Living in China FAQ's
Doesn't the Chinese government block some websites? >
We get this question all the time and the answer is ‘YES’. The Chinese government has blocked many “social media” sites such as Facebook, Pandora, YouTube, Snapchat and others. Skype works fine here, so you won't have any problem communicating with your friends and family. Apart from living on the other side of the world, you’ll have to adjust to different standards and apps to use. Wechat is your one-stop shop app for everything. From messaging, group chat, calling a taxi, and even translation, Wechat is by far your most useful resource while in China. Also, consider this, Google is blocked so you’ll become familiar with Yahoo and Bing a lot more.
Before you start bidding farewell to your Facebook friends, look into a Virtual Private Network or VPN. Recommended VPNs include Astrill and Express VPN. That being said, the "high-speed" Internet is typically pretty slow and probably not what you’re used to in a western country.
Mobile phone use >
In China there are three mobile providers, China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom. China Mobile and China Unicom are GSM providers while China Telecom is a CDMA provider. You can bring your own phone as long as it’s a GSM unlocked phone. Unlocked is NOT the same thing as off contract, you can call your current provider to give you an unlock code or Google for alternative methods. If you don’t bring your own phone, it’s fine. You can choose a new phone just like in western countries. Popular smartphone manufacturers include Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, HTC, and Huawei. Also, when you by a phone, it’s not billed across your monthly bill, you pay for it up front. You can get a pretty nice phone for about 2,000 RMB or less, which is about $300USD.
If you go to a large branch of any provider there will almost always be an English speaking staff. Make sure to bring your passport with you when applying for a number or conducting any business on your account. Prepaid and contract options are both available for foreigners. There are multiple ways to pay your bill including going to a local branch, many convenience stores and pay in cash, you can purchase recharge cards from newsstands or convenience stores, or add money online with your bank account.
Money and Banking >
The Chinese currency is the “Yuan Renminbi”; it is referred to as Yuan, CNY or RMB (Renminbi). It is the only currency that can be used to purchase local items. In general, the Chinese do not use checks. Cash is the most common way of payment. Online and mobile payments are becoming more and more popular including Wechat and Alipay. Alipay is very similar to PayPal but based in China. Apple Pay was recently launched in China as another mobile payment method.
You will want to open a bank account right away. This can be done very easily with only your passport and a signature. I have found Citibank to be very “foreigner” friendly. They have multi-currency accounts that allow you to receive money in your home currency, as well as in Yuan. Your employer may have a preferred bank so check with them first. It’s all a good idea to check with your home bank and verify if they have any sister banks in China, this could save money on international transfers.
Before arriving, it’s encouraged to open a PayPal account. Most major banks in China will allow you to link you online banking to PayPal. This will make it easier to transfer money to and from your Chinese bank account. Western Union and wire transfers are also available but the fees are a bit more expensive.
Without your pay stubs the limit on foreign money exchange for a foreigner is $500USD/day, so don’t wait until the last day if you plan to take a lot of money home with you. Another option is to also have a Chinese friend convert the money for you, they are allowed up to $50,000USD/year.
As for credit cards, MasterCard, VISA and Discover all work in the mainland. They have an arrangement with Union Pay, which is the authority for all banking in China. This means you can use your credit card in many, but not all places. Be sure to contact your banking provider ahead of time to inform them of your travels. This will prevent any issues or restrictions that can be considered fraud charges or etc.
Medical Facilities >
Hospitals throughout mainly China are staffed and equipped to handle pretty much any medical requirements you may have. There are three types of medical services: Western-style hospitals and clinics which you’ll really only find in Tier 1 cities, regular clinics in local hospitals, and VIP clinics in local hospitals. These hospital and medical facilities will be able to provide the best care for your needs. In addition, dentists are also readily available.
For major cities a lot of dentists will be have English speaking staff and cater specifically to the expat community. For example, a basic cleaning will cost 400 RMB in Shanghai.
Also, these hospitals/clinics are not authorized to provide all the vaccinations required, for which you have to go to a local government hospital. Most local hospitals also have VIP clinics, which aim to provide services to expats. About 150-300 RMB would get you a consultation with either a senior doctor accompanied by an English-speaking nurse or an English-speaking doctor. Or for a basic visit, registration fees amount to about RMB 10-20RMB.
How will I learn Chinese (mandarin) ? >
Most schools provide some means of learning Mandarin. Either on-line programs or live classes. Independently, there are countless opportunities to learn the language. Ways to learn mandarin range from local universities, mandarin institutes, tutors, language exchanges, and more.
Where will I live? >
Unless your position comes with free housing, upon arrival you will stay in a hotel for 1-3 weeks. This will give you time to work with a local Realtor (provided by either your school or by Teaching Nomad) and find a suitable apartment based on your schools location and how much money you want to spend.
Moving to China with a family >
Moving to a new country with your family certainly adds additional questions and concerns. First off, is it possible? Yes, it’s definitely possible. The fact of the matter is that some schools/jobs are not set up or designed to accommodate a family. Others are. Your Teaching Nomad placement specialist will be there to help identify a school that will welcome you and your family. There are some additional items that you will be responsible for and should be prepared for: Schooling – Public or private and the cost associated with both VISA’s – Because you will be a registered “Foreign Expert” you can sponsor VISA’s for your family, but this will be at your own expense.
The first few weeks or couple months will probably be the hardest time while you’re adjusting to the new environment, finding housing, schools, etc. Having someone like a spouse or friend to help with childcare during this time will be very helpful. Another suggestion is to begin learning Mandarin before you arrive; this will only help to make your transition easier.
