When moving to a new country, everyone at one point will experience some form of “culture shock”, and China is no exception. Whether it is the amount of people, unusual food, or even the language barrier, there are a fair few things you will need to get used to when moving to China. However, if you know what to expect and what to prepare for, your experience of settling in the country will be less stressful and intimidating. And once you learn to understand and enjoy the idiosyncrasies of everyday life in this wonderful country, you may find it really hard to leave. So what does it feel like to be a foreigner in China? Let’s find out!
You will get lots of attention from locals
Chinese people are generally very warm and welcoming towards foreigners. This often leads to a lot of preferential treatment. You may get invited to someone’s house for a meal, be offered free drinks in a bar, or be given discounts on meals just to patronize their business. As well as the preferential treatment, do not be surprised if you get people coming up to you and wanting to take a picture with you, especially in the smaller cities where foreigners are more of a rarity. Chinese people are excited to see foreigners and very often they go the extra mile to express their interest and desire to communicate.
Having said that, while there are many locals who will treat you really well, just as many might stare at you with a confused look on their faces and call you “wai guo ren” or “lao wai” (meaning “foreigner” in Mandarin). You may also get people trying to practice their English with you, or chat with you in Chinese even though you might not speak the language so well. While this can be amusing towards the start of your time in the country, after a while it can get a little tedious.
However, remember that such behavior is simply a sign of interest locals have towards foreigners, and it is never harmful. When you are open to such interactions, they will be not only positive but also memorable. This often results in some cool and unexpected experiences where you get to know the kindness and generosity of Chinese people.
You will have to deal with the language barrier
Speaking of “wai guo ren”, that brings us neatly onto the next point: the language barrier. While there are a few cases where it can be an advantage, there are just as many cases where not being able to speak the Chinese language can be an issue. Ordering food, booking train or plane tickets, even buying groceries can be initially a massive nuisance for you. If you are going to the hospital or a bank for the first time, it is unlikely you will know how to navigate any of these places without a Chinese person there to help. As such, you may need to rely on friends or kind strangers to help you out, especially at the start when you are still working things out.
Thus, if you want to truly feel comfortable in China you will have to learn the language. Even a little bit will go a long way. However, even if you don’t speak any Chinese and don’t plan to learn it, different apps and technology will help you get through the language barrier and feel more independent. This brings us to the next point you need to know about China.
China is a technology giant, making life here very convenient
China is one of the leading innovators in technology in the world, and this makes living here very convenient for everyone. To feel this, you will need to use only three apps on your phone: WeChat, Meituan, and Taobao. With these means, you will know exactly how to navigate your daily life in China even without speaking Chinese.
Through WeChat, you can send your landlord the rent money, top-up your phone bill, buy a plane ticket, pay for goods at shops, or book a hospital appointment. Meituan allows you to order various types of food to your apartment or place of work, book a spa appointment, get a taxi, order a cleaning service, or buy tickets to Shanghai Disneyland. Taobao, the biggest online market in China, offers you an opportunity to order anything you would ever need.
WeChat, Meituan, and Taobao are like a Swiss army knife – these three apps allow you to buy or pay for almost anything you could think of. What is more, they are far better than any western alternative – WeChat Pay is faster and more widely accepted than Apple Pay in the west, products ordered on Taobao are cheaper and arrive faster than through Amazon, and Meituan offers more services and far cheaper than any takeout app found in the west.
The cost of living is very reasonable
Ever wanted to save money? China is the perfect place for you! Your money goes much further in China, especially outside of the bigger cities. To give you an idea, a bottle of water is the equivalent of 0.30 USD, while a plate of fried rice will set you back around 2 USD. The cost of living here is very affordable. Do you commute for hours to your place of work in your home country? Well in China, renting an apartment near your work is not only convenient but also very reasonably priced. The apartment prices are much lower than in the western countries, so you can easily rent a big fully furnished apartment on your own. Besides, the transportation is super convenient, modern and cheap, so it won’t make a dent in your salary.
Travel around China is great
If you like to travel, China is the perfect country for you. Tickets for the gao tie (high-speed train) are super affordable, and the sheer scale of the rail network means you can get to almost any city in the country. Of course, there are airports in most major cities too if you prefer air travel. Therefore, it takes no effort to get to any destination in China or outside of it.
It is worth mentioning that China has a lot to offer in terms of traveling. There are many beautiful places that will allow you to enjoy nature, view different landscapes, learn about Chinese history, appreciate unusual architecture, try delicious food, experience local traditions, interact with the Chinese culture, and engage in new fun activities. China boasts many cool destinations where you can enjoy hiking, cycling, swimming, surfing, kayaking, skiing, diving, snowboarding, paragliding, rock climbing, and much more! You will never get bored traveling in China.
