Beijing, China was the destination for my first international trip as a wheelchair user, all the way back in April 2014. Since then, I visited China’s capital city numerous times (primarily to enjoy Peking duck), and each trip has exposed me to new experiences.

Wheelchair accessibility in Beijing is very poor. As a result, this page is not a true wheelchair travel guide, but a collection of notes from my trips to Beijing. The city’s accessibility landscape has been different each time I have visited, so I warn you not to treat ANY information source you find as definitive, including this one. While a few things have remained constant, I can’t speak with any certainty about what you will find in Beijing on any given trip. I do believe that things are improving, but many senseless barriers remain.

Public Transportation

Beijing’s subway system is the busiest in the world, with more than 3 billion trips taken each year. The network consists of 18 lines and 344 stations. A large city bus network also exists in the city.

PHOTO DESCRIPTION: The barrier-free entrance to the Beijing Airport Express Train at the airport. Train doors are open and the minimal gap between train and platform is shown.

On each of my trips to Beijing, I have used public transportation for most of my travel around the city, and used it exclusively on my most recent trip in 2018. I use a very heavy power wheelchair (more than 400 lbs./200 kg), plus my body weight. Using public transportation is do-able, but it will be full of headaches.

Airport Express Train

This train originates at Beijing-Capital International Airport (PEK), with stations at terminals 2 and 3. There is barrier-free access to the trains, and plenty of space for wheelchairs onboard. The train stops at two stations inside the city: Sanyuanqiao (with a barrier-free connection to line 10), and Dongzhimen (with connections to lines 2 and 13). The are elevators to the street from the Airport Express platform at both of these stations. A one-way fare is 25 RMB.

Beijing Subway

Access to the Beijing Subway varies, by both station and line. Until 2002, there were only two lines in this subway system, numbers 1 and 2. While you might assume that accessibility would be excellent on all of the new, modern subway lines, that is not always the case. While the newer lines do offer barrier free access at some stations, there is no definitive list of which stations these are. Connections to older lines are necessary to get to some of the top attractions, and the connections may require the use of stairs.

In the video above, you see a stair climber than can transport a wheelchair. At this particular station, the staff would not allow me to ride with my wheelchair, so they helped me to transfer into a chair, then took me up separately. Elsewhere, I was able to ride in my wheelchair on this stair climbing device. In all of my experience, there has always been at least one staff member in the station who speaks English. Station staff are located on all levels, and supervise passengers as they board/alight the train, so finding help should not be an issue.

PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Two images of a wheelchair lift that is attached to the railings of a stairway.

The photo above shows another type of stair lift, which is affixed directly to the hand railings of the staircase. A platform folds down, and you can roll your wheelchair directly onto the platform.

On my very first trip to Beijing, I used one of these devices and it broke down (with me on it!) halfway up the staircase. The staff were thankfully able to fix it after about 30 minutes, but I was told by the staff that it had probably not been used since the 2008 Olympic Games. This was in 2014! What I will say is that the staff in the subway stations are incredibly helpful and very kind. Even in the face of broken down equipment, they have never given up. On my most recent trip, one of these lifts was broken, and the staff carried me down the stairs, then carried my wheelchair down behind me. That was not an easy feat, and I was grateful to the people for making the station accessible to me. They were my heroes that day!

You’ll find elevators more frequently on the newest lines. But if you plan to use public transportation (which may be a necessity for power wheelchair users), you’ll have to deal with these lifts at some point. Be patient. The crumbling infrastructure is not the fault of station personnel, but a government that has failed to invest in equal access for all. Treat the staff with respect, and they’ll move mountains (or carry your wheelchair) to make sure you get where you need to go.

City Bus

If you’d like to ride the city bus, you can! An increasing number of Beijing city buses are wheelchair accessible with a ramp at the rear door.

Wheelchair accessible Beijing city bus.
Wheelchair accessible Beijing city bus.

You’ll need to get the driver’s attention so that they will pull the bus up alongside the curb and deploy the wheelchair ramp.


Wheelchair Taxis in Beijing

There were once a significant number of wheelchair taxis available in Beijing, of the London Cab design. On my first trip in April 2014, I was able to hire one of these cabs to take me to the Great Wall of China. Our full-day trip cost around $60 USD (400 RMB), plus a generous tip I gave to the driver.

London Cab-style wheelchair taxi parked at the Badaling Great Wall site, with its wheelchair ramp extended.

