Qu nar? – Where are you going?
To communicate with the driver, you need to be able to properly pronounce your destination (that is the Chinese name of it, not the English name) or have it written down in characters.
Tip: Everything Western has a Chinese name and is known to most Chinese only by the Chinese name. This holds true for everything that has a Western name including hotels, stores, sights, even actors (although for people it is usually phonetically very similar).
So make sure you know the Chinese name and its proper pronunciation including the right tones or have it written down in characters. Don’t expect a taxi driver or most Chinese on the street to know what you mean when you ask for the Forbidden City or the Holiday Inn. Luckily, a good phone app like TrainChinese can help.
Not every cab driver knows every area of Beijing well (remember, it’s huge!) so they may request additional directions. If you don’t know or don’t speak enough Chinese, sometimes they will call a colleague, or you can call a friend who speaks Chinese and hand the phone to the driver. So once you know your way around a bit, it really pays off to learn giving basic direction instructions in Chinese.
Official Beijing taxis
Beijing taxis sport a sign on the roof and the characteristic yellow band from bumper to bumper with the rest being blue (picture), green, or brown. The little red illuminated sign near the rear-view mirror indicates they are available for hire.
The majority of Beijing taxis are Hyundai Elantra sedans, to give you a sense for the size of the car. The trunks are rather small and sometimes half full with the cab drivers stuff.
Most drivers are mellow but by no means slow. In typical Chinese fashion they don’t get upset easily but they also like to get to your destination and to the next paying passenger quickly.
If you want to use a seat belt, which seems not required, you should sit in the front. In the backseat the very common seat covers usually obstruct the seat belts.
Finding a taxi in Beijing is not always easy. Especially on rainy days taxis are really hard to come by. To flag one down, simply stand at the side of the street or a corner, where they can pull over, and wave.
Taxis in Beijing are cheap
The base fare for the first 3 km is 13 RMB, and to 2.3 RMB for every km after that. Keep in mind that traffic gridlock can raise the fare, as every five minutes of waiting will be charged equivalent to 2 km.
From and to the airport, it will cost 100 RMB and more, depending on where in the city you go. The expressway toll is added to the bill and is paid by the customer.
Usually Beijing taxi drivers follow the law to charge by the meter. However, in some busy locations, e.g. at the side exit of the summer palace, where passengers may not have many choices, some drivers try to “negotiate” a price that is certainly higher than the metered fare. Taxis do not accept credit cards but you can pay with WeChat.
Alternatives to Beijing taxis
Uber used to be very popular with foreigners. Unfortunately, it is not available anymore after the local Chinese ride-hailing app Didi Dache acquired Uber China in 2016. Unlike Uber, the Didi app does not have an English interface. Furthermore, you need a Chinese bank card to use the app.
You can order Didi and pay through WeChat.
Beware of black cabs
In addition to the official taxis with the yellow stripe, there are many unlicensed “black taxis”. These are basically private cars where the owners try to make some extra money. Usually they are more expensive and require haggling for the price before you get in. They are not insured (although I’m not sure what difference that makes) and you won’t get a receipt, so tracking down any items forgotten in the car will be close to impossible.