China Guide

China Overview

China is an experience.  It can be a challenge but it is also a fascinating country: culturally, historically, politically and also in terms of its varied and beautiful landscapes. If you will be working and living in China, go with an open and enquiring mind, be prepared for frustrations but also for a fascinating journey.

Culture Shock is something which must be expected.  The foreign language and culture can result in a range of emotional reactions, including irritation, frustration and anxiety.

Culture shock in China can be particularly acute due to the language barrier and to different ways of behaviour, reaction and even in some respects, different ways of thinking.  It is unlikely that you will have a grasp of the spoken language before you arrive, and it can take a long time before you are able to read, if ever!

Some of the key differences between western and Chinese cultural behaviour include directness/ indirectness, informality/ formality, active/non-active participation in meetings by middle ranking staff and Face. Protecting the “face” of colleagues, business partners and yourself is a key cultural issue to watch.

Read more about Meeting Etiquette, Cultural Challenges, and Useful Phrases in our other articles.

Visa Requirements

If you are relocating to China with your company, you and your family will need to obtain a Work Permit and Residence Permit, preceded by a short-term Z visa.  Note that the short-term Z visa needs to be issued in your home country.  The Work Permit and Residence Permit are normally valid for 1 year, but can be renewed.

The process of applying for a Work Permit and Resident permit is long and arduous. The whole process can take 4 – 5 months and that is after all documents have been gathered, translated, legalised and notarized.

Basic eligibility criteria include: over 25 years of age and under 60; a university graduate with a minimum of two years post-graduation relevant work experience. But even meeting these basic criteria will not guarantee acceptance. The authorities are now looking carefully at academic standards, work experience, seniority of the position to be taken in China.

For more information, please refer to our articles below:

Visa & Immigration Key Facts
Eligibility to Work


Most of the larger cities in China have a wide range of different housing options, including traditional Chinese houses, modern apartment complexes and western style suburban housing estates.  The rent levels can vary widely, as in any country, and depend on location and size, and also on the levels of service offered by the management companies.  As rentals for expatriate housing in many cities are high, there is sometimes an expectation that the quality will be of a very high standard, however, this is not always the case.  Hotel style serviced apartments are very convenient, particularly when you first arrive and need to secure permanent accommodation, however, such properties charge a significant premium for their services. And are only available in major Chinese cities

Rental costs in smaller, less developed Chinese cities are far lower than in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, but the quality of the accommodation and the service levels fall far behind.

Furniture Rental

Since most properties come furnished, there are few options for furniture rental in China. It is possible to rent furniture in Shanghai and in Beijing, but not possible in most of the second and third tier cities.


The cost of utilities in China is generally lower than in the West. However, be warned that in some cities a tiered system operates. If you keep your usage below a certain level you will be charged at a relatively low rate, however, once you exceed that level all your usage for the remainder of the year will be at a significantly higher level.

Payment of utilities can be problematic. In some cases a card can be used to recharge the meter, or payment can be made at the bank. Most utility bills can now be paid with an online service called Alipay, but first your bank card needs to be connected to their service.



Most major centres of expat population have at least one international English speaking school. These tend to be of very high standard. Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou have a wide choice of international schools which cover a variety of international curricula. In these cities there are also schools which cater for German, French , Indian or Japanese children. While Chinese schools are now open to foreign students, all tuition is in Chinese so practically speaking these are not an option, except for Chinese speaking children. The best Chinese schools are however, extremely competitive and very difficult to gain admission to even for Chinese speaking children.



Most major international airlines serve the larger cities in China.  Rail and air travel within China is generally clean and efficient.  For quick travel between the cities in China, travel by fast train is generally the most convenient and comfortable. The fast train network is extensive across the country.  Avoid travelling within China during the major holidays of Chinese New Year and National Day, when most of China is on the move.

Air travel

Air tickets can be booked through travel agents or with airlines direct; however, travel agents generally offer better fares.  You generally need to pay cash for tickets.  For tickets booked online, some will deliver and take cash on delivery.

Taxis and other public transportation

Taxis are a convenient and affordable option.  As most taxi drivers do not speak English, it’s advisable to have the name of your destination written in Chinese to show to the driver, and also the name of your return destination. An on-line taxi booking service  DiDI (with an English option) is a must.

The subway system  in many Chinese cities, which has seen very rapid growth in the past few years, is a very economical and convenient method of local transportation. The subway can though be very crowded at peak hours.

Read our article on Driving and Driving Requirements should you be interested in driving in China.

IT Issues and Solutions

Internet and free WI-FI access is generally widely available and reliable; however, the whole of China sits behind a firewall which slows and monitors traffic in and out of the country. Some websites are not accessible from within China eg the BBC, the New York Times) google searches sometimes fail to load and many social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter are not readily accessible.  If these types of sites are important to you, consider investing in a subscription to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or proxy server. These services will guarantee unfettered and fast access to all the sites you want. It is advisable to subscribe before you arrive in China.

Most apartment and housing complexes for foreigners will either already have a broadband network or will be able to organize ADSL access for you. Currently ADSL costs around ¥120 per month for unlimited access.

Generally, internet speed is good, though, you may find it is slower than in your home country.