Shanghai is generally safe when compared with other large urban areas around the world, and most foreigners rarely experience anything more serious than pickpocketing or a minor scam. The robust police and security presence throughout the city, particularly in wealthy and tourist areas, seems to deter most serious crimes. Petty crime, on the other hand, does occur with some regularity. The most common crimes are pickpocketing, credit card fraud and financial scams that often target foreigners. The glaring income disparity is the likely root cause of most of the economic crime experienced in Shanghai. However, compared to similar cities worldwide, the incidence is far lower. Violent crime exists in Shanghai, but it’s relatively rare and gains significant media attention. Stories of theft or home invasion often emerge in the period just prior to Chinese New Year when financial obligations are highest.
When visiting Shanghai, you should always take routine safety precautions and pay attention to your surroundings. According to the US State Department, petty theft remains the most prevalent type of crime and pickpockets target tourists at sightseeing destinations, airports, markets and shops. Make sure you guard your wallet and passport, as most incidents tend to involve items kept in back pockets, backpacks or bags/purses swung over a shoulder or set down in a vehicle, restaurant or shop. Also, beware of unregistered taxicabs. There have been complaints of these taxis taking off with luggage or charging exorbitant fares.
Narcotics-related crime and use are on the rise in China. Chinese law enforcement authorities have little tolerance for illegal drugs, and they periodically conduct widespread sweeps of bar and nightclub districts, targeting narcotics distributors and drug users. Expats from various countries have been detained in such police actions.
Police response to foreign victims of crime depends upon the type of infraction, where it happened and the social status of the victim. Police in Shanghai are generally far better equipped than those in second-tier cities or rural areas. Most responses to emergency calls are sufficiently prompt if the police are informed that the victim is a Westerner (regrettably, non-Western foreigners are not always given as much attention) or person of importance. In some cases, local police authorities will serve as a mediator between the victim and criminal to agree upon financial compensation (sometimes in lieu of jail time). If you’re the victim of a crime anywhere in China, contact the police by dialing 110 regardless of location (English language capabilities will vary significantly). Furthermore, contact your consulate, where officers can recommend appropriate medical facilities, provide contact information for local attorneys, notify family members and explain how to transfer funds to China.