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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Lack of Digital Freedom Troubles Expats in China

China remains extremely financially lucrative, and family life is improving, but language difficulties and culture shock prove difficult to overcome.
  • China ranks second to last in the Digital Life subcategory.
  • Environmental worries are widespread.
  • Only 7% are dissatisfied with their financial situation.
  • Family life is slowly getting better.
  • Career prospects soar, but work-life balance is hard to achieve.

Behind the “Great Firewall of China”

In the Quality of Life Index, China performs rather poorly. This could be attributed to its awful performance in the new Digital Life subcategory, where it ranks second to last overall. The only factor that stands out here is the ease at which expats can perform digital payment transactions, with 89% happy respondents testifying to this, compared to 78% globally.

Apart from that, however, the picture is gloomy. Regarding unrestricted access to online services, China ranks last out of 68 countries in total. A German expat draws attention to the heavily censored internet and the negative impact of “politically based censorship and a lack of international internet access”. Moreover, nearly two in five respondents (38%) state that they have difficulty accessing high-speed internet at home. The lack of online government or administrative services is also a clear problem, with more than half of the respondents (52%) rating their availability negatively.

However, although China may be digitally disconnected, its travel and transportation systems are quite the opposite. In this subcategory, China secures a top 15 ranking, rising from 18th to 14th place compared to 2017.

Poor Quality of Environment to Match Poor Healthcare

In the Health & Well-Being subcategory, the results are not much better. A Costa Rican bemoans the pollution problem and the “lack of environmental responsibility”. China ranks second to last for the quality of its local environment, and 69% rate this factor negatively.

There’s a lack of environmental responsibility.

It seems that expats in China are similarly disappointed with the quality of healthcare. Only half believe that it is good, compared to a global average of 67%, while almost three in ten (29%) say that medical care is unaffordable.

Finances Flourish in China

China continues to perform strongly in the Personal Finance Index, ranking in the top 10 for the fifth consecutive year. Only 7% of respondents are dissatisfied with their financial situation, compared to 17% worldwide. Moreover, 71% say that their disposable household income is more than enough to cover all their daily living expenses, which is 20 percentage points more than the global average.

Improving Quality of Education Matched by Rising Costs

China has improved from its position in the 2017 Family Life Index. No longer in the bottom 10 countries, China climbs from 40th place (out of 45) to 38th out of 50 destinations in 2018. The results, however, are not wholly positive.

Exactly 80% of expat parents think that the attitude towards families with children is generally friendly, which is just three percentage points below the global average of 83%. China has also improved in other areas, such as the quality of education or children’s safety: only 13% of expat parents see the former in a negative light, compared to 16% worldwide, and 81% positive ratings means China is on par with the global average for the latter.

However, expat parents complain about the costs of education, as well as its availability. Only 12% think that education is affordable, compared to 47% globally, and just 37% say that education options are numerous and easily available, 15 percentage points lower than the global average. The rising cost of education has probably been affected by the incredible demand for international schools, with more than 45% of parents electing to send their child or children to one, compared to just 29% worldwide.

Language Difficulties & Culture Shock

In 2018, China places 62nd out of 68 countries in the Ease of Settling In Index. On average, 59% of all respondents worldwide say that settling down in other countries is easy, but in China, only 36% of expats say the same. The difficulty that expats experience with settling in could be due to the problems they encounter with the language, among other things.

It is very different from anywhere else I have been.

Almost eight in ten expats (78%) find learning the local language difficult, 33 percentage points more than the global average of 45%, and not even three in ten (29%) say that it is easy to live in China without local language skills. A South African expat corroborates this, adding that “not being able to speak the language makes traveling and communicating with people somewhat troublesome”.

The local culture may prove troublesome for expats, too — only 38% of respondents say that it is easy to get used to it, and less than half (49%) say they feel at home in Chinese culture. A Canadian expat adds that “it is very different from anywhere else I have been”.

Poor Work-Life Balance vs. Economic Benefits

More than eight in ten expats (82%) rate the state of the Chinese economy well, earning the country a great 11th place in this single factor ranking. They also seem to enjoy great job security and career prospects — 65% are satisfied with their job security, while 63% are satisfied with their career options. These numbers stand out against the respective global averages of 59% and 55%.

However, respondents bemoan the lack of leisure activities and their poor work-life balance. Globally, three-quarters of expats are satisfied with the available leisure activities, but just over six in ten (61%) are happy in China. The proper work-life balance also proves tricky to strike — only 56% say they are satisfied with this aspect of work in China.

Further Reading