China at a Glance
Popular Expat Destinations in ChinaiStockphoto
Traditional architecture is prevalent all over China.
As mentioned before, expatriates moving to China tend to congregate in specific regions and even cities.
Present-day China includes 22 shěng (provinces), 5 zìzhìqū (autonomous regions), 4 shi (municipalities), and 2 tèbié xíngzhèngqū (special administrative regions). However, expat life in China is mainly limited to the “Big Three” of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.
But other locations are gradually emerging. Today, there are over 160 Chinese cities with more than a million residents. Foreign investors, managers, and employees will become acquainted with boomtowns like Shenzen, the port city of Tianjin, Chengdu in Sichuan, or the agglomeration of Chongqing near the Yangzi River.
As the nation’s capital, Beijing – sometimes still known as Peking abroad – attracts many diplomats, journalists, and foreign correspondents. Moreover, foreign joint ventures often send a representative to Beijing, even if the main office is located elsewhere, to deal with government bureaucracy directly.
The host of the 2008 Olympic Games is a sprawling metropolis of 20.7 million inhabitants, according to the latest statistics from 2012. As such, Beijing has seen rapid population growth and hasty urban renewal during the last few years.
On the one hand, expats tend to grumble about traffic congestions, construction sites, air pollution, and the relatively high cost of living. But they also appreciate Beijing’s many international schools and cultural highlights.
Shanghai – one of China’s most important industrial cities, a bustling port for the export business, financial hub, and the main location of the Chinese stock exchange – is even bigger than Beijing. The urban agglomeration beyond the city center housed over 23 million people in 2010.
It is both the most frantic and the most international of mainland China’s cities, a dream for shopping enthusiasts and people who want to throw themselves into the nightlife and have some fun. On the downside, its problems are the same as in Beijing. While Shanghai has more sophisticated standards than the capital, living expenses are a bit higher, too.
Guangzhou, which was referred to as Canton during its time as a 19th century trading port under the influence of the British Empire, is another of China’s industrial centers. Due to its traditional reputation as a port city for foreign commerce and its proximity to Hong Kong, it has profited a lot from China’s recent economic developments.
Guangzhou has become attractive to foreign investors, e.g. from the automotive industry. It also has a service industry in fields such as logistics and regularly hosts China’s biggest import/export trade fair.
New Expat Destinations
In addition to these three urban centers, other jīngjì tèqū (special economic regions) like the high-tech hub in Shenzhen, home to FoxConn’s “iPod City”, or relatively quiet Xiamen in southeast China – the host of the China International Fair for Investment and Trade – are starting to attract foreign businesses, expat employees, and self-made expats.
Quite a few expatriates are thus beginning to explore second-tier cities and provincial capitals where life tends to be cheaper and quieter than in the “Big Three”. For instance, Chengdu in Sichuan, at the foothill of the Tibetan Plateau, has benefited from the “Go West Policy” of the Chinese government. This was intended to further industrial and economic growth in the central and western provinces. Chengdu may be slightly off the radar for foreigners, but as an investment location, it has awoken the interest of such companies as Intel and Motorola.