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One of the most cosmopolitan and prosperous cities in China, Guangzhou has had to adapt its transport networks to its population’s constant expansion. As a result, the public transport system is comprehensive, and expats should find getting around in Guangzhou to be easy and relatively trouble free.
Public transport in Guangzhou
Guangzhou has an established public transport system consisting of a subway, buses and trains.
Expats planning on using public transport in Guangzhou regularly should acquire a Yang Cheng Tong Card, which is a multi-purpose transit card that allows commuters to easily and conveniently transfer between different modes of transport, including buses and the subway. It is also accepted as payment at certain convenience stores.
While the cost of living in Guangzhou is relatively high, expats interested in discounts will be happy with those offered on public transit with the Yang Cheng Tong card. Discounts are available depending on the number of trips taken as well as for students and senior citizens. People with major disabilities and seniors aged 65 years and older can travel for free.
Catching the bus is the cheapest method of getting around in Guangzhou. Passengers can pay with a transit card or with the exact fare, although expats would need to know where they are going as few drivers can speak English, and signs at bus stops are usually in Chinese.
The Guangzhou Bus Rapid Transit (GBRT) system follows routes along isolated lanes as well as normal roads. The GBRT network is often faster than normal buses and is useful for getting to inner-city areas and suburbs not serviced by the subway.
Guangzhou has a comprehensive subway system which connects the city centre to the outer suburbs as well as the nearby city Foshan, typically from 6am to midnight. The airport is also connected to the city via the Guangzhou Metro.
Though it is said to be the third busiest metro in the world, following Beijing and Shanghai, riders find the metro to be efficient, and English-speaking expats can rest assured that English translations of signs and maps are displayed.
The easiest and cheapest way to ride the subway is to purchase a Yang Cheng Tong Card at a metro station, although it is also possible to buy individual tickets from kiosks or vending machines at the stations.
Train travel in Guangzhou is primarily used for travelling long distances. It is possible to catch a train from East Railway Station to Hong Kong on trains operated as part of the Hong Kong MTR. The Guangzhou Railway Station, on the other hand, offers routes to cities such as Shenzhen and Beijing.
Taxis in Guangzhou
Taxis in Guangzhou are affordable for short distances, but most drivers don’t speak English. Expats should either show the driver a business card of somewhere near the place they want to go to or have the address written out in Chinese. Given the city’s size, it is often best to go to a landmark or intersection close to the final destination. Some drivers may get lost outside the areas they are familiar with.
Taxis are metered, and passengers should make sure they get a receipt for the trip in case there are any discrepancies; most drivers prefer cash. Taxis are colour coordinated, and the newer yellow ones are considered most reliable. Ride-hailing apps such as DiDi are also recommended in Guangzhou.
Driving in Guangzhou
Driving in Guangzhou is not quite free-for-all chaos but expats who want to drive in the city should consider it carefully. The congested traffic of China’s heavily populated cities is daunting and potentially dangerous for the uninitiated.
It is also difficult for foreigners to legally drive in the country. Their home driving licence or International Driver’s Permit (IDP) won’t be recognised in China, which means they will have to get a Chinese licence before they can drive. Road signs in Guangzhou are rarely translated to English, making it even more challenging for foreigners to get around the city.
The good public transport in Guangzhou means that owning a car is often unnecessary. However, it is possible to rent a car with a driver, a common practice in China.
Bicycles and scooters in Guangzhou
Scooters, including electric motorbikes, are a cheap and popular method of getting around Guangzhou and are even available in some supermarkets. They can, however, be dangerous in Guangzhou’s chaotic traffic and are banned from the city centre along with motorcycles.
Unfortunately, cycling infrastructure in the city is lacking and the number of cyclists has dropped over the years. Bicycles are often unsuitable for longer distances since they are not allowed on major roads, and cannot be ridden in the tunnels beneath the river or on bridges. E-bikes have also been banned from certain downtown areas in Guangzhou.
Boats in Guangzhou
The Pearl River, also known as Zhujiang River, flows through the city and offers a novel way of getting around. There are a number of ports and ferry terminals in Guangzhou that expats can take and travel to Hong Kong, including Nansha Passenger Port and Lianhuashan Passenger Terminal.
Expats who have newly arrived in Guangzhou can also find various options for boat rides and night cruises, among the recommended sightseeing activities, to get to know the city.