting.

April 1st to October 31st

The Forbidden City is open from 8:30am to 5pm. The last ticket is sold at 4pm, and the last entry is at 4:10pm.

November 1st to March 31st

You are able to visit the palace from 8:30am to 4:30pm. The last ticket is sold at 3:30pm, and the last entrance is at 3:40pm.

The Forbidden City is closed on Mondays except for Chinese national holidays that fall on a Monday.

How to Buy Forbidden City Tickets

There are multiple ways for you to purchase tickets to visit the Forbidden City.

Tickets are 40 yuan if you visit from November 1st to March 31st and 60 yuan if you visit from April 1st to October 31st. It costs approximately $6 USD and $9 USD, respectively.

There are two separate exhibits that you can pay an additional price to visit. They are the Treasure Gallery and the Clock and Watch Gallery. The price to enter these exhibits are 10 yuan, or approximately $1.50 USD, each. I have never paid to visit these areas, so I cannot comment on whether the extra price is worth it.

Forbidden City Beijing China

Online

You are able to pre-buy tickets online. The website is only in Chinese, and it does not have the option to translate to English. You are able to translate the webpage if you’re using Google Chrome, but there are still a few glitches that happen when you try to check out because the translation is not perfect.

You will be required to input your passport number if you purchase tickets online. The website will allow you to select a date and time to visit as well as the number of people in your group. You will receive a confirmation email, and you will have to pick up your physical tickets at the ticket gate . You will be asked to show your passport when you pick up your tickets, so you will need to make sure to bring it with you.

At the Forbidden City Ticket Gate

The easiest way to purchase tickets is directly at the ticket gate the day you want to visit the palace. You are able to purchase tickets the day of your visit the majority of the time. The only time it may be an issue is during the busiest times of year like Chinese national holidays or at the hight of tourist season.

The number of visitors allowed into the Forbidden City is capped, so you should get to the palace close to opening time to ensure you get a ticket if you are purchasing it at the gate the day of your visit.

You will be asked for your passport when purchasing your ticket so be sure to have it on you!

The line to purchase tickets will look long no matter what time of day you are visiting the palace, but they move quickly.

Forbidden City Beijing China

Tour Guide

You are able to hire a tour guide to take you through the Forbidden City and give you an in-depth history lesson on its importance and significance. This is a great option for people who are looking to learn a lot about the Forbidden City and have money to spare.

There are a lot of guide scams, so you need to make sure you are hiring a legitimate professional. You should not hire any of the people standing outside the palace claiming to be tour guides. These people are normally scammers and not legitimate tour guides.

There are a lot of reputable tour guides in Beijing, but you should do your research and hire them before you get to the palace. Tour guides normally charge between $50 USD and $90 USD, and they often take you to more than one tourist attraction in the area.

Only Purchase Official Forbidden City Tickets

There are a lot of tickets scammers around the Forbidden City, so you should only ever purchase tickets from the Forbidden City ticket booth or receive tickets from your legitimate tour guide.

Ticket scammers often strike up a conversation with you as you are walking to the entrance of the Forbidden City and tell you they can take you to an entrance that is less busy. They will lead you to a less busy area and then tell you the ticket booth is closed. They will then offer to sell you a ticket for an extremely high price (normally $100 USD or more).

This can be an extremely stressful experience for travellers, but it can easily be avoided. I’ve had people like this approached me multiple times. I always feel rude brushing them off and telling them I’m not interested, but they are scammers, so I put my Canadian politeness away.

Oops. You Went to the Wrong Gate. Now What?

There are two gates to the Forbidden City. The South gate is the entrance to the palace and the North gate is the exit. You must enter through the South gate and leave through the North gate.

If you end up at the North gate rather than the South gate, you will have to walk all the way to the South gate. You can walk either east or west to get to the South gate. There will be signs to show you how to get there.

You can also walk through Tiananmen Square and under the famous Mao gate to reach the Forbidden City. This path takes longer because you have to go through a bag check, but if you have time to spare, it is a great option. You get to get up close to a famous landmark.

The walk will take 10-25 minutes depending what route you take. It is inconvenient but a necessity if you want to visit the palace.

You should not take a rickshaw from the North gate to the South gate. Oftentimes rickshaw drivers will take you on a long journey (and often in the wrong direction) and then charge you a huge fare for not taking you to where you want to be. They know you are a tourist looking for the entrance and take advantage of you.

It is best and safest to walk even if you’re feet are exhausted and mad at you.

Forbidden City Beijing China

How Long Do You Need at the Forbidden City?

It can be difficult to determine how long you need to fully tour the Forbidden City. There is a lot to see, so you could easily spend 4 or 5 hours touring the palace. But there are also a lot of crowds and other things to see in the area.

You have to decide if you want to spend multiple hours in a very crowded area exploring the Forbidden City, or if you want to spend less time there and just see the highlights.

I would suggest budgeting a minimum of 2 hours for your visit to the Forbidden City. This will give you time to see the most important buildings and some of the smaller pavilions without getting too overwhelmed by the crowds (and heat if you’re visiting in the spring or summer).

How to Beat the Crowds

You will never be able to avoid the crowds. There are thousands of people touring the Forbidden City at any given time no matter what time of day or year you’re there.

The best way to limit how many crowds you are dealing with is to get to the Forbidden City when it opens in the morning. This is when the fewest number of people will be there. It gets more and more crowded as the day goes on.

At opening time, the main buildings will be crowded, but the secondary pavilions will be less busy, so you will be able to admire them without bumping into fellow tourists. This makes for a more enjoyable experience, and it is worth getting to the Forbidden City earlier in the morning.

Forbidden City Beijing China

Other Sights in the Same Area as the Forbidden City

There are a lot of other tourist sights to see that are walking distance from the Forbidden City. The three most popular are:

  • Tiananmen Square
  • The National Museum of China
  • Behai Park

Tiananmen Square and the National Museum of China are free to visit, and Behai Park has a small entrance fee. You should try to visit all 3 sights when you’re in Beijing because they are all incredible and are important to China’s history.

My personal favourite of the 3 is Behai Park. It may be my favourite tourist sight in all of Beijing.

Behai Park Beijing China

Conclusion

You can easily spend an entire day touring the Forbidden City and the surrounding tourist attractions. The Forbidden City is an incredible piece of Chinese history, and you should be sure to visit in while in Beijing.

There are a lot of scams that you can fall victim to around the Forbidden City, but if you are a smart traveller, you can easily avoid them. You should be sure to purchase your tickets at the palace ticket booth or online before you visit and avoid rickshaw drivers and street vendors surrounding the Forbidden Palace.

The Forbidden City is huge and covers 72 hectares, so there is a lot for you to see! You will be walking a lot so be sure to wear conformable shoes and dress for the weather.

To get the most out of your visit, you should allow for at least 2 hours to wander through the various buildings and read the information cards that tell you about the history. You can also get an audioguide if you’re interested in learning even more about the palace.

No trip to Beijing is complete without seeing the Forbidden City. It will be crowded, but it will be worth it to see such a significant part of Chinese history!