Guide to Living & Working in China

Chinese visas, working in China, teaching in China

Introduction to China

China is the overwhelming economic success story of modern times. With growth figures consistently outpacing those of almost every other country on Earth, it is well on course to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy in terms of GDP within ten years. Between 2005 and 2025, China will have built the equivalent of ten New York-sized cities – even now, the Chinese economy consumes more than twice as much steel as the US, Europe and Japan combined. Since Chairman Mao, China has raised 400 million people above the international poverty line. Clearly, the people pulling the strings are doing something right.

The country is not without its problems – in fact, its difficulties are of similar magnitude to its successes. Three quarters of Chinese lakes and rivers are polluted, 274 anti-government protests are staged every day, 40% of China’s SMEs went bust in 2008-9 and the country is experiencing a housing bubble that makes the subprime debacle look like child’s play.

Chinese panda

There are nonetheless important lessons to be learnt from the Chinese. Unparalleled efficiency in manufacturing and stupendously quick infrastructure development, as well as a government capable of making difficult decisions and implementing them well, is making the West look increasingly obsolete, confused and clunky. Understanding the reason behind the success is vital if it is not to be completely left behind.

About China


The speed and scale of China’s industrialisation since the 1950s has been the embodiment of capitalist growth – one of very few shining endorsements of the developmental state. Even now, during a time of government stimulus and relatively weak demand, pessimistic estimates for growth in Chinese manufacturing in 2013 are hovering at an astonishing 7.7%, according to Deutsche Bank’s chief China economist Ma Jun. Year after year, the industrial sector expands yet again, driven by an insatiable consumer demand from developed economies, and more recently by huge government projects focused on infrastructure spending an urban development. Nothing else comes close, now or in the past.


A slightly loaded term, ‘efficiency’ all too often equates to sweatshops and punishingly low wages. Indeed, China’s labour market has received plenty of unwelcome media attention, both within and outside the country. Nevertheless, real wage indicators have tripled over the past twenty years, conditions are improving and productivity remains high. The same cannot be said for large swathes of the developed world – Europe in particular – where salaries remain much higher in comparison but bear significantly smaller economic fruit.


Unlikely though it seems, when it comes to inequality and poverty, China is heading in the right direction, and the US and Europe in entirely the wrong one. In the USA in 2009, 43 million people (over 10% of the population) were designated as living in poverty. While this is a relative measure and definitions of what ‘poor’ means vary, this is the worst figure since records began and the US remains one of the least equitable countries in the world. Beijing, on the other hand, has long structured its economy and governance structures in order to avoid the accumulation of wealth beyond the redistributive power of the state and arguably contributed more than any other towards the completion of the first Millennium Development Goal – halving global poverty by 2015.


A recent Mckinsey report contends that in just over a decade, China will be home to 221 cities with populations of over a million (compared with just 35 in the whole of Europe) and 23 cities with more than five million. Many of these future cities have already been built, and have yet to be filled with people. It’s not so much a case of ‘ghost town’ as ‘ghost city’ – but none of this alters the fact that no other state on the planet is capable of implementing infrastructural projects at anything near China’s pace, centralised and state-driven though it may be. In a century where decisive action in the face of environmental destruction will determine the future of its citizens to a considerable extent, a state capable of mobilising resources rapidly and effectively has the edge.


While the UK struggles endlessly with plans for the late, over-budget and ill-conceived HS2  high-speed rail proposal linking London with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, China has quietly invested $120 billion in doubling its rail capacity in just 12 months, in anticipation of the ballooning travel needs of middle class commuters. The trains running on the new routes will average 355 km/h – in Japan the equivalent figure for the fastest railways is 260 km/h while in the US it is a mere 116 km/h. And it doesn’t stop there: Beijing has hinted that ambitious plans are afoot to expand the network to link with Middle Eastern and European lines.


US-China trade exceeds $110 billion annually; the US, having accumulated an astonishingly large trade deficit with China, is celebrating after recent figures showed a 6.2% jump in exports. Well, it shouldn’t be. The same figures show that US imports from China grew by 6.6%, meaning that net trade is still working in China’s favour. The Western world’s addiction to consumer goods is great news for China, and a yoke around the former’s neck. What’s more, China is capable of supplying the majority of goods demanded by its growing domestic market – while the US and Europe certainly are not.


Beijing is also streets ahead of Washington in terms of preparing its economy for difficulties ahead. While the US is struggling to take stock of its increasingly dire fiscal situation, China’s policymakers are channeling enormous economic stimulus in a far more direct and comprehensive way through nationalised enterprises. While the US (and to some extent, the EU) is subject to the influence of corporate interests to the point that policies are rarely coherent, let alone effective, Chinese communism does not bow to companies’ needs over those of the system.


