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10 Things to Know Before Moving to China

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According to research, there are more than 600,000 expats living in China. Not only this, the highest population of expats live in Guangdong and Shanghai. But, if you’re planning on moving to China, there are some things you should know.

Since the country opened up its doors in the 70s, it has seen significant economic growth. With this in mind, one of the main reasons people move to China is for their jobs. As a matter of fact, as of the writing of this article (the middle of 2018) there is a HUGE boom for English teachers, from small children all the way up to business adults. As a matter of fact, when I first entered China back in 2013, I got my first residence permit and began teaching at a one-on-one private school. It was simply a matter of asking around because there were–and still are–a LOT of English training centers looking for foreign staff.

That being said, if you are interested in teaching English then you should probably know that the market for elementary to middle school teachers is growing rapidly. Some teaching experience, some certificates, and a bachelor’s degree (especially in teaching) will go a LONG way here! However, whether you’re going to move here for teaching, business, or other reasons, if you’ve never been to China then there are some things that can really help you out.

Here are 10 of the things you really ought to know before you move to China:

1. Your First Rent Payment May Seem Expensive

Generally, rent in China isn’t really all that expensive. While it’s true that your payments will depend upon a few different key factors–such as your own personally-desired level of comfort, location, and “guanxi” (who you know)–for most of us the price will seem low to very reasonable.

That said, when you first move into a new home–in all probability an apartment–you’ll have to pay for not only the deposit, but look for an extra finder’s fee expense as well if you go through an agent, or if you company chooses to do so. Most landlords ask for more than one month’s rent in advance, too; I personally have always had to pay at least the deposit (one full months’ rent) plus 3 months’ rent at a time. Again, this may seem like a lot, but once you realize the lower overall cost, you’ll get used to it and suddenly feel that your monthly income is nicer!

Before signing a contract, make sure you’re aware of these and another other fees. Also, keep in mind–and this is very important–that you can generally negotiate rental prices with agents and landlords. In most places in China, negotiation is the name of the game so the price you’re told isn’t always the best price you can get.

It’s also reported that some landlords may even offer discounts to expats. This is primarily because expats have a reputation for taking good care of rental properties, as compared to the average local.

Last, it’s fair to mention that it’s actually possible to get a better deal by allowing a local Chinese friend to negotiate for you, assuming that they are actually a friend you know and trust. If they are, then they can see when someone is trying to price-gouge you for being a foreigner–something that happens all-too-often to expats and tourists alike. If you are using a negotiator whom you aren’t very familiar with, then it’s quite possible that he/she will try to hook you up with an apartment through someone they personally know–their ‘real’ friend–so that they can themselves get a kickback or “fee.”

Let’s just say that you have been warned!

2. Many–Well, Most–Don’t Speak English

People often assume that most countries in the world know at least basic English. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case in a country such as China. While it is definitely true that this “Communist-Capitalist” country has concentrated pockets of English speakers and the language is readily available on most transit systems (good luck at the bus stops and with the taxi drivers, though), this is definitely not the norm for the whole of the land.

Whether you live in a big city or small town, you may often find it hard to find anyone that speaks English. That’s not to say that no one does. Some do so very well, but they’re few. Keep in mind that a “big city” in your eyes may well be considered a “village” in the eyes of a local Chinese person. With a population over one and a half billion, it’s no wonder why they think this way! If you’re interested to know which city has the largest population, check out our post!

3. Stock Up Before Going

If you’re tall or wide, you’re going to need to stock up on clothes before coming to China. Chinese stores stock small sizes and this can be very frustrating for a foreigner.

But, it’s not only larger clothes that are hard to find. If you want fitted sheets, you’ll have to bring them with you. Not only this, women will have to bring their own tampons as they’re hard to find in the country.

4. Buy a Good VPN

If you’ve never heard of the Great Firewall of China, read up on it before you move. This firewall blocks half the content on the internet. This means you won’t be able to enjoy all your favorite streaming websites, among others.

