Moving to China can be a daunting process – especially if you have never visited before. With so much to think about and so many things to organise, it’s hard to know where to begin.
This article will cover some of the key topics you’ll be thinking about as you start your journey to becoming a ‘laowai’ 老外 (foreigner in Chinese).
Before you arrive
First thing’s first, make sure you know what you’re doing. By this I mean know your plan for when you get there i.e. working, studying. Have this confirmed with your employer or university/school so then you can organise getting your visa.
Once you have your visa, you’re technically ready to go. However, these are few of the things you should be considering before you pack your bags – especially if you are moving indefinitely or for a substantial period of time.
Before you come to China, you must make sure you have legalised all the necessary documents you might need. This process can only take place in the country in which the document was issued, so make sure to be ahead of the game and have them legalised before you come, to prevent being stuck in a tricky situation later down the line.
In the majority of countries, the only way to legalise documents is either through the corresponding ministry of the document (e.g. in the case of a university degree it would be the Ministry of Education), by the foreign ministry, or by the Chinese consulate in your country.
You should also think carefully about which documents might be useful to you when you are living in China, in case you might need them at some point. It’s a good idea to make sure you have digital or electronic copies, as well as the originals, of all important documents too.
Documents may include:
- Passport size photos
- Birth certificate
- Marriage certificate
- Academic records
- Social security cards
- Medical and dental records
- Insurance policies
- Employment records
- Proof of residency (bill or statement)
The official currency of China is the Chinese Renminbi (RMB). As it’s not an international currency, it makes it a bit trickier to work with than just the U.S Dollar or the Euro, for example.
One option is to get an international credit or debit card. International cards such as Visa and Mastercard are accepted by most ATMs from the main Chinese banks. However, China has its own banking network called UnionPay and so you are likely to find that the majority of businesses will only accept cards from this network.
The best thing to do is to set up a Chinese bank account once your arrive in China. This way, you can transfer money from your current bank account into your Chinese bank account, and then later change the currency you have transferred into yuan. This means you will avoid having to pay any unnecessary transaction fees or restrictions you might face when using an international card. In addition, if you are working and being paid in yuan, you will need a Chinese bank account to recieve the money.
Opening a Chinese bank account is usually a straightforward process – all you need is your passport, proof of address and 10-20 yuan for the card and initial deposit. You also don’t really need much Chinese language ability to do this either. Popular banks include Bank of China, ICBC and China Merchants Bank.
Before you leave for China, remember to make sure to let your current bank know that you’re moving abroad so that they don’t end up freezing your account!
Although it’s not required that you get any specific vaccinations before going to China, it’s best to make an appointment with your doctor before you go to make sure. They will be familiar with your vaccine records and can decide if there are any you should perhaps have. It is recommended however that you make sure your tetanus, polio, typhoid, hepatitis A and B vaccines are up to date.
Unfortunately, healthcare is not free in China. They have a pay as you go system, meaning you have to pay upfront to see a doctor and then for each part of your treatment thereafter, e.g x-rays, prescriptions etc. Most expats in China choose to see a private doctor in an international hospital. If you’re unsure of where to find one, you can ask in your local WeChat expat group for recommendations.
It’s also worth checking with your employer or university/school to see if they will provide you with health insurance. In most cases they won’t, or if they do it will only be basic coverage, so it is advised to take out your own health insurance policy just to be safe.
The best way to find accommodation in China is to join expat housing groups on WeChat or Facebook. This is where most private listings are found. Alternatively, you could go directly to an agency or look online, but if you can’t speak Chinese then this is definitely more trouble than it’s worth.
You should also make sure that you have enough money with you when you first arrive in China, as many apartments require an initial payment of 3 months plus a 1 month deposit straight away.
China doesn’t accept any foreign or international driving licenses, so if you want to drive in China you will have to obtain a Chinese permit once you arrive. The only exception is for holders of a Belgian drivers license, as this allows you to get a Chinese license, valid for 6 years, without having to do a test. Lucky!!!!
This isn’t too much of a problem though as you will probably find once you arrive that you don’t need a car, as public transport is convenient and super cheap.
Sending all of your belongings to China isn’t something you necessarily need to do, as most apartments will already be furnished, and buying clothes or home products is pretty cheap. However, if you do have some things you want to bring with you that can’t go on the plane, there are many companies that will be able to help you do this.
