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9 Things to Know Before Moving to China

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Expats in China offer tips for newcomers and others considering a move to China. Advice what to bring when you move to China, health insurance and healthcare, finding an apartment, expat banking and more.

Moving to China - 9 Things to Know Before Moving to China

What to Pack If You're Moving to China

We asked expats living in China what they wish they had brought when they moved to China and what they wish they had left behind.

"Three things I wish I had brought when moving to Beijing: My favorite hair products - American products are really expensive and sometimes impossible to find. Cocktail bitters - I come from a place where craft cocktails are all the rage. Finding anything but agnosta bitters is unheard of. My favorite chair - most everyone buys their furniture at IKEA, which is fine. But, if you want something different there aren't many places where you can walk in, try something and then go home with it any earlier than 6 weeks. Three things I didn't need to bring. Any of my kitchen appliances - I knew my hairdryer didn't work but didn't think about anything else. You will have to have a converter to use with anything. Way easier to just buy a new appliance. High heel shoes - I sprained my ankle within 2 weeks of arriving. The sidewalks are uneven and horrible to walk on. I won't wear high heels ever in Beijing. Hard luggage - I've converted everything to soft so I can pack it away. It's hard to move at the airport true, but better than it taking up your living space," commented one expat who made the move to China.

"Men's Shoes in China: If you are a size 11 or larger you'll find it difficult to find quality men's shoes here. Over the counter medications in China: It's difficult to find simple brands that you know in Chinese shops like Pepto-Bismol, Nyquil, etc. If you have some brands that you rely on, bring those. I also recommend bringing a First Aid Kit as it is just a good idea to have on hand! VPN: Most Western Internet sites are blocked here. You want to pre-install a VPN on your computer and phone before you arrive in China. If you don't, the initial days here will be confusing," remarked another expat in Beijing , China.

"I would have brought more walking shoes, more over the counter medicines and more winter socks," said another expat in China.

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Healthcare and Health Insurance for Expats in China

The US Embassy in Beijing wrote, "All Americans traveling to China are encouraged to buy foreign medical care and medical evacuation insurance prior to arrival. Western style medical facilities with international staff are available in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and a few other large cities. Many other hospitals in major Chinese cities have so-called VIP wards / Special Needs (te xu) wards with reasonably up-to-date medical technology and skilled physicians who typically speak English. Ambulances do not carry sophisticated medical equipment, and ambulance personnel generally have little or no medical training. Therefore, injured or seriously ill Americans may be required to take taxis or other immediately available vehicles to the nearest major hospital rather than waiting for ambulances to arrive. In rural areas, only rudimentary medical facilities are generally available. Medical personnel in rural areas are often poorly trained, have little medical equipment or availability to medications. Rural clinics are often reluctant to accept responsibility for treating foreigners, even in emergency situations."

Expats living in China interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.

When we asked expats in China if they have access to quality medical care. They replied: "Yes and not as expensive as US. Must go to major hospital for clean facilities and care. One hospital we visited an old family friend in was comparable to what i would expect to find in a poor part of Tijuana, Mexico," said one expat who moved to Xi'an, China. "It is difficult unless you have someone who speaks English go with you to explain the problem. After that it is easy. I have been three time to the hospital. The hospitals go out of their way to set me up with doctors that have some English ability and in one case they called in someone like an orderly who had been to America for college and was very good at English and he was a big help. Prescription medication is very expensive," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to China.

For more information about healthcare in China, read our article, 6 Important Tips about Healthcare for Expats in China.

beijing china restaurant

Take a Look-See Trip Before You Commit

"Come for what I call a looky-see trip first before committing to come live in this area to make sure you can find a decent home for you and your family. Get a good relocation company to help you look and negotiate for you. Everything in China is up for negotiation! Make sure your company is allowing you enough housing money per month to get you a good place to live and make sure you detail and negotiate EVERYTHING you want the place to have BEFORE you seal the deal and move into the place. When your contract for the house is up for renewal that is the time the owner will make other changes you need or forgot to ask for intitally to keep you in the place for another go round," said one expat who moved to Tianjin, China.

