5 Ways to Keep Your Sanity as a Foreigner Living in China

5 Ways to Keep Your Sanity as a Foreigner Living in China
Dec 28, 2018 By Lewis Schwinn , eChinacities.com

Staying sane is difficult enough. Staying sane when living in China takes it to a whole other level. The cultural differences, the language barrier and the environment can all start to take their toll on you if you’re not careful. But, if you follow my tips, you’ll soon find yourself in a Daoist-like state of calm, able to maintain your cool in the face of any China frustration.

Photo: Heath Cajandig

1. Get the hell out of the city

Most decent jobs for foreigners in China are in cities. Therefore, most foreigners live in urban areas. However, along with the job opportunities comes smog, traffic, commutes, pushy people and a thousand other small irritations that can add up to one giant headache.

The solution is simple: get out of the city on a regular basis. China has thousands of remote parks, mountains, hiking trails and historical sites to visit outside of cities and away from the massive press of people.

While this sounds simple and obvious, many long-term foreign residents of China stop travelling as much within a year of their arrival. With trains, buses and cheap private transportation readily available, getting out of the city even once a month to view China’s natural splendor is easy and can go a long way towards restoring your calm.  

2. Cook for yourself

Chinese food, no matter where you live, is delicious and cheap. But after a while, many foreigners start to crave the flavours of their home countries and thus seek out restaurants serving foreign cuisine.

However, foreign restaurants in China generally aren’t so great. They tend to be expensive and the flavours have either been changed to better suit Chinese tastes or because hard-to-find ingredients have been replaced with something local.

When you’re craving some home-cooked food, therefore, you’re much better off making it… at home. While this option can also be expensive, you’ll at least have complete control over the ingredients and cooking methods, generally resulting in a better tasting, more authentic dish than you would find eating out.

Once you’ve mastered a few dishes you can double-down on your relaxation by arranging a dinner parties with friends, thus turning your hobby into an enjoyable social pastime.

3. Interact with the locals

A classic trap most foreigners fall into is that they only interact with other foreigners. Even if you don’t care about learning the language or culture, making friends with locals will go a long way towards making you happier in China.

Becoming real friends with locals helps to reveal aspects of China that you simply cannot learn if you only interact with Chinese people on a superficial level. Furthermore, having local friends will help make China feel more like a home rather than just a place you’re living.

So, how do you go about shopping for Chinese friends? Just speaking English is generally enough if you don’t mind the first reason for them getting to know you being that they want to sharpen their language skills. There are also sports clubs, shared-interest groups and travel groups that you can join to widen your circle of Chinese compadres. If you can speak Chinese, your options obviously increase exponentially!

4. Make your home your castle

Even if you’re only staying in China for the short-term, remember that your living environment has a big effect on your mental health. China has a multitude of housing options depending on your preference and price range, but at any level it’s possible to choose a nice place that will promote your wellbeing.

Quiet or convenient locations, clean complexes, spacious rooms, good landlords and amenities can all be sought and bargained for while you are searching for a home in China. Adding a few air-filters, plants and water-filters will also provide you with a clean and healthy environment to relax and unwind in.

Decorations and furniture can be picked up on the cheap from Chinese websites like Taobao or local foreigner websites as expats leave and look to sell off their stuff. China’s biggest cities even have IKEAs these days!

5. Keep in touch with home

A little bit of regular home contact can go a long way towards keeping you sane while living in China. There are a few obvious ways to go about this:

FaceTime (if you both have iPhones), Skype and WeChat are easy ways to communicate with people back home without the need for a VPN. Keeping in touch will help you keep a positive outlook, especially if you’ve just arrived in China and don’t have an established social circle yet.

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a cheap and easily accessible computer program that allows you to access websites from back home that you simply can’t live without. Sites like Facebook that help keep you in touch with your friends, YouTube and Netflix that satisfy your video cravings, and Google that settle your bar arguments, are all available via a VPN. And if you really want to stay sane, get two. When one has a blip, you won’t feel the need to smash your phone or computer!

Any other tips for staying sane while living in China? Drop them in the comments box below.

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Keywords: living in China


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WeChat is an absolute must! I tell this to everyone I meet that just moved here.

Jan 03, 2019 13:42 Report Abuse



Absolutely true. Having a Wechat and exploring other Chinese social media and apps (especially Alipay) is a good way of staying sane in China.

Feb 02, 2019 05:26 Report Abuse



You are right

Dec 30, 2018 00:05 Report Abuse