How To Move To China
The complete guide!

Find A Job

China’s buoyant economy offers good job prospects and the number of expats working in China rose from 180,000 in 1996 to over 950,000 by the end of 2018. Opportunities are expanding beyond language teaching to positions in IT, sales, media and marketing. Roles in politics, IT or finance tend to be concentrated in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

Foreign workers are generally paid higher wages than Chinese employees in similar positions because they are considered to have superior training and experience. The need for fluent Chinese decreases as positions increase in seniority. However, with more Chinese students studying abroad and returning home to work, competition is growing and fluency in Mandarin is therefore highly advantageous.

International companies with offices in China are likely to provide expat relocation packages. Alternatively, Chinese companies can be approached directly, through agencies or via online jobsites. There are numerous independent websites and as well as major agencies such as Total Jobs and Reed. Your country’s embassy, economic commissions or chambers of commerce may be additional sources of potential opportunities and job fairs for foreigners are held regularly in China’s major cities.

Your CV should include your date of birth, marital status and number of children. It is customary for Chinese CVs to include a photograph. Your education details should appear before your work experience and both should be presented in reverse chronological order. Detailed cover letters are not encouraged; therefore any key points about experience and qualifications should be highlighted in the CV itself. Hobbies and interests are not relevant to Chinese employers, and instead of supporting referees, the CV should conclude your assessment of your skills and abilities.

Work visas are mandatory and are categorised according to the length of stay and nature of employment. A ‘Z’ visa is required for any employment longer than six months for ‘foreign experts’ and skills are evaluated against criteria defined by the Chinese government.

In most cases, Z visa applications require a letter of invitation, medical examination certificate and an official employment license from the Chinese authorities. The license can be applied for online.

You should ensure you have been vaccinated for DPT, polio, MMR, and hepatitis A.

Work permits are assessed according to your value to the country, with points assigned for salary, educational qualifications, experience, location, age, proficiency in Mandarin and degree of specialisation. All of these have a bearing on how fast the visa is processed, the available industry sectors and permit duration. Application charges vary according to country of origin, processing speed and whether you apply by post or in person.

Although it is illegal for a foreigner to enter the country and start work with only a tourist visa, unscrupulous companies have been known to recruit expats on this basis. Illegal workers are liable for fines, detention or deportation.

All foreigners must register with the Public Security Bureau within 24 hours of arrival. You will need to complete a Temporary Residence registration form. The Temporary Residence Permit must be acquired within 30 days of arrival or the Z visa is invalid. It is advisable to take an interpreter with you.

If you are granted a Z visa you can bring your family to China on an S1/2 visa (S1: 180 days +, S2: up to 180 days) but they will not be allowed to work unless they secure their own Z visa.

Contracts of employment are mandatory. You should ensure that terms of employment negotiated during the interview process are recorded in writing to ensure they are accurately reflected in the work contract. Failure to do so may result in a work contract with different terms to those previously agreed. Although contracts are provided in both English and Chinese, only the Chinese language contract is legally binding. Therefore this should be examined by an interpreter.

Social security contributions are mandatory in most parts of China and registration is usually the responsibility of your employer. You will contribute to the system from the start of employment and be eligible for benefits accordingly.

Basic pension contributions are also mandatory, with contributions made by both employer and employee. Funds cannot be withdrawn until retirement age, which is currently 60 for men, 55 for female civil servants, and 50 for other female workers.

Employers are also obliged to provide work injury insurance. Rates depend upon industry sector, location and role. Cover includes medical expenses, wages up to 12 months after injury, disability payments and work-related death compensation.

Working hours are normally 8 hours a day, Monday to Friday. Although according to Chinese law, employees should not exceed a 40 hour week, overtime is not uncommon and generally unpaid. Holiday entitlement is dependent upon length of service, with workers entitled to 5, 10 or 15 days paid holiday plus 11 public holidays. In Chinese companies, Christmas is not recognised. You should ensure that your working hours and holiday entitlement are defined in your contract prior to starting work.

Chinese employers generally take responsibility for the payment of Chinese taxes, although this should be stated in the contract. Some employers split payments to foreign workers, paying a portion of the salary into a Chinese bank account and the balance to an account in Hong Kong or the employee’s home country. In these cases, the employer might only declare tax on the Chinese payments, thereby exposing the employee to a retrospective tax bill with associated penalties.

The cost of living in Beijing is 53% lower than London, with food -34%, housing -52%, clothing -21%, transportation -75%, personal care -24% and entertainment -35%. For New York, the cost of living in Beijing is 56% lower, with food -56%, housing -60%, clothing -9%, transportation -64%, personal care -51% and entertainment -45%.

Generally speaking, foreign workers and their families are welcomed in China, with local people keen to learn about other peoples and cultures. However, there is still a tendency to refer to expats as foreigners, and work lunch breaks tend to polarise between native workers and expats, due in part to language constraints.