Chinese Girl on Phone

Francis’ Fukuyama’s infamous claim that the Soviet collapse heralded a final convergence on the Western liberal-democratic model now seems rather quaint. China is certainly authoritarian and institutionally corrupt, with an appalling human rights record, but although there are no elections, the Chinese Politburo is surprisingly responsive to public opinion. It protects against social unrest by garnering middle-class support and investing in projects all over the country in an attempt to avoid marginalisation.

The key to China’s continued success, however, is its critical approach to the free market. When necessary, China is capable of adapting quickly and effectively – something that the gridlocked, corporatised and indebted US system, with all its democratic checks and balances, can hardly claim for itself. Despite this, Chinese private enterprises are flourishing and the government retains enough credibility to bend the markets to its will.

Working in China

When working in a foreign country, it’s easy to focus on the frustrations. Professional life and office habits are different from culture to culture, so you might find yourself naturally annoyed with the differences. On the other hand, if you’re able to approach your situation with a more objective eye, you might be surprised at what you can learn. Chinese offices and work norms have their pros and cons – like all things do – but there is plenty to learn from your Chinese colleagues. Here are some of the “pros” you might notice if you pay attention when working in China.

Take your breaks seriously

Napping is serious business in China. It’s not unusual to walk down the street and see random Chinese people sleeping in lawn chairs in the middle of busy sidewalks. In Chinese offices, it’s even acceptable to put your head down on your desk and take a mid-afternoon cat nap. The Chinese are even more hard core about their vacation time – Chinese holidays like Spring Festival and National Day give workers a full week off, and the masses make their way either back to their hometowns for a visit or to other vacation destinations.

On the other hand, us Americans substitute another cup of caffeine for afternoon naps, and most national holidays give us only an additional day or two to our weekend. We work longer days, take less vacation time, and retire later – work has come to dominate the average American’s life.

Take a note from your Chinese coworkers on this one: work hard, but remember not to give your whole life to the company, for the sake of your own physical and mental health as well as your overall productivity. The Chinese know everyone needs time to relax and reboot.

Learn to Guanxi

Guanxi means more than forging potentially advantageous relationships. It also requires a constant balance between give and take. This concept shouldn’t be entirely unique to Chinese offices, either – as the old American adage goes, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” No man is an island, especially not in an office. You rely on your team members to do their part well in order to do your own part well.

So, if you find your coworkers aren’t doing their parts up to the standard you’d like, don’t jump to accusations of laziness or inadequacy. Instead, ask yourself, “What have I done for my coworkers lately?” All of us are more likely to help someone who regularly helps us, so give and take. If you prefer work emails responded to within the same work day, then make sure you always respond to your emails within the same work day. Next time you notice a coworker stressed out with a project, ask how you can help make it easier for them – next time you’re in that position, lo and behold, they’re likely to do the same for you.

That’s the beauty of a system like guanxi. When you think of helping a coworker as helping yourself, you promote the overall cooperation of the office team, and you cultivate not just good colleagues, but friends who may be able to help you in the future, in or out of the office setting.

Don’t work harder than you should

We can all agree that it’s important that the tasks requiring your immediate attention and full energy be dealt with accordingly – but be able to identify what is your responsibility and what is not. The old office game of pushing your own work off onto others is a tried and true way of evading doing any real work, and don’t be surprised if you find superiors – i.e., those higher up on the payscale – passing work that should be theirs on to you.

For Americans – especially those of us who are younger, eager to please, and desperate to be employed – we may find ourselves constantly jumping at any opportunity to show our ability and dedication to our work. But be wary – even at the bottom of an office hierarchy, you may serve yourself better by standing up to your superior and showing your gumption instead of your amenability.

When you’re constantly berated as “lazy” by the generation that raised you, this is a hard lesson to learn, but if you’re only paid $25,000 a year, then you need to ask yourself – how much of my personal time and sanity am I willing to sacrifice for this salary? How far will working “above and beyond” the expected effort for your position really advance you?

Your Chinese coworkers are great at monetizing their personal time – do the work you must to impress and succeed, but when an assigned project or task that is truly unreasonable, don’t be afraid to say no.

Don’t panic over tardiness

As a Westerner, this is one of the toughest, but perhaps one of the most rewarding lessons to learn in a Chinese office setting: Life will go on if a meeting starts ten minutes later than you planned. If your bus is late and you make it to the office at 9:05 instead of 8:59, you need not panic. Constant and irresponsible tardiness is one thing, but panicking over punctuality for the sake of punctuality is another.

