10 things you should know before moving to China

Dear Reader,

China is one of the many up and coming countries around the world. Many of you have probably considered visiting or moving to China, or have already made plans.

As you may know, I lived in a town outside of Shanghai for my university for 6 months in fall of 2016. Even if things have changed a bit since then, there are still some fundamentals have not. Here are some things you should know before moving there for good. Of course, I know that these are generalizations and do not apply to every Chinese person, but they are real things I have encountered.

1, WeChat

Let’s start out with this very important app. As you probably know by now, due to the Great Firewall of China accessing apps like Facebook, Instagram, and much more is impossible. Since these apps are blocked, there are Chinese equivalents of almost every app. WeChat is officially the equivalent of WhatsApp but is it so much more. You can do the usual things, such as text, voice memos, and calls, but you can also post updates, send money, order food, and so much more. Basically anything you need to do all day you can do in this app. Make sure you download it before you get there, because you are basically not a real person without it. If you don’t believe me, check out this great video that explains the power of WeChat perfectly,

2, Push and Shove

You may know that Chinese culture, in general, is very polite and respectful. That is until they get to any form of public transportation or anything that requires standing in line. If you are coming from Europe or even the US, you are probably used to standing in line for the bus, so that the people who have been there the longest can get on the next. Well, not in China. There, if you don’t push and shove your way to the door and just wait for your turn in the line, you will never get a seat ever. You will have to put your manners aside and just act like everybody else. Also, do not be fooled by old ladies. They are not harmless; they are the worst of them all.

3, Picture! Picture!

If you are Asian, this will not happen to you. Any other race, be prepared to be almost a celebrity. In Hong Kong and Shanghai, you should be safe, but at major tourist attractions or less international cities, you will be famous. People will be staring at you, taking sneaky pictures, coming up to you and ask for pictures, and who knows what. I actually prefer if people come up and actually ask. Like that we can take a picture and move on. Sneaky pictures are very common, although they are bad at hiding it. They will walk by with their phones pointing at you. Once I was at the movies with my sister and the guy in front of us tried to take a picture of her and she just stared straight at the camera and he kind of freaked out.

Now I do wonder what people do with them. Like do they go home and tell the family that they saw a white person today and show them a picture? My friend did tell me that that was what will actually happen which I find hilarious. This doesn’t just happen in China, but it happens there very often. Further me, as a  blond, very pale even for white people, blue-eyed girl got a lot of attention, but some of my African American friends were even more popular, so just be aware.

This fascination will come in handy though, especially with going out. Since Chinese people love to be around white people, clubs will want as many white people as possible to get the Chinese to come. So there are many promoters who will get you in for free and give you drinks and a table, just for being white. So going out can become very very cheap if you get there before midnight most of the time.

4, They are not all angry

You will see people yelling at each other in every situation. On the buses, in the street, at home, etc. No, these people are not always angry. They are actually having a normal conversation just with elevated voices. In their culture, if you don’t talk louder then everybody else, what you say will not be heard. So it is completely normal, even if it doesn’t feel like it. You will actually get used to it and when around your Chinese friends you will start doing the same.

Temple garden

5, Breathing is hard

Now, of course, you have heard of the air pollution in China, but it is completely different to actually experience it. Personally, I did not feel much of the effects, but I have friends who got headaches and allergies. In Beijing, a face mask with a filter is worth the investment. You will look out the window and think it is cloudy, but actually, they are smog clouds. Rain will not be clean, which can be intense.

It is not just the air though. The water is undrinkable. You have to live off bottled water, which coming from Europe (where you can drink the tap water) sounded like a hassle. In the beginning, I still asked for a glass of water at salsa parties at a bar (because I am cheap), and then realizing that I cannot do that here. The looks I got!

