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Housing & Accommodation

Expat Destinations in China

Are you ready to move to China but not sure which expat destination is right for you? In this guide, we introduce you to various expat destinations in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. We also talk about what makes the country so appealing for expats.

China has 23 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, 4 municipalities, and 2 special administrative regions. On top of that, the country is home to 56 different ethnic groups. Most expats who move to China settle down in the bigger cities, such as Beijing or Shanghai. However, other cities are becoming popular among foreigners as well.

China’s Appeal

China is a major global player in various industries and economic sectors and contributes significantly to the world’s overall economic growth. Moreover, the country offers various business and job opportunities for expats. This does not come as a surprise, considering that a lot of international companies have long discovered China as a prime location. The number of expats living in China increased by 17% between 2007 and 2012 and is still rising.

Most foreign professionals find an occupation in sales and marketing, banking and finance, or engineering. In the beginning of 2013, manufacturing hit a two-year high in China. Due to the high appeal of the country for foreign employees, the competition among job-seekers has also increased tremendously. But if you bring along the right set of qualifications, China can be a land of opportunities.

Beijing and Its Historical Heritage

The country’s capital is probably one of the most prominent expat destinations in China. Beijing is the country’s heart and soul, and its center of power. Thus, many expats move to Beijing to work as diplomats or journalists. But no matter what brings you to this cosmopolitan city, it is the right place to experience China’s historical heritage first-hand. You can visit the hutongs, for instance, traditional neighborhoods which date back several hundred years. The National Center for the Performing Arts, celebrating Chinese opera, among other traditional art forms, is another place you should not miss.

On the downside, Beijing is also the most expensive expat destination in China, especially when it comes to the cost of accommodation. Moreover, the city often disappears under a thick blanket of smog. The air quality is indeed not the best and a reason to escape Beijing from time to time.

The Glamour of Shanghai

Shanghai lacks the historical traces of Beijing but offers a lot more glamour: the epitome of the China Dream, the city is the perfect place for nightlife and shopping. But it is also China’s major business center and home to the Chinese Stock Exchange. Its bustling port makes it the most important destination for international exports as well.

Shanghai is even bigger and slightly fancier than Beijing. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that the city has been voted China’s most fashionable and modern metropolis in the past. The cost of living, of course, is rather high, but in terms of lifestyle and opportunities, Shanghai can easily compete with cities like Paris or New York.

Guangzhou’s Entrepreneurial Spirit

Guangzhou was known as Canton during the 19th century, when the city was under the influence of the British Empire. Much like Beijing and Shanghai, the city is an important industrial center and port city for foreign commerce. In the past, Guangzhou was one of the starting points of the Silk Road on the sea. Today, its close proximity to Hong Kong is another aspect that makes it a major economic hub and an important expat destination in China. Particularly foreign investors from logistics and automotive industries are attracted to this city.

Guangzhou is the third largest city in China, after Shanghai and Beijing. The reputation of the Cantonese having a strong entrepreneurial spirit certainly holds some truth. The city radiates a cosmopolitan vibe which attracts expats from all over the world.

Shenzhen – Hong Kong’s Little Neighbor

Shenzhen is one of China’s Special Economic Zones (SEC) and belongs to the Guangdong Province. It is located right across from Hong Kong and is considered China’s first step towards free markets. Despite various problems, including a high crime rate and a poor infrastructure, Shenzhen has evolved into an attractive expat destination in recent years, offering various business opportunities.

Another advantage is that the city is less hectic than Shanghai or Beijing and a lot cheaper of course. Shenzhen’s beaches, such as Xiaomeisha and Daomeisha, are another bonus. However, Shenzhen is far from being an insignificant travel destination. The city is a busy financial and economic center in the country’s south.

Suzhou’s Natural Beauty

Suzhou is also known as the “Venice of the Orient”. Its gardens, rivers, and canals add to the city’s amazing natural beauty. Thus, it offers a perfect living environment for all those seeking a more relaxed life. Unlike the close-by giant Shanghai, it is not as frequented by foreigners yet and remains a not-so-well-kept secret within the expat community.

You should, however, not expect a sleepy little Chinese village when moving to Suzhou. The metropolitan area is still home to about 10 million people and attracts lots of tourists who wish to experience “the real China”.

Tianjin – China’s Expat Destination of the Future

Located in the country’s north, Tianjin has been a major seaport and gate to the country’s capital since the 19th century. It is the fourth-largest city in the country, right after Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. Although not as famous as its big brothers, Tianjin has become quite popular among expats in recent years.

Various Fortune 500 companies have set up base in the city since 2010, making it a hub for advanced industrial activity. This also makes it a favorite among those who move to China to give their career a boost. All in all, Tianjin is the perfect expat destination in China for those looking for job opportunities in an affordable environment.


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InterNations Expat Magazine