Apply For A Visa/Permit

If you are between 14 and 70 years old, you will need to make your visa application in person at a visa application centre. As part of the application process, you will need to provide your biometric data (scanned fingerprints). Biometric data may also be checked/collected by immigration when you enter China, to register your entry to the country.

If you’re transiting through China, visa waivers are available in certain places. For example, for transit through Shanghai, you can apply online for a visa exemption of up to 144 hours. In some locations, a visa waiver application must be made in person on arrival, so make sure you fully research the details and requirements that your journey entails, prior to travelling, so that you are correctly prepared.

If you visit Hong Kong from the mainland and then wish to return to the mainland, you will need a visa that allows you to make a second entry into China. If you remain in China for a period of longer than six months, you may need to apply for a residence permit.

UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for both entry and exit, as well as airside transit. You may be required to show evidence, such as a police report, to prove that your passport has been lost. If your ETD was issued in China, you will also need an exit visa from the Public Security Bureau before you can be permitted to depart.

You must register your place of residence with the local Public Security Bureau within 24 hours of arriving in China. This is enforced by Chinese authorities, who regularly conduct spot-checks of foreigners’ documentation. If you’re staying in a hotel, they will usually do this for you as part of the check-in process.



You can only work in China if you have a Z visa; neither a tourist visa, nor a business visa, will allow you to work. You must also hold a valid work permit. Violation of the immigration and work laws in China can result in severe penalties, from hefty fines and imprisonment, to deportation, travel bans or exclusion orders. Therefore, it is wise to contact your nearest Chinese embassy in order to get the most up to date information prior to departing from your home country or country of residence.

Bear in mind that the majority of expatriates working in China will be tied to a specific employer and contract, which would have allowed them to get the appropriate visa and work permit. If you are intending to change employer once you arrive in China, you will need to check with the authorities whether you will require a new visa and/or work permit.

The various types of visa for China include the following.

Tourist visa (L)

This visa is issued to those who intend to visit China in order to go touring and sightseeing. Proof of a return ticket or onward travel, as well as copies of your accommodation reservations, will be required. The L visa is available as a single-entry visa, a double-entry visa, and a multi-entry visa.

Business visa (M)

The business visa is issued to professionals visiting China for commercial and trade activities. It is available as a single-entry visa, a double-entry visa, and a multi-entry visa. The business visa can also be issued for a period of up to 10 years.

Non-commerce visa (F)

This visa is for professionals visiting China in a non-commerce capacity, such as those visiting China for the purposes of research, lectures, cultural exchange and study tours. It is usually only offered as a single- or a double-entry visa.

Work visa (Z)

This visa is designed for those who have been given an offer of employment in China. Alongside this visa, you will require a government issued work permit or an employment license. This particular visa is usually only available as a single-entry visa. Holders of the Z work visa will need to register and file an application for a work permit at the Public Security Bureau (police station). The residence permit allows for multiple-entry.

Student visa (X1 and X2)

The student visa is designed for students who have been enrolled in a Chinese college. This visa is subdivided into visas X1 and X2. The X1 visa is issued to foreign students who come to China in order to study for a period of longer than six months. The X2 visa is essentially for the same purpose, but for a period of less than six months. The X1 visa can be valid for up to five years and allows for multiple-entry; the X2 visa is issued for single-entry only and is valid for the length of the course, or up to the six-month limit.

Long-term private visa (S1)

This visa is usually used by people who intend to live in China with an immediate family member. They may be working or studying in China, or dealing with private affairs, such as visiting friends, filing for divorce, dealing with inheritance, securing an adoption, getting married or using medical services. Or they may simply use this visa as they intend to visit their relations(s) for a period of longer than 180 days. Immediate family members are defined as spouses, parents, dependent children under the age of 18 years old, and parents-in-law. Proof of relation will be required. Holders of an S1 visa will also be required to register and apply for a residence permit.

Short-term private visa (S2)

The short-term private visa is essentially the same as the S1 (above), with the same permitted circumstances. However, the S2 is designed for a short-term private visit, and is normally granted for between 30 and 90 days. This visa is usually multiple-entry, and can be valid for up to 10 years for certain nationalities, such as the United States.

Long-term family visa (Q1)

This visa is for Chinese descendants or foreign spouses of Chinese citizens. It is issued to family members of Chinese citizens, or family members of foreigners who are permanent Chinese residents. It is mostly for the purpose of family reunions, or for those intending to go to China for the purpose of foster care. The premise is that the planned duration of this visit will last longer than 180 days. Proof of relation will be needed and an interview may be required. This visa is designed as single-entry visa. Holders must register and apply for a residence permit.

