My Home in Guangzhou
My Home in Guangzhou

I decided to create a page about tipps on traveling in and around China as well as working or simply living there. A lot of people ask me how I did it and they find it rather hard to find information about going to China.

Even though packing your bags and going to live in China mind seem kind of crazy and impossible in the beginning, nobody needs to be scared because it is possible and you can actually make your dream come true!

In the following I am going to answer a couple of questions readers or friends asked me about going to China. If you have any questions not listed below, please leave a comment and I will be happy to help you!

What majors/careers are good for eventually working and living in China?

I think there is no specific career that is best to make it in China. You can find companies of all kinds in China so don’t try to find a job or do something you don’t like just because you want to live in China. The most common way to find your way to China is teaching languages. Especiall English teaching position can be found anywhere and they are very well paid! You can make between 8,000 and 12,000 RMB just for teaching a couple of hours a week! However, if you do not want to be a teacher, you can also go to China and work in a different job. If you cannot speak the language well, you should look for Western companies located there. Especially start-ups seem to be a great way to start. I worked at a German start-up company for 6 months.

Education wise, a Bachelor’s degree is the minimum I would say – just like in the Western world. However, if you are lacking a BA or BS, don’t be afraid! Go ahead and study in China or set up your own business! Western cuisine is very big in China – how about a foreign cuisine restaurant?

What opportunities lead people to working and living in China?

Right now, I think there’s all kinds of opportunities to work and live in China. For me it is definitely the culture and my passion for China. I love the country, the way of life and the food.

Career wise I think a lot of people come to China to start their own business. My former boss came to China after studying Chinese himself and set up an online marketing company. The market is there! You have the Chinese population but also a high percentage of foreigners who found their ways to China. This are two potential customer groups that are very different from each other and if you are planning on starting your own business you need to understand that.

How did you find a job in China?

Unlike many other interns I did not find a job through a special agency. There are a lot of these internship agencies which cost a lot of money for services you can easily do yourself. I was looking at hundreds of different job sites specifically designed for foreigners who want to go to China. Here is a list of good job search sites:

Regarding the application itself: always look at where the company is from. If it’s an American company, use the American application format, if it’s a German company, use the German format etc.

 

NOTE: Since there are not many laws regarding discrimination in China, be prepared to answer personal questions or put a photo on your resume.

 

Where can I buy the cheapest plane tickets to China?

Of course the price for a plane ticket depends on your location. In my experience, I can really recommend Skyscanner or Swoodoo. Depending on your location you should consider flying in via Hongkong. This is convenient if you are going to be in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, etc.. Ususally flights to Hongkong are much cheaper from the USA and Europe.

What is the best Website for domestic flights?

The mostly used two Websites are Ctrip and Qunar. They both offer cheap flights and also hotels and much more at really good prices! The downside: it does not allow you to book tickets far ahead. Usually, you can only book tickets for in 3 or 4 months.

How do I get a visa?

Unfortunately, almost anybody needs a visa to enter China. If you are a national of Singapore, Brunei or Japan, you are allowed to enter China without visas for up to 15 days.

To get a visa you either need to contact the Chinese embassy or a Chinese consulate in your home country or fly into Hongkong first. Almost everybody can enter Hongkong without a visa and can stay up to 90 days! (Check here to see ff you need a visa for Hongkong or not)

There are many visa agencies based in Hongkong that can provide visa services within a couple of hours. In order to get my 6 month visa I just needed my passport, insurance papers and my work contract – a traveler’s visa is even quicker and easier to get!

I can really recommend this agency which is located close to the Tsim Sha Tsiu Promenade. You can write them an email asking about their different visas and prices and you can even arrange a Skype interview if you are not sure about stuff! My visa was done within 4 hours.

