China has a sophisticated communications and telephone infrastructure, the internet is fast and affordable, and keeping in touch with friends and family will be easy. It's still essential to know about some of the peculiarities of living in China before making the move.
Chinese media infrastructure and telecommunications are largely controlled by three state-run enterprises – China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. The result is that censorship is a reality, and expats may not be able to access services they might have been used to in their home country
Internet in China
In major cities such as Beijing, internet access is widely available through home connections, internet cafes and free WiFi at many hotels, airports, restaurants and cafes.
Home users can choose between 4G connections or DSL connections through one of the three largest internet providers in China, which are Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent. 5G connectivity is also rapidly expanding and leading Chinese smartphone makers are already releasing phone models with 5G capabilities.
Anyone can take out an internet subscription by visiting one of a China Mobile, China Telecom or China Unicom outlet. Alternatively, expats could ask a Chinese-speaking colleague to call the provider's office and schedule a home visit. Installation is generally fast, although the price will depend on the location, broadband speed and the duration of the contract.
Services such as Gmail, Skype, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter cannot be accessed in China without a workaround. Most expats in China highly recommend the use of a VPN, which is essential if they want to access these sites, and if they'd like to watch streaming services such as Netflix or BBC iPlayer. It's best to avoid free VPN providers as they often collect and sell information on their users. Rather, subscribe to an established VPN company such as NordVPN, ExpressVPN or SurfShark.
Mobile phones in China
China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom are also the biggest mobile phone operators in the country. The majority of new arrivals get a pay-as-you-go package, though contracts are also available. Applicants may need to supply their passport and visa in order to buy a SIM card.
While Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram might be all the rage in the US, UK and other Western countries, China's most popular instant messaging app is WeChat. It's similar to WhatsApp, but can also be used to make payments, do shopping and more. With over a billion users, having the WeChat app is essential if expats want to communicate with others in China. Businesses often use it for internal communication too.
English media in China
English-language media in China is easily accessible. The CCTV (China Central Television) news channel provides around-the-clock coverage in English and is known to be more liberal than most Chinese channels.
There are also several options in print media such as China Daily and China Times, as well as regional newspapers such as Shanghai Daily.
Expats will need a VPN network to be able to access Western newspaper websites.
►Banking, Money and Taxes in China provides essential information on expat money matters
Are you an expat living in China?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to China. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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