Take a look at your Chinese coworkers – life is fraught with a lot less tension if you’re not constantly checking the clock. If you can learn to adjust to this mindset, you’ll find yourself relieved from so much undue pressure. You will get there when you get there, and you will get the task done when you get it done – no heart attacks or stress ulcers necessary.

Stand up to your boss

Americans really enjoy clinging to the myth that life is a meritocracy – if you keep your nose to the grindstone and your head down, you will be justly rewarded. That is just simply not the case. Very few of us are lucky enough to have completely fair and honest bosses. The truth is that most companies want to extract the most productivity from their employees for as little compensation as possible, and if you don’t stand up for yourself, your boss will never have a reason to treat you better.

Again, this phenomenon is hardly unique to China. Another American platitude applies here: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” That is, unless you ask for a raise, or shorter hours, or more vacation time, or whatever your request is, you’ll never get what you want. Don’t believe what you’ve been taught – your hard work, dedication, and long hours may not be noticed, let alone inspire your boss to compensate you out of the kindness of his or her heart. So take yet another, and perhaps the most important lesson, from your Chinese coworkers – don’t be afraid to fight for more.

Perhaps as a foreigner in a foreign country it would be easier to write this same article from the “con” point of view – that is, all those things you wish you could Westernize about your work experience in China. And certainly both sides have a lot they can learn from each other. But like most things, there is no definite “wrong” or “right” way to work. You’d be well-served to observe your Chinese coworkers to see what works for them and what might work well for you, too.

In many ways, Shanghai’s Pudong airport, the primary landing spot for newly arrived expatriates in China, is the Ellis Island of our generation. Droves of individuals from the United States and elsewhere are flocking to mainland China to escape the dreary economic landscape of the West。 Shanghai is generally the first stop for students, interns, English teachers, and other various workers hoping to enjoy a fresh start in China’s roaring economy.

Shanghai has much to offer, however, its rise as an economic titan has brought substantial inflation and the city can now be as expensive as New York City or Los Angeles. Although the cost of living is rising, Shanghai can still be an excellent place to pay off debt and gain international experience. All you have to do is pay attention to the tips below and practice a bit of fiscal discipline.

Know your Situation and Commit

The first step in any effort to pay off student debt is to account for how much money it is that you actually owe. Many students take out a variety of loans, and you may have to organize all of your debt before you can accurately assess the total amount.

Once you have figured out precisely how much money you owe to the government, private lenders and other various sources, break the amount down into yearly or monthly installments. For instance: if you owe $24,000, you can easily break this down into roughly 4 yearly payments of $6000 and make it your goal to save $500 each month. You can take things a step further by setting a daily “allowance” for yourself. By doing so, you can easily keep track of your spending and increase your tendency to save.

After you have determined how much money you need to save each month, make it a firm goal and write it down. You can either paste it on your wall to provide you with motivation, or write it on the front of your daily planner.

Take Advantage of China’s Job Market

Roughly 1.4 billion people live in China, and GDP is still growing at a strong 7% each year. There are a number of jobs that people can find straight out of college, but it is important to be wise about which jobs suit you and your long-term goals best. Internships are easy to come by, but some of them do not result in full-time employment after completion and the compensation they provide is usually low. (Only $300 a month in some cases.) The average rent for an expatriate in Shanghai is roughly $500 per month and cost of living including food and utilities can easily reach $500-1000 each month. Many interns borrow money from their families and finish their posts in more debt that they started with.

Teaching English is a decent option and will provide you with enough salary and flexibility to start a career in China while paying off debt. Most positions pay at least $2000 a month, and many can be supplemented by part-time tutoring positions or overtime shifts. It is also wise to continue hunting for jobs while teaching if you do not aspire to have a long-term career in education. Many young professionals teach 25-30 hours a week to pay off debt while they work at entry-level positions in journalism, marketing or real estate during the daytime.

There are several other sectors in China demand international talent such as hospitality, healthcare and media. English speakers with a good grasp of other languages and a relevant degree in these fields could find themselves with a comfortable compensation package and an exciting career in Shanghai, Beijing or Guangzhou. Salaries vary widely, but it is possible to make upwards of $5000 per month with these jobs. With a little bit of fiscal discipline, your student debt will vanish very quickly.

Be Realistic

While working in China, it is important to set goals for paying off debt, but it is also important to be realistic with your targets. There are occasional, unforeseen expenses such as medical emergencies or broken items that can easily throw off your savings plan.

