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A Comprehensive Guide on Moving to China

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  • David Thyne

    At the first Shanghai Get-Together I met several American expats. I am very grateful that they shared their experience with me.

A modern financial giant with deep traditional roots, China is packed with economic, cultural, and geographical diversity that makes it a fascinating place to move to. With its complex language and many unwritten social rules, it has a reputation for culture shock. But how hard is it to move to China?

The most important first step of the relocation process is getting your paperwork in order. Picking the right visa depends on the length of your stay and whether you plan to work. Head to our Visa & Work Permit section to understand the ABCs of the Chinese visa system and which is the right one for you.

The working section of the guide will give tips on finding a job in China if you are on the lookout. If you already have an offer, but don’t really know where to start when it comes to sorting out various practicalities, look no further. Our guide covers topics such as banking and taxes, healthcare, education, and housing.

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All You Need to Know About Relocating Your Household Goods and Pets

When it comes to the process of moving to China, vaccinations and visas should be your first priorities. DPT, polio, MMR, and hepatitis A are all required vaccinations for China, and you’ll also need to undergo a comprehensive medical examination for some visa types.

Depending on which region you’re moving to, there may be additional health risks: dengue fever is prevalent in Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan, and Yunnan, and malaria is still a problem in rural areas. There are also everyday health measures you may not be used to taking into account, like the hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) which is a widespread health risk for young children in China or having to wear a face mask on days when pollution levels are high.

Before you pack, double check the customs allowances — you’ll need to apply in writing to move your household goods — and if you’re planning to move to China with your pets, get the tape measure out: there’s a 35 cm animal height limit if you’re moving to the central districts in Beijing and Shanghai.

Whether you’re moving with your family members or with a pet, having the right documents is essential. Bring official documents proving how you’re related to one another, e.g. birth or marriage certificates, and an official animal health and immunity certificate.

You’ll also want to bring cash with you: many restaurants, shops, and even hospitals don’t accept credit or debit cards in China, so make the most of the lack of restriction on bringing foreign currencies with you. Remember: although there’s no limit, you will need to declare any amount over 5,000 USD

Read our complete guide on relocating to China

The Guide to Visa Types and Work Permit Requirements

If you are not sure about which Chinese visa you need or how to get one, this is the section for you.

Chinese visa types are based not only on what you plan to do, but also how long you plan to stay in China as well as the number of times you want to leave and come back again (single, double, or multi-entry visas).

Once you decide which letter and number combination visa suits your needs, the application journey ensues. Expect to jump through some hoops: for your visa application, you’ll need a health certificate and employment license from the Chinese authorities as well as the usual application forms and official documents.

Apply for your Chinese visa around one month before you intend to travel. Processing time take between four to ten days and visas remain valid for between one to three months.

However, the journey doesn’t just end there. Once you land in China, be prepared to make rounds to the local police stations and Public Security Bureau and don’t forget to bring an interpreter with you.

Get ready for what you should expect from the bureaucratic process of obtaining a Chinese visa with our guide.

Read our complete guide on visas & work permits in China

Everything You Need to Know About Finding a New Home

Which one do you prefer: traditional housing or a deluxe villa with top-class amenities? What about your wallet, what can you afford? Decide on a budget and dive into the competitive Chinese housing market.

In order to find what you are looking for, it’s best if you start looking at least two months before your move-in date. Although short-term rentals exist, these are usually serviced apartments charging premium rates.

Average rent costs vary significantly based on the type of accommodation you’re in and your proximity to the city center. A one-bedroom flat in an expat area of Beijing will set you back around 7,500 CNY (1,100 USD) in Beijing or Shanghai or 3,500 CNY (500 USD) in Guangzhou.

Rental costs don’t include a deposit, utilities, or commission if you’re using a realtor. If you’re looking for furnished accommodation in China, expect to pay around 10% to 20% more. Although you might be tempted to cut costs and directly contact the landlord instead of using a realtor, keep in mind that all contracts will be in Chinese.

If you’re thinking of buying rather than renting, you’ll need to show proof that you’ve lived in China for more than a year and intend to live in the place that you purchase. Keep in mind that ‘buying’ is actually just a 70-year lease in China and the government has the power to nullify your lease if the area is needed for development.

Read our complete guide on housing in China

Health Insurance and the Healthcare System of China Explained

Your choice about the type of healthcare, public healthcare system or private health insurance, you’d like to receive when staying in China will come down to a few things. Those include where you live, your budget, language skills, and how much you value your privacy — at public hospitals there’s often only a screen between you and the rest of the waiting room.

Even if that doesn’t bother you, an expat, you may not actually qualify for public healthcare as social security rules and healthcare system implementation varies by region. Expats in Shanghai, for example, aren’t entitled to public healthcare. In that case, private health insurance can be an option. However, getting one that provides good coverage can be complicated and pricy.

If you’d like more than a screen to protect your modesty but don’t want to splash out on private medical insurance, read on for more information about VIP wards and local healthcare policies. The guide also gives you some suggestions on how to find a doctor in China.

For those who are planning to expand their family while abroad, the dedicated maternity centers are some of the best hospitals in China. Giving birth in one of these state-of-the-art facilities is more like a spa, with new mothers allowed to stay there for up to a month.

Whichever option you pick, make sure you have a wallet full of cash when going to the hospital. Why is that so? Read our guide to find out all about it.

Read our complete guide on insurance & healthcare in China

A Comprehensive Guide About Opening a Bank Account and Managing Your Taxes

While opening a bank account is relatively simple, handling taxes can be a headache, especially if you’re self-employed or running your own business. It’s calculated not only on your income but the length of time you’ve been in China. The tax rate in China varies between 3% and 45% depending on your income, but expats do have a higher non-taxable amount than Chinese nationals.

Before you start worrying about tax, the first step is to open a bank account. In this section, we cover some of the best banks in China for expats, as well as the type of account you’ll need.

Read our complete guide on banking & taxes in China

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