A guide to living as an expat in China

Moving to China as an expat can be an exciting, challenging and enriching experience all at once. Expats in China have the opportunity to live side by side with a strong and exciting culture, providing them with a chance to learn from different perspectives.

China is also becoming a place where many are looking to live, work, or do business since it opened its economy to the world in 1978. According to Forbes’ Global Exchange Index, China is the fourth-largest recipient of foreign direct investment, the owner of the world’s second-largest economy and holds a position as an export powerhouse. 

As the fourth-largest country in the world, China has an enormous and growing population, which works both to its strengths, but also to some of its greatest challenges. For many however, the opportunities that expatriating to China can present are too good to resist.


Population: The 2016 estimate is approximately 1.4 billion.[1]
Ethnic groups: China is made up of 91.51% Han, and the remaining percentage includes 55 minority groups.[2
Capital city: Beijing
Official languages: Standard Chinese, Mongolian, Uyghur, Tibetan, Zhuang, among others.[3
Currency: Renminbi (Yuan, CNY, or ¥)

How to get around China

Visa requirements, health insurance, how to get around and more

Now that you’ve chosen China as your destination of choice, there are a variety of visas to choose from, all of which use a lettering system to differentiate the different types. So, for example, a visitor or tourist would require an ‘L’ visa, and a journalist would require a ‘J1’ or ‘J2’ visa. For a full breakdown of the different visas, their requirements and how to apply, it’s best to visit the Chinese embassy website.   In the region of Mainland China under the ‘Healthy China 2020’ initiative, the country is currently undertaking an effort to cut healthcare costs by providing affordable basic healthcare to all residents by 2020 [4]. While this is currently underway however, it’s a good idea to seek health insurance cover before heading abroad. There’s plenty of companies that offer insurance specifically to suit expats, so it’s best to conduct some independent research beforehand to see what option best suits your situation.

In terms of getting around while you’re in China, especially during busy holiday periods like Chinese New Year, there are plenty of options. For long distance travel, planes and buses are a common choice, and for short distance travel, China is known for its extensive train networks – so using that your advantage is a bonus. Bikes are also a frequent choice as they’re quite easy to rent and maintain.

Remember to pack these essentials:

  • Electricity adapter – China has three different types [5].
  • Eye drops, nasal spray, moisturizer and lip balm as the air can be quite polluted.
  • Bike helmet – you can rent bikes easily, but helmets are harder to find.
  • Face mask – parts of China are prone to wind storms.
Finding property in China

How do I find accommodation in China?

As an expat, you may have your eyes set on the capital Beijing to find work and accommodation. As Beijing is one of the ‘big three’ for expats (the other metropolis’ including Shanghai and Guangzhou), it’s often a good place to start as there are more jobs, and more accommodation options. 

If you’ve been expatriated to China on behalf of a company, as is quite common for those with the kind of skills sought by large multinational companies like manufacturing, engineering or wholesale and retail for example, it’s possible that accommodation may be provided.   In the case that it isn’t, it’s best to scout out a neighbourhood that suit your needs, then seeking out a local agency to help with the legwork of searching through online listings.

In China, deposits can often be up-to 1-3 months worth of rent, it’s also best to not pay rent or deposits in cash and instead transferring the amount owed to the landlord’s account through a bank or foreign exchange specialist (if transferring internationally from a home account). In this case, chatting with a currency exchange specialist can help with getting a good rate to transfer the funds.

Costs of living in China

How much does it cost to live in China?

While China is known for its relatively low cost of living (ranked 10th on the Global Exchange Index), it can vary from situation to situation, so it’s best to have an idea of how much on average you’ll need to spend while abroad. Here’s the Chinese Yuan compared to a few of the major currencies* when transferred overseas to get started:

  • US$1000 = ¥6371
  • AU$1000= ¥4,580
  • £1000 = ¥8,659
  • €1000 = ¥7,224

*Prices as shown by the ofx.com Currency Converter as at 11/01/2022

It depends on the service you use to transfer money overseas as to how big the margin will be on the rate of exchange you use. You may want to consider sending money abroad with OFX as the margin you receive is far lower than the banks, and access to 24/7 customer support means you can be anywhere in the world and OFX can help.

As for what the costs of accommodation might be, according to Expat Arrivals, the average price for a furnished 2-bedroom apartment as of June 2017 is RMB 13,000 (US$ 1,960) a month. Which, comparative to an average cost in a US city like Boston (US$2,103) or New York (US$2,100), is relatively lower.

Finding a job in China

How do I get a job in China as an expat?

A good first step is to try and learn some of the local language, not only because it looks good on a CV, but also because it can open up job opportunities that might not be available otherwise. For English speakers however, job opportunities are more likely to be found in the big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, as many global companies have headquarters based in these cities. According to UK company Prospect [6], in-demand occupations for international candidates can include marketing, engineering, IT, sales, tourism and more.   For those looking for more seasonal work, teaching English in schools and summer camps are very common, and casual work in the hospitality sector are available, but also have better availability in the bigger cities. 

Some expats also choose to spend time volunteering while abroad, which can provide the opportunity to build new skills and networks. It’s best to ensure you have enough saved to support this endeavor prior to leaving however, as volunteer positions are unpaid. Spend some time researching what causes and organisations you would be interested in contributing to and then applying to them directly, or when a desired position becomes available.

Moving abroad can be challenging, especially if you’re starting out with a new job, new location and more. But the rewards of taking the leap are known to be unbeatable. This guide is a simple overview of a few key considerations to think about before making the move, the rest is up to you!

*Please be advised that while every effort is make to keep this information up to date, OFX does not provide employment, immigration or tax advice or the like, and you should always consult an employment, immigration or tax professional about your unique circumstances.

IMPORTANT: The contents of this blog do not constitute financial advice and are provided for general information purposes only without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs of any particular person. UKForex Limited (trading as “OFX”) and its affiliates make no recommendation as to the merits of any financial strategy or product referred to in the blog. OFX makes no warranty, express or implied, concerning the suitability, completeness, quality or exactness of the information and models provided in this blog.

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