Suffering from diabetes? There’s a support group for that. Need breastfeeding advice? There’s a group for that too. Looking to adopt a child? Several organizations can help. But when it comes to break-ins, traffic accidents, and other emergencies, most expats have no idea what to do. Part of this ignorance stems from an unwillingness to believe that these things can actually happen to you. And yet, it’s especially important for families to be informed, since kids are involved. To make sure you’re not caught unaware, we put together a primer on dealing with difficult situations in Beijing.
Of all the things that can happen while living abroad, break-ins are some of the most personal. The idea of someone gaining access to your home, rifling through your belongings, and making off with prized – or even priceless – possessions can be an emotional shock and may make it difficult to feel safe again. Safeguarding one’s home should be a priority for every family, but those living in a hutong may be particularly vulnerable to burglary.
However, there are measures you can take to minimize the risk of a break-in:
Don’t show off. If you have a bicycle, take it up to your apartment, or lock it up in your courtyard or local bike parking. Avoid leaving boxes for TVs, computers, and other expensive items outside your door.
Create doubt. Most break-ins occur during the day when people are at work. Leave a light on (after switching to energy-saving lightbulbs, of course) or put up a sign that says, “This house is under surveillance.” Even if it isn’t true, this tactic has been shown to discourage thieves.
Block access to sliding doors and windows. Some older glass sliding doors can be popped off the frame even when locked. This can be prevented by simply inserting a steel bar into the track to block the door from sliding open. Similarly, a pin or nail can be installed on a window to prevent it from rising more than a few inches.
Don’t leave a spare key lying around. Someone may see you take it out of hiding. Instead, entrust a friend or neighbor with a copy. And whatever you do, do not leave any identifying marks on the keychain. Many landlords and housing agents attach an address to the keychain to keep everything organized, but you should remove it once they keys are in your possession.
Vacation-proof your home. Don’t leave obvious signs that you’ve gone on holiday: piles of mail at the door, an overgrown lawn, an answering machine message that says you’re out of town, etc. Ask a neighbor to keep an eye on your home while you’re gone.
Consider buying home insurance. Also known as hazard insurance or homeowners insurance, home insurance typically covers the house, any related structures (such as a shed or garage), and the contents of the house. If you’re renting and the landlord already has insurance, you’ll still need home insurance to protect your personal belongings and liability to your landlord. That means that if you accidentally damage the rented property, the tenant policy can help cover costs. For items worth over RMB 3,000, you should photograph your valuables, take down their serial numbers and brand/model, and keep the fapiao in case of a claim. If you have paintings, you should get them evaluated by a professional.
Unfortunately, break-ins sometimes still happen despite one’s best efforts. Here’s how to handle the aftermath:
The first thing to do is call the police, who will take your statement and survey the damage done to your house. Ask a Chinese-speaking friend for help if your language skills are limited.
Contact your insurance company to find out if the stolen goods are covered by your home insurance plan. You’ll be asked for photos or documentation when submitting your claim.
Invest in home security. Chances are, the break-in will have caused at least some minor damage to your property. Take this opportunity to install burglar-proofing measures to prevent thefts from happening
Don’t discount the psychological effects of a break-in, especially on younger children. Kids past the age of 8-10 are old enough to understand what happened, but younger kids may experience fear or anxiety. It’s normal if they want to sleep with Mom and Dad, keep the night light on, or regress to bedwetting. Comfort them, be mindful of their needs, and be upfront with them if they have any questions about the robbery.
Many expats report feeling safer in Beijing than in their home country, but you should never lose sight of your surroundings. Last June, the US Embassy issued a press release about one of its employees being physically assaulted at Elements night club on the west side of Worker’s Stadium. A month earlier, a City Weekend editor and a couple walking her home were beaten by two Chinese men near Sanlitun Village.
The danger isn’t limited to shady night clubs in the wee hours of the morning. In November and December 2011, several parents reported child kidnapping attempts in Shunyi on forums like Beijing Mamas. On December 9 of that year, Dulwich College Beijing issued a letter to parents warning of a man who approached a Year 9 student after school and claimed that the student’s parents sent him to pick the boy up. Teach your child to recognize “stranger danger” with the following tips from ChildFind Canada:
Young children should:
Never say they’re alone when they answer the phone. They should offer to take a message or tell the caller their parents will phone back.
Never answer the door if they’re alone. Similarly, they shouldn’t invite anyone into the house without permission from a parent or guardian.
Never go into someone else’s house without letting anyone know where they are.
Never get into a stranger’s car and move away from any unknown car that pulls up beside them.
Never take candy from a stranger without checking with a parent first.
Never play in deserted buildings or isolated places.
Scream and make a commotion if forced towards a car or building.
Know their full phone number and address.
Not be afraid to say “no” to an adult if the person wants them to do something that you’ve taught them is wrong.
Tell you if someone has asked them to keep a secret.
Go to the nearest cashier if lost or separated from a parent in a store or mall.
Tell you where they are at all times through electronic or written means.
Never hitchhike or accept a ride from someone they don’t know.
Avoid shortcuts through empty parks, fields, or alleys.
Run home or to the nearest public space and yell for help if they’re followed.
Learn to recognize suspicious behavior and remember a description of the person or vehicle for reference. Write down license plate numbers in a mobile phone or even in the dirt if nothing else is available.
If attacked for money, jewelry, or other valuables, give it up instead of putting up a fight.
Feel comfortable calling you to pick them up at any time, any place.
