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Interview with Seth – an American expat in Guangzhou

Updated 17 May 2011

Seth is an American expat living in Guangzhou. He says, "I love basketball so moving here made me feel like I was moving home. We are expecting our first child at the end of July and we can't wait to start teaching her the ways of the Middle Kingdom."

Read more about China in the Expat Arrivals China country guide or read more expat experiences in China.

About Seth

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: United States, Minnesota

Q: Where are you living now?

A: Guangzhou, Haizhu District

Q: How long you have you lived in Guangzhou?

A: About 6 months, we arrived just before Chinese New Year. This was a bad idea because there were so many people traveling and almost everything was closed for the next 2 weeks. This made getting settled in take longer than it should have for us. 

Q: Did you move to China with a spouse/children?

A: Yep, pregnant wife.

Q: Why did you move to China; what do you do?

A: We both love Asia and we had friends in Guangzhou that convinced us to come and give it a try. I now work for the Institute for Western Surgery, we provide Western health care for expats living in Guangzhou. Here's my shameless pitch. Why spend your vacation time in your native country dealing with medical issues when you can be treated by the world's best specialists right here in Guangzhou? All of our doctors are United States board certified and fellowship trained, and experts in the most advanced Western techniques. We make patient care a priority which means better outcomes and quicker recovery times for our patients. Are dealing with an injury that isn't getting better on its own but nervous about being treated by a local doctor? We offer direct billing with most international insurance carriers. For more information or to make an appointment, visit

About Guangzhou

Q: What do you enjoy most about Guangzhou, how's the quality of life?

A: I really enjoy how much the city changes. We visited Guangzhou about 2 years ago and now there are new buildings, roads, and restaurants everywhere. The people here are generally great to be around and work with. It is nice to have such a wide array of food choices.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?

A: We miss getting in the car and going for a drive. We don't have a vehicle here and wouldn't feel relaxed driving if we did. There just aren't established traffic norms in this city yet and that can be a hassle weather you are in a taxi or just trying to cross a busy road. Cars stop in the middle of traffic for no reason all of the time and it is not rare to see cars driving the wrong direction on moderately busy roads.

Q: Is Guangzhou safe?

A: I think so, but it is really hard for me to say. In a city of 15 million government recognized citizens there is always going to be problems with crime. There is a large gap between rich and poor here which usually causes crime problems. I would say expats are pretty safe overall.

About living in Guangzhou

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Guangzhou as an expat?

A: Haizhu is nice because the air is cleaner and it is quiet for the most part. Zhu Jiang New Town is nice but expensive. Tianhe is nice for the convenience but has the downsides of any other major downtown area I've been to.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation?

A: I think it is really good. You may have to hunt for a clothes dryer because they aren't so common here yet.

Q: What's the cost of living in China compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?

A: It's cheaper here. Rent is about the same, however we save a ton on transportation. Guangzhou has one of the most modern and developed metro subway systems. Dairy and wine is still more expensive.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?

A: I would say that it is about even. we have a few expat families that we spend time with but have found just as many quality locals to befriend.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in China?

A: Really easy, I always hear that expats are more friendly down here. We were fortunate to have expat friends that already had an expat community established. We have helped out with English clubs at universities and that has helped us get to know locals too.

About working in China

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?

A: Nope, the saying down here is that 'Guangzhou is a long ways from Beijing.'

Q: What's the economic climate like in Guangzhou, is there plenty of work?

A: The city is spending lost of money but it seems like there are a lot of empty shops as well. There are buildings being built in every direction i look. I think Guangzhou is more heavily dependent on the global economy because of its exports.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?

A: I am happy to be working for a western boss that has western expectations. I have heard horror stories from others. One thing to be aware of is that most people take an after lunch nap. Most companies turn off the lights and rest for an hour or so. That was weird for me to get used to.

Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?

A: No, that was on our own dime.

Family and children

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?

A: My wife had more trouble than I did adjusting to not being able to communicate. I had taken 2 years of mandarin lessons but all she had was a few dozen hours of Rosetta Stone.

Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?

A: There are really great International schools here. There are American, British, and French international schools here.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in China?

A: Pretty scary. I stick with international clinics and the Institute for Western Surgery.

And finally...

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?

A: Flexibility is key. There is so much communication that falls through the cracks. Make sure you are up for it mentally. The transition would not be easy doing this half-heartedly.

► Interviewed May 2011

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