People who live and work in China often have a wide variety of different experiences, but there are some common themes to keep in mind if you’re thinking of moving to one of the world’s most exciting, perplexing and challenging countries. . here are some tips for you to know what it is like to live in china.
what you need to know before moving to china
If you’re thinking of moving to China for work, there are a few things to consider before you take the plunge. First of all, are you more motivated by the type of work you want to do or what part of China you want to live in?
If you want to work in politics, technology, or finance, you’ll likely be limited to the major first-tier cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou. These are fascinating and vibrant places to experience the modern Chinese way of life, but they lack the beautiful scenery and unique local traditions that much of China is famous for.
If you crave deeper cultural immersion, want to hone your Chinese language skills, or simply want to live in some of the world’s most stunning scenery, look to rural opportunities. For foreigners, this mainly means teaching English or certain jobs within NGOs.
Second, it’s worth considering how Chinese workplace culture may differ from what you’re used to. For example, colleagues may have little regard for “personal time,” thanks to the ubiquitous messaging app, WeChat. “There may be different expectations from the West in terms of work-life balance, overtime and availability,” says Simon Frank, English-language editor at the Ucca Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. “it is available on wechat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
This can be both positive and negative. although it does make it more likely that a colleague will message you on a Saturday at 11 p.m. m., the app also makes workplace collaboration much faster and more efficient. “what surprised me,” says katie cundale, who works for beijing-based travel company wild china, “is how much is done through wechat (work). everything in the office can be transferred, booked and approved in one system.”
There are many other positive aspects of working in China. The cliché that China is the land of opportunity is true, and you will meet dozens of people who are starting their own businesses. There is much less bureaucracy than in Western countries for startups, and a positive attitude means you could experience more exciting challenges in a month in China than in a year in the West.
what to expect from working life in china
if you decide to work in china, you will surely find friendly and welcoming colleagues. Even in companies that are used to having foreign workers, some locals find it exciting to meet someone from another country and would love to talk to you about the differences in your cultures and experiences.
However, Chinese workplaces tend to have long working hours, which can sometimes seem frustratingly inefficient. In many offices, staff religiously retire at noon for a 90-minute lunch break and nap in the afternoon, but then stay late to finish all their work. Chinese offices also tend to have strict and inflexible hierarchies. “based on my experience working in china, the willingness and ability of employers to accommodate foreign employees varies quite a bit from company to company,” says mr. Frank. “Working at ucca has been a very positive experience, and I think having a foreigner as a boss has been a great help in this regard.”
mr. Frank also warned against employers “delaying visas and other permits, while encouraging foreign employees to work. The gray areas that used to allow the employment of foreigners in China are rapidly disappearing, so this can be quite dangerous.” Anyone considering working in China should make sure their prospective employer is up to date with the necessary paperwork to apply for a work visa.
Compared to working in the West, China’s annual leave policies seem particularly harsh. there are 10 national holidays each year and, in addition, most workers have five days of annual leave (although it is not uncommon to hear less). If you work for a Chinese company, Western holidays like Christmas are not recognized, making it difficult to return home for the holidays. Some companies offer more generous annual leave policies for foreign staff, but even then the trial period, in which you are not entitled to annual leave, could be up to a year.
Chinese business culture: everything you need to know
Foreigners working in China often experience a bit of culture shock. For example, the term “foreign” is still widely used in China, which some expats find alienating.
The foreign/local distinction is especially marked if your Chinese skills are not up to par. in many offices, for example, Chinese staff and foreign staff eat lunch separately: this may be because they want different things for lunch, but also because Chinese staff understandably don’t want to spend their lunch hour making the effort to speak English if you haven’t bothered to learn Chinese. Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that Chinese staff are often paid significantly less than foreigners for similar jobs, which can affect socialization options.
Many expats work in China without learning Mandarin. this is more feasible in big cities like beijing and shanghai, but even in those places you are likely to struggle if you only speak english. Often, the higher a position is, the more chance there is for a foreigner to fill that position without speaking Chinese, because it is assumed that his work experience is valuable enough and he can afford to hire local assistants/translators.
If you’re looking for an entry-level job, it’s definitely worth learning the basics before deciding to work in China. “One of the best things about working in China, when you have to order things or have them printed, is how incredibly efficient everything is. you can basically coordinate any purchase and delivery across the country from your phone and it all tends to happen in a matter of days,” says ms cundale. “On the other hand, everything is in Chinese, so it’s a bit difficult when you can’t speak the language very well.”
what is it like to live in china?
Getting to know Chinese food in China
One of the best things about living in China is the food. Cheap, varied and tasty food is just around the corner, and dining out together is by far the most popular way to socialize with the locals. as well as famous dishes like Peking Duck, prepare to be amazed by the rich culinary culture that has no end of delicious surprises.
if you have a craving for western food, the major cities also have plenty of options for pizza, pasta and the like.
what is the cost of living in china?
This varies a lot depending on where you live, with cities being much more expensive, but in Beijing you can rent an apartment for 9,000 yuan (approximately £1,000) a month. many international companies will pay the rent for you as part of your employment package.
local life is generally very cheap, but if you want to do something western, like a night on the town in fancy cocktail bars, expect to pay London prices, if not more.
Chinese social customs
More attention is paid to Chinese customs in Western stereotypes than in reality. but there are some golden rules: accept/offer business cards with both hands; always take off your shoes before entering someone’s house; and be grateful for any food offered.
It is more important to accept habits that might surprise you, such as spitting in the street, smoking indoors and chaotic queues. Also, learn to use chopsticks.
is it safe to live in china?
yes, many expats, especially women, find living in china much safer than in cities like london or new york. street harassment and whistling are virtually unknown to foreigners, and the streets tend to be well lit at night. petty crime rates, particularly among foreigners, appear to be particularly low. there is a large police and CCTV presence in all major cities; Whether this makes you feel more or less safe is up to you, but you’re never far from a local authority if you have a problem.
Where it’s less safe is if you’re driving or cycling: traffic can seem quite chaotic. but have your wits about you and wear a helmet and you’ll probably be fine.
can you use social networks in china?
The vast majority of western social networks, including facebook, twitter, instagram, google, whatsapp, netflix and more, are blocked in china. this can be frustrating. These blocked social media and news websites like the New York Times, The Guardian, and BBC can be accessed using a Virtual Private Network that you have purchased outside of China, but they are not always reliable. local alternatives like baidu and wechat are fine to use in china, but if you want to keep in touch with friends back home, you may have some difficulties occasionally.
You can read more of our Working Around the World series here.