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Shanghai, China

Living in China

By Joshua Wood, LPC

Last updated on Feb 10, 2022

Summary: Expats, digital nomads and retirees discuss what it is like to live in China: Cost of living, Finding a home, Meeting People and more.

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What do I need to know about living in China?

When we asked people what advice they would give someone preparing to move to China, they said:

"If you have children, decide if you want to be in a more family friendly compound, such as Lakeshore Gardens or one that has a more singles demographic. Definitely get in touch with the schools' parents' committees. As well as a flourishing shopping and hospitality scene, Suzhou Industrial Park contains vast areas of factories and company head quarters, with little else to do. Are your priorities to be near the schools and/or work place or to be near the recreational parts of the city? If the latter, then chose a compound that is close to Jinji Lake. Make sure to check out the old town and visit the heritage gardens to gain a flavour of what pre-industrial Suzhou was like," said another expat in Suzhou.

"Lousy weather - cold, windy winters and very polluted. Hot sticky summers. Little to do aside from eating out and shopping malls. However, there is an airport close by and a train station - and Beijing is 2 hours away," added another expat who made the move to Tianjin.

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How do I meet people in China?

When we asked people living in China about club and activities where newcomers can meet others, they responded:

"If you are a parent with children in one of the international schools, I strongly recommend that you get in touch with the school parents committee. Friends of Dulwich has regular meet ups and social events. The Expat Association of Suzhou also had fortnightly coffee mornings and members can enjoy discounts at various local businesses as well as networking opportunities. The Internations Organisation also has a significant presence where members gather for monthly international buffets and socialising," commented one expat who made the move to Suzhou.

"ZhuhaiNights.com is Zhuhai's only English city-wide dedicated lifestyle web site, run by expats living locally in the city. With over 3,000 members, half of those being Chinese and half being foreigners, it's a great way to meet friends. It's fun and free. The organisers of the web site also host regular events, including a weekly English / Chinese language exchange, days out to Zhuhai's International Race Circuit, trips to surrounding islands, pool parties, dance parties and more to boot. DeltaBridges.com covers the entire Pearl River region and is great for anyone looking to visit more surrounding cities. It's another great way to connect with the locals and the DB city guide is very large with English and Chinese address details to help you get around. Additionally, you might spot on of their handy pocket-sized city guide books in one of the many locations around town," remarked another expat living in Zhuhai, China.

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William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

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William Russell Health Insurance

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

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What is life like in China?

When we asked people living in China what life is like and how people spend their time, they said:

"Suzhou has more of a family-friendly feel than it's sister city; Shanghai. Many expats prefer to move here from Shanghai when they start a family. The expat scene has a strong work focus but socialising often revolves around eating and bars. There is also a sport and fitness scene, with the f45 fitness, a running and a cycling community," commented one expat who made the move to Suzhou.

"Zhuhai is a sleepy, laid-back city on the South China Sea. It's miles of coastline attract tourists the world-over, so the priority is usually to have a great time. Work does go on here though - in the form of new cutting-edge business districts, multi-national corporations and SMEs all managing to operate successfully. To be well-and-truly on the pulse of life in Zhuhai, I strongly recommend joining www.ZhuhaiNights.com," remarked another expat living in Zhuhai, China.

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Is there a lot of crime in China?

We asked people if there is a lot of crime. They answered:

"No, never have had to worry. Weird seeing police that don't look like a soldier! I did get stopped once while on my electric motorbike. for going on the wrong side of a bridge pillar. As did about 20 Chinese people. Was my fault, paid a 50 yuan fine $8.30USD same as all the Chinese people who were fined along with me," remarked another expat who made the move to Nanning, Guangxi Provence.

"In spite of numerous warnings and concern for my safety by my Chinese in laws, I actually feel safe here than I do at home in the US. Many people walk at night as families, couples and groups and individuals. I consider it risky behavior where I come from in USA. Madera and Fresno California and most any city in US as far as that goes. A lot of crime here? Not that I'm aware of, but you must use common sense. Be aware of your surroundings, be very cautious of overly friendly strangers even if fellow expats. having said that, I've seen ten yr. old girls, women with babies and singly walking down dimly lit streets late at night. Still lots of people walking around and some sidewalk shops still open late. I always take a sideways glance and look behind me as I pass anyone on the street late at night just to make sure I don't get blindsided and I never travel alone and always carry a walking cane as an emergency defensive device," explained one expat living in Xi'an, China.

