9 Helpful Tips to Make Your Move to China a Happy One
Pacing up and down our Delta flight carrying our then 13-month-old son, who refused to sleep, was how we began our nomadic journey as a family. Only six short months before this flight, we started our plan to sell all of our belongings, rent out our home, and move our young family to China. The goal was to experience the world together as a family; our daughter was 3.5 and our son 13 months almost to the day when we said good-bye to our friends and family in Milwaukee, WI, to start our next chapter in Guangzhou, China.
Before we get started, I want to say that this type of travel or adventure isn’t for the faint-hearted or the easily discouraged. This type of adventure is for those who want to experience life to its’ fullest. For those that enjoy the unknown and want to make every day count.
However, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel! Here are 9 tips that we learned through trial and error. I encourage you to use these or build upon them to fit your own China adventure!
1. Obtaining your Chinese Visa
can be difficult. Many of us with US passports take for granted the ease we have entering and exiting a country. China isn't one of them. Everyone in your family will need a visa, and they take the time to get. You can read the full article on The Beginner's Guide to Your Chinese Visa, but this will get you started.
Chinese Embassy Website in English - updated 2020
Print out the visa application before going to the Chinese consulate.
Please fill out the application in its' entirety before arriving.
Find your local Chinese consulate: Remember, they close between 12 - 2 pm.
Take your application, 1 passport picture, passport. Most consulates have photo service in case you forgot.
You don't have to be there in person. For example, I took my husband's and two children's applications, and they were not with me. You can hire services to this for you if the consulate is not close enough for you to go on your own. I have had family members use this service, and there were no problems; however, I have never personally used a visa service.
Visa processing time: The regular processing time is 4 working days.
Express service: 2-3 working days processing, an additional fee of $20 will be charged per visa.
Same day rush service: emergency only, an additional fee of $30 will be charged per visa (applications should be submitted before 12:30 pm, and maybe picked up between 2:30 pm-3:00 pm on the same day).
Visa fees. They are different for every nationality.
UK Fees here. (Multiple entries one year 180 pounds)
American Fees here. (Multiple entries one year $150)
2. How to Find a Job in China
is the second most asked question that I get from people looking to work and live in China. We weren’t independently wealthy, and at the time of our move, we knew very little about the possibilities of making money online.
We did it the old fashion way. We wanted to live in China for various reasons and needed to find a job with a salary that we could live off of.
Here is the full post of our 5 Tips on Finding a Job in China.
Depending on your country of origin, the most successful job you can find is Teaching English. The number of students and adults in China, hoping to learn English this year, is astounding. Every city and school has different requirements as well as job duties. For example, many did not want to hire me because I had children. Remember, not for the faint of heart. So, I kept researching and contacting schools that would hire someone with children.
I was able to make 10,000 RMB’s a month in China, and this was in 2011. That was equal to 1500 USD a month. This salary in China was able to support our entire families’ needs.
3. The Cost of Living in China
I am sharing what it cost for our family. Your requirements might be different which could dramatically change what it will cost your family to live in China, but hopefully, this gives you a starting point.
The most significant determining factors on how expensive your housing includes; does your home have a western toilet or a squatting one, are you in a city or a town, does your building have an elevator? There are similar questions for eating expenses; are you eating local food or imported food from a specialty grocery store? You can read about all of our costs in greater detail, or but here is the big picture overview.
Teaching Income: 10,000 RMB
Apartment 75 sq meters = 4,000 RMB
Utilities = 250 RMB a month
Nanny/ Ayi = 2200 RMB a month
School = 650 RMB a month
Food = 1700 RMB a month
Taxes = 400 RMB a month
At the end of the month, we have 800 RMB a month to go out to dinner with friends and other expenses. This is for a family of four with a full-time nanny.
4. Can I buy Western-style food in China?
Our view on food is the same we have on everything else when we live in other countries. We want to do what the locals do, or as much as we can stomach. That is the whole point. Now, we have our limits. We would not eat snake, but we did try turtle during our time in China. I don’t eat tripe in any country. Nope get that stuff away from me!
What food you have access to in China depends a lot on your location. If you are in any of the big cities, Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, etc., you will have access to all different types of western food. There are plenty of large grocery style stores for you to buy beef or other things you miss from home. For us, it was the cost of western food in China that caused us to steer away from buying it too often. We were on a tight budget, as you saw above.
The other reason was that we needed to lose weight. I mean a lot!! You rarely see overweight Chinese people, so we said, “we are going to eat our food from the local market and eat Chinese Style. Another point was our fulltime Ayi was the one cooking all of our meals, and it was easier for her to cook her own hometown meals than try and figure out what meatloaf was!!
