From the financial hub of Shanghai to the political and cultural centre of Beijing, each part of China offers something different for job-seeking expats. In this article I state the positives of working in Guangdong, and why all expats in China should consider it. While this sunny southern province is by no means perfect, Guangdong offers expats in China great employment opportunities and an overall good quality of life. As a current resident, let me tell you why.
A history of development
The economic boom in the province’s two biggest cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen is inextricably linked to their respective histories.
In the 19th century Guangzhou played host to many European traders and became a key location in the opium wars. This history is well documented in the city’s Huangpu Ancient Port Museum.
Shenzhen, on the other hand, only recently became a city. Originally a small fishing village, its development into a modern metropolis linking Hong Kong to mainland China was the brainchild of former Chinese president Deng Xiao Ping. The city, whose population has grown to around 10 million, today represents a key part of China’s high-tech industry, earning it the nickname of the “Silicon Valley of China”.
Read this for more reasons to live and work in Shenzhen.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Guangdong’s cities offer ample opportunities for expats looking for work, as evidenced by the wide range of Guangdong jobs listed on eChinacities.com. As with most expat jobs in China, the majority of adverts are for English teachers, but job-seekers can also find openings in sales, IT, project management and other tech-related areas.
Work opportunities aside, both cities have large expat communities, expat bars and their fair share of English-speakers to help foreigners navigate daily life while working in Guangdong.
If the hustle and bustle of city life becomes overbearing, however, there are many options for cultural and recreational escapes. A short ride on the metro from the centre of Shenzhen is the Dàfēn Oil Painting Village, where visitors can admire the work of small independent studios. There are also beach escapes just a short journey away.
Similarly, Huangpu Ancient Port Village lies in a suburb of Guangzhou, offering expats in China some welcome relief from the traffic and skyscrapers. Its charming backstreets are packed with shops selling artisan foods and handcrafted goods, as well as restaurants serving up authentic Cantonese cuisine.
Anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of China has probably seen the clichéd photographs of smog-ridden streets with barely visible pedestrians going about their business in masks. In many parts of China this is a reality; air pollution frequently reaches hazardous levels, which can cause long-term health problems.
The Air Quality Index map categorises air quality levels according to the following color codes: green represents “healthy”, yellow represents “moderate”; orange represents “unhealthy for sensitive groups”; red represents “unhealthy”; purple represents “very unhealthy”; and maroon represents “hazardous”.
An unscientific glance at a map of China suggests that Hebei province and Beijing in the northeast, along with Xinjiang province in the northwest, suffer the most purple and maroon days.
To suggest that Guangdong has “clean air” is somewhat of an oversimplification. The factory city of Dongguan situated between Guangzhou and Shenzhen, for instance, doesn’t help matters. But, generally speaking, Guangdong’s air is better than most.
A ranking of the air quality in 74 Chinese cities by Greenpeace does not make for encouraging reading, but Guangdong cities are listed as no higher than number 51 (number 1 being the worst), and even as low as 66, 67 and 68 in the case of Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Huizhou, respectively.
It’s probably fair to say that as far as Chinese cities go, those in Guangdong are the best of a bad bunch. If clean air is your only priority, somewhere like Yunnan province in the southwest, or practically any part of the Chinese countryside, might be a good option. But if you want a well-paid expat job, working in Guangdong will help you strike a balance between job satisfaction and a healthy environment.
Special Administrative Regions
This is perhaps what makes Guangdong one of the most unique provinces in China: its proximity to China’s two Special Administrative Regions (SARs) of Hong Kong and Macau.
The handover to China of the two SARs from Britain in 1997 and Portugal in 1999, respectively, were done so under a “one country two systems” agreement. In effect, both SARs determine their own policies on almost every issue, except defense and foreign affairs, and therefore provide a very different experience for expats in China.
For one, expats can visit one of Macau’s many casinos. In 2016, the city’s gambling industry recorded gross gaming revenue of 28 billion USD compared with the 11.1 billion USD of Las Vegas, earning it the nickname of “the Vegas of Asia”.
Macau is easily accessible by train via the immigration checkpoint in Zhuhai, or directly by ferry from Hong Kong. As the territory controls its own immigration policy, visitors should carry their passport and be prepared to go through a border check prior to arrival.
Hong Kong, which is easily accessible Guangdong by ferry and train, is also a great place to visit. It boasts a bustling city packed with everything a homesick expat could desire, as well as mountains to climb and beaches to relax on.
On a more serious note, the close proximity to Hong Kong offers expats working in Guangdong a degree of flexibility. In order to legally work in China, foreign citizens are required to obtain a residence permit and a work permit. The former can be obtained from the Public Security Bureau within China, but the latter must be obtained outside of the mainland. As Hong Kong counts as outside of mainland China, expats living in Guangdong are at a great advantage when it comes to organising and obtaining the illustrious work visa.
In the end, you’ll want to consider many factors when deciding where to work in China. If career development is your only concern, you might want to opt for Beijing or Shanghai. If immersion in Chinese language and culture is your aim, teaching English in a second tier city or small town will be the best option.
But for expats who want varied job options, (relatively) clean air and ease of travel to some very different parts of China, Guangdong is a very good option.
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Keywords: working in Guangdong Expats in China
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