Moving to any new country as a foreigner can be daunting, and China is no exception. You will have to set up the basic building blocks of your life: finding an apartment, getting a phone contract and dealing with culture shock, all while navigating the hellish twists and turns of the inevitable visa issues that will arise. But what exactly should you expect? Today I’m going to answer that question by explaining how to survive your first week living in China.
This is a bit of a mixed bag. If you’re being employed by a big company in China, they will typically do a better job with “onboarding”. They will often provide you with online resources, advances on your salary, visa support and help with setting up your bank, phone and apartment.
If you’re with a smaller company, however, they will most likely provide you with close to no help, or help so incompetent you’ll wish they weren’t helping you at all. Whether it’s in the form of setting up an apartment, a phone, the internet or any other vital item, expect to have do most of it on your own.
So, you decide to find your own apartment. That means you have two choices. You can use websites that have direct listings from landlords and online realtors like anjuke.com or homelink.com.cn. More than likely is that you’ll end up at a brick-and-mortar realtor company like Lianjia.
If it’s the latter, a realtor will then proceed to show you about a dozen of the worst apartments you’ve ever seen, regardless of what you tell them you’re looking for, until you either give in and live in cesspool or they finally show you a decent one. The key is perseverance and being firmly polite about what you want.
Once you’ve finally found a place you like, you need to be prepared to give up to three months’ rent (sometimes they ask for six) as a security deposit, and a realtor fee, which should at most be half a month’s rent (if they try to charge you a full month, switch realtors). This means initial apartment costs can be huge. After that, you’ll be expected to pay rent in three-month increments.
Next comes precious telecommunications. Setting up a permanent phone and internet basically follows a lot of the same rules as finding an apartment. You need to have a home address first, and then the ability to pay a year in advance if you’re setting up your in-house WiFi. The good news is that relatively high-speed internet is cheap in China, usually coming in at under RMB1,000 for a year, depending on where you live.
In China, bigger is better, so you should avoid using any small, lesser-known internet providers. There are three major telecommunications companies in China: China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. Your location will determine which one is most easily accessible.
However, there’s a good chance you won’t have found an apartment in your first week, which will preclude you from setting up permanent phone and internet.
Luckily, there are plenty of more temporary solutions that can act as a stop-gap for your first week living in China. In terms of apartments, Air BnB provides a good and cheap temporary housing solution while you look for permanent digs. Air BnB operates in all of China’s major cities.
In terms of telecommunications, you can buy prepaid SIM cards at any of thee major providers’ shops (which are everywhere) or from most convenience stores. But be warned, it’s quite easy to burn through your data using these cards and you will most likely have to top it off every two days or so. You can easily recharge at any convenience store, though.
If all of that sounds like too big of a hassle, you can generally find free WiFi even in the smallest noodle shop, so living by using restaurant, café or work internet for your first week is quite easy if you don’t want to shell out money immediately.
Every single problem discussed above is a whole lot easier with native level Chinese. If you don’t have that, you can find a Chinese friend to help you out. If you’ve only been in China for a week, and people have yet to warm up to the acquired taste that is you, don’t worry! There are plenty of options for finding friendly Chinese people willing to help.
A- Chinese coworkers are a good source of support and will often help you out just to avoid seeing the look of desperation in your eyes. Ironically, the people in your company whose job it is to help you will most likely be nowhere near as useful as the nice person you sit next to.
B- There are dozens of websites advertising free language partners in China, making it easy to locate someone in the city you’re going to before you even arrive. This will not only help you learn some essential Chinese, it will also pair you with someone willing to help you just so they can practice their English.
C- You could just simply hire a cheap personal assistant for your first week. This relieves the pressure of having to burden coworkers or newly made friends and gets you someone 100 percent committed to helping you. Most cities in China have local English-language websites with job boards and forums. It’s always easy to find someone willing to pick up a few extra RMB, so posting a job ad for an assistant should get you at least a few inquiries.
Do research on the city you’re going to. Find out what the local cuisine is like, where the best areas to live are, and various other necessities in line with your needs and interests. A little bit of preparation can go a long way towards reducing your stress levels in your first week living in China.
You can often contact friendly expatriates or Chinese people via the internet and have a social circle waiting as you fly in. Use city-specific websites to contact expatriates who can hook you into local WeChat groups. These small WeChat groups often contain the best jobs, local apartment listings and knowledgeable people who can help you with any questions. It is highly recommended that you set up a WeChat account before you arrive. You can sign up using a foreign phone number and change it once you’re set up.
In addition, you should try and learn a little essential Chinese to get around, like how to say and understand numbers and the Chinese characters for beef, pork, fish, noodles. This will ensure you eat in your first week!
Another part of being prepared is having, if possible, a large chunk of money saved up for first week expenses. Apartment, internet and phone fees generally all have to be paid immediately, which means if you don’t have any savings before you arrive, you might find yourself in a pickle. If possible, ask your employer to give you an advance on your salary.
Any more tips for surviving your first week in China? Tell us in the comments box below.
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Keywords: living in China
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