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Is there a lot of diversity? Are people in China accepting of differences?

"Suzhou holds many Bhuddist temples and most of the locals follow this religion. There is a small christian community with one catholic and three small protestant churches. Recently, the Christian church has fallen under closer government observation and tighter restrictions. Generally, the younger generation are open and embracing towards diversity," added another expat who made the move to Suzhou.

"People are accepting of diversity, but it's difficult to meet locals because of language barriers (few people speak English outside of typical expat locations)," explained one expat living in Tianjin, China.

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William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.
William Russell Health InsuranceExpat Health Insurance in China

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.
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What are the schools in China like?

"Look for other schools in the area. The tuition cost of the school doesn't truly reflect how much it cost. The school individually charges for every small thing outside of tuition. My child's first year at the school, we had to pay for uniforms, MAPS testing, field trips, performances, lunch, workbooks, technology fee (internet) and bus. All of these charges started to add up being outside of the actual tuition cost which doesn't seem to include anything," commented one expat when asked about Shanghai Livingston American School in Shanghai.

"If you care about music - don't go here. The music program is lousy and the teacher lazy and unmotivated. The high school is very weak in terms of its teaching (mathematics and science especially) and ELL and English are basic. If you want the best for high school and middle school go to another school such as Ningbo International. Ask what qualification in admin. heads of department and coordinators have? Ask about the counselor's qualifications? Most kids use agents to source colleges. Ask about the quality and qualifications of the science and math teachers in MS and HS? Ask about dedicated computer science as part of the program as it is really hit and miss. Ask about school ownership and what the policy is on teachers wanting endless time off and medical appointments mid-week when they should be teaching. Ask how teachers are evaluated and by whom? Ask why there is no efficient ELL program and how ELL students are assisted? Take anything the current head of school - a guy called Waterman tells you with a dose of cynicism and make up your own mind," explained one expat in Beilun, Ningbo, China with kids at Access Academy Ningbo.

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Is the cost of living in China high?

We asked people how much they someone comfortably live on in China, they wrote:

"It does not take much but unless you marry a Chinese citizen you can only stay here for one year and then you have to leave and get a new visa. In order to get a new visa you have to go back to you home country. And, there is no guarantee China will give you a new visa. No reason they won't either," said another expat in Nanning, Guangxi Provence.

"In Xi'An $1,600 a month easy including rent, $500 2brm, 2 ba apt. Hans (Think Heineken flavor) qt. size beer here .35 made by Ting Tao. We have eaten multi-course meals here for 4 people for under $30 with beer or Chinese vodka incl. at nice restaurants. Be aware that prices change dramatically for foreigners. I've gotten in the habit of staying out of sight while my wife shops at little kiosks (they're everywhere). Major dept stores are better, prices are marked. Carry a calculator to do exchange rate bec. no matter how smart you are, one slip or momentary lapse can cost you $. Shop around as prices from one street vendor to another may vary dramatically. And even though it may seem like a good deal by American standard prices, just shop around a lil bit first. And one imp. thing, walking away from a vendor does not mean that they will call after you and lower the price as in some other countries. It does not mean the first price they gave you is the lowest and a good price. That being said, we had someone call after us and lower the pricetowhat we thoguht was a good price only to find the same item later at less than half that price. hence, know your prices," added another expat who made the move to Xi'an.

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Are healthcare and health insurance expensive in China?

"Men in China over 55 and woman over 50 do not qualify for National Healthcare, so employers have to pay for private insurance. However, the coverage is comprehensive. You do need to get prior approval from the insurance company, but that is to be certain you go to the proper medical facility.," added one expat living in Shenzhen.

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William Russell Health Insurance

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

Learn MoreGET A QUOTE

William Russell Health Insurance

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

Learn MoreGET A QUOTE

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.

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