Short-term family visa (Q2)

Q2 and Q1 visas are essentially designed for the same purpose, with the only difference being the intended length of stay. The Q2 visa duration is for up to 120 days per visit, rather than 180 days, but is a multiple-entry visa. It can be valid for up to 10 years for US passport holders.


Work permits

The Chinese work permit system uses a point scoring system to judge an applicant’s eligibility. Candidates scoring 85 or more points qualify for Tier A, while those scoring 60-85 points class as Tier B, and those scoring below 60 points fall under Tier C. In addition to the point scoring system, a candidate can be placed in a work permit tier if they have specific qualities and meet certain conditions.

Points are earned from a number of factors, including annual salary, education, qualifications, and vocational skills. Work experience and age are also important, as well as language proficiency.

Tier A: minimum score of 85 points

Candidates in this tier:

• Are employed through one of China’s regional plans for the introduction of foreign talent
• Adhere to internationally recognised standards for their field (i.e. they may have been given an award for excellence in their field, or they may have headed a prestigious academic institution or other organisation)
• Are applying for a position in China, such as a senior management role, a senior or technical position in large scale industry, or another high-level position
• Are earning over six times the average local salary
• Are considered entrepreneurial and new industry talent
• Are under the age of 40 years old
• Are doing post-doctoral research, or have graduated from a high ranking university/ academic institution

Tier B: score of 60 to 84 points

Applicants that fall within Tier B typically:

• Have a bachelor’s degree (or above)
• At least two years of work experience in a relevant field
• Are employed in a management position in a field such as education, science, technology, culture, arts or sports
• Hold an internationally recognised certification for a skill that is urgently needed in the Chinese labour market
• Earns over four times the average local salary

Tier C: score of under 60 points

Candidates that rank within Tier C are usually either:

• Undertaking short-term work in China (under 90 days); or
• In a position subject to labour, skills, and immigration quotas, such as young talent coming to China for an internship

Tier A comprises of approximately 16% of expatriates in China. Ranking within this top talent tier offers luxuries and benefits that the other tiers do not receive, such as a “green channel” service. This essentially offers expedited approval and shorter processing times. Tier A workers can also enjoy paperless verification during the application process.



Foreigners who are holders of long-term visas (such as Z, D, X1, S1, J1, Q1) are legally required to register and apply for a temporary Chinese residence permit within 30 days of their arrival. You can do this at your nearest Exit-Entry Administration Service Centre of the Public Security Bureau.

Foreigners can achieve permanent residence in China through:

Family: Either by marriage or as a dependant child under the age of 18 years old. This includes spouses and/or dependants of Chinese citizens or of foreigners who have obtained permanent residence in China. For a spouse to be eligible for permanent residence, the marriage must have lasted for five years before the application is made. They must have a stable and secured living status and a place to live.

Investment: Only if they have had direct investment in China for three years in a row, a sound taxation record and meet the financial stipulations, which generally involves an investment of over USD 500,000 in encouraged industries, as set out by Industries of Foreign Investment, or the same amount invested in western provinces struggling with poverty. Alternatively, over USD 1 million investment in the central region of the country, or a total investment of over USD 2 million in China.

Employment: If the candidate has assumed certain roles at a specified level, such as deputy general manager or deputy director of plants, or higher level posts, or posts of associate professor or associate researcher or similar posts. Any such position must have been held for more than four years in a row, and the candidate must have a sound taxation record.

Outstanding contributions: This is available to foreigners who have either made outstanding contributions to China, or who are needed urgently, for example because they provide services or skills that are in demand.


Get Health Insurance

Many expats take out private medical insurance, even if this is not a requirement of residence, because healthcare is expensive in their destination country or because certain treatments and procedures are not available.

When taking out health insurance, be sure to check factors such as the annual and lifetime policy limits, whether there are any exclusions which are likely to affect you, whether you are limited to treatment from specific types of healthcare providers, and whether the policy covers emergency evacuation for medical treatment.

Too frequently, potential buyers of health insurance look only for the lowest cost of premiums before really considering the specific benefits and areas of cover they may actually need. Some plans are cheaper for a reason. Often they include large voluntary deductibles on any claim you might make in the future and may severely cap the benefits received under the plan. Clients should define their needs first, establish the particular area of cover they need, then determine their annual healthcare insurance budget. Only then should they look to premium comparisons, last of all.

Do not buy a plan without studying the policy wording carefully. If in doubt, ask, and only when completely satisfied complete all application forms fully, to the best of your ability.

Important questions to ask the insurance provider:

1. Does the plan allow for cooling off periods, cancellation and then repayment of premium in full?

2. Does the plan offer “Moratorium” or is it “Full underwriting” and do you need to have a medical examination before joining?

3. Does the insurer offer a 24 hour help line, 7 days a week, available from anywhere in the world (freephone)? Most insurers now offer this facility.