Realistically, if you are cooking at home, using mass transportation and living in a reasonably priced apartment, it is not uncommon to save about $1000 a month on a $2000 a month salary. This being said, going to a club once in a while and buying several $10 martinis, or buying the newest version of your favorite phone can substantially impact your savings.

The important thing is to set a realistic goal and to keep a rainy day fund. Consistently achieving your goals will help you to build confidence, and it will also prevent you from drowning in despair when you have to spend a few hundred dollars on a replacement laptop.

Be Opportunistic

China is packed with an unbelievable array of opportunities that are not only fun, but also highly lucrative. One of the more interesting ways to make some extra cash is by modeling. Local agents are always hungry for “foreign faces” to market goods and hot new restaurants, and they tend to be very lenient with previous modeling experience and appearance. Keep your eyes open and frequently check websites such as to see if there are any opportunities to model, or to be an extra in an upcoming film. Some gigs pay up to $200 a day. Another way to make some extra cash is to offer to be interviewed on a local TV Show. If you speak decent Mandarin, many shows will invite you to be filmed. They commonly will gift you with $100 cash right after you finish.

A number of other part-time jobs exist. Whether it be bouncing at a local pub, writing articles for an expatriate website, or tutoring once a week, China provides numerous ways to earn cash and pay off debt. Occasionally taking advantage of these opportunities can make a huge difference.

See the World, but Protect your Wallet

Everybody is a traveler at heart and seeing the world ranks at the top of almost everybody’s “Bucket List”. For those who have aspirations of traveling in Asia, China presents an incredible opportunity. The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Oriental Pearl and the Three Gorges Dam are just the tip of the iceberg for adventurers looking to get a taste of China’s rich cultural heritage.

Unfortunately, traveling regularly can take a toll and negatively impact your savings. It is important to see all that you can while you are stationed in China, but it is also important to travel smart so you don’t wipe out your bank account.

As with all travel, the most important thing is to do your research. There are a lot of packaged trips available online, but sometimes it is better to book a plane ticket and do independent research to find an affordable hostel or short-term apartment. Most of the hostels in China are in great condition, and some of them are as cheap as $20 a night. Short-term apartments are also available at affordable prices in major tourist destinations such as Sanya (the Hawaii of China.) Short-term apartments are not only cheap, but they also allow you to cook at home and typically are centrally located, which means you will save a good amount of money on food and transportation.

It is also important to make sure that you take advantage of opportunities to travel with your local Chinese friends and colleagues. They can provide great advice and can also help you to avoid wasting money on tourist traps. You are also likely to show you sites that you might not have ever heard of if you hadn’t taken the time to communicate with local experts. China is a vast country, and only a fraction of its wonders are well documented in the Western Press.

Perhaps most importantly; be sure to use your travel time as a way to reward yourself. Working in China doesn’t have to be a non-stop marathon to pay off loans. China is an amazing country, and taking the time to have a break and enjoy the moment is a vital part of maintaining a balance. When the vacation if over, you will be well-rested and ready to take yet another step towards destroying your college debt!

Living in Shanghai

Shanghai City Skyline

Renting smart

Shanghai is now the largest city proper by population in the world with an estimated population of 24 million. It is divided into 16 districts and covers a incredible amount of land. Of these districts, the ones closest to the city center tend to be most popular with expatriates. Jing’an, People’s Square, Xujiahui and Zhongshan Park all offer excellent convenience in the forms of shopping, transportation and night life. Living in these districts can be extremely comfortable, but they can be costly. Real estate prices in Shanghai are soaring, and rent in these districts can range from $900-$2000 a month.

For those who are working modest jobs with average incomes, a many cheaper options exist in Shanghai’s newer districts. Pudong, for instance, has excellent access to metro lines and public services, but apartments are generally half the price of those on the other side of the river. An apartment in Pudong near Century Avenue (a major transit hub) can cost as little as $400 a month. Savings like this can go a long way over the course of a year or two.

“Localize” your taste buds

Food in Shanghai is incredibly diverse. Meals can range all the way from $1.00 a meal for a modest bowl of noodles to $20 for the world’s smallest burrito. Many expatriates make the choice to stick to their old habits, and their wallets bleed in the process.

Many options exist if you are craving a good hamburger or pasta dish, but eating western cuisine on a daily basis will absolutely destroy your budget. The best option is to find a few nearby restaurants that serve equally amazing food at a fraction of the price. Spend your first two delicious and clean.

Naturally, not many expatriates want to limit themselves to Chinese cuisine. Cooking at home is another excellent option. Fresh produce markets are everywhere in Shanghai, and cooking western food in the comfort of your own apartment can satisfy our appetite while simultaneously saving you some cash.