Finding an Apartment in China

"Find a local from Beijing to help with location. Pay attention to what comes with the property, 24 hour hot water, elevator, heat, satellite tv, internet, and the maintenance. The sizes are in square meters which isn't always accurate because they describe construction size and not the living space," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to China.

"Be patient and have a lot of cash on hand! Apartments in north China require an initial payment of 3 months and 1-month deposit. That is a lot of money to spend at the beginning. Everyone should arrive in Beijing with at least a minimum of $5,000 USD for start-up costs. The best way to find an apartment is to ask a colleague which realtors they used," advised another expat.

"Look at many places and use a checklist to make sure that everything works BEFORE signing any lease. Landlords move slowly after they have your deposit," remarked another expat in Shanghai, China.

real estate china

Think About Your Commute When Choosing Where to Live

This advice from an expat in Beijing applies to any city in China, "Beijing is a HUGE city and you want to live near where you work. You'll hate life if you have to commute a long time on the subways - which is insanely crowded during rush hours. I work in the CBD so I got an apartment that is about a 30-minute walk from home or a 5-minute ride on the bus."

Typical Housing for Expats

When we asked expats in China about the type of home or apartment they life in and whether that is typical for expats, they replied:

"I live on the 23rd floor of what is known as a fully-serviced apt building. Fully serviced means that they provide housekeeping six days a week. My apt is a modest sized three bedroom/2 bath place.No dishwasher or garbage disposal but does have access to western TV programming which is banned to the Chinese locals. It is centrally located so I can walk to many places I want to go to or easily flag down one of the little red suicide taxis that play road chicken games all over town. Like most Chinese made buildings, this place while only five years old is already showing signs of falling apart," said one expat who moved to Tianjin, China.

"Pretty much everyone here lives in apartments in big buildings. Some families may choose to live in villas in the Shunyi area, but everyone else is in apartments. Apartments in Beijing tend to be older but they are all furnished and safe. Decorations can be a bit underwhelming so you'll want to invest in some plants, paintings and other things to make your home warm," commented one expat in Beijing.

"[I live in an] Apartment in a Chinese apartment building that is 6 floors tall. Yes, there are many embassies in this neighborhood so there are many expats and geopats here," remarked another expat in Shanghai, China.

Rent a Serviced Apartment When You First Arrive

One expat offered a very good suggestion, "I live in a high rise apartment / hotel. Yes, to begin with most live in some sort of service apartment or they share a big apartment with several rooms. I prefer to live alone. My apartment is serviced which is nice because they help me care for my cat when I'm away. I've heard you can hire an aiyi and they can teach you to cook."

Learning to Speak Chinese Will Make Life Easier in China

"Take some Chinese classes. It is so frustrating to live here without speaking basic Chinese. And learning to speak is actually quite easy. It's the writing and reading that makes everyone thing Chinese is impossible -- so learn some verbal chinese," said one expat who moved to Guangzhou, China.

Banking in China

"Try to get everything organized before you leave the USA. The banks and financial institution in the USA still are in the pony express and telegraph era. Most things require phone calls and they ALWAYS say they are experiencing an 'unusual high volume of calls' (this unusual high volume is 24/7 month after month after month so what they are really saying is they don't give a damn about you the customer, they just want to save money and not hire enough people. I lost my ATM card and it took me 3 months to get a new one," suggested one expat who retired in Nanning.

Banking in China? TransferWise is an online account that lets you send money, get paid, and spend money internationally. With a TransferWise account, you can send money abroad, get paid in other currencies, and spend abroad on the TransferWise debit Mastercard.

Join our China Expat Forum

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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Updated On: Apr 08, 2019

First Published: Apr 08, 2019

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