Normally, getting your visa in Hongkong is much cheaper and of course quicker than in your home country. I was sceptical at first, when my boss told me I didn’t have to get the visa done before I come to China but really, there is no need to be worried! If you can, go to Hongkong, stay there a couple of days, do some nice sightseeing and get your visa done. What better way can there be to start your amazing journey in China?

How much is the cost of living in China?

Usually, you would think the cost of living in China is very cheap – yes and no. The cost of living really depends on where you are going to live and how you want to live. There are certain things that are really cheap, like eating out at a Chinese restaurant, sightseeing, shopping for clothes and traveling. On the other side, there are things that are much cheaper than or the same as in the West. Drug store products like make-up, cleansing product, shampoo, creams, etc. are very expensive in China. Also, if you eat at Western restaurants or other non-Chinese cuisine restaurants it can be quite expensive. Partying is also very expensive. However, if you are a girl you usually don’t need to worry about spending money when partying 😉

All in all, when I lived in Guangzhou the cost of living for me was around 4,000 RMB a month. However, I did not have to pay rent. So around $650 or €500 per month. But I have to say, I lived very well! I was traveling a lot, did a lot of shopping and also ate at foreign restaurants from time to time. I also took private Chinese lessons which made up 1,200 RMB per month (200 RMB per hour for one-on-one).

How are you treated by Chinese people?

I have to say I have never experienced anything negative from Chinese people. They are very friendly and curious and usually start talking to you and want to know where you are from and what you are doing. If you can speak Chinese they will praise how good your Chinese is and maybe take a photo of or with you. Depending on where you are going, a big city with lots of foreigners or the contrary, people look at you more.

Do I have to speak Chinese to live in China?

You don’t necessarly have to. However, it is a huge advantage if you can speak the language. Again, depending on your location, people might not speak English and therefore, communication might be a problem. However, if you can’t speak Chinese but really want to go to China, don’t worry! I have met foreigners who went to China without any knowledge of the language and they took Chinese classes and studied at home and by the time they left after 6 months they got the basics down!

If you want to go to China for a certain amount of time and do not plan to learn the language, you should probably choose a big city like Beijing or Shanghai to live in. It will be much easier for you – but if you are looking for a challenge, live in a smaller town!

  • What a great post! Have you heard about the recent visa overhaul from July 2013- September 1023? Do you think the government will cool down or proceed with full force? Kind of nervous if I ever need to make a visa run in HK since flying back to Canada would cost an arm and a leg- plus 20+ hours in flying. Yikes.

    • sorry for my late reply. Yes I heard about the changes. I am not so familiar with them though so here is a good source for you from my friend Sara: http://sarajaaksola.com/chinas-new-visa-rules/

      I can definitely recommend getting your visa done in Hongkong. Look at the agency I recommended in the post. The Website might look “crappy” but they do their work. You can send them emails and they respond almost instantly. Or call them via skype.

      • As mentioned before, Hong Kong is not for everyone. I also assume you have not been on a employment permit, you did an internship therefore you were on a student or business visa. For employment permit is not only about Hong Kong. If your country is allowed to do it in Hong Kong, still you need to do part of the process in Mainland, always. Is not possible to do a employment permit 100% in HK, that just does not apply, if is another type of visa yes you can. If an agent says you will get your employment permit without leaving Mainland, you should be aware that agent will fake your visa.
        There are several steps:
        1. Find an employer who sponsors you for employment permit
        2. You need an “alien ” letter from the Authorities. This is a letter from Mainland, that is issued by the Authorities and you must take this with you to Hong Kong together with the medical check, contract and so on. Without this, you don’t apply for it. No letter, no trip no visa.
        3. Once you have that letter, go to Hong Kong and apply for Z visa
        4. Come back to Mainland and apply for resident permit.
        I know that post from Sara, in fact some of the comments are mine. M visa is the new substitute for F visa. In China there is no visa for freelancing, people who work as freelances in their home country usually register their own company and therefore get a visa. Some others work for a different company and they would say they earn on a commission basis (their own projects).
        I repeat this, the fact that people are doing this or that does not mean they do it legally, if you are willing to do things illegally then that’s your own risk.