Bikes, Mopeds and Trains

Taxis in Shanghai are devilishly convenient, and just affordable enough to be an appealing form of transportation. Many workers in Shanghai will happily spend $5.00 each morning and evening for their commute. Unfortunately, this kind of money adds up and it can easily eat away at your savings if you are only making $2000 a month as a teacher or writer.

Bikes and mopeds, however, are an extremely convenient and affordable way to commute. A decent bicycle in Shanghai can be as cheap as $100. Riding your bike to work for 1 month will essentially allow you to break even if you take the cost of taking a taxi into account. Mopeds can also be bought for around $300 and many apartment complexes have charging stations that will allow you to recharge the battery for little or no cost. Bicycles and E-Bikes can also be purchased easily on craigslist at even lower prices.

Finally, for those who don’t mind the occasional crowd, Shanghai’s world-class subway system can be an excellent option. The city boasts more mileage of subway track than any other city in the world at this point, and Shanghai’s many metro lines can take you to virtually any corner of the metropolis. Fees are always less than $1, and transportation cards can easily be bought and refilled at any subway stop. The only drawback to the subway system is that it currently closes before midnight, so taxis are the only viable option for a return trip after a long night of partying.

Shopping Smart

Shanghai is often called a “shopping paradise” buy the Chinese. In many ways they are right, but it can also be daunting to people who do not speak the language or know how to read the map quite yet.

For many new arrivals, options such as Fields or Epermarket provide an online option for groceries and basic items. Amazon also exists in China, but it is all but eclipsed by its local competitor, Taobao. Asking colleagues and friends to buy a thing or two on Taobao can help you to save a great deal of money and time if you are looking for odds and ends to put in your apartment.

Clothes in Shanghai can be absurdly difficult to find, even for men. The sizes are different in China, and international brands are priced at huge mark-ups. A pair of jeans that would cost $12 in the United States could cost $30 in China. This fact is made all the more ironic considering that the clothes are “Made in China”, but the reality is that international brands are sought after by the Chinese for their reliability, and this reliability comes at a steep price.

The best solution to your clothing woes is to learn where your nearest fabric market is. There are a few in Shanghai, and tailor-made clothing can be purchased for very reasonable prices. Stylish dress shirts can be made in 5 days or less for the astonishing price of $15, and a full suit can be bought for as little as $100 including the coat, shirt, tie and pants. Negotiation is required, but you can easily learn fair prices by listening in on nearby hagglers, or by asking friends beforehand. When I doubt, pretend you are not interested and walk away for a minute. Shop owners normally start shouting lower prices at you to draw you back to their stall.

Work Hard, Play Hard

The energy in Shanghai is absolutely infectious. It is a metropolis that truly never sleeps, and some of the most memorable experience of your stay will happen long after you leave the office. One doesn’t have to completely give up going out to save cash, but it is important to use a few clever tricks to ensure that you don’t wake up with a splitting headache and an empty wallet.

The first easy way to reduce your expenditures is to take the subway or a bus to the clubs. Bars and Clubs in Shanghai are lumped together in tiny districts, so you can easily “Pub Crawl” by taking mass transit to one of these areas and staying on the same street for most of the night. In some cases, it is also possible to walk or take a bus home, but the subways stop running early, so they are not an option unless you plan on being home before midnight.

Another great way to save some money is to have a drink or two before you arrive at the bar. A beer at some bars can be $7, and many bars are now serving weak cocktails for $10 a glass. Drinking on the street in Asia is not looked down upon or illegal, so you can easily have a beer or two on your walk to the bar, or even in the convenience store. A can of Asahi or Kirin is only $1 and bottles of wine are also commonly available in local markets.

Alternately, you could enjoy a night at KTV singing Karaoke with a large group of friends, or enjoy and bottomless drink and sushi buffet at one of Shanghai’s amazing Japanese restaurants.

If you have your heart set on clubbing, be sure to check out Zapatas, Bar Rouge or The Apartment. Each has its own unique flavor and a highly diverse group of international patrons. Zapata’s also serves free shots of tequila every hour and has some of the best Halloween parties in Asia, so it is definitely worth experiencing once. Regardless, having a good time in Shanghai is easy, and you cannot call yourself a true resident until you have experienced a drunken barbeque at sunrise in downtown.

Living in Beijing

Beijing Summer Palace

Beijing is the capital and political center of China. It is a common launching point for many expats who are building a career in China. It is great for international careerists and entrepreneurs in a variety of fields.

Profile of Beijing

Beijing, the capital of China, is located at the tip of Northern China and is surrounded by mountains to the north and northwest. The Great Wall of China is located in the northern part of the city. Feel like a little climb? How about Mount Dongling which is 7,555 feet and Beijing’s highest point. The Yongding and Chacobai rivers also flow through the city.