4. Are pre-existing conditions excluded when joining and if so, for how long are such conditions excluded?

5. Are all and any nationalities accepted or are there restrictions which apply to local nationals? Some insurers will only take expatriates abroad and not local nationals into an overseas plan.

6. Does the plan allow you to continue cover unbroken through your lifetime? In most cases insurers will continue to offer existing clients cover year on year, irrespective of age or claims history, although premium rates charged can increase dramatically with age.

7. Does the insurer allow for any doctor or consultant or hospital within the plan? Are there any restrictions in this respect? Most international plans do not place restrictions on either hospitals or doctors, but almost all demand that their help lines are called first, prior to approval of any inpatient care.

8. Does the insurer provide for the direct settlement of bills presented by hospitals worldwide, regardless of location (or do you have to pay first)?

9. What are the insurers procedures for outpatient claims? Do these require any pre-authorization or if stated in the plan can you just pay and claim? How long before you get money back from the insurer? 14 days? 28 days?.

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Rent Or Buy Property


Renting Property

Moving to China as an expat can be a daunting process. Strict visa laws and language barriers can make settling there tricky, and finding the right home will require perseverance, patience and, ideally, a translator.

From traditional housing and inner-city apartments to villa communities and serviced apartments, there are many property types available. Hiring a real estate agent is a good option to help you narrow down your options. English-speaking agents can be hard to come by, so it may be worth soliciting help from a translator.

To start your search, work out where you would like to live, and then search for agencies in that area. Search online for ‘zufang zhongjie 租房中介’. Alternatively, if you would like to avoid any agency fees, you could go directly to a landlord. The website is commonly used by landlords to advertise their properties.

While it’s extremely difficult to give an accurate representation of the average cost of rent in China, as prices vary so enormously, a good indicator can be to look at the median prices in the most popular cities for expats.

In Beijing, a one-bedroom apartment in the centre will cost you around 6,500 CNY per month ($917). In Shanghai, you can expect to pay the slightly higher price of 7000CNY ($988). Guangzhou is a lot cheaper than these cities, with a one-bedroom apartment costing under $500 a month there. Short-term rentals will be much more expensive.

How much rent you pay in China will depend on a range of factors, including your accommodation type, location and floor level – apartments on higher floors are more expensive. Most regular apartments will have a one-year lease, although short-term options are available.

Rent in China is generally paid one month in advance, or occasionally in six-month blocks. Rental agreements will be in Chinese, so if you don’t speak the language, you should request an English translation. To rent in China, you simply need a passport and visa. You should ask the landlord for his ID details, as scams are not uncommon.

Your rental contract should include all payment terms, the monthly rent amount and deposit details. The deposit will cost the equivalent of one to three months’ rent, although you should try to negotiate a lower deposit by paying more rent upfront if you can afford to. To protect yourself against scams, it’s best to pay via bank transfer, as opposed to cash.

Questions to ask include:

• Does the property operate with weekly or monthly pricing?
• When is rent due and who is it payable to?
• Does the rent include the cost of maintenance, such as cleaning or gardening?
• Who is responsible for the payment of utilities?
• What is your notice period?

Most rental apartments will be completely furnished. If the property is unfurnished, you can always ask the landlord to furnish it for you, although this will increase your rent. Your utilities won’t be included in standard apartments, but will be in serviced apartments.

If you have a dispute with your landlord, take it to the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission.


Buying Property

Purchasing property in China can be expensive, and there are a lot of regulations imposed on foreigners. Only those who have studied or worked in China for over a year will be permitted to buy property.

Shanghai prices have been rising now for over a decade, and you should expect to pay around 100,000 CNY ($14,120) per square meter. In Beijing you, will need to pay roughly the same, whereas Guangzhou is cheaper, and there you can expect to pay 50,000 CNY ($7,060) per square meter.

To buy property in China, you will need to have lived there for over a year. To verify this, you can submit copies of your tax receipts. Renting out property in China is not permitted if you’re a foreigner, which means that, if you buy it, you have to live in it.

If you are unfamiliar with real estate in China, it’s essential that you hire a lawyer. Unlike in other countries, you don’t really ‘own’ the property you buy in China. As a communist country, the property is technically ‘leased’ to you for 70 years, and is usually renewed at the end of this time. Every plot of land is technically owned by the state, and you will not be able to rent out your property or make any money from it.

Most foreigners choose to buy an apartment, as houses are extremely expensive. Hiring a real estate agent is a good idea, as they can arrange visits to properties and help you with negotiations.

Getting a mortgage in China is not easy, and you generally need at least 30% of the purchase price. Many Chinese banks will not give you a mortgage unless you are married to a Chinese citizen. Once you have chosen a property, a down payment is made with the signing of the ‘Beijing Commodity Housing Purchase Offer’. The 30% of the purchase price is then paid, alongside the signing of the ‘Pre Sale Contract’. Once this has been signed, the outstanding balance is paid . You will then receive a number of certificates to verify the sale.

