Pros and Cons of Living in China
Considering living in China and not sure if you should make the move or not?
Wondering what the pros and cons of coming out here are?
I’ve been here since 2007 and today want to give you a rundown of the good and the bad of living in Mainland China.
The Pros of Living in China
Let’s start off with the positive side of things – the good parts of living in China
Costs Are Still Relatively Low Compared To The West
This one is debatable depending on which products or services you are looking for. While Southeast Asia is definitely cheaper than China, I would have to say China is still cheaper than in the West.
Now, it depends on what products. IF you want to live and eat like you are living in America, then you will pay more. Foreign imported foods is much more expensive, and less commonly found. But if you live like a Chinese person, and eat the local food, prices will be cheaper than if you’re in the West.
Same with living – which goes for anywhere in Asia or the world for that matter. If you’re willing to live in the local housing, you will take some quality of life downgrades, but also be able to save quite a bit of money. But if you want a gated garden with a pool, gym, elevator, and 24/7 building guard – you’re going to pay more for that.
Please note, that costs in China have been rapidly increasing, and I would say the end of “Cheap China” was about 2011. Costs are steadily increasing and rent contracts always go up each year.
Growing Consumer Market
So many people dream of selling to Chinese. It is a massive market, but a tough nut to crack. If you’re able to crack it, you just need 1 RMB profit and you’ll make a billion RMB 😉
If only it were that easy.
If you’re serious about selling in the Chinese market – you need to come here and live on the ground and experience it. Maybe not for your entire life, but if you and your business want real success selling to China, get out of your company headquarters in San Francisco and spend a year over here to soak it all in.
Living in China you will have a huge advantage to your foreign competitors who are sitting back in their country headquarters. Learn what the Chinese consumer wants, learn about all the different segments in the market, and build real relationships and distribution deals.
It is close to impossible to sell in China without having a physical presence here – and even better if you have that first hand experience.
Chinese Are Generally Friendly to Foreigners
Chinese people are helpful and nice to us visitors. I always get help with directions from random people on the street, and security guards go above and beyond to help a lost foreigner.
Don’t be intimidated to take out your phone or a piece of paper and show someone a Chinese address if you get lost. I won’t get into it, but I do have white skin so that helps.
As long as you are genuine and friendly towards a Chinese citizen, they will be helpful and friendly back.
Can Always Get a Teaching Job
Chinese love to learn. It is embedded in their systems as soon as they are born, the parents and family really encourage kids to expand their knowledge and get a proper education.
This means, there is a huge industry in the education market. I’ve had close calls in my business where I needed to get some cash, and have been close (but not done so) to take an English teacher job.
So many foreigners leverage the power of getting an English teaching job in China to get cash in the door while they learn to start their own business.
A Massive Country With So Much to Explore
SerpentZA on Youtube takes you on a journey through South China – and now North China. Like the United States, there are so many different cultures and styles of people and food and places to see. I have nowhere near reached a complete list of cities to visit in China and I have been to more than 20!
So you won’t get board with various weekend adventures and trips to see places in China!
China Is Still The World’s Factory
No matter what anyone says, China is still the factory of the world. Yes, Southeast Asia and India do have quite a bit of manufacturing, but nothing of the scale of China still. All the investment over the decades, the moulds, the infrastructure of logistics is here! Therefore the education and knowledge of manufacturing in the workforce still makes China the dominant force of manufacturing for the world.
Which city to base in China? It depends on what industry you are in. There are clusters of factory cities for all sorts of products. Shenzhen for electronics, Ningbo for injection mould plastics, Guangzhou for textiles, Shantou for toys. You can do your research for the right city for you – but more often than not China will be the place for you to do your manufacturing.
While big players have moved to Vietnam, Indonesia, and other places, it isn’t as easy for an entrepreneur and small business to do so. China still have the infrastructure and you’ll be on an uphill battle if you venture off to these new emerging markets. If you insist on using them for manufacturing unless you have deep enough pockets and a lot of patience.
China Is a Great Place To Sell Now!
As China has developed its manufacturing, they have also been saving their cash. The last 5 years or so they are spending it! People around the world are begging and pleading to get into the Chinese market. To tap into the rich Chinese businessman and happy spending Chinese consumer.
