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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, consisting of a subway, buses, trains and ferries. Expats should find getting around in Guangzhou to be easy and relatively trouble free.
Public transport in Guangzhou
Expats planning on using public transport in Guangzhou regularly should acquire a Yang Cheng Tong smartcard. This multipurpose transit card allows commuters to easily and conveniently transfer between different modes of transport, including the metro, buses and ferries. It's also the cheapest way to travel on public transport, with reduced fares applying to certain groups.
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. It typically runs from 6am to midnight. The airport is also connected to the city via the Guangzhou Metro.
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.
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, as these are often cheaper and eliminate language-barrier problems.
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. Foreign and international driver's licences aren't recognised in China, so expats will have to get a Chinese licence before they can drive. In most cases, this involves practical and theoretical testing, though some countries are exempt.
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 in Guangzhou
Cycling infrastructure in Guangzhou has historically been poor, though conditions are improving. As is the case throughout China, bikesharing has become trendy in Guangzhou and ridership is growing as a result. In recent years, the city has expanded its greenways by more than 1,860 miles (3,000 km), giving cyclists and walkers much more space to roam.
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.