Prescription medication >
Generally speaking, most (nearly all) medications that are available in Western countries can be found in China. Nearly all of the common Western OTC (over-the-counter) drugs can be easily purchased at a Chinese pharmacy. Their distinctive green cross sign easily finds pharmacies in China. This will be prominently displayed on the outside of the building and will be an indicator that a licensed pharmacist is on duty inside.
English language skills can vary quite a bit; in large cities it will be possible to find an English-speaking pharmacist or pharmacy tech, but in smaller cities this might be more of a challenge. To get around this, try writing down the technical name for the drug instead of the brand; for example, Ibuprofen instead of Advil, Acetaminophen instead of Tylenol. Most drugs will require a prescription from a Chinese licensed doctor, although there are some antibiotics available OTC that require a prescription in Western countries. In general, so long as you head to a licensed pharmacy with a prescription in hand or with a little preparation; pharmacies in China are very similar to those found in your home country.
What are the dangers of teaching in China? >
The biggest danger is never wanting to leave but of course living anywhere has its dangers and annoyances. Knowing what to look out for and what areas to avoid will always is helpful. Rather than listing specifics for all parts of China, go to the links page where we have posted links to the some of most complete resources for teach abroad travel safety.
Cost of living in China >
As a teacher you have quite a built in advantage here in China. Teachers can earn anything from $1,500 –$4,000 per month. There are also plenty other benefits like free housing, free meals and 1-2 months of PAID vacation. China is a huge and varied country; the highest earning individuals are in the biggest cities and of course this is where the highest expenses are.
The apartment you choose to live in will ultimately affect every part of your cost of living. If you travel by subway to work you can pay .50 cents each way for the subway. Or you can spend $2 ($2 for the first 1&1/2 miles) or more on a cab ride. Yes, Uber is available.
A basic guide to go off of for apartment cost is:
- 3,800 RMB - One bedroom of a larger apartment in a tier 1 city
- 1,000 RMB – Entire one bedroom apartment in less developed city
Other costs you'll encounter:
- 25RMB/Hour - Housekeeper (called an Ayi)
- 500 RMB - Train ticket (Beijing to Shanghai)
- 180 RMB - 1hr massage
- 2,500 RMB - Electric scooter (very popular in big cities)
- 500 RMB - Bicycle
- 10 RMB - DVD
- 15 RMB - Video game (playstation, Xbox, etc.)
- 1,800 RMB - In-home Internet for the year
- 1,600 RMB - Plane ticket (Shanghai to Bangkok, Thailand)
- 5 RMB - Local beer
- 30 RMB – Imported beer
These are just a few examples of expenses you may come across while living and teaching in China. Moral of the story is by working with Teaching Nomad you are guaranteed to get a position that will pay you enough to live well, save money, pay off debts or any combination.
How will I meet friends and other expats? >
Just like any new cities, you’ll have to put yourself out there to meet new people. The more internationally developed cities will have more expats but no matter what city you're in, everyone is in the same boat. They're in a new place and looking to make friends, in general the expat crowd is some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet. Wechat will be your go to for joining group chats related to nightly events, official accounts for promotions, and a lot more. Meetup.com and internations.com is great site that offer a range of events and networking opportunities no matter your interests. Also, just consider your workplace. Your staff and colleague will be your first line of defense for meeting new friends.
What if I don't like it? What if I want to quit or go back home? >
Most contracts will be 1 to 2 years standard, and it’s possible that you won’t like the situation. Anything from culture shock, language barrier, your students, and more can affect you longevity in China. Within each contracts, there will be a clause that states that you’ll need to give anywhere from 30 to 90 days notice of your exit. This will allow the proper procedures to be completed including resident permit, visa, and etc. You are going to be on an adventure so all the times won’t be good times, but don’t give up. After day one, you’ll get acclimated and you’ll feel more comfortable by the day.
If you’re having difficulties with your school, get in touch with your placement consultant at TN so we can try to smooth things out either at that school or find you a more suitable placement.
How will I find an apartment? >
We here at TN work hand and hand with designated realtors and agents to help provide the best services assisting you with your living hunt. In addition, your school or colleagues may have preferred agents based on experience with foreigners and expectations. The turnaround period is very quick, so you’ll be able to find a place within a week, just be prepared to look at a lot of places. Also, consider this is China and not your home country, so things will be a little different. Make sure you request a western toilet, unless you want to make this the most immersion experience all around. Most foreigners share apartments with each other, strangers and friends. It’s a very common practice.
How can I buy tickets to travel? >
Because you’ll be paid in RMB, you’ll want to buy plane or train tickets in that currency. The top online provider for travel in China is Ctrip.com. They offer an English version of their site also. It’s also very common for local to purchase the tickets for you and you pay them the cash directly because the buying ticket curve can be a bit frustrating. In addition, one of the easiest methods is to go to the airport or train station and speak with someone at the English speaking counter. Just be sure to be your passport and enough money. They’ll accept local debit/credit cards as well as international cards i.e. Visa or MasterCard.
Where will I buy food? >
The two major grocery store chains are Carrefour and Tesco. Think of them as Wal-Mart plus a dash of target. These chains will have most of everything you need from clothing, electronics, groceries, toiletries, and everything in between. The imported food will be limited and often rather pricey. There are plenty of local grocery stores and fruit markets located in every city. Most labels will include a Chinese and English translation for general staples.
Online grocers are becoming very popular and are often the best sources for imported food (fresh or frozen) as well as alcohol.