The only thing more fleeting than expat life in China is probably spring in China - which we all know passes in the blink of an eye. People come to this great country for a variety of reasons, but most don’t intend on staying long. The majority of expats in China are students or here on short-term contracts, doing internships or trying to get their business off the ground. Expat life in China therefore has a very high turnover rate in a number of areas, including the expats themselves.
Restaurants & bars
Whether it’s due to lack of customers, negative reviews, business partner conflicts or the local government bricking up your front door (#thebrickening in Beijing), the turnover rate for restaurants and bars in China is extremely high.
Every week there seems to be new eateries popping up, while going away parties for businesses happen more often than they do for friends. Either that or they experience such a major make-over that the once grungy dive-bar we used to love is now a modern bar/coffee-shop with real menus. Is it an improvement? Each to their own.
Making friends in China can be challenging, but keeping them is even harder. All expats in China are at the mercy of their visas, and once it expires, so too does your adventure. China visas are usually granted for just one year at a time, and many of them require the holder to leave the country every few months. After completing your third visa-run to Hong Kong in a year, it’s plausible to think you might start looking for opportunities outside of China.
Getting a China visa itself is also a complicated process, especially the work visa, which requires a number of documents that not only take time to obtain, but must come notorised with stamps and signatures to confirm their authenticity. As such, many China expats simply get fed up with the process and either go home or head to a country with a lower barrier to entry.
How many times in China have you said, “I remember when…”. For some, it was a charmingly grimy bar street that is now a new library. For others, it was enjoying the scenery on a six-hour train-ride that now only takes three hours. Talk about an inconvenience!
China is modernising at a breakneck speed and that means change. Certain cities are being “cleaned up”, while other places are enforcing historic regulations that were overlooked for decades.
Does this make China better? It does and it doesn’t. China was a simpler country just 10 years ago, but although some regulations have been tightened, there’s also been a marked upgrade in transportation, infrastructure and reform.
Another weekend, another going away party. We drink and reminisce about the good times with Steve, but what are we celebrating? Are we excited that he finally had the courage to leave? Perhaps we’re impressed that he stuck to his goals and didn’t extend his contract like the rest of us. Whatever the reason, foreigners in China come and go in waves.
Students see the biggest fluctuation, as newbies flood in during the fall and old hands leave in droves on graduation. English teachers also usually leave after finishing their one-year contracts, but the bold stay on, looking for new opportunities that don't involve teaching the difference between “could” and “should”.
And then there’s the veterans. They’ve been here for 5+ years but eventually, they’ll leave too. Those that actually choose to live in China forever are a rare breed. Most expats enjoy their experience here but ultimately seek some new adventures elsewhere.
It’s inevitable that expat life in China 20 years from now will not look, feel and hopefully not smell the same as it does today. With all that said, enjoy what you have while you have it - for you never know when it might be gone.
While in China, we meet other expats from all walks of life and stages of their China experience. We've mapped out five of the key stages of expat life in China.
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