The summers are hot and humid with frigid and dry winters. Average July temperature is 87.6 ° F (31° C) while in January the average is high (if you can call it that!) is 35.2° (1.2° C).


As per the sixth national census conducted last year, the total population reached 19.6 million in 2010 with more than 7 million or 36 percent coming from other areas of China. This increase represents an additional 6 million people into the city from 10 years ago. Beijing’s average annual population growth is about 60,000, or about 4%.

The great majority of the population speaks Mandarin dialect of Chinese.

Economy and Beijing Job Opportunities

Beijing’s GDP growth was estimated to be more than 10 percent during 2010, according to the recent local annual people’s congress session. In 2010 Beijing’s total GDP grew to a total of 256.3 billion (1.68 RMB) with per capita GDP of $11,540. (76,000 RMB).)

Retail sales in the city exceeded 620 billion yuan ($93.9 billion USD) in 2010 which represents a 17 percent increase from the previous year.Beijing anticipates an 8 percent increase in its GDP for the current year.

Per capita disposable income for city dwellers increased by 8.5 percent (6 percent allowing for inflation), and per capita disposable income rose 10.5 percent for those living in rural areas, or 8 percent allowing for inflation.

The district of Guomao has been identified as the city’s central business district and home to a variety of corporate regional headquarters and shopping districts, along with high-end housing. The Beijing Financial District is an international financial hub. The district of Zhongguancun has been dubbed China’s “Silicon Valley: and is major center of electronic and computer related production, as well as pharmaceutical research, IT and materials engineering.

Beijing is increasing becoming known for attracting entrepreneurs and high-growth start-ups. Though Shangahi is viewed as the economic center, being is known as the center for entrepreneurship, attracting such venture capital firms as Sequoia Capital with an office in Chaoyang, Beijing .

Due ot the diversity of industry located in the city Beijing offers wonderful career opportunities for young professionals in a variety of fields: engineering, research, marketing, finance, science, and IT. For those with an entrepreneurial spirit this is also a city that welcomes innovation so those with an entrepreneurial spiriting will also feel right at home!

Median Monthly Disposable Income (after taxes) $296.58 (as of May 2011).

Cost of Living in Beijing for a Single Professional

What follows is a breakdown of the average cost of utility and apartment various expenses in Beijing by UDS. Updated May 2011.

Monthly rent

One bedroom in city center: $554.31

One bedroom outside of city center $301.65

Monthly Utilities

Electricity, gas, water, trash $22.13

1 minute of Prepaid Mobile Tariff (no discount) $0.154

Internet (6 Mbps, Flat rate, Cable/DSL $22.58

For a full cost of living in Beijing including food, transportation, clothing, recreation, visit: . This site offers the option of converting USD to different currencies.

Living in Shenzhen

Located near Guangzhou, Shenzhen is a major city that is part of the Guangdong Province of Southern China. The area is best known for becoming China’s first, and arguably most successful, Special Economic Zone. The vibrant economy of the city has made the modern cityscape and rapid foreign investment possible throughout the past several decades. The city was at one point a small village but saw fast expansion after Chinese and foreign nationals invested in the Shenzhen SEZ. This resulted in over $30 billion in foreign investment that has gone into both foreign owned and joint ventures. The resulting economic activity has made it an ideal center for expatriate careers in China.

All of this growth is responsible for Shenzhen being regarded as one of the fastest growing cities in the world. The rapid development since the establishment of the SEZ has seen a huge population growth for Shenzhen. While people have been migrating to the area of Shenzhen since the Southern Song Dynasty in 1279, it was in the 1980s when a drastic rise of people moving to Shenzhen occurred. Out of all of the cities in the Guangdong Province, Shenzhen is the only city where Mandarin is the primary language spoken as migrants come from throughout the country to find work. Thus, an expatriate looking for an extraordinary career can both live in South China while practicing his or her Mandarin, instead of having to try to decipher Cantonese.

The average age in Shenzhen is 30 with 88.41 percent of the city aged between 15 and 59. There are two extremes in place in the workforce with intellectuals with high levels of education making up one group and migrant workers with little to no education making up the other group. It has been reported that in 2002, 7,200 Hong Kong residents were commuting to Shenzhen daily for work as well as 2,200 students commuting from Shenzhen to Hong Kong for school. These numbers are probably much higher now – in July of 2003, China relaxed the travel restrictions that now allow residents of Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai to visit Hong Kong.

