Moving to China

Moving to China is an opportunity for expats to experience a country that's both rich in history and focused on the future. Thanks to its immense growth over the past two decades, China has continued to attract foreigners with special skills and advanced education. As a result, competition for jobs has increased and relocation packages have been driven down by candidates from elsewhere in Asia who are willing to work for less than most Western expats.

Despite its immensity, most expats live in a handful of cities that traditionally attracted job hunters from the interior. As they have grown, so has their appeal and what were once medium-sized cities are quickly growing into sprawling metropolises.

While a way of life that's centred around traditional family structures and values persists amid the rapid development, China's economic growth has come at a price. Its problems with pollution and overpopulation are well documented, but as it enters the next stage of development, the country has moved away from its emphasis on industry to developing its service sector and improving its environmental sustainability.

The most popular places among expats living in China include Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. Despite the influx of foreign workers, Chinese cities might not seem very diverse to the average Westerner, who often has to adjust to a greater extent than in many other international destinations. Regional differences are also vast and expats will find variations in how things are done in different cities, from cuisine to housing regulations.

Foreigners sometimes find themselves weighing jostling crowds and tedious bureaucracy against the luxuries of still higher-than-average income and active expat communities. Many Western expats take a while to adjust to the fact that the government is involved in the lives of its citizens and actively censors materials it considers harmful to society.

Driving in China also takes getting used to, especially because of almost constant traffic congestion and plenty of aggressive drivers. Many expats prefer the high quality of public transport in China, with its bullet trains, city subway systems and vast bus networks.

As it tries to accommodate the expatriates in its borders, China has expanded its healthcare system to include facilities aimed at Westerners and its private hospitals are of a high standard. While Chinese schools are generally exclusively taught in Mandarin, expats have access to world-class international and private schools, although these come at a price.

Whether they're moving to China for business or to expand their horizons, its unfamiliar culture, its high population density and the language barrier can be challenging for new arrivals. However, China is also one of the most satisfying expat destinations in the world for those who make the adjustment.

It's also a country where ancient monuments and the ultra-modern co-exist in harmony, where the culture is as influenced by its 21st-century economic expansion as by its old traditions. The complex layers of life in China expose expats to a rich culture, a new way of living and a vast country to explore.

Note: 28/1/20

There is an ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus in China. The novel virus originated in Wuhan City, Hubei Province but has since spread to other parts of the country. Based on the latest medical information, including reports of person-to-person transmission, travellers should avoid all travel to Hubei Province and should monitor the situation in the rest of China.

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