Taxes and fees can add up to over 11% of the purchase price:

• 3% to 6% deed tax
• 0.5% transfer fees
• 7% city maintenance tax
• 0.3% notary fees

While buying property in China can’t really be considered as an investment, it’s a good option if you’ve been living there for over 12 months and can afford to do so.


Move Your Belongings

Consider if you want (or are able) to transport your belongings yourself or whether you will need the services of a removals company that deals with international moves. Unless you are travelling very light, or making a fairly short move by road, you will probably need professional help to ship your possessions. Ask for quotes from several companies first, ensuring that they visit your home to carry out a survey of your requirements. It may be worth paying extra for the removals firm to pack your possessions for you, particularly if they are going to be transported to a distant country and need special protection for the long journey. Make sure you bring to their attention anything fragile or precious that needs particularly careful wrapping and packing.

Before agreeing to a quotation, ensure that you are fully aware of exactly what is covered in the price, and that the service to be provided meets all of your requirements. For example, does the service include both packing and unpacking of your household effects? What about disassembling and reassembling of furniture? If you are planning to put anything into storage in your destination country while you find accommodation, does the price include final delivery and unpacking at your home, or will you need to arrange collection of the items? Obtain a firm estimate of the likely arrival date of your items and obtain contact details for any agents that will be dealing with the removal in your destination country. Ensure that the removals company is aware in advance of any practical considerations such as the lack of an elevator to your apartment, or likely parking problems.

If using a removals company, you may be required to take out their insurance cover for your possessions. Whether or not this is the case, ensure that you have adequate insurance for anything of actual or sentimental value that could get lost or damaged during the move. Take the time to accurately complete or check an inventory of your possessions to be moved, as this will form the basis for any insurance claim for losses or damages. Find out if insurance is included in the price quoted by the removals company, or whether you are required to pay extra for this.

The removals company should arrange any customs and importation documents on your behalf, but if you are arranging the move independently you will need to find out what documents are required and what import duties and taxes are payable (and whether you are eligible for exemption from these).

Make sure that you set aside the important documents you will need for the journey, such as passports and air tickets, and keep these easily accessible in your hand luggage.

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Register For Healthcare

QUICK LINK: China health insurance

As an expat, you will be eligible for national health insurance in some regions, but it depends where you are working. Some Chinese areas will not require you to make national health contributions, but you also will not be able to access the public system. You may, however, be able to make voluntary contributions in some places: check with your employer or your local social security authority.

Coverage for the following has been technically extended to expats:

• old-age pensions
• compensation for workplace accidents
• unemployment benefits
• maternity leave
• medical insurance

However, this does not extend to all areas or all benefits. In Beijing, for instance, you will be entitled to all of the above if you are paying into the system. In Shenzhen, you will only be covered for pensions and health insurance; and Shanghai has not yet implemented the legislation at all for expats: here, you will have to take out private cover.

If you are working, your employer may sign you up for a regional health insurance scheme, depending on where you are based. If you are in one of the cities, this is likely to be the Urban Employee Basic Medical Insurance scheme (UEBMI), which is compulsory. Your contributions will be deducted from the payroll.

If you are not working or are self-employed, you may be able to join a regional scheme voluntarily.

You can sign up with a local GP (in some rural areas, village ‘doctors’ are not licensed GPs and can only work in clinics), and you do not always need a referral to see a specialist. You can see a specialist in an upper-level hospital on your own initiative if you choose to do so. Local health authorities and the Bureaus of Commodity Prices will regulate the fees charged by your primary healthcare provider, and you will need to pay your doctor or hospital upfront at the point of service.


Open A Bank Account

China is one of the fastest growing economies in Asia and the world. The Chinese currency is known as the renminbi, and is one of the most competitive currencies in the Forex market. Renminbi (meaning money for the people) is the most commonly used term locally, although yuan is another word for money.

Chinese money consists of three denominators, the yuan, jiao, and the fen. The yuan is the highest denominator and is issued in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 bank notes. The jiao is the second strongest denominator and comprises of 1, 2, and 5 notes. You can also get the 1 jiao coin. Fen is the smallest denominator and is issued in coin form

Opening A Chinese Bank Account

The Chinese financial sector is heavily dominated by local banks. Nevertheless, you can still find foreign banks such as Citi Bank, Standard Chartered and HSBC in this country. Normal banking hours are from 9am to 5pm on weekdays. Some banks will close for a one-hour break between 12noon and 1pm

Expats receive the same benefits as Chinese nationals when opening bank accounts. Opening an account is easy, and you will be issued with a debit card upon completion. Ensure that your local Chinese bank has all the services that will be useful to an expat, such as international transfers, checkbooks and so on. If not, you may be better off opening an account with one of the international banks established in China

A potential downside of opening an account with a local Chinese bank is that everything is conducted in Mandarin. This language barrier may present many problems with trying to explain your financial needs whether you are opening an account or requesting a banker’s check. If you don’t speak Mandarin, it is advisable to have a translator with you. Nevertheless, there are local Chinese banks that will translate their services in English for international customers.