Shenzhen is a major manufacturing center for China and the city has been described to construct “one high rise a day and one boulevard every three days.” The skyline of the city has 13 buildings that stand at over 200 meters tall. This includes the Shun Hing Square, which is the 8th tallest building in the world. Some of China’s most successful brands call Shenzhen their home including BYD, Hasee, Huawei, Skyworth and ZTE.

The largest company in Taiwan, Hon Hai Group, has a manufacturing plant based in Shenzhen. Many other foreign tech companies have operations in the Nanshan District, or other places on the city’s periphery, where the cost of land can be much cheaper. 2010 saw a GDP record high for Shenzhen as it reached 951 billion Yuan – an increase of 10.7% over 2009.

The economic output of the city is ranked as fourth of all of the 659 Chinese cities, falling behind Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The 2010 GDP per capita was US $14,615 making Shenzhen one of the richest of all Chinese cities. Shenzhen is an amazing example of the speed in which a small village can turn into a bustling business hub in just a short amount of time. There are many things that this city can be proud of over the past few decades.

One of my good friends working in the nuclear industry in Shenzhen described it as the most futuristic city he’d ever seen. All the infrastructure and building have been put down in the last ten years, so if you enjoy a high-tech and modern feel to your metropolis, Shenzhen could be the right place for your extraordinary China career.

Getting a Visa in China

Common Chinese visas are the L visa for tourists; the F visa for businesses, the X visa for study and the Z visa for work. For each type of visa, you need to apply at the embassy consulate with

  • A completed visa application form.
  • A passport photo.
  • A passport that is valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of entry to the country.

For an L visa (which you will need to attend any interviews) you will your itinerary which basically just means where you will going once in the country.

For a Z visa (once accepted for a job) you will also need a work permit from the Labor Ministry or bureau of Foreign experts, and an invitation letter from your future employer (your employer should help you with these steps.

Visa duration: The basic length of the visa is 30 days, but you can extend up to 3 months.

A “Z” visa (work Visa) is issued to foreigners who are going to be employed in China, and their family members:

Step 1: Apply for an employment license (11 working days).

Step 2: Convert your current Business (F), Tourist (L) visa into a 2-month Z visa without leaving China (5 working days).

Step 3. Apply for an employment permit. (5 working days)

Step: 4 Apply for residence permit for one year, (5 working days)

Visa Cost

U.S. Citizens: $50. For single visa up to 30 days

Non U.S. Citizens: $30. For single visa up to 30 days


In the U.K. and Europe, visa processing generally takes from 3-4 business days. In the U.S. the time frame is typically four business days. It would be wise to give yourself some extra time for unforeseen events and apply 1-2 months in advance..

Postal Applications

Embassies and consulates in the U.S., Canada, and the longer accept applications by mail. Postal applications are accepted by New Zealand and Australia but not preferred by those embassies. You should include a postage paid, self-addressed envelope with your application. Note: some embassies have a separate postal address so check their Web site to be sure where to send you materials.

Where to apply for a Chinese Visa

The best method is to get your visa application process completed in your own country through your embassy. However, there are embassies throughout the world where you can complete the application process. For a listing of these embassies, visit:

You can also refer to the official Beijing government Web site which provides detailed instructions regarding the application process for different types. Visit:

Study in China

China has become the world’s biggest destination for international students. That’s no surprise considering the importance of learning a second language in the 21st century economy. Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in the world today. As China’s economy grows and more companies do business with China the ability to speak Mandarin has never been more valuable.

Thousands of students make the trip to China each year for a month, a semester, or even a year for their study abroad program. Here are 10 ways to get the most out of your study abroad trip in China.

Research programs extensively

Before you even leave your home country, it’s very important to research all the options available to you when considering a program. Many universities offer programs with Chinese universities that get you into the country, settle you into regular Chinese classes, and then you’re on your own. Do you want a deeper cultural experience? Do you want to see other parts of the country you’re staying in? Do some research and reflect on what you want to get out of the program. Sometimes it’s worthwhile yo explore programs run by companies outside of your university. A popular resource is ‘Go Overseas’. This website will help you research all the programs available to you. Do some legwork, get some papers signed, and get your credits transferred so you can do the study abroad program best suited to your goals.

Check your bank account

Using your regular bank to withdraw money in China can turn out being pricey. International ATM fees, exchange fees, and other pesky fees can put nasty holes in your bank account. You could potentially save yourself hundreds of dollars by changing your bank to one that offers services that don’t charge foreign ATM fees or foreign currency exchange fees when you withdraw money abroad. There are plenty out there and a little research goes a long way.