If you’re brave enough to relocate to China, you can learn on the ground. Reading blogs like this is nice, but it will never replace the on the ground experience and knowledge you will gain by being inside the Chinese borders.
Learn how to host your website in China. Figure out how to get your Chinese social media accounts setup, verified, and optimized. Have focus groups with Chinese customers and gain valuable insights.
If you can be the “cowboy” to come to China, even if its for just a few months, you will be light years ahead of your competitor who is still fearful to come to “big bad China”.
Those who takes risks and venture out of their comfort zones are the ones who get the competitive edge. Do it!
Learn The Chinese Language, By Being Here
Yes, you can learn Chinese from the comfort of your own home in America or your home country. Do some online courses, buy some textbooks, do a night class. But it just won’t “sink in” as good as getting lost in a chinese taxi after dinner and trying to figure things out.
Immerse yourself in the Chinese language and live in China! I’m getting old now, but when I was young and full of energy, I would live deeper in Chinese factory cities (Dongguan) and work in a 100% Chinese environment. No one could speak English! There was no way out except to speak Chinese.
After years of being in Shenzhen, I just spend a few months in Dongguan and my Chinese skills dramatically improved.
And learning Chinese isn’t just useful for China nowadays. Chinese tourists are flocking around the world, flooding malls and schools. Impress them with your Mandarin chinese language skills and win over customers in your home country!
There will never be a better time to learn Chinese than now.
China Is full of Global Entrepreneurs
I have met people from all around the world. Like in New York City, I am in a melting pot here. People from Poland, Ukraine, Spain, Brazil, Thailand Canada, the list goes on and on.
They come here because they see opportunity in China. They are global entrepreneurs wanting to make a better life for themselves. This is what you are doing too! And the only way to connect with these people is being here on the ground, in the battleground, in the arena.
I imagine this is like what Manhattan New York was like for my grandfather from Italy. He met my Russian grandmother and built his family. Sadly, USA is not that place anymore and people are choosing China to grow their international business.
Follow this trend and build your global entrepreneur network here in Asia, from China!
Follow the Money
Warren Buffet has a saying something like, follow the money flow. We all know the money has been flowing into China. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?
While the Chinese market is one of the hardest in the world, if you can withstand the heat and the pressure, you will be a “lean, mean, fighting machine”.
If it was easy everyone would do it. Come in with the mindset that it will take a decade to get anywhere. Keep pushing every single day like it is the difference between winning and losing in China. Watch other global entrepreneurs come and go. Stay the course. Get the edge over your competition and you will come out on top.
There is money here, it is not easy money – but it is big and it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Stay strong, learn, keep an open mind, and be flexible. You will get it if you can stick here longer than the majority.
Get Line Item on Your Resume (CV)
What employer wouldn’t be impressed with a line item with “China” on it. Multinational companies around the world are looking for entrepreneurs to keep their companies ahead. They will like to see this China experience on your resume and job application. Play it up and use it to your advantage.
Most people will just stay on the normal life track after college. They will get the standard banking or insurance job. But if you venture out to China, even if for only 6 months to a year, this will be priceless experience that any employer would be intrigued to see.
Never regret your time in China, even if you “go out in flames”. Life is short, and the best way to stay ahead of the pack is knowledge and experience. Time in China will be invaluable and you won’t regret it!
The Future is China
The Chinese government has a long term plan for China to integrate with the rest of the world. This is only the beginning. Their currency, their culture, their people will continue to expand around the world.
If you build quality relationships in business and in life here in China, you can leverage that as this China wave expands.
Cons Of Living in China
Now, I’ll be nice here but this article wouldn’t be complete with some of the setbacks of taking the dive and living in China.
Really Need To Learn Chinese
Unless you want to live in a foreigner bubble district, you gotta learn Chinese. The majority of people in your day to day interactions will not speak English, or be extremely shy to do so. If you want a full English living experience, live in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and select districts in Beijing.
But if you really want to experience China, at least make attempts to learn the language. I feel guilty writing this, as I have been in China since 2007 and still don’t have too deep of an understanding of Chinese language, but I do make attempts. I can live here on my own if needed and speak enough Chinese to do the day to day.