In six months, I lost almost 34 lbs, and Zeek lost about 50 pounds. It felt great! We wrote The Beginner’s Guide to Eating Chinese Style to give you an idea of what our eating habits were like. We did have our weekly cheat, where McDonald's would deliver.
6. Hiring a Nanny or Ayi while you are living in China.
One of the joys of having kids includes figuring out who is watching them or educating them while you are working. This beautiful adulting task doesn't disappear because you are in a foreign country. Now you get to hurdle this is a foreign language. Well, I have some good news, it isn't that bad, and hopefully, these tips will help.
Decide if you want an English speaking Nanny/Ayi or Mandarin only. We chose Mandarin as it forced us to learn the language WAY more than we would have otherwise.
Ask around first. It is best to be referred to a Nanny by another family or coworker. I would not recommend hiring without references.
Create rules for the Nanny at home. Where can they take the children, for our long, etc? This way, cultural differences won't be a surprise.
Find a reliable translator - Hire a translator to interview, vet and communicate when needed. We ended up hiring our concierge at the Holiday Inn in Guangzhou. He was happy to make an extra 10 USD an hour anytime we needed help communicating. We still keep in touch with him today.
Here is an idea of price. We paid 2200 RMB for 5 days a week 8 am to 8 pm nanny. She cooked, cleaned and watched the kids. Most nights, we hung out with the kids while she would finish the cleaning.
7. How to ship things you miss or need to China.
We all have stuff, and most likely, that stuff needs to travel. Unless you have become one of those people who own less than 100 items, which by the way, I am super jealous! I might get there one day, but probably not.
We took all of our big stuff with us using suitcases and lugged it to our furnished apartment. Depending on your style, this might or might now work out for you. Either way, we still needed items shipped to us from the U.S.A., and here is how we did it.
Make sure your address is written in English (local language) and Mandarin
Your Chinese phone number needs to be written on the package
Import Duties - be prepared to pay import duties on what was shipped.
Here are some stores that ship internationally -
www.costco.com (requires membership)
8. Learning Mandarin
We landed in Guangzhou not knowing more than one or two words of Mandarin. In Guangzhou, there are 13 million people and we naively thought that most people would speak some English. We were very very wrong. Don't let this discourage you.
When you immerse yourself in a language you learn it so much faster than any Rosetta Stone class. Almost lightning years faster. Every time you step out of your door you are forced to survive in your new language.
Many parents write to me worried about how their child will handle the language. My answer is simple, "Way better than you". Both of our children were fluent in Mandarin within 6 months. Our then 4-year-old was also picking up Cantonese as well as could respond in our Nanny's hometown language. In a matter of 6 months, she was speaking 3, I mean 3 new tonal languages. We ended up buying her a cell phone at age 4 that she could communicate between us and our Nanny. Yup, call it whatever parenting style you want, but it happened.
Our 1-year-old was communicating in Mandarin and his English began to have a bit of an accent. This is very common in children being immersed in their foreign language more.
Buy a decent phrasebook
Have someone write your address in Chinese characters so you can show that to your taxi driver. They most likely won't understand your accent, nor can they read Pinyin.
Find a concierge or a friend that you can hire to help you out when you need an accurate translation. Pay them decently and drop in a couple of extra dollars when you see them next. Because we both know they may have helped you via a phone call or two within the last couple of weeks.
Let your kids be immersed in as many language opportunities as you can.
9. How to find activities for the family?
You may be leaving a stable network of friends and family. It may seem a bit scary or nerve-racking to be across the world with only your little tribe, what will you, how many temples can one person see before they all run together? All are great questions!
The good news is that there are lots of activities all over China. The even better news is that many of them are way less expensive than anything you would ever pay in your hometown.
We ended up finding our favorite activities for each person in the family.
The youngest went to the square of our library every morning at 8 am. Here parents all brought toys, bikes, soccer balls, and all the kids shared them while playing in the square. At about 9:30, everyone would leave and do it all over again the next day. Cost: FREE
Kung-Fu classes in the park two metro stop from our house. We found a Kung-Fu Sensei who gave lessons to adults and children every morning at 8 am. Old oldest and the dad of our crew took those classes. Read more about our Kung-Fu experiences. Cost: 20 USD a month.
While everyone was getting their Kung-Fu on, I joined a different class in the morning at the same park. It was a mix of dance and aerobics. It was lots of fun. Cost: FREE
English Classes - yes, at the school I taught at, I was able to bring my kids to three classes a week. It was nice because they were able to interact with Chinese kids learning English, and the Chinese children were able to befriend a foreign student. Cost: FREE
Every night and morning in parks around China, you will find the old and the young participating in activities together. You can see traditional dance, skateboard competitions, kids playing, rollerblading, and tai chi all happening at the same time.
Are you thinking of moving to China? Maybe you already have, we would love to hear about your experiences as well.