As an expat, you will only require your passport and some local currency to open an account with a Chinese bank. Some banks will ask for proof of residency or a copy of your visa, although this is not always the case. Once issued with a debit card, you can carry out basic financial transactions such as withdrawing money, checking your account balance, or inter-account transfers from any ATM.

Minor transactions such as withdrawing money are best done from any of the ATMs available in the cities. Banking halls tend to be crowded and queues can be annoyingly slow. If you really have to visit the bank, it is best to pick a service ticket then attend to any other errands you have. By the time you are back in the bank, it will be your turn to be served.

Checks And Credit Cards

Checks and credit cards can be used in China, though they are not as frequent as ATM debit cards. Many of the day-to-day transactions in this country are handled in cash. Some local Chinese companies even pay salaries in cash. Checks or credit cards are mostly used for making purchases online, booking plane tickets or when dining in any of the country’s international hotels and restaurants.

Avoid using a bankers’ check to pay for items or make other financial transactions in China. No local shop, mall or any commercial establishment in China will accept payments through checks or credit cards. Local Chinese banks also reject check payments. If a check is accepted, the Chinese bank will only credit your account once they receive the funds from the financial institution that wrote the check. Some local banks will even ask for collateral as insurance in case there should be an issue with your banker’s check.

Chinese people usually rely on cash for their day-to-day financial responsibilities. Therefore, do not be surprised to discover that many Chinese locals do not have a bank account, let alone a checkbook. As an expat, it is wise to carry some money in cash, especially if you will be spending a lot as you go about your day.

Money Transfers

It is possible to transfer money from a foreign bank account into a local Chinese bank account. The only downside to this is that transaction fees are usually very high. Withdrawing money from an ATM using a MasterCard from a different bank will also attract high fees. The cheapest way to move money from abroad to China is through money services such as Western Union or Money Gram. Another option is to put money in your foreign account while back at home, then only use your ATM card in China; especially if your home bank has a branch in China.

Income Tax

Income tax in China is very high compared to other Asian countries. Fortunately, the Chinese government levies uniform income taxes to all employees, whether you are a citizen or an expat. Income tax percentages are normally between 5 percent on the lowest and 45 percent on the highest.

All migrants who are residing in China for at least five years must pay taxes on their income. Expats who are in China for less than five years will have their taxes calculated for the period they are residents. An income tax exemption may apply for expats who come from countries that signed a tax treaty with China.

As an expat, it is important to ensure that all your taxes are paid during your stay in China. Tax evasion is a serious crime in China, and attracts hefty fines or possible jail time.

Cost Of Living

As China has become heavily industrialized, the cost of living has risen. Shanghai and Guangzhou are among the most expensive cities for you to live in. As an expat, your income level will determine where and how you will live while in China

Expect to spend around $400 per month while living in any of the major Chinese cities. This does not include the cost of hiring cabs, eating out in fancy restaurants, or going out to have some fun in a club or restaurant. If you wish to experience the best of China and live in one of the best apartments in the city, you will need to have a disposable income of at least $1000 per month.


Transfer Money

There are many ways of sending money from one country to another. As always, expats can save themselves a lot of trouble and expense if they do a little research and shop around for the best deal.

International Bank Transfers

For most expats, currency transfer involves transferring small to medium sized amounts regularly from an existing bank account back home into a new overseas bank account in the local currency. These may be pension payments, benefits, or any other form of income.

Your home bank will usually be glad to oblige. You can set up facilities with them “on demand” whereby you fax or call them on the phone, provide a secret code or two, tell them the amount in question, and they will transfer it to your new bank, automatically converting it into the relevant local currency. Some banks also allow you to make international payments online. Whatever method you choose, transfers normally take between 3-7 days although 1-2 day transfers are often available but be prepared to pay more for these.

You can also set up regular transactions that are processed automatically on a fixed day of each month. Many state pensions and benefits can be paid directly into your new bank abroad without going through your home bank at all. Some private pension organisations may also offer the same facility.

When you first set up a transfer of funds abroad, the sending bank or institution will ask you for various codes that identify the destination bank. Often they will ask for IBAN (International Bank Account Number), BIC (Bank Identifier Code) or SWIFT codes but don?t panic – your new bank will give these to you and they may even already be listed in your new chequebook or bank statements.

As far as charges are concerned, you will probably be required to pay a flat fee per transaction. Additionally a percentage fee is often charged for the currency conversion itself. You may also find that your receiving bank charges you for receiving the transfer. Charges vary by bank but can quickly add up – ask your bank(s) for an indication of the fees involved.

