Lessons I’ve Learned After 8 Years Living and Working in China

Lessons I’ve Learned After 8 Years Living and Working in China
May 16, 2019 By Cian Dineen , eChinacities.com

I’ve been living and working in China for eight years now. I’ve had my highs and lows and learned my fair share, sometimes from what I’ve heard from others, sometimes from what I’ve seen firsthand. Below is some simple advice that you may find useful when living and working in China. If you can follow these guidelines, you’re more likely to avoid running into trouble, be well-covered if anything does happen, and also be able to shed any negativity and focus on making the best of your life here.

1. Get the correct visa and pay your taxes

It’s easy to find yourself in a situation in China where you aren’t on the visa you should be, be it you’re doing regular freelance work while on a tourist visa or you’re working for a company full-time but they only provide you with a business visa. To begin with, it may only be a short-term fix. But blink and it’s years down the line and you’re still in the same situation.

Don’t let that happen to you. Remember that as long as you’re on the incorrect visa, you can get kicked out of China at any time. It just takes one raid at your company or one disgruntled ex-colleague, and you’re out of here.

Even if you’re lucky enough to evade being caught, you’re creating significant gaps in your CV for if and when you do get the chance to be on the correct visa at a legitimate company. When that time comes, you’ll need to explain what you were doing in China previously. Your shady past could cost you a promising future.

Even if you have the correct visa, you may not be paying the taxes you owe. It’s important to know your rights and obligations when it comes to paying taxes in China. Don’t assume your company is doing the right thing and be sure to properly examine any documents they ask you to sign relating to tax.

Paying taxes doesn’t have to be seen as some sort of defeat either. If your company is doing things by the book, you should be building a modest nest egg in your Social Insurance account. Additionally, you should be able to opt-in to the Housing Fund scheme, which offers rent benefits, tax breaks, and tax credit. The money from both of these schemes can be withdrawn upon leaving China.

2. Make sure you have good health insurance

It’s sad to say, but I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve seen fundraisers on WeChat for foreigners’ medical bills. These are often good people who have been in a freak accident, involved in an attack, or been suddenly diagnosed with some serious disease.

The medical bills often reach into the hundreds of thousands of RMB and it’s only through a community effort that they are able to be paid, if at all. If there is any lesson that can be learned from such tragic stories, it’s that decent health insurance should be one of your top priorities when living and working in China.

Rather than being terrified in some local ward where you don’t’ speak the language and you don’t know if you have enough money to have the lifesaving operation you need, you can rest assured in a VIP suite of an international hospital, safe in the knowledge that everything is covered by your insurance company.

If you’re lucky, you’ll never have to use the insurance, but having that peace of mind is priceless.

3. Make your life easier and learn some basic Mandarin

Although this may seem the most obvious advice on a list of already obvious tips, the importance of learning some basic Chinese cannot be overstated.

Chinese language qualifications are becoming more and more important for those working in China, from providing valuable points on your visa rating to giving you an essential skill for reaching the upper management of a Chinese company. The reason I recommend it here, however, is much more fundamental.

Not being able to speak Chinese means not being able to take care of basic things for yourself while living and working in China. I’m talking about instructing your cleaner, ordering food on Meitaun, buying things on Taobao, speaking to your landlord. If you aren’t able to do these things, the frustration is just going to build and build.

Learn some Chinese, if only to take control of your life. If you don’t, and the frustration builds, you’re going to find yourself complaining more and more about your life in China. Which leads to my next point…

4. Nobody wants to hear you complaining about China

There’s nothing worse than being sat in an expat bar listening to some guy who’s been in China for 15 years and is still complaining about the same things he complained about 15 years ago; taxi drivers try to cheat you, children pee in the street, adults spit, people push on the subway…

Whether these criticisms are valid or not is irrelevant. This is the way China is. It might change, it might not, but what’s for sure is that a couple of expats sat in a bar complaining isn’t going to help.

If you’re partial to spouting this kind of negativity, it can be hard to break the habit. Every little thing that goes wrong becomes an excuse to rant about China. Whenever someone does something you don’t like, it’s not about that individual but about “China” or “Chinese people”. This kind of talk is not only going to bring down the people around you, but most of all, it’s going to bring you down.

Think twice the next time you’re about to complain about your life in China. Think whether it’s constructive and think whether the people you are with really want to hear it. Hold back and you might just find yourself feeling less stressed and angry all together.

5.Focus on what you can improve and don’t let the rest get you down

I’m mainly talking about the workplace here, where it’s important to keep some perspective and composure.

Working in China has its challenges and there will always be some clashes when it comes to workplace culture. You might see practices you believe are handled better in your home country, but it’s important to realize that you can’t change everything. Even those things that you can change may take much longer than you expect to resolve.

The things you can’t change, accept. Find the best ways to work around them and don’t let them make you angry. If possible, develop a sense of humor about it and channel your energy into the things you believe you can change.

The most important thing is not to take it personally. Don’t let what is a work issue become some sort of personal crusade. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen foreign colleagues lose their cool over something relatively trivial while their Chinese coworkers look on in shock.

It’s worth remembering, too, that if these frustrating challenges didn’t exist, in all likelihood Chinese companies wouldn’t need foreigners in the first place. Effectively, our job is to work professionally in a foreign environment, making valid suggestions where appropriate without assuming we always know best.

6.Think twice before starting a company or going into business with someone

So, you’re settled in China, you have a stable job and you’re making good money. Perhaps a friend has a business opportunity - some tech startup or bitcoin company. Maybe the restaurant you frequent is looking for a new investor or you fancy opening your own bar.

Just think twice before you do. There are endless horror stories of foreigners starting their own businesses in China. There are just so many ways the venture can go pear-shaped, for example with landlords, the government, police, employees, partners, and customers.

That’s not to say your idea won’t work. It’s just that you should be sure the idea is a good one, that you understand how to open and run a business in China, that you’re not giving too much power to other partners, that you understand the local laws and policies, and that you can afford to walk away if it doesn’t work out.

What lessons have you learned while living and working in China? Tell us about them in the comments section below.

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Keywords: living and working in China


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Great article thanks for sharing this information with us

Apr 14, 2020 03:00 Report Abuse



don't you know it is not considered cool to play the numbers game in China? 8 YEARS? So what? There are "foreign" people who have been in China longer than that and by that time they are past the stage of writing patronising articles on a website hardly anyone reads.

Jul 11, 2019 07:04 Report Abuse



R U Charlatan Peter Nguyen by any chance

Jul 11, 2019 07:05 Report Abuse



Me encantaria aprender mandarin y vivir en China por unos pocos años para poder ejercer mejor mi carrera, ingenieria en sistemas, nadie le gana a China, es el pais del futuro y la tecnología.

May 25, 2019 01:30 Report Abuse



Don't learn too much Mandarin, as soon as you understand daily conversations and how trivial and of no substance they really are, you will become a hermit and avoid social constructs entirely unless they are compulsory.

May 19, 2019 09:09 Report Abuse



Great effort dude. Keep it up. Thanks for sharing your views with us.

May 18, 2019 00:32 Report Abuse



8 years of living in China, I would agree that learning basic Chinese can make your life easier esp when you buy something, eat and dine, transport and others. In my workplace, I understood somethings cannot really be changed overtime because we are dealing with cross cultural differences. Reciprocation culture and attitude towards relationship is widely practice. Morever, I guess finding the right circle of friends (Chinese or foreigner) and right working environment can make your life more efficient and productive while staying in China. China taught me a lot and the experiences I have for 8 years somehow influenced my way of thinking and way of life.

May 17, 2019 09:01 Report Abuse