The 6 Stages (Most) Expats in China Go Through

The 6 Stages (Most) Expats in China Go Through
Oct 03, 2019 By Degen Hill ,

No matter where they live, expats are likely to experience several different “stages” as time goes by in a foreign country, and that holds true for China, too. Whether you’ve just landed, are thinking about staying another year, or are a seasoned veteran, there are the six stages I think most expats in China go through. Which stage are you at?

The 6 Stages (Most) Expats in China Go Through

1. Wide-eyed upon arrival

You’ve just landed and everything is equal measures fascinating and terrifying. You’re up at 5 a.m. due to jet lag, but you don’t care. The city is new, exciting, and you can’t wait to dive in.

You’re most likely in a hotel or an Air BnB until you find an apartment, and you can’t wait to start looking for a more permanent home. Everyone you work with is really friendly, and you don’t mind coming in on Saturday because you get Wednesday off, which at this point isn’t a deal breaker. The Chinese food here is completely different to the Chinese food you know from home, the noise fills you with excitement, and, although some things will take some getting used to, you couldn’t be happier about moving to China.

2. Frustration

No matter where you find yourself in China, frustration is inevitable. Major points of frustration for expats in China include anything related to visas, racial prejudice, waiters not understanding your Chinese, even though you’ve said yī píng píjiǔ (one bottle of beer) countless times before, salaries arriving late with no forewarning, the traffic, the air pollution, the crowds… etc. At this point in your China journey, you’ll start questioning how much more of it you can take.

3. Acceptance

One fine day, you’ll (hopefully) stop complaining and accept that this is your current reality; after all, you’re the one who decided to come to China in the first place. The noise, the smells, and the fact that getting to work involves being crushed into someone’s armpit on the subway will just become part of your life and not so much of an annoyance.

You’ll come to accept that turning on your VPN is just what you do to go online and that it won’t always work. You’ll come to accept that you don’t get Christmas off, but at least you get a week for Spring Festival. This stage is often referred to as “The New Normal”.

4. The mental switch from Just a yearto something more long-term

China is a country that’s in a continual state of change, and that includes the foreigners who, over the years, come and go. Some, however, perhaps due to friends, a job, a loved one, or a passion for the culture, decide to stay longer than they had anticipated.

The career and educational opportunities that China offer are enticing reasons to stay. Other benefits include a low cost of living, relatively high salaries (depending on your job), and opportunities for quick career progression. Some of us may just feel lucky to have a job.

5. The feeling of a routine / no more surprises

There will come a time where you’ll know the subway map by heart, all the best places to eat, and how to get most things done in your broken Chinese. At this point, most expats in China are just going through the motions until their time inevitably comes to an end, usually due to a work contract ending.

For those with no clear end date, however, this can be a challenging state as it’s a battle between logic and emotions; starting over again somewhere else, making new friends, discovering a new city, and settling into a new job vs. sticking with something familiar and comfortable, even though it might not be as stimulating as before. Odd as it might seem for those who have only been here a year or two, you may reach a point where China has gotten so comfortable that the thought of living somewhere else is almost scary.

6. What am I doing here?

If you progress past Stage 5, you may get to the final stage in the expat journey in China, which is akin to an existential crisis. You’re far from home, trying to figure out a plan for your life, and you wonder if China has further opportunities for growth or if you’ve pretty much tapped as much as you can. You may also have family pressures pulling you back home.

This can be a difficult feeling to grapple with, especially since by this stage most of your friends will be in China, you’ll likely have a scooter, maybe a pet, you’re comfortable with the language, you’re a pro on all the Chinese apps, and leaving to start over somewhere else just seems too daunting. Regardless of the inner conflict you will inevitably have, ultimately you’ll either find yourself pulled home, moving on somewhere else, or becoming an Old China Hand of the highest degree.

Have we missed any important stages for expats in China? Tell us in the comments below.

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Keywords: Expats in China


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Oct 16, 2019 14:13 Report Abuse



@Biggie tjats easy.. .therapy ...get the shit put in the open and hopefully prevent others for falling imto the same traps

Oct 14, 2019 07:29 Report Abuse



Cool ????

Oct 12, 2019 06:44 Report Abuse



7. smile you are on camera. that means having to go out wearing a face mask and other forms of disguise to avoid the facial recognition cameras, which are increasingly being placed at every single spot that a human ventures into. the next stage will be the banning of face masks when entering a public place such as train station or metro station, ariports etc. if you think that is a cool way of living, down arrow away!

Oct 10, 2019 13:24 Report Abuse



It reminds me of London when I was there 10 years ago.

Oct 10, 2019 14:20 Report Abuse



Already left and as stated in the answers forum I might return for a look after the war and liberation of the shithole

Oct 08, 2019 16:21 Report Abuse



I don't mean to sound like a dick...if you hate something so much why come to a website devoted to that very thing? This is just me...but the things I hate I don't think about or even let it bother me in any way, I delete that thing from my life. I hate black licorice ... I would not go to a website devoted to that and rag on it or the people who like it, that would be insane.I'm not saying not come to the site, just curious why you come here.

Oct 10, 2019 14:18 Report Abuse



yeah, true, but what about HATE part?

Oct 07, 2019 10:24 Report Abuse



You forgot hate and distaine for the place and it's people .

Oct 06, 2019 04:00 Report Abuse



If you hate and disdain for the place and it's people, you can leave!

Oct 08, 2019 10:59 Report Abuse



and can stop going on holidays to nice free countries. while you are at it stop buying western products and wearing western clothes. buy your own stuff instead.

Oct 10, 2019 13:26 Report Abuse