Moving to China

Moving to China can represent a significant challenge for even the most hardened expat. China is the third biggest country globally by landmass 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 bustling and crowded places 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 center around its 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 China’s population 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. A great deal of money is being invested in the country’s infrastructure. 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 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. If you are planning a good social life in China that fits you and your family then you need to explore different neighborhoods. However, there are a large number of expatriate groups that can help foreigners fit in and find new like-minded friends.

China’s thriving economy and promising future entail that it is becoming increasingly popular for international relocation. Many 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 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 most of the population is deficient. However, most expats in China 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 increased 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 the most expensive city in China at position 16, followed 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: 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.


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

Job opportunities for expats in China

Expat jobs have changed significantly in recent years. Many expats in China find work in the region as teachers, and there are always opportunities available for people 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 you should know about expat life in 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; therefore, you will need to find suitable insurance within China.
  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 of ownership if 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 ex-pat guide and our guide to living in Beijing. These exhaustive guides contain everything you need to know about moving to China and will assist you to:

  • Relocate efficiently and effectively with minimum stress.
  • Settle into 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 gets 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 to ensure that the information is accurate and reliable. Because the guides are written by real expats who live and work in China, you can be assured that you are accessing the information you need for your international relocation as written by people who really are in the know.

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