Imported Chocolate’s China expert, Shirice Beevas, gives tips on everything you need to know if you’re moving to China!
15 Things to Know When Moving to or Visiting China by Shirice Beevas
Maybe you’re contemplating a move or just want to visit and see what it’s like in China. Maybe it’s your New Year’s Resolution. Perhaps, you’re just following your spouse here or you got a job here. Hell, maybe you just love the food and figure you want to see the country! There is a myriad of reasons people have for coming to China-whether it’s short term or long term.
Whatever your reason is, it’s great! Coming here is an eye opener in so many ways.
It’s pretty easy to make it happen as well- just get a passport, apply for a visa and buy your plane ticket.
The average price for all of this will be about $1,500-$2,000 USD. You have to factor in that a passport (if you don’t have one already) can cost about $100-$200 USD depending on the service you choose for postage etc. A Chinese Visa can cost $80 to $100 USD depending on your state and once again whether you want rush service or not, and a round trip plane ticket to China can cost $1,200-$1,500 USD (coach, not first class). Ticket prices always vary. So if you budget $2,000 USD for this process-you will have enough for sure. If you buy a one way ticket because you’re actually moving, you can get a ticket for $600-$800USD. If you save $50/week you can cover this cost in about 10 months time. Just set it aside in a separate bank account and don’t touch it! If you save more than that, let’s say $100/week, you can cover these costs in about 5 month’s time! Getting a passport is the part of the process that takes longest-it can take about 2 weeks. Once you have that, as well as all supporting documents required by the Chinese Embassy, you can apply for your visa which is often issued on the same day. Once you have the visa and passport, you can buy your plane ticket. I often use cheaptickets.com but you can use whatever site you like.
So you made it through part 1 of the journey. You have your passport, visa and plane ticket. Now What?
It’s time to pack your bags and research facts about the country. Here are some helpful tips.
As for things you need to know about being here…there are plenty.
#1 Buy a Mandarin book (or if you’re going to South China, a Cantonese book) try to learn a couple of the basics in Chinese, but don’t beat yourself up if you’re not a Mandarin master. It takes a lot of time to learn it, there are 5 tones and if you say something without the right tone—no one understands you. It’s a hard language to learn and you can learn it—it just takes time. Focus on the basics first: food names, numbers, “i want”, “i dont want”, “im from”, “i don’t understand”, “how much does it cost?”, “no”, “yes” and “thank you”. Knowing just these phrases will get you pretty far, trust me. Saying these phrases over and over, watching Youtube videos etc are ways you can practice/study.
#2 Learn how to use chopsticks (i’m serious, lots of restaurants don’t have forks, unless you’re in Hong Kong).
#3 Never pay the first price you are told, when shopping at a marketplace— always bargain. I’d say no probably four times before I either say yes or simply walk away, but you can decide what works for you. Sometimes walking away will encourage them to give you the price you want. A lot of times in China, as in many countries, foreigners are perceived to have lots of money and get swindled often. Be smart—say no. AND always make sure the taxi driver turns the meter on. Don’t get into cars that aren’t proper taxi cabs either. A lot of times rickshaws and random people try to pick people up but be smart.
#4 Bring lots of deodorant, any specific shaving stuff and personal hygiene products that you like because it’s likely not available here or it may take a while to find it if it is. The use of deodorant is still relatively new in China—it’s sold here but sparingly.
#5 Convert your cash and do not rely on travelers checks. Travelers checks are not accepted at most places here. While you can use your American credit/debit card here, not everywhere has the machines for it. You should always keep some cash on you just in case.
#6 Don’t isolate yourself from the people you meet when you first start working/studying here or at any other point while living/visiting here, because you will have some lonely days, some ups and downs and it’s best to have a good support system here with you. Of course we have support back home but it’s important to have that link here too—trust me on that!!
#7 Culture shock is an ongoing process. Everything here is different from home and not always in ways you expect. Examples of cultural clashes: pushing and shoving is really a daily thing here, people are just always in a hurry and they will push you out of their way. Don’t get angry just move. People drive and park on sidewalks often— just move out of the way— be vigilant. People often spit everywhere here and smoke everywhere and even pee on the street. It’s not really something you get used to, but hey its China! There is no such thing as chivalry- guys don’t give up seats for women, help with bags or hold doors. If you’re on a train or bus the only person who you give up a seat for is an elderly person or a child.
