China,  Expat Life

4 Things to Know Before Moving to China

Are you considering moving to China? Is it a good country for foreigners?

I did a quick Google search of the best countries for expats and in particular, black expats.

Guess what? China (excluding Hong Kong) was rarely listed. Yet there are more and more foreigners moving here each year.

If you’re looking for a locale with a low cost of living and strong savings potential, then China might be the right place for you.

Did you catch my use of the word “might”?

China is a country of contradictions. Things will often defy logic. Stuff won’t make sense.

If you try to understand China using western sensibilities, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Smile! You’re on Camera

There is a certain homogeneity that exists in China given that more than 90% of the population belong to a single ethnic group.

When I first visited back in 2013, as a black person, I expected that I would draw a lot of stares and reactions. I was wrong. No one batted an eye at me.

Again, when I visited in 2015, my experience was the same. The Chinese I encountered ignored me completely. They were far more interested in people with European features, in particular those with blonde hair.

The experience of other black Americans is usually quite the opposite. No matter if they were tourists or expats, they all tell the same basic story. People gawk at them. Take their picture or grab their hair.

Since moving to China, I’ve been treated differently. Like most foreigners, I get stared at a lot.

Everywhere I go … the grocery store, the mall…doesn’t matter. 🙄 It starts the minute I walk out of my apartment. It’s almost comical but definitely exasperating.

I’ve sort of adjusted. While I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring most of the gaping, I will often stare back just to throw them off.

Thankfully no one has tried to touch me. That would not end well.

Paper, Never Plastic

I prefer to use a credit card whenever possible. This does not fly in China. Almost no one accepts credit cards.

Cash is king and rapidly being overtaken by digital wallets like WeChat Pay and Alipay. You can pay for any and every thing with your cell phone.

Paying for your taxi, meal or groceries is as simple as scanning a QR code. Hell, even panhandlers accept digital payments here.

Withdrawing cash from an ATM (my second favorite option) can sometimes be a challenge. Many ATMs will not accept US/European bank cards.

The vast majority of ATMs are on the UnionPay network so it might take a little research to find a machine that will accept your card. It is a good idea to ask your bank what to do if a Chinese ATM prompts you for a six-digit PIN.

Privacy is an Illusion

Upon entering the country, you are fingerprinted and photographed. In this day and age, this alone is not all that unusual. But coupled with a network of surveillance cameras, expected to reach 626 million by 2020, the government can find you wherever you are whenever they want to.

Chinese law stipulates that you, as a foreigner, must register with the police (Public Security Bureau) within 24 hours of arriving in the country.

This is the case no matter how long you plan on staying. Failure to do so can result in a fine and/or revocation of your visa. It is common for violators to be barred entry to the country in the future.

Nearly every transaction requires your passport or cell number. If you thought that in a country of more than a billion people you could have some anonymity, the joke’s on you.

no spitting sign in English and Arabic

Germaphobes Need Not Apply

I don’t think I will EVER get used to hearing people hack up their phlegm and spit it indiscriminately.  Yeah, you read that correctly. Public spitting is a thing in China.

It is also not uncommon to see children relieve themselves on the sidewalk, in the bushes or wherever.

Don’t expect TP or soap in public restrooms. Handwashing doesn’t seem to be super popular either.

In grocery stores, everyone handles raw meat (which is unpackaged) with their bare hands.

People don’t really cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze.

It appears that blowing your nose sans tissue is quite acceptable. This one boggles the mind since most people carry tissue due to the lack of it in restrooms.

Dusting, sweeping or moping does not happen with the frequency or the effectiveness you have probably come to expect…I’m being REALLY polite here if you catch my drift.

Are you cringing yet?

Welcome to China!