Using a Taxi in China

I’ve thought it might be fun to be carried in a Sedan chairs like in the history books. You may be disappointed to hear that taxis in China are just normal cars like you might find anywhere else in the world. However there is a difference. Using a taxi in China is not as simple as it might seem. As a tourist you may well be ignored if you try to flag down a taxi. Most taxi drivers only speak Chinese and don’t want to stop and pick up foreign passengers who can’t say where they want to go. If a guide or hotel staff flag down a taxi they will tell you to keep out of sight. It might sound like a joke, but it is true. Read on to find out the best way to use taxis in China.

Get your destination written in Chinese

You won’t get very far if you don’t have your destination written down in Chinese. if we want place details in the UK the first place we would probably look is in google maps. We are very used to using google maps. If you are in the UK and use google maps to search for places in China you will see that most place names are written in both English and Chinese. Don’t feel like it will solve your problems though, google is banned in China.

All things Apple do work in China. Life is much easier with an iPhone where you can use Apple maps. If you use google on an Android phone I’ve no idea how you get on in China. Google’s tentacles are everywhere on our android phones. If you can’t search or download apps from the Google play store then I’m sure you have more problems with your tech than calling a taxi.  This post is aimed at iPhone users.

Apple and Baidu maps are your friends

Apple maps works fine using English place names.  If you search for a place using the English name, it will find the place but it won’t give the name in Chinese. Fortunately all is not lost, a map app called Baidu maps can help. It works like google maps but is totally in Chinese. I found a combination of Apple maps and Baidu maps did allow me to find place names in Chinese. I would search for a place on Apple maps using the English place name. Then when I knew the location I could look it up the Chinese name from the position. Once I had the place name I could show it to the taxi drivers. You will then have something to show the driver, if you do manage to stop a taxi.

If you search for Baidu maps on the UK App Store this is what you find.

view of Baidu maps in App StoreDownload it and when you open it you will see how much it is like Google maps. A screenshot is shown below

Some places show up if you enter the English place name but generally you are very limited what you can do. Life is very difficult when you can’t even type a place name. You do get to understand the saying ‘It’s all Chinese to me’.

Didi is your Uber

The best way to get a taxi is to use the Chinese equivalent of Uber called Didi. I hope it will help you to know how to find and install it on your iPhone. It took me quite a while to find the English version of the Didi app. This was not helped by the amount of outdated information on the web. It is a fast moving area.

The app you need is called ‘Didi – greater China’. Unfortunately you cannot find the app in the UK App Store. The app can be found in the Chinese App Store, it is also in the US App Store. If you can’t find the app in your App Store I suggest you change your account location to China then you can access the Chinese App Store. Note that this is a work around the ideal solution is for the app producer to load the app into all the app stores.

How to find and install Didi

The following screen shots will help you get Didi installed on your iPhone. You have probably never changed your account country on your iPhone. So the following screenshots will guide you through this,

First open the App Store and click on your  account icon circled below

front page of App Store

Next click on your Apple ID through to your account details.

first account page in App Store

On the account details page select the country/region option

second page of account details

Then confirm that you want to change the country

selection to change country for App Store

You can now select China(Mainland)

country selection for App Store

Next check the terms and conditions and if you are happy select agree

App Store terms and conditions in Chinese

You are then taken to the account payment details page. 

page to set up payment details

Select None for the account payment method.

You then need to enter a billing name and address for the account with no payment method ! You might want to use your temporary address in China.

You have now changed your account so you can access the Chinese App Store. 

Now you can search for Didi Greater China and install it on your iPhone.

didi greater china in the App Store

Now that you have Didi installed you can launch it and it will guide you through the set up. If you need more help with this you can find guidance here Didi help

Once you have the app installed you will be greeted by a screen which is very familiar to users of Uber. Use the app and you will have no more problems with finding a taxi or telling the driver where you want to go.

If you want to download other apps from the Chinese App Store this is the time to do it while you have access. Otherwise it is time to go through the process again and switch back to your original App Store. At this point you will probably curse the developers for not putting the app in all app stores. Even if you switch to another store you will find that the most popular Chinese language apps are actually in many app stores where the language is not Chinese. Didi is unusual having such limited availability.