Avoid putting their child’s name on clothing and toys; kids are less likely to fear someone who knows their name.
Screen all potential ayis, babysitters, and drivers. Only hire people recommended by friends or family.
Never leave a child alone in a public place, stroller or car. No
Always accompany young children to the bathroom, and teach them to never play in or around the area.
Always accompany your child during door-to-door activities like trick-or-treating and fundraising.
Identify safe points and homes in your neighborhood where kids can go if they’re in trouble.
Keep an up-to-date color photo of your child, a medical and dental history, and have your child fingerprinted.
If the worst happens and your child is taken, contact the police and your embassy immediately. Your embassy can help notify law enforcement officials, point you towards legal resources, and provide general support throughout the ordeal. However, do everything you can to avoid getting to this point.
With all the things currently zipping along Beijing’s roads – bengbeng che, three-wheeled cars, pedicabs, jianbing vendors on flatbed bicycles, Hummers, fixies, and more – it’s no wonder you don’t witness a traffic accident every day. But make no mistake: A combination of poor driving habits, lax rules, crowded vehicles, and bad road conditions make China one of the world’s leading countries for traffic fatalities. Follow these steps in case of a car or bike accident:
Call the police and – if needed – an ambulance. Make note of international hospitals with 24-hour emergency rooms in case you must make your own way to a medical facility. Know your own blood type and your children’s, and always carry information on any pre-existing conditions that could affect treatment.
Document the accident. Make notes on the circumstances of the accident and, if possible, take pictures. Be prepared to provide insurance information if you’re a driver. Car insurance is required by Chinese law.
Take down the names and addresses of witnesses and other people involved in the accident. A crowd will usually gather to gawk; the trick is to get information out of them.
If you’re detained by police, say nothing until you get a lawyer. As soon as possible, get in touch with family and friends and ask them to contact your embassy for guidance. Your embassy can recommend legal resources.
In case of a minor accident, the other party may try to negotiate a payoff to avoid involving the police. On the flip side, the victim may try to claim compensation if the accident was your fault. In either case, err on the side of caution and do everything by the book. Call your embassy for help if you’re unsure of what to do.
Phone Numbers for Emergency Services in Beijing
(Note: Police, Fire and Ambulance are Chinese-only hotlines)
For foreigners 6525 5486
ChildFind Canada (CFC)
CFC is a Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to the safety of all children. Their website has lots of information on safety procedures for young children, kids, teens, parents, and camp counselors. www.childfind.ca
The Embassy of Canada to China
The Canadian Embassy has an extensive section on emergency services, including information on what to do in case of arrest, child abductions, theft, natural disasters, and transportation accidents.
This Shanghai-based insurance intermediary specializes in providing health insurance, life insurance, home insurance, car insurance, and more in mainland China for individuals and companies. Orix works with both local and international
Santa Fe Relocation Services
Santa Fe’s relocation specialists can offer advice on real estate and choosing a home insurance package.
2 Ba Jie, Beijing Capital Airport Logistics Zone, Shunyi District (6947 0688, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.santaferelo.com
United States Embassy of Beijing, China
The US Embassy has a full list of legal resources and English-speaking medical facilities in Beijing, as well as information on emergency assistance and preparedness in downloadable PDF form.
Ask an Expert
Sanny L. Sutyadi, a relocation and real estate services division manager at Santa Fe Relocation Services
What does home insurance actually cover?
Home insurance can cover both the home itself, as well as the contents found within a home. The extent of the coverage can vary. In the case of most expats, who tend to be renters, it is possible to only insure personal goods and not the property itself. Misunderstandings commonly happen with the extent of coverage and which items can be covered. Home insurance will basically only cover against natural disasters and theft in limited circumstances. Furthermore, cash and non-stationary items (such as phones and watches) may not be insurable, leaving mainly furniture and other larger items to be insured.
Do most expats in Beijing have home insurance?
From our experience, not many expats elect to have home insurance. It’s not actually common for Chinese homeowners to have home and property insurance, either. Property insurance is a relatively new concept in China, and most people do not opt to insure their home or goods.
One reason why expats do not insure their personal items is that they are not actually aware home insurance is available. In addition, expats tend to relocate without moving all their personal possessions, so it may make more sense for people to insure items that are being left behind rather than the ones you are relocating with.
Do you think it’s necessary for expats to get home insurance in Beijing?
The need for home insurance is a case-by-case basis. A family relocating to Beijing that is leaving all their furniture back home and only bringing a few personal possessions with them may have less need than a single person relocating with all their possessions.
What factors should families consider when looking at home insurance?
Home insurance in China comes with many limitations. For example, it is difficult to insure items like phones or watches, as it is difficult to prove that they were not simply lost or broken due to negligence. Jewelry, although non-stationary, can be insured but needs to be appraised first. In addition, there is no guarantee that the insurance policy will be written in English, which can create confusion in understanding what exactly is covered.
What’s the best way to guard against break-ins?
Although Beijing tends to be very safe, break-ins can happen anywhere. Invest in a safe for valuables. If you’re leaving the country for an extended period of time, tell a friend about your plans and ask them to check on things. Make sure all the locks have been changed prior to moving into a new home, and keep track of who has possession of house keys. Lights set on timers are also a good way to give the appearance that somebody is home.
What home insurance companies would Santa Fe Relocation recommend?
There are several insurance companies operating in China that can provide a whole range of insurance options and packages, like Allianz or Zurich. The best thing for families to do would be to call an insurance representative to talk about their particular needs.