In recent years, China has become a country to watch out for. The aggressiveness when it comes to foreign investment and trade has put them on the map. China is a rich and geographically diverse country, which will expats a slew of unique cities to choose as a place of residence but a few cities do stand out. Whether foreigners end up in China because of a job opportunity or because they fell in love with a place (or a person?), these cities will surely give expats a good reason for staying.
Shanghai is a relatively new city that boasts of towering skyscrapers, a testament to the country’s mission of becoming a huge influence on the global economy. Expats would love staying in the city because it beautifully blends East and West influences, giving the city an exciting and vibrant atmosphere. The city is most energetic at night as the tall buildings light up the night sky spreading a futuristic feel to the place. Daytime is as interesting. People often visit the city’s well-maintained temple complexes and parks located in the city centre. They can also explore and revel at the emerging modern art scene.
This city is ideal for expats because they can still do business or become employed in any of the main industries including shipping, finance, and manufacturing. Since the city’s business culture has strong Western influence, many of the practices are much more similar. Expats will not have a hard time adjusting to their new life. This fast-paced city also provides a nice working environment and good pay. Shanghai also has some of the world’s best international high schools. In short, expats will have a satisfyingly comfortable standard of living in Shanghai.
This highly modern metropolis emerged around historic landmark buildings and neighbourhoods. Beijing is a sprawling city that places Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City at its core. To its northwest is some of the country’s top-rated universities, big tech companies, and Zhongguancun, a start-up neighbourhood that can rival Silicon Valley. On the east are where most international businesses are concentrated, making it popular among foreigners and expats. Aside from foreign embassies, East Beijing is also home to shopping centres and a slew of international bars and restaurants. Foreigners, though, love to hang out on the vintage hutong neighbourhoods. These neighbourhoods with winding hutong alleys have hipster hangout spots and unique bars.
Expats who want to double down on their Chinese cultural knowledge and experience whilst advancing studies or career would find this ancient capital the perfect choice of place to live in. It is also easy to start in Beijing because of the established expat community already present in the city.
Situated close to Hong Kong, Shenzhen has a long-standing investment with Hong Kong. This has enabled the city to become a central city for development, particularly for tech investors. The city is also very welcoming to foreign innovation and investment. Some of the most innovative tech companies like Tencent and Huawei have their headquarters here.
Expats who want to take advantage of advancing tech business in a relatively young environment. Most of the citizens here are still quite young, averaging 30 years old, giving the city a vibrant vibe. Those who are keen on joining a fast-paced company and is not big on any ancient Chinese culture will find Shenzhen to their liking.
Regarded by Marco Polo as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Hangzhou is a relaxing city to live in. It is home to the popular West Lake, where the popular Legend of the White Snake was set. It is one of the ancient cities that has a deeply rooted culture and history, making it a great residence for those who want to immerse themselves in a Chinese way of living. Whilst it is an old city, it is also a good city for business. In fact, the city serves as the country’s sophisticated centres for tea production and culture. Tea houses in the city act as a place to discuss business. Hangzhou is a laidback city known for doing things the traditional way.
It is near Shanghai so it is also one of the rapidly developing cities. Make this your place of residence if you want to live in a tranquil neighbourhood yet still enjoy the proximity of highly developed cities.
Guangzhou belongs to the top three economic districts of China along with Shanghai and Beijing. It occupies the southern area of China and is much closer to Shenzhen. However, compared with Shenzhen, Guangzhou has a much older history of the trade including the Silk Road that served as the shipping route linking the country to the Arabs.
The city is the capital of the Guangdong province and is believed to the place where Cantonese culture and language originated. Guangzhou has a healthy number of established foreign residents, many are highly involved in the exportation and importation. For this reason, the city also regularly hosts the China Import and Export Fair. It is also near Hong Kong, giving it an edge for technological innovation and international business development. Majority of expats choose to live in Guangzhou because of the teeming job and business opportunities it presents.
China may be a powerhouse in international trade and foreign investment but it is still a developing country. Understandably, the living standard of many locals is still low. Expats are given higher salaries compared with the locals. They also enjoy low tax rates allowing them to practice a higher standard of living than what they were used to in their home countries. The most expensive cities to live in China include Shanghai and Beijing. The added expense is overshadowed by the higher opportunities for employment and business and the ease of access to most services.
The choice of housing depends on personal references. Some factors to consider are the physical standard of the property, its proximity to public transport, and accessibility to an international school (if with kids).
Due to these factors, many of the expats living in Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou tend to concentrate on specific neighbourhoods, considered to belong in either middle or upper-class standard of living. Many expats live in upscale townhouses or gated residential subdivisions dominated by foreign nationals. If you choose to live in provincial cities, housing options may be limited to apartment suites.
The popular residential areas in Beijing are those near the Beijing Capital International Airport (BICA) or the Airport Expressway. In Guangzhou, the popular areas are those beyond the city centre like the Castle Hill, Ersha Island, or the Golden Lake Garden. Busy expats tend to congregate in apartment complexes of Tianhe.
Pudong New Area, east of Huangpu River, is popular among expat families in Shanghai. Japanese, Korean, Americans, and Taiwanese also highly prefer to live in Changning District.
Expats deciding to move in China should worry less about safety from crimes. Violent crimes are pretty rare in China. Expats often fall prey to petty theft, but it is something that they can prevent by being mindful of their surroundings. They are, however, highly advised to be extra careful when choosing their homes. They should always lock doors and keep valuables away from sight. Women living alone in apartment complexes should not choose ground floor units.
China is also known for having reckless drivers so extra care is necessary when sharing the road with them. The country also has high levels of pollution across the country. Natural disasters are also rare. All in all, China is a safe place to live.
Living in China has its both ups and downs. There are plenty of job opportunities that await expats, particularly in terms of technology and innovation. Probably one of the major challenges for expats is the communication barrier. China has plenty of spoken languages and 70% of the population speak Mandarin.
Being a Communist country, China has placed some restrictions on what websites its residents can access. There is no Facebook or Messenger. Expats, including their relatives abroad, are forced to download WeChat, so they can remain in constant communication. Aside from messaging, WeChat also allows voice and video calls. Skype is not an option as well. Should you need to contact an actual phone number back home, it is best to look for a Skype alternative.
Communicating with fellow expats would be a great help in terms of coping up with Chinese lifestyle. It is important that expats have an anchor to keep them stable. Life in China can be quite challenging and most expats report feelings of burnout but if you have a strong support system, it is easy to survive in China.