Moving to China

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Beijing city skyline
For many expatriates, moving to China represents an opportunity to become part of one of the world’s fastest developing economies in a country that is both rich with history and focused on the future.
Owing to its immense growth over the last two decades, China has continued to attract foreigners with special skills and advanced education. As a result, competition for jobs has increased, and 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 so, what were sometimes cities of medium size, find themselves growing into sprawling metropolises.
The most popular places for expats to live in Mainland 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.
The regional differences in the People’s Republic are vast, however, and expats will find variations in the way things are done in different cities, from cuisine to housing regulations.
While a way of life that is centred around traditional family structures and values persists amid the rapid development, economic growth has come at a price. The country’s problems with pollution and overpopulation are well documented. However, as it enters the next stage of its development, the country has moved away from its emphasis on industry to developing its service sector and improving its environmental sustainability.
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 a country where the government is actively involved in the lives of its citizens, and actively censors materials it considers to be harmful to society.
Driving in China also takes getting used to, and some expats never even attempt to because of traffic congestion and aggressive drivers. Many foreigners prefer the high quality of public transport in China, with its bullet trains, city subway systems and vast bus networks.
Chinese schools are generally exclusively taught in Mandarin, although expats have access to high quality international schools and private schools which do, however, come at a price.
As it tries to accommodate the expatriates in its borders, the Chinese healthcare system has expanded to include facilities aimed at Westerners, and its private hospitals are also of a high standard.
Whether they are moving to China for business or to expand their horizons, the country’s unfamiliar culture, its high population density and the language barrier can be challenging for new arrivals.
The language barrier is arguably the most significant challenge foreigners face when adjusting to the country. It is often necessary to enlist local help with everything from rental contracts to opening a bank account.
At the same time, however, the country is one of the most satisfying expat destinations in the world for those who make the adjustment. It is also a country where ancient monuments and the ultra-modern can co-exist in close proximity. It is influenced by old traditions as well as economic expansion, and the complex layers of life in China expose expats to a rich culture, a new way of living and a vast country to explore.

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