To bypass these blocks, get a VPN. But, be careful. Very few of them can’t bypass the Chinese firewall. With this in mind, go for a service with the following characteristics:

  • Strong encryption
  • Servers in different countries
  • High speeds

If you want to have access to your favorite shows and music, you’ll have to opt for a paid service.

Due to personal experience, we here at WhichCity cannot stress this enough: if you want to have any amount of decent access to many of the common sites and apps you’ve become accustomed to, then you absolutely WILL need a VPN in order to do that in China. If you wait until after you arrive, then obtaining it initially will most assuredly be a harder task than you might expect–unless you are a whiz at finding such things or have a friend who can get you set up.

One we would recommend you check out is Express VPN, which we are very familiar with (this is an affiliate link–full disclosure!)

We’ve used a few others but do not feel they are worth mentioning. During my first early days in China, I personally used Astrill and found it to be okay, though there is no such thing as “great” when it comes to accessing sites in the US from there. However, they were completely blocked out a while back and only recently have been able to get their connections back–but even this is just information I’ve heard from foreigners living in China, as I have not been able to test it personally.

5. Find Out How Much Cash You Can Withdraw Before Moving to China

It may sound odd but many places in China don’t accept debit and credit cards. This is especially true when it comes to foreign cards. With this in mind, you’ll have to keep cash on you at all times.

Unfortunately, many ATMs only let you pull out a small amount of cash at a time. Before you move to China, check with your bank to find out how much cash you can withdraw.

Also, once you have all your paperwork in place, get a Chinese bank account.

6. Air Pollution Is a Real Problem

According to research, air pollution in China contributes to 1.6 million deaths each year. In fact, Shanxi and Hebei contribute to the planet’s largest mass of PM2.5 air pollution.

Today, the country is cracking down on pollution with new green policies. But, you should do your research when it comes to choosing where to live or visit.

7. Forget What You Think You Know About Chinese Food

Foreigners in China visit the country for many reasons, one of which is the food. But, food in China is different from anything you’ve had before.

In fact, you can forget everything you think you know about Chinese food. Don’t expect fortune cookies with every meal and get ready to enjoy some eggplant and tofu.

Also, Chinese food is different depending on the region you’re in. There are dozens of regional cuisines to try. If you have time to travel the country, visit different restaurants to check it out for yourself.

8. Get WeChat

WeChat is the Chinese version of WhatsApp. If you’re going to live and work in China, bring an unlocked smartphone with you.

As you make friends, you’ll learn that people don’t use text messaging or any other messaging apps. They use WeChat to communicate.

You can also download WeChat on your computer and send documents and files via the app. Not only this, you can set up a WeChat Wallet to transfer money between friends or make payments in shops.

9. Tea Isn’t as Common as You Might Hope

If you’re going to China with the hope of getting free tea with every meal, think again. Tea isn’t available for free, or at all in many places.

In fact, many restaurants serve hot water with meals. But, they won’t serve it without you asking. And, if you want cold water, you’ll have to pay for it.

But, that’s not all. Imported coffee is expensive. Coffee is a luxury in the country. While baristas will do a great job at serving you a quality coffee, it’ll come with the adequate price tag too.

Other items that are expensive in China include:

  • Cheese
  • Peanut butter
  • Cereal

You can bring some items from abroad but make sure to pack them in your hold luggage.

10. Get Ready to Adapt to Chinese Toilets

If you’re relocating to China, you’re going to have to get used to not sitting down when going to the toilet. Most Chinese establishments have squat toilets.

Not only this, Chinese pipes can’t handle non-organic waste. With this in mind, don’t try and flush your paper down the toilet. Establishments will offer a trash can for you to dispose of your toilet paper.

Unfortunately, in most places, there won’t be any toilet paper. No matter where you go, bring tissues and hand sanitizer with you.

Find Out More About China and Various Other Travel Locations at Which City

China is very different from Western culture. That said, by living there, you’ll learn something new every day. Not only this, the country has some of the most interesting and beautiful landscapes in the world.

If you want to learn more about China or Chinese culture, visit Which City today. We share a mound of travel tips for anyone moving to China as well as other parts of the world.


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