Should You Move to China?

We make lots of decisions in life. Some are small and insignificant, such as what to watch on TV tonight. Others are huge and could have a lasting impact on our lives; deciding to move abroad is one such decision. That decision becomes even bigger when one ponders moving to the other side of the world – to a country with an entirely different language, culture, and way of life. Moving from the United States to Canada or the UK is one thing. Moving to China is a different story altogether.

China is calling... will you answer?
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China is calling… will you answer?

We know that moving to China is not an easy decision to make and that there’s a lot to think about. Since we’ve made this choice and spent over 5 years living here, we’ve met a lot of people who have come and gone. Through our experience, we’d like to think that we have a good idea of why people come to China, as well as why they leave. If you’re considering a move to the Middle Kingdom, here’s our two cents about making that life-changing choice. First, ask yourself a simple question:

Why do you want to move to China?

Do you want to immerse yourself in Chinese culture?
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Do you want to immerse yourself in Chinese culture?

Are you looking for an experience between graduation and entering the “real world”? Are you trying to escape said “real world” altogether? Do you want to study Chinese language and culture? Are you struggling to find a job at home and need other options? Do you want to date Chinese girls? Or do you just want to travel in Asia and need a way to fund your trip?

Through our years living and working here, we’ve met people who fall under all of those umbrellas, as well as plenty others with their own, unique reasons for moving here. Being clear and honest with yourself about your reasons for moving here will help make this whole process a little easier.

Are you ready?

How are your chopstick skills?
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How are your chopstick skills?

This isn’t the same thing as renting a U-Haul and moving your stuff from Detroit to Chicago. We’re talking a big move to the complete opposite side of the world. There’s a plethora of things you need to take into consideration before making the call to move to China:

Job Or School?

Are you going to teach?
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Are you going to teach?

Are you planning on working or studying here? Some people insist on having a school or job lined up before stepping on the plane, while others choose to show up here, do some traveling, see if they like it, and then transition into studying or working. There are pros and cons to each method, so think carefully.

Having a job lined up is great for getting your visa and having some direction upon your arrival. It could also work out terribly, at which point you’re either going off on your own or stuck in a job you hate. It is 100% possible to come here on a tourist visa and then change over to a student/business/working visa, so you definitely have options.

Find a City, Find Yourself a City to Live in

Shanghai is a popular choice with expats.
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Shanghai is a popular choice with expats.

Where exactly are you going to live in China? In one of the mega-cities like Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou? Or maybe in a smaller, less crowded city such as Chengdu or Kunming? Perhaps you would rather experience rural China and skip the cities altogether. Do some research into this massive country before making the choice to move here.

Accommodation

Make sure you have a place to stay!
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Make sure you have a place to stay!

Once you’ve made that choice, you have to figure out where you’re going to live. Some schools provide accommodation, but it’s more than likely you’ll be on your own. Should you choose to rent your own apartment, you’ll need 3-6 months rent up front, plus at least another month for a deposit. Rent is cheaper than in the US or Europe, but this still adds up to a substantial chunk of change. Make sure you’ve got money saved, otherwise you’ll be in a less than desirable situation. We’ve put together a whole guide on accommodation in China, so bookmark that for later.

Visa

Do you know the requirements for your visa?
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Do you know the requirements for your visa?

Applying for a Chinese visa can be a tedious and frustrating process. Make sure you know where you need to go, what time they’re open, and what exactly you need to bring. This differs depending on the type of visa that you’re applying for. To get a tourist visa, you simply need the application, proof of your flight/hotel, and a passport sized photo. For study or work purposes, this list of necessary documents becomes much longer. Visa regulations and requirements are always changing, but we’ve compiled the basics on Chinese visas for you already.

Culture Shock

Yep, that's a guy buying a chicken on the side of the road.
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Yep, that’s a guy buying a chicken on the side of the road.

No matter where you’re coming from, you’re going to experience quite a bit of culture shock in China. From trying to decipher the 10,000+ characters of written Chinese, to eating chicken feet with chopsticks, to seeing babies defecating on the pavement, China is sure going to force you out of your comfort zone. Some people embrace this culture shock, while others run for the hills. What kind of person are you? Are you really ready to be immersed in a culture much different than your own? We know a thing or two about culture shock in China, so read up on that as well.

How long do you want to stay?

We've been here for 5+ years.
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We’ve been here for 5+ years.

If you’re planning on studying or working here, you basically have to commit at least a year. Those looking to complete some sort of official program in Chinese, actually save money, or do a decent amount of traveling will need to budget two or more. If you can’t see yourself potentially staying here for 1-5 years, you should maybe stop considering moving here entirely and start looking for ideas closer to home.

How homesick will you be?

Detroit sports, BBQ, and beer - three things I miss every day.
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Detroit sports, BBQ, and beer – three things I miss every day.

Whether you’re from Europe, Down Under, or the good ole’ USA, a move to China means that your friends and family will be far, far away. So will your favorite restaurant, your sports team, the bands you like, your dog, and everything else you’ve grown up with. Unless you’re made of money, you will most likely be returning home only once a year – maybe even less. If you’re lucky, family and friends will come visit you, but even that will be once in a blue moon and far too short. People who had a hard time being away from home in college should seriously consider whether or not they can handle living on the other side of the world.


After giving some serious thought to these topics and answering the questions we’ve proposed, hopefully the decision will be a bit easier. If you’d like to know what motivated us specifically to move to China (we came here at different times and thus have different reasons), check out our stories – Sasha and Rachel. If you still think China might be for you, read on for information about teaching English here, daily life, accommodation, culture shock, and learning Chinese.

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