When choosing a company, it’s best to use one that specialises in China. They will be more familiar with and able to sort out potential queries, as clearing customs can sometimes be complicated. You can choose to send your belongings either by air transport or sea transport. Air transport is a lot quicker (only around a week, compared to one or two months by sea) but will be more expensive.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to leave your beloved baby behind. To bring your pet with you to China, you just need the following requirements:
- A Z visa (work visa)
- Official certificate of recent vaccination against rabies (between 30 days – 12 months prior to entering the country)
- An international certificate of good health issued by your veterinarian in your current country (issued a maximum of 14 days before your arrival in China)
- The passport of the owner, which must be presented at customs and coincide with the name written on the vaccination and health certificates
- If your pet is travelling unaccompanied then it requires an importation permit – this must be obtained from someone acting on behalf of the owner.
- It is recommended that your pet is also microchipped – this isn’t required by China at the moment but is likely to change soon
Be aware that getting your pet to China might be more complicated than it seems. In the majority of cases, your pet will need to be quarantined for 7 – 30 days. This can potentially be avoided however by either entering China from an airport which doesn’t require quarantine or contacting an agency to help (although likely to be expensive).
Things to bring
What is so great about China is how everything is super cheap, so if there’s a few bits you realise you’ve forgotten once you arrive, you can easily get replacements.
- A first-aid kit e.g. anti-inflammatories, vitamins, painkillers, anti-histamines etc in case of any emergencies. You must also make sure you have a long enough supply of any medicationyou are on, or find out if you are able to obtain it once you’re in China. Certain medicines might not be available or may be prohibited from entering the country. The best thing to do is to consult with your GP before you leave, as they might be able to suggest any alternatives which are available.
- Electronic products e.g. adaptor plugs and specific charger cables etc
- Books. It is extremely hard to find books in English, let alone any other languages, so make sure you bring a good supply
- Hand sanitizer and tissue. These are things you want to have on you at all time, as a lot of public toilets won’t provide you with toilet paper or soap
- Gifts. You’ll probably recieve a lot of help from friends, colleagues, or people you know when you first arrive, so it might be nice to bring a few little gifts with you to say thanks!
Things to know
- Most people speak very little English. Compared to most Asian countries where people often go travelling, people in China actually speak very little English, especially when you go out of the main cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Although you can get by, it’s best to touch up on a few key phrases or words before you arrive that will make your life a bit easier!
- People will stare at you and take photos. No you don’t have something on your face, your skirt isn’t tucked into your pants, people are just staring at you because you’re a 外国人. You’ll get used to it.
- If you have big feet, bring shoes! You might struggle to find some in your size.
- There are fakes everywhere. Yes, China is cheap but that’s not the only reason those designer shoes or bag you want are only a fraction of the price.
- WeChat is your new best friend. To be able to access social media in China you will need to download a VPN (make sure to do this before you arrive!). Instead, WeChat will become your new go too app… it has everything.
- Unlock your phone. Find out before you leave how to get your phone unlocked so you have no problem putting in a Chinese sim when you arrive.
- Public etiquette is a little different. Be prepared to have people queue-jumping and shoving you out of the way. You’ll also not be able to walk 10 metres without someone spitting on the street either. Don’t take it personally, it’s just part of the culture.
- Bring a coat. Thought it was the heat you needed to worry about? Wrong… Make sure to stock up on warm clothes as there is no central heating in buildings south of the Yangtze river.
- Where are the prawn crackers? Let’s be honest, who even needs to look at the menu anymore. We all know our favourite Chinese takeaway order off the back of our hand. Well… forget that. The food in China will be so different from what you imagine. Even different provinces in China have different cuisines! You’re in for a treat.
1. Register with your local police
You must register with your local police station within 24 hours after your arrival. You will need to bring your passport, rent contract, a copy of the property registration and the ID card of the property owner of where you’re staying. If you are staying in a hotel or university student residence however, this does not need to be done as the hotel or university will do it for you.
2. Get your residency permit
The next step is to get a residency permit. Both the Z1 (work) and X1 (long-term study) visas have a validity of one month, in which you will need to exchange it for a residence permit. To do this, you must go to your local PSB (Public Security Bureau) Exit and Entry Administration office with your passport, accommodation/residence registration documents, medical exam results, documentation on employment or studies (provided to you by the company, university or school), and two passport photos.