You will be dependent on your visa
Taking care of your visa is a downside of living in any foreign country you have to deal with. Ignoring the fact that getting the visa can be a bit of a hassle to begin with, even when you have the visa you will not be set for life. As China very rarely gives out permanent residency visas to foreigners, your visa will be the main thing keeping you in the country. While it is great that it allows you to stay in China, there are a few caveats: you will need to renew the visa once a year (which requires some paperwork), you will need to show your visa at the police station when changing your address, and as your visa will be linked to a specific city, moving cities also means moving your visa.
This entire process can be a bit of a headache and is only made slightly better because generally, you only have to deal with that once a year. Usually, your company will help with a lot of the paperwork and procedures. Nevertheless, if you decide to move to work in China, make sure to choose the company that can support you with the visa process and ensure that everything is in place on time.
You will have no problems finding work
For foreigners, there is a wealth of job opportunities in China. Foreigners are highly sought after in China due to their English language skills, and as they are relatively scarce in China compared to the rest of the population. This results in a job market that is much easier to traverse than the one found in the west. For example, while in the west finding a job can be difficult and often involves a long and arduous interview process that can often lead to nowhere, in China, you can walk into almost any school in the country and be asked if you can work for them as an English teacher.
Even though teaching English is the most common job for expats in China, there are many other opportunities if you look thoroughly at the job market. If you have the qualifications and experience in a field that is not related to teaching English, and you speak Chinese, you will have a chance to get interesting offers in China. However, if you work for a company that is not related to teaching English, there might be some difficulties. Not every company is capable of getting a working visa for foreigners, therefore, your options can be restricted. Besides, few companies in China have foreign management and those that do often underutilize their foreign managers. As such, it can be a good experience for you but it won’t guarantee desired career growth.
At the same time, working in the English teaching field can have many benefits. The working schedule is often more flexible and free compared to the regular office job which gives you time to explore China and travel around. The salary is usually higher than that in another field, which will make your life comfortable and stress-free. The majority of English teaching companies have a license that can allow them to hire expats and apply for a legal working visa in China. Moreover, you can build a career in the teaching field and use your teaching experience in the future. i2 Education allows you to do all of it, so if you are looking for a great job opportunity in China, i2 Education should be definitely under your consideration.
China will offer plenty of new experiences
Depending on what you like to do in your spare time, initially, you may find your choices are a bit limited compared to in your home country. Events like concerts and theatre shows will mostly be in Chinese only, and some classes (yoga, dancing) will not have any English.
While this might sound frustrating, it will actually lead to exploring new avenues and opening new things for yourself. Whether it is KTV (private karaoke), martial arts, Chinese calligraphy, Chinese massage, or tea culture – China has plenty of unique experiences you can undertake without breaking the bank. Besides, as foreign communities in Chinese cities expand every year, there are many activities held in English, so it is more than possible to find an English-speaking yoga coach, to join a foreign bike community, to take Chinese cooking classes in English, or to watch an English stand-up show. Moreover, you can try new activities that are popular in China, such as archery, tennis, fencing, etc. If you are a sports lover, it is quite easy to join local or foreign football, basketball, or rugby team and participate in sports events.
Your life in China will need to end eventually
Life in China is extremely comfortable, and therein lies China’s biggest problem: moving on. As it is difficult for foreigners to live permanently in China (even through marriage), a vast majority will need to return home eventually or move to another country. Unfortunately, the longer you stay in China, the harder this can become. If you come here for a year or two for a gap year then you may feel more clear about your next step. But if you find yourself living in China for four or five years and eventually decide to leave China, you might find it challenging to figure out what to do next.
Having said that, it doesn’t mean that this should stop you from experimenting and living abroad. Life can be unpredictable and uncertain no matter where you are, and you can’t plan every single step of your journey. Meanwhile, your experience in China can enrich your life, change you as a person and open up opportunities that you could never think of.
Living in China as an expat might be not easy, especially in the beginning. You will have to learn to adapt, improvise and rely on yourself. But if you stay open-minded and eager to get out of your comfort zone, you will definitely love this unforgettable adventure. Life in China is very comfortable yet affordable; it gives you the opportunity to take a gap year whilst at the same time gaining life and work experience. You will definitely meet people from all over the world and make lifelong friendships that will change you forever. Most foreigners living in China notice that their time in this country has not only brought a lot of new things in their life but also made them become a better version of themselves. If any of this sounds appealing to you, then moving to China might be a perfect idea! Are you interested in living in China? Do you want to know more about working and living in China? Comment below and feel free to let us know!
By Connor Ferguson