  • There is a list of countries that cannot apply for visas in Hong Kong. There is also a list of countries that have no rush service in Hong Kong, just the regular service (4 working days). The visa for an internship is different from the employment permit so the “couple of hours” service would not be available. To sum up, currently you need to present your medical check, also for business visa.
    Since internship / business visa is not the same as employment permit, requirements are not the same (two years work experience after graduation, now there is a new trend and they ask for a letter from your employer where they need to explain in Chinese why a foreigner and not a local employee, etc etc). Also to be legally hired as an English teacher in China the Authorities have a very strict rule, that is more strict since the new law, must hold a diploma in teaching English as a foreigner language (not just be American / British/…or be a foreigner) but have a degree for that specific purpose.
    I think that is very important to make it very clear: internship does not equal employment, and there is a visa for each single purpose.

    • Suigetsu

      So they actually demand a TESOL qualification for English teachers now? It’s about time, but I’m sure a white foreigner could still get away with not having the qualification at many of the more dubious institutions.

      • Not really, it really depends where you go. I am probably going to teach in my BF’s hometown and they do not care about TESOL certificates. I wouldn’t take all that so seriously. If you find a company that really wants you, you definitely get a visa.

      • That diploma is a requirement, a must, the fact that many Schools do not ask for it does not mean that is not a requirement from the Authorities to teach in China (Government rule). This is not a new law or anything but many schools did not respect it. If you check on the internet you can see that now they are more strict about it, since the new law they do check schools more often. You can try to find on the internet about it, some teachers have been deported. You could get get away, but there is a chance you could not.

      • Suigetsu

        I see. But the way I understand it is that if the school doesn’t demand the required qualification for teaching English, then the white foreigner can pretty much get away with not having the qualification because the school will actually falsify certificates to send to the government authorities. This is the reason why unqualified English teachers are everywhere in China. However, the emphasis is on the foreigner being white; if you’re not white, then you don’t get the privileged treatment.

  • Law has changed last time in September 2013 and is more difficult to find a job without those certificates.
    Because of being too young (can’t show you have 2 years of experience), because of not having your English teaching certificate (requirement..) now companies algo get a fine if they are catch doing that.
    No need to go too far to hear or read about it. Just google a couple of words like..english teacher deported china, or english teachers requirements china,.. give it a try and you will see what people talk about.
    Not all Schools are qualified to provide you with the proper visa.
    Since you are moving in few months instead of just trusting in how things used to work months ago or years ago..or what local people tell you..I really recommend you do some research, just in case! So that you can be ready for it.
    Talk to other foreigners teaching legally, but I mean, serious ones.
    Talk to schools that take things seriously.

    Trusting in your local best friend or your boyfriend won’t be a lifevest, I have heard so many times the “don’t worry I’m local I know about it..” in many topics, to ending up discovering that the person was truly nice and wanted to help but actually couldn’t.

    Do your homework, have a Plan A, Plan B…Plan C.

    China – Objective: Teach English – Can’t? PlanB- School that can sponsor visas (not all can, once again).
    You can sketch a plan.

  • As someone who lives in a small Chinese city with “only” a population of just over a million, we definitely see the advantage of living in 3rd tier city. If you’re trying to acquire the language, moving to a smaller city will force you to adapt and start speaking Chinese. Living in bigger cities is great for more opportunities (e.g. jobs), but it’s also easier to stay in your English/expat bubble.

    • yes true! and i wouldnt say bigger cities offer better opportunities. there is so much more competition than in smaller cities!

      • What’s it like in Changsha? I visited once and it seemed like a Tier 2 city. How many foreigners are there?

        • yeah it is developing very fast! i like it. there are many foreigners because its a popular university city. but the city is divided by the Xiang river and i live on the other side of the university part so there are weeks where i dont see a foreigner.