On my most recent trips, I have been unable to reserve an accessible taxi like this. The cab company told my hotel concierges that these special taxis are “no longer available.” I do expect accessible taxis to reappear when the Olympics return to Beijing in 2022, but that doesn’t solve the accessible transportation problem right now. Manual wheelchair users who can ride in a standard taxi can duo so, but power wheelchair users will need to rely on public transport.

If you are aware of an accessible transportation service in Beijing, please share the details in the comments below.


Wheelchair Accessible Hotels in Beijing

I have stayed in hotels all around the city of Beijing, but have found only one with a wheelchair accessible roll-in shower. That hotel is the Renaissance Beijing Capital Hotel in the city’s modern and accessible Chaoyang central business district.

The other hotels I have stayed at have only been able to provide guest rooms with bathtubs. I have reviewed the JW Marriott Beijing Central Hotel, and have also stayed at the Beijing Marriott Northeast and Novotel Beijing Sanyuan.

If you have stayed in a Beijing hotel that had a roll-in shower, I would love for you to share your story!


Sidewalks & “Roll-ability”

Curbs are everywhere in Beijing. While many sidewalks have wheelchair accessible curb cuts, they are not available everywhere.

PHOTO DESCRIPTION: A local wheelchair user in a Beijing street because there was no curb cut on the sidewalk.

I routinely rode my wheelchair in streets throughout the city. In general, sidewalks were accessible in the new business districts, around metro stations, and at major attractions like the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and Olympic Village.


Attractions & Sights

Due to the limited options for moving around the city in my power wheelchair, I haven’t done as much as I would have liked to do on my trips to Beijing. Using public transportation and those stair lifts is time consuming.

PHOTO DESCRIPTION: John Morris, in his wheelchair, in the Forbidden City.

I’m presently working on a separate article to look at all of the attractions I have visited, but in the meantime, check out this article: Exploring Beijing’s Forbidden City In A Wheelchair.

If you are looking to visit the Great Wall of China, the closest wheelchair accessible site (with a ramp up onto the wall) is at Badaling. You can learn more about the site at www.badalinggreatwall.com. I have not written a full review, because my trip to the Great Wall occurred before I started this blog, and I didn’t take the notes (or photos) necessary to be confident in writing about it. You CAN get on the wall at Badaling in your wheelchair, but only on a limited (and unfortunately not very picturesque) section. If you take a portable wheelchair ramp to get over a few steps, you could see more of the wall.


Travel Visa Requirements & Safety

Tourist visa requirements for travel to China.

United States citizens require a Tourist (L) Visa to visit China. The only exception to this rule is for transiting passengers who intend to stay in China for less than 72 hours. For information on the Chinese Transit (G) Visa, contact the Chinese Embassy. Applicants for the Chinese Tourist Visa are required to present the following:

  • A valid passport with at least six months validity and two blank pages.
  • A complete and truthful Chinese Visa application form. All necessary fields must be completed.
  • A recent passport size photo against a white background attached to the Visa application.
  • Documents showing a travel itinerary (i.e.: airfare receipt showing entry to/from China) and proof of a confirmed hotel reservation.

For United States citizens, three Visa types are offered:

  1. Single entry,  $140
  2. Double entry,  $140
  3. Multiple entries, valid for 10 years,  $140

Visa applications must be submitted in person at a Chinese Embassy. Unless you live in a city with a Chinese Embassy, it may be more convenient to use a third-party visa agency who can handle the application process for you.

Travel Safety & Advisories

For the most up to date and detailed information on the safety of travel to China, read the country report authored and released by the United States Department of State at www.travel.state.gov.

Resources in an Emergency

If you encounter a medical emergency or are a victim of a crime in Beijing, contact the local authorities immediately. A list of emergency telephone numbers for local police, fire or ambulance services in China is available here – be sure to copy these down before your trip.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing can also be a resource to Americans. It is located at:

No. 55 An Jia Lou Road
Chaoyang District, Beijing 100600
China

Contact information is listed below:

Phone:  +86 (10) 8531-4000
Phone (24-hours/Emergency): +86 (10) 8531-4000
E-mail:  BeijingACS@state.gov
Website:  https://china.usembassy-china.org.cn/

The U.S. Embassy is located approximately 1 km away from the Liangmaqiao subway station, which is wheelchair accessible and located on subway line 10. This area of the city has wheelchair accessible sidewalks with curb cuts and is easy to navigate.