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Expat Guide: tips for your move to China

Whether you’re a seasoned expat or this is your first international move, China is an exciting but challenging place to call home. The third biggest country on earth, China has the world’s largest population. And the massive population and unique culture and language can take a while to get used to.

If you’re moving to a city (which most expats are), prepare yourself for crowds. The huge numbers of urban dwellers in China live a fast-paced lifestyle. And on every street the ancient history and culture is mixed with leading modern technology.

Unlike other popular expat destinations, China’s expat community is relatively small. With only 8% of China’s population coming from other countries, get prepared to fully integrate into life in China. For expats used to the support of a large expat community, this can be the most difficult change.

Sorting the paperwork

Before moving to China, you need to get the paperwork sorted as early as possible. The longer you have to get this in order, the better, as visa application can be a complicated and lengthy process.

First thing’s first, get your visa sorted. Chinese visas are dependent on where you are coming from, why you are coming, and what you plan to do once you’re in the country. There are also different visas based on how often you plan on coming and going from the country during your stay.

Engage an immigration specialist to make sure you apply for the right visa. They will be able to walk you through the process and speed things up by avoiding mistakes. All paperwork will need to be supplied in Mandarin and English, so you will need to ensure you have both. And in the case of a dispute, the Chinese language version takes precedent – so get it checked.

There are also stringent health requirements for those moving to China. It’s important that you get all required vaccinations, including DPT, polio, MMR and Hepatitis A. These vaccinations are all required before you can enter the country. And for those moving to more remote areas or specific regions, there may be additional vaccinations needed.

It’s also important to sort medical/health insurance before you leave. You will need to get insurance from a Chinese insurance provider, as many public hospitals wont accept foreign provided insurance.

Agree your salary package

Thanks to the booming technology companies and multinationals with large headquarters in China, there’s a booming expat job market. There are also many who move to China to teach English as a foreign language.

China is still considered a developing country, despite leading the way in IT and technology. This means that much of the country live on a much lower salary than is offered to expats. This does afford expats a higher standard of living, which is bolstered by the low tax rates. This said, Shanghai and Beijing are both ranked in the top 20 most expensive cities in the world.

Your salary package should be competitive, but it’s important to negotiate keeping the cost of living in mind. Factor in what kind of home you want, and any large expenses like private international schools for your children, before you agree on a salary package.

Finding your new home in China

The Chinese housing market is fast paced, and competitive. Depending on where you are moving to and your budget, your choice of housing will vary. For the most part, many expats move into city apartments.

No one can purchase property in China unless they can show proof of having lived in the country for over a year and intend to live in the purchased home. Also purchasing a home is intrinsically different than almost anywhere in the world. You ‘buy’ your home for 70 years from the government, and they can void this at any time for specific reasons such as redevelopment of an area.

You will need to start your house search at least two months before your move. It will be easiest to get a local expat expert or Chinese speaking realtor to help you with this as all contracts will be in Chinese. Also keep in mind that rental costs in China do not include deposits, utilities or realtor commissions. And there’s a premium charged for furnished apartments or homes.

You can always arrange a short stay in a serviced apartment while you find your feet. But these need to be booked in advance and will come at a premium. It can be a great way to test out an area and find a more permanent home, especially if you can’t visit before the move.

Choose a school for your children

If you’re moving to China with your family, you’ll need to plan ahead. Education is taken very seriously here. And the school system is routinely ranked some of the best in the world. Focus in Chinese schools, from entry at age 6, is on getting children into further and higher education.

Expat children most often attend international schools due to the intensity of the national schooling system as well as language barriers. However, entry to these private schools require impeccable grades, great recommendations, and very high school fees. This is why we recommend recruiting a school search expert to assist your family through the process.

Culture differences to be aware of

The biggest hurdle when moving to China can be the culture shock. It’s important to take time to learn about these differences before agreeing to move, and in preparation for your move.

Social media internet use is very different, with sites like Facebook and YouTube blocked from use in China. When planning how to keep in touch with loved ones, you need to factor these changes in.

There are cultural differences in not just the kind of foods eaten, but the storage and preparation, which you need to consider. In order to maintain optimum health, you will need to learn how to shop and eat out safely. And due to very high pollution levels, you will become accustomed to wearing a face mask. This is especially common for children and the elderly.

There are also very specific rules about pets, which are very important if you’re planning on moving yours with you. In Beijing and Shanghai only pets under 35cm tall are permitted.

There are so many more cultural nuances which will affect your life in China. But most important is the language barrier. All expats should make a dedicated effort to learn Mandarin or Cantonese to a good degree before moving.

What next?

If you’re moving to China, we’re here to help. Our team of dedicated international moving experts, and offices in China, have everything needed to make your move easy. From Visa and immigration to language and cultural training, school search experts, and home finding teams, we’re here to make it simple.

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