Get involved with your host community

Seek out volunteer or internship opportunities or even extra-curricular sports and interest groups. An important aspect of language learning is to become immersed in the host culture and to make your host city feel like your new home. It’s easy to fall back on English, especially if you’re in an environment with other international students. Befriend some locals and push yourself to improve your language skills by communicating with them in the target language. You can even consider participating in a home stay.

This will give you an authentic look into Chinese culture, improve your language skills, and give you a more enriching experience than most people. Homestay is more challenging but it also gives you the opportunity to learn more about the culture and people of China.

Take your classes seriously

You have the potential to learn a lot during your study abroad in China. Studying abroad offers you the chance to learn some fascinating things from incredible people that you might not be able to learn anywhere else in the world. At the very least, take your classes seriously, know you are using someone’s time, and absorb as much as you can. Besides, there is plenty of opportunity for you to gain a different perspective on various areas of your life and the world.

Ride the culture shock waves

Culture shock happens to everyone. Unfortunately, too many people finish their study abroad in China early because of it. Culture shock comes in four stages, and each stage can be varying lengths for different people.

The stages are excitement (also known as the honeymoon phase), withdrawal, adjustment, and enthusiasm.

The withdrawal stage is the critical part of the cycle, where everything will begin to take its toll on you causing you to become aggravated by the new culture you’re living with. Everything in China is completely different to what you’re used to in your home country. This includes currency, food, ethics, customs, hygiene practices, medicine, lifestyle, and the environment around you. Getting through culture shock takes a great deal of determination, but getting to the other side is the best part. It’s not easy for everyone to adjust to life in China, but take it all in your stride and know its all part of the experience of studying abroad in another country.

Make use of any spare time

Quite often, studying abroad in China means classes from 8-12 then the afternoon free. Make use of this spare time wisely and don’t spend it sitting in your dorm room watching old episodes of The Wire on your laptop. Find a part time job teaching english and earn some extra cash, explore the city you’re living in by bicycle for an authentic tourist experience, or join a language exchange with native chinese students and make some local friends.

You don’t want to look back at the end of your study abroad and think about all your wasted opportunities you had to spend your time more wisely.

One of the best ways you can use your time is to build yourself an online internet business empire, all from the comfort of your laptop.

Try all the food

The legend goes that the Chinese eat anything that walks, crawls, or swims. There may be a seed of truth to every legend, but consider this; with over one billion mouths to feed, the motto is waste not. Don’t be grossed out by some of China’s more ‘unique’ dishes.

If you’re into trying new things, then China has a lot to offer you. If not, it’s okay, there’s still lots of delicious foods and dishes to try in China. It’s easy to fall into the habit of ordering your favourite dishes everywhere you go, force yourself to try new things so you get the most from your study abroad experience. The Chinese are also connoisseurs at combining unique flavours and colours into their cooking. Be brave, try something new, you might be surprised (pleasantly or unpleasantly!)


If you have the time and the means to, travel as much as you can. China is a big country! There are vastly different things to see and do in literally every corner. Take advantage of weekends, public holidays, and national holidays and travel to every corner. Travel is cheap in China, and an experience in its own right. From the iceworld of harbin in the north to the sub-tropical paradise island of hainan in the south, from the mountains in central china, to the plateaus in the west, you simply must see as much as you can while you’re in China as there is so much diversity on offer.

Moreover, China is also a great hub for further travel in Asia. Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, and Japan are just some of the destinations that are only a stones throw away. If you can, get out there and explore.

Stay longer

One semester is great, and quite often the only time a busy undergrad student can afford to spend studying abroad, but perhaps your mind would change if you knew the difference a whole year could impact on your language ability. One semester flies by, particularly when you’re having so much fun, but spending a year abroad can have very positive affects on your language skills and on yourself.

You have infinite potential to grow as a person both with the perspective of living in China for an entire year, a culture completely different to your own, and by absorbing everything you learn. As well as this, you will be very pleased to see your Chinese language skills improve tenfold each month extra you stay.

Think about the future

Don’t spend your study abroad partying, intermittently attending class, and sleeping all day. Think about what made you go to China, think about your goals, but most of all, think about the position you will be in when you return home with new and improved skills. Apart from your language skills, take some time to think about some other skills you could learn while you’re away.

Take up a part time job teaching english to work on your teaching skills, it could become valuable later in your career. Look for an internship in your discipline and gain some extra credit, it could put you in a better position upon graduation. It’s all going to be worth it when you return home. You should definitely dabble in trying out some entrepreneurial ventures. Don’t waste your time while studying abroad, use it productively and effectively to get the most out of your experience. Boosting your resume with your study abroad experience is only as good as your actual experience was.