As a general rule, transferring larger sums less frequently usually works out cheaper than transferring smaller amounts more often. However, if you need to transfer regular amounts of at least a few hundred pounds/dollars or need to make a larger one-off payment (e.g. for a house purchase) you should consider the services of a currency broker.

Cash Machine/ATM Withdrawals

Thanks to modern technology, most people abroad can go to a cash machine/ATM and withdraw local currency funds directly from their home bank account. This is a useful option to have for expats but exercise caution – many banks make hefty charges for using this type of facility. You may also find that withdrawal limits are in place (as a security measure) even if you significant funds in your account back home.

You can also use VISA or Mastercard credit cards to obtain cash in this fashion and if you pay the amount off quickly and avoid interest charges then fine – but once again credit card charges for cash withdrawals can be high. Check the rates carefully.

Currency Brokers

Currency brokers (also called foreign exchange brokers) offer significant advantages over traditional banks. Firstly, brokers will often be able to offer you a better rate than your bank. Secondly, the entire process is more transparent – many banks require you to accept the exchange rate available on the day they process your transaction, whatever and whenever that may be, but a specialist broker will offer greater flexibility, even allowing you to specify the rate you want in advance.

Currency brokers are smaller companies than major banks so always check their background carefully. Ask existing expats for their own experiences and recommendations before choosing a firm to handle your own foreign exchange requirements.

A good broker will discuss all the options with you and enable you to make the best decision for your circumstances. Using a broker will typically off the following advantages:

1) Currency brokers generally provide superior exchange rates to the high street banks. The currency brokers have access to the interbank rate and do not have the high costs that the banks have. This means that they can usually offer better exchange rates.

2) Use of a free Market Watch/Order Service: This allows you to tell your currency broker your target or budget exchange rate and they will ring you if that exchange rate level is reached. As the rate moves every few seconds, currency brokers can act as your eyes and ears on the market.

3) Ability to fix the exchange rate in advance using a Forward Contract. If you know you need to convert/move funds in the future but don?t yet have the money you can reserve a rate in advance using a Forward Contract. During this period, you are exposed to exchange rate movements and therefore, a forward contract is ideal if, for example, you have agreed to buy a house and want to fix the rate now but will not be making payment for a couple of months.

Savings from currency brokers can vary from between 1 and 4 per cent on the exchange rate alone, and specialists do not typically charge any fees for transmitting the funds abroad, unlike banks which often levy expensive fees or charges. If you are emigrating and transferring a large sum of money – such as the proceeds of a property – a foreign exchange company could potentially save you thousands.

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Learn The Language

China is the world’s most populous country, and is highly industrialized, producing many of the world’s electronics and a whole host of other products for world consumption.

The population of China is now more than 1.4 billion people, 60% of whom are living in urban areas, and this percentage is expected to continue to grow as the process of industrialization develops further. Seven Chinese cities have a population in excess of ten million.

Ethnically, the population is 80% Han, but China also recognizes many minority groups. There is also a significant expat presence throughout the country, concentrated in the major cities, with the largest groups being from Korea, the US, and Japan.

After several decades of extraordinarily rapid growth, China is now the world’s leading economy by many measures. It has a huge middle class, and relatively high salaries, but the pace of development has come at a cost. There are air quality, sanitation, and environmental issues which come with unfettered industrialization, which will take some time to resolve.

The official language in China is Mandarin, a form of Chinese dating back to the 13th century. Mandarin is spoken by about 75% of the population – roughly one billion people. There are over 290 living languages in China – far too many to list here! Mongolian, Uyghur, Tibetan, Zhuang and several other languages are recognized regionally.

However, you need to be aware that there is a very significant second major dialect of Chinese: Cantonese, originating in Guangdong. Cantonese is considerably older than Mandarin, and is still widely spoken throughout the south, especially in areas such as Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Macao.

Although Mandarin and Cantonese share a written language (which also takes slightly different forms), the two dialects are not mutually comprehensible, any more than English and French are.

English is increasingly taught in Chinese schools, as the world’s principal language of commerce, but it is as difficult for the Chinese to learn English as it is for an Anglophone to learn Chinese. You therefore need to appreciate that spoken English in mainland China is still not widespread, particularly outside urban areas. Those in an official capacity (such as the police and immigration officials) may speak at least some English, and so will many people in the popular tourist areas. If you decide to venture into the more rural areas of China, you will find that relatively few people understand any level of English.

Neither Cantonese nor Mandarin are easy languages to learn if you are a Westerner. You will obviously have to master at least some of a completely different alphabet and you need to be aware that Chinese, of whichever variety, is a tonal language. This means that one word can have different meanings (up to nine in Cantonese) depending on your tone.