#8 PEOPLE WILL STARE AT YOU!!! They stare all the time and take pics. There aren’t that many foreigners in China, so naturally when Chinese people see us, they stare….a lot. I have gotten a little accustomed to it-emphasis on a little. Some locals will walk up to you and ask lots of questions, and try to converse in Chinese with you even if you say you don’t understand. They are very curious.
#9 walk with hand sanitizer and tissue at all times. The public restrooms often don’t have toilet paper or soap. Oh, and yes, some are squat toilets. You cannot flush tissue down a squat toilet. Instead, use the waste bin provided in the stall. With some western toilets—you should be careful to put only a little tissue in at a time and flush constantly. The plumbing here tends to be weak.
#10 Collect business cards for every place you visit and like- from the bank to the shoe store to the restaurant/club, everywhere has business cards. I know this sounds crazy but business cards are written in Chinese and if you want to get somewhere but don’t know how to say it— you can show the taxi driver or people around you the card- they’ll know what you mean.
#11 If you have a lot of dietary restrictions please proceed with caution. China is not the type of place that caters to this. You will have to tread very carefully. Eggs, chili peppers, pork and mushrooms are used often in dishes. You have to let it be known that the chef can’t put it in your food at all. If you are vegetarian, there is a chance that they will even still use the same oil or pot that they cooked meat in to cook your vegetables. Please be aware of this. It’s not meant to be mean to you—it’s just that in their culture everyone eats everything. It’s just what they’re used to. You can roll with it or you can prepare all your food yourself.
#12 Do not drink or cook with tap water. It is not safe for human consumption. You can shower with it and brush your teeth with it—just don’t swallow it. Bottled water is very cheap and sold everywhere. If you drink a beverage with ice in it, finish it before the ice melts completely and don’t chew on the ice. That is, of course, if you are even able to get an icy beverage from a public establishment. It’s possible they may use tap water to make the ice. More often than not though, you won’t be given an icy beverage, because in Chinese culture, cold anything is considered unhealthy especially for a woman (though they love ice cream… that’s a convo for another day). I say especially for a woman because its encouraged to keep your womb warm, so you will be given hot water a lot, even in the hot humid summer.
#13 Street food is good and cheap and vvveerrryyy exotic. I usually steer clear of things that seem too spicy because… well if it doesn’t agree with you— it’ll hurt that much more later. I also steer clear of anything sitting in water. My rule is if it’s dry and looks somewhat recognizable, I’ll eat it, especially if it’s cooked in front of me. Oh, and yes, you will get sick as your body adjusts to the new diet, new air, new everything…but eventually you’ll have an immune system of steel. Street food varies in form. It can be fried rice, noodles, soup, egg based wraps or even skewered meats and vegetables. If you don’t want a certain additive such as meat or pepper- you can ask for it not to be added.
When I say dry food, I’m referring to a popular method here where meat parts are chopped up, sometimes skewered, and sit in pots or bins of water all day. I don’t usually eat the “wet” meats/vegetables that sit in the water. It’s just my personal choice. I don’t trust it. I usually only eat the skewered meats/vegetables that aren’t made to sit in water hence what I call dry food. It’s pretty good and the lamb is my favorite. Fried rice, noodles etc are also dry.
#14 The weather here varies greatly: it can be frigid or sweltering. It all depends on the time of year and the region you are in. It does snow in the winter in northern China. It’s generally always warm in southern China.
#15 Relax and have fun!!! You’re going to be in CHINA!!! How many people can say that? Not that many. It’s a great country with lots of things to see and do. Its way bigger than the U.S so you can just imagine how much there is to explore. Plus it’s close to Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Macau, Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, India, Fiji, and Japan. You can go chill in any of these places for vacation. It’s much cheaper to fly to these places from China than the U.S. Take advantage!
I hope this information helped! I have lived in China for 22 months now. I’ve visited various places in Gansu province, the Gobi Desert, Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Hong Kong, and Macau. I’ve lived in Shandong Province and currently live in Shanghai. I have had my ups and downs but I like it here. Every day is an adventure.