6, VPNs are your best friend

If you want to have a normal connection with your family and friends from back home, you will need a VPN. A VPN (virtual private network) is a program that masks your IP address and tells the internet you are in a different location than where you actually are. So you can access Facebook, the News, and anything else you want to see. It is technically illegal to have one, but I have never heard of it causing any issues. You should also invest and buy one instead of using free ones. If you are lucky and have a VPN built into your WiFi, good for you; otherwise just download one before you go, since the VPN websites are blocked, so you will not be able to do it once you land. This can also be very annoying when talking to customer services, since your VPN is not working, but you need your VPN to access the customer service to fix your VPN.

For me, I used PureVPN. It worked very well and they have a specific function for China. The issue is since VPN websites are blocked, you will also not be able to reach their customer service, which has happened to me. They are always very fast at getting back to you and help you solve the problem even when you connect to them over email.

7, Heating is a miracle

In China, not many people have heating systems although it can get quite cold. This is especially true in Shanghai and rural areas. In Shanghai, it would be about 10 degrees Celsius in the winter, which is cold. So everybody is heating with their Air conditioning, which they do have. Also thick blankets and warm pajamas help a lot.

On the other side, in the summer the building will be cooled down to below 20 degrees, which is just too much. It might be over 30 degrees outside and you are walking around with a cardigan because you will need it inside. Such a paradox.

8, Fakes

Even here in Europe, all the fakes are coming from China, so it is not a big surprise that you can find many fakes in China. Almost every store had a secret (or not so secret) backroom where you can by fake anything you want. And if they don’t have it, their cousin will. There are whole “markets” dedicated to fake things. You can find anything from bags, shoes, makeup, electronic, and so much more. You will have to bargain hard, to get a fair price, but it can be worth it. Just don’t expect the same quality as you would in the original. Also you might want to be careful when traveling back to your own country. Some higher end fake stores will give you fake bills mostly from HongKong, but many will not. If you are flying to a European country be careful since you might get a fine as high as 3 times the price of the original.

9, Yi chang piao….

Yi chang piao chu Renmin Guang Chang

One ticket to….wherever you are going. While you are here you should travel as much as possible. There are so many cities that are worth visiting, such as Hangzhou, Suzhou, Beijing, Shanghai and many many more. China has a great public transport system within the cities, but also connecting cities. There are bullet trains between cities, which are amazing. You can of course also fly, but taking the train is just as good an option. Within cities, you have buses mainly, and then some cities have metros or trams. These work very well and actually run quite on time surprisingly. The only downside is that none of the staff speaks English. I lived about one hour outside the city and would have to take a bus operated by the local university to go into town. The lady at the ticket booth only spoke Chinese, so I learned one sentence very quickly: I would like one ticket to People Square. It is to this day the one sentence I will never forget even without practice. So take a chance on the public transport.

shanghai skyline

10, Just be considerate

Many of the things done in China you will not be used to or find difficult to adjust to. You do not have to like all aspects of the culture. The Chinese food in China will not like the Chinese food at home. They randomly spit on the floor (which is something I could never get used to). You will make friends with squatting toilets and start carrying your own toilet paper around.  You will meet the most interesting people. Try not to compare it too much with where you come from, that will ruin the experience. Yes, there are things that are “better” in your home country, but there are also things that are “better” in China.

Hope this helped if this gave you an idea what to expect when moving to China. It will take some time to get used to this country, but once you get used to it it will grow on you. I had friends who did not like it, while some (like me) actually liked the country quite a bit.

Good luck with your move and have a great adventure in this constantly evolving country. Share your experiences with me in the comments below or on social media, I love reading them.



4 thoughts on “10 things you should know before moving to China”

  1. I have recently been researching (for the near future) about teaching England abroad, for example in China, so these tips were really helpful and will definitely be taken into consideration.
    I’m so glad there is actually an app where you can keep in contact because that’s what I was especially afraid of- how would I contact people without fb etc.
    Great post xx

    Annelies | https://thefrugalfrenchie.co.uk

    1. Oh WeChat is so much more than you can even imagine. You will not want to use anything else afterwards.

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