If you are planning on working in China itself for any length of time, Mandarin is a more sensible choice to learn since Cantonese is not so widely spoken on the mainland beyond Guandong. There are opportunities to learn both forms of the language online.

Once you have chosen where you are going to be based, there are many language schools offering courses at all different levels in both Cantonese and Mandarin. These can be contacted before you arrive, or you may prefer to check availability once you are settled. You can select 1-to-1 courses or group classes, and consult your chosen school regarding language training for specific purposes, such as conversation or business. Some schools offer crash courses for expats who just wish to navigate the country.

There are thousands of jobs available for English speaking people, situated throughout China, in many sectors such as IT, tech, pharmaceutical, banking and commerce, and manufacturing, to name just a few. While you may be able to communicate in English in the workplace in some multinational companies, it cannot be relied upon, and it may be a very different matter out on the street.

Teaching English (TEFL) is a popular choice of occupation in China, and if you have qualifications and a degree, you should have quite a few options in the private sector. It is always easier to get work in international education if you have at least a certificate in either TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages).

It is also preferable if you have experience in teaching schemes such as the Cambridge English exams or IELTS (International English Language Testing System): the English test for study, migration or work. Some teaching experience in the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) will also be helpful. This assesses analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to graduate management programs, such as the MBA. You may also find work more easily if you are experienced in teaching English for particular sectors, such as tourism and hospitality, or in summer schools.

If you are bilingual, there may also be translation or interpreting opportunities in China, but you will need the relevant qualifications.


Choose A School

China is the world’s most populous country, with approximately 1.5 billion inhabitants. Around 60% of the population live in cities.

Public education in China is geared to providing a strong workforce, but the size of the student population, some 400 million, clearly makes this a huge challenge, and there are inequalities between urban and rural education. That said, China spends around 2% of GDP on education, and its literacy rates are among the highest in the world, at around 96%.

State education in China, under the control of the Ministry of Education, is well funded, and tuition for nationals is provided free of charge up to senior school, when a small fee is charged.

The Chinese education system provides pre-school supervision for up to three years, and compulsory education for nine years:

• primary school – ages 6 to 11
• junior secondary school ages 12 – 14

Students will sit a locally administered exam at the end of their junior high school studies, and be offered the choice of continuing their academic studies in senior high school for a further three years, or going to a vocational college to train for jobs in many fields.

Senior school graduates will have to sit the National Higher Education Entrance Exam (Gao Kao). Higher education can be at any one of the 1,250 universities, or 1,400 vocational colleges.

Homeschooling has no official status in China, but is still loosely tolerated. Since compulsory education rules do not apply to foreign children, it is up to the individual should they wish to take this route. There are divided opinions in government circles – some call for China to give homeschooling full legal status, so that proper regulation can be put in place, but an equal number call for it to be banned completely, forcing all children to attend regular schools.

However, numbers are at present small enough that most Chinese educationalists in the government can simply ignore it. That said, it is vital to research the option thoroughly, and to contact expats who have been through the process. Extra-curricular activities such as sports will also be your responsibility.

There has been an explosion of private school provision in China in recent years, and there are now over 70,000 private (fee-paying) schools here, all of which must still adhere to Ministry of Education regulations, and are closely scrutinized. Most are supported by the ever-growing Chinese middle classes, and they are generally of a very good standard.

You are always advised with private and international schools to read the small print as some may have ‘capital investment’ fees for maintenance/enhancement, and other charges.

Should you require it, day care for infants and pre-school kindergarten (ages 3 – 6) can be arranged locally. There are facilities in all cities, and some international schools also have nursery facilities.

International school terms tend to run on the British or American timetable, from September through to exams in June. School hours are generally 08:30 – 12:00, and up to 15:00 or later for older children, especially for extra-curricular activities and extra lessons if needed. However, the teaching language is generally English.

There are over 500 English schools in China, offering British or American curricula, and there are also schools offering those from France, Germany, Switzerland, Korea, Japan, Australia and Canada. Those offering the full International Baccalaureate Diploma program (IBDP) are extremely popular with expats. Over 200,000 students are enrolled in IB schools.

Here are just a few of the many international schools in China –

• Alcanta, Guangdong
• International school of Nanshan, Shenzen
• Leman International School Chengdu, Sichuan
• Nord Anglia International School, Shanghai
• UWC Changsu China, Jiangsu

There are many more to research around Shanghai and other major centres.

Fees need to be established with the individual school, but be aware that the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP) can be expensive, and may be additional to standard fees. Textbooks and uniform and school trips are generally also at your additional expense. Extracurricular activities vary, with some inter-school competitions and co-operations, but many expats also enrol sportier children in local sports clubs.

Successful graduation from a Chinese international school will ensure that your child has the best possible chance of continuing their education wherever they choose.


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