Expat's Manual

Moving to China can represent a significant challenge for even the most hardened expat. China is the third biggest country in the world by land mass and has the largest population at just over 1.33 billion people (23% of the world’s total population). Because of the large numbers of people living in the cities they are extremely busy and crowded places that are full of the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life.

China is a place that is rich with culture and history, both of which centre around their ancient civilization. Because it is such a vast country it is a fascinating place for expats to live in and explore, and there are many places to visit, from the ruins of the Neolithic settlements through to the ancient trade routes.

92% of the population in China consists of the Han people with the remaining 8% consisting of 55 other nationalities.

While China has been under communist rule since 1949, it is currently undergoing social and economic development and a great deal of money is being invested into the infrastructure of the country. Previously stringent trade barriers are being relaxed and the whole country is becoming a better place for international relocation.


Moving to China as an expat

Moving to China can be both exciting and frustrating. Having an opportunity to live side by side with people from this strong and vivid culture provides expats with a vibrant experience that is enriched with an opportunity to learn from people who have a very different perspective on the world. However, it is also a place of significant challenges that are impeded by language barriers and differences in cultural behaviors. There are, however, a large number of expatriate groups that can help foreigners to fit in and find new like-minded friends.

China’s thriving economy and promising future entails that it is becoming increasingly popular for international relocation. A large number of westerners survive here by teaching English whilst others are offered internal positions in multinational companies. Almost all of them find that it can take a significant period of time to adjust to life here and many of them return home, deciding that China really isn't the place for them. Regardless of the outcome, spending time in this unique and different culture will almost certainly provide you with an experience that you will never forget.


The cost of living in China

The cost of living in China is something that is often misunderstood. It is worth remembering that China is still a developing country and the living standard for the majority of the population is very low. However, the majority of expatriates are offered salaries that are much higher than that provided to the locals and the low tax rates on offer mean that quite often expats who are based here have a higher standard of living than they previously enjoyed in their home country. The cost of living in the major cities in China did increase in the 2012 Mercer cost of living survey and Chinese cities remained some of the most expensive cities in the world in which to live. Shanghai was named as the most expensive city in China at position 16, following by Beijing at 17. For full details of the cost of living expenses that you can expect to have to pay as an expatriate in China please see our Shanghai expat guide or our guide to living in Beijing.


Language

Language: Several different Chinese languages are in existence throughout China; 70% of the population speaks Mandarin (Putonghua, based on the Beijing dialect) whilst the remaining people speak Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghaiese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese) and other minority languages. English is becoming increasingly important as a business language.


Climate

China has a varied climate because of its vast size. The north has short summers and can get extremely cold in the winter. The central area, along the Yangtze River valley, has a long and humid summer, which has very high temperatures. Here too the winters are very cold and it not uncommon for temperatures to fall below freezing. Southern China has hot summers and short winters.


Expat jobs in China

Expat jobs in China have changed significantly in recent years. A large proportion of expats in China find work in the region as teachers and there are always opportunities available for people who are interested in teaching English as a foreign language. Other opportunities for foreign workers are becoming increasingly common and there are high demands for experienced accountants, financial analysts and managers. Expats who have skills and experiences in technical (IT, manufacturing), financial (CPA, CIMA, GAAP) or international marketing skills may be in a position to find suitable work within this country. Chinese language skills are almost always required.


Key facts every expat should know about China

  1. Any contracts you are required to sign in China will always have an English and a Chinese version. In the event of a dispute the Chinese version of the contract will take precedence so you should always get contracts checked before you sign them.
  2. Whilst healthcare in the cities is readily available, some rural clinics may refuse to provide foreigners with treatment. You should check with the local hospitals in advance and always make sure you have identified a suitable clinic in the event of any emergencies.
  3. Many of China’s public hospitals will not accept medical insurance from abroad; you will therefore need to find suitable insurance within China itself.
  4. Checks/cheques are not generally accepted as a valid form of payment in China.
  5. Expats living in China are encouraged to take photographs of their furniture and belongings as proof or ownership in the event they are lost or stolen.

Relocation guide: Moving to China

Expat Info Desk currently has two relocation guides available for people interested in moving to China; the Shanghai expat guide and our guide to living in Beijing. These exhaustive guides contains everything you need to know about moving to China and will assist you to:

  • relocate efficiently and effectively with minimum stress.
  • settle in to your new life quickly and easily and find the help and assistance you need, when you need it.
  • identify areas to live in that suit your lifestyle and budget.
  • find the right places to meet like-minded people.
  • find schools that are suitable for your children and their learning needs.
  • ensure that your family get the most of their experiences abroad.
  • prepare for the new culture in advance and avoid any cultural traps.
  • deal with any transition challenges.
  • cut through red tape and avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.

Unlike a book, the guides are regularly reviewed and updated in order to ensure that the information is accurate and reliable and because the guides are written by real expats who live and work in China, you can be assured that you are accessing the information that you need for your international relocation as written by people who really are in the know.

Do you have a comment about this article, a further question or even a correction? If so please do let us know. We may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all comments will be published, please be nice!

Our Expat's Manual is updated regularly so comments about the article may have already been addressed.

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