China is a vast country steeped in history and tradition. Expats will likely need to make many adjustments when moving there, so it's best to gather as much information as possible before the big move. Here are answers to some of the most common questions expats have about moving to China.
Is it worth learning Mandarin? What about Cantonese?
The main language spoken in China is Standard Chinese or Standard Mandarin, based on central Mandarin. Cantonese is mostly spoken in Hong Kong, Macau and the Guangdong Province.
Most of the general population cannot speak English and this language barrier is a major element of culture shock. While many Chinese nationals are keen on learning English, expats should try learn at least key phrases in Mandarin. A basic vocabulary is necessary for ordering food, purchasing goods or asking for directions.
Mandarin is very different from Western languages in structure, so it can prove complicated to learn. The written characters are separate from the spoken language. But if expats work hard to jump this hurdle, learning the language is hugely beneficial for both social reasons and in business settings. Knowing Mandarin, even the rudiments of the grammar, is a major plus for employment in any company in China.
How is life in China for female expats?
There can be strong gender stereotypes in China and often it is difficult for women in managerial positions. A bad dating scene for women is usually a popular topic of discussion on expat forums.
Will my internet be censored?
The Chinese government stringently and successfully polices internet use. Sites that include certain subject matter are censored and restrictions on many of the popular social networking sites also exist, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
That said, most sites are still accessible, including foreign news sites. Many expats use VPNs (virtual private networks) to access blocked material, although lately, even these services have been ineffective in circumventing the 'iron curtain'.
Censorship is an ongoing controversy and levels of enforcement and effectiveness change often.
Is China safe?
Most expats report feeling safe in China. While it’s usually safe to walk home at night in major cities, obvious risks and bad neighbourhoods should be avoided. Expats do have to be careful in crowds as they are often the victims of petty crimes such as pickpocketing and scams.
One of the largest dangers to expats is food safety, as many people suffer from disease and bacteria resulting from unclean or improperly cooked foods. Pollution is another safety hazard that can affect expats, especially those with underlying respiratory issues. Expats must follow instructions from authorities regarding health alerts.
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