So if I were to do it again, I would study Chinese much more seriously as soon as I got here. You really miss out on a lot of local interactions and friendships if you don’t speak their language.
Pollution Is a Thing
Sure, no one likes this – but the statistics don’t lie. Because China is a manufacturing center of the world – there is a decent amount of pollution. If you live in a major city, you will deal with pollution.
When a lot of my foreign friends have kids, they don’t want their kids to grow up in this environment. Some beg me not to take a bike ride or a jog as it will further damage my lungs by breathing in all the pollution. Some have cancelled their slots in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 due to pollution concerns.
So, for the foreseeable future this will be a reality you need to deal with. The Chinese government is making a lot of strides to reduce and improve it – but still something on the “con list”.
Keep in mind, if you’re willing to live in a smaller city, away from manufacturing, you can live in places like American farmland with fresh air and clear skies. Cities, on the other hand, cough cough, is improving but is still an issue. Many people buy air filtration systems for their homes. In Beijing, friends I know check the air before deciding to have an “outdoor or indoor” themed day.
Need To Deal With Passport Visas
A lot of foreigners often stress about renewing their visas. It has gotten better with many countries doing a 10 year business visa now, so this is less of a “con”. Immigration for long term, especially if you want to earn salary or start a business in China is still an issue. There have been a lot of updates to the immigration policy, a “ranking” of foreigner quality in China, creating more fear and unknown future for expats living here.
If the Chinese economy comes down, the government, like any, would look to first keep the jobs and business opportunities for the locals. Many expats have felt that is what is already happening as there are reports I get of people not able to stay any more.
I do want to say this is a risk of any person living outside of their home country. You are an “alien” in a new country and have to follow the immigration law and policy.
To wrap things up, one point that is always in the back of my mind, what is Donald Trump says something stupid enough that I can get wrapped up into it? What if there is a political event between USA and China and all Americans are forced to leave.
Sure, that is a pretty extreme case. Let’s talk about something a bit less dramatic – I have had French friends who had issues renewing their China visa when there was some political debate between China and France. It was a very stressful time for them and eventually they were able to come back to China (it was about a week or so of hassle if I remember correctly).
So because we are in a foreign country, and as tensions between countries and economies pick up – we can get stuck as an innocent bystander.
The Internet Doesn’t Really Work
The Chinese government is extremely strict about what web pages can load inside the country. It has only gotten stricter since 2008 when they first blocked Facebook and Twitter.
Don’t complain if you come here and can’t open these websites. Yes, there are some tools (VPNs) that may work – but the Chinese regulators are working hard at stopping those too. Over time in China, you will be able to open less and less foreign websites, so just expect this to be part of the reality of living in China.
It has been one of my biggest complaints living inside Mainland China.
As China grows, so does its cost of living. I have witnessed years where my labor costs have doubled and rents increased by 30 – 50%! This is only increasing each year. And who knows when it will stop. Speculators have talked about the crashing of the Chinese economy for over a decade but it still hasn’t happened.
So when you sign your lease contract, expect that rent to increase after that first year. Expect food costs to continue to go up, any staff you hire will need to be paid more each year, and so on.
I have lived to learn how to deal with this over my 10 years here, and it is something you will need to adjust to as well if you’re willing to stick here for the long term.
China: Big Risks But Big Rewards. Take The Challenge?
From my years in China, I have to say you need to be mentally ready for it. Don’t think it will be fun and easy. The locals will welcome you and help you out, but you need to adjust to the extreme culture and language differences.
I’d love to hear your questions and comments in the comment section below!
What Do you Think? Ready to move to China?
So I hope this got you excited to move to China. Or maybe now you feel it isn’t for you. Well, the sooner we confirm our goals the better.
Did I miss something? Have some comment about what other benefits you see by doing business in China? I’d love to hear it below.
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Related articles we have written here at Global From Asia are: Pros and Cons of Living in Guangzhou, China, Hong Kong vs Mainland China, 10 Things You Need To Know About China Sourcing and Manufacturing, so you can keep on digging after this article, enjoy!