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10 life hacks for expats living in China (Updated 2023)

Moving overseas changes your life in many different ways. You can prepare for the move by learning about the culture and nailing some key phrases. However, you won’t really know what you’re in for until you’re there. In this Pacific Prime article, we offer the top ten life hack tips for expats living in China to help you get settled in no time.

1. Use a dictionary app

One of the biggest challenges you’ll face when living in a new country is the language barrier. Even though people in China are increasingly able to converse in English, you’re more likely to have to communicate in Mandarin.

Fortunately, the rise of the smartphone has revolutionized the way people learn a new language. A translation or dictionary app makes it possible to communicate with the locals even if you’re not proficient in the language. Baidu Translate and Pleco are two apps that every expat should have on their phone.

2. Get air filters for your home and face

According to the World Health Organization, 34% of all stroke deaths are caused by air pollution.

If you’re living in one of China’s most polluted cities like Xi’an, Tianjin, and Beijing, getting a good quality air filter for your home is advisable.

Ideally, you want one in every room, but you can also get a portable one and move it around. Just be sure to change the filters according to usage to keep it operating as effectively as possible. You’ll also want to wear a filter mask and have spare filter elements to reduce health risks on heavily polluted days.

3. Make new friends

Having a social life can make life as an expat in China much more enjoyable and rewarding. The expat communities in China are known to be extremely friendly. Since they know what it’s like to be a foreigner in the country, they’ll often go out of their way to help you settle into your new life.

Remember to branch out from your expat bubble, too, and get to know some locals as well. One way to connect with Chinese people for potential friendships is to show your eagerness to learn and practice Mandarin. Online groups that facilitate language exchanges between foreigners and locals are a great place to start. You can also find something about the language that fascinates you, such as watching dramas, writing calligraphy, browsing WeChat articles, and getting involved with people with similar interests.

4. Explore the country

Regardless of what city you’re living in, it does not represent all of China. Thanks to the impressive High-Speed Rail network, you have no excuse not to explore the rest of the country. From breathtaking mountain ranges to amazing ancient temples, China has so much to offer. The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven are some of the most recognizable attractions that you can start with. Along with incredible attractions, China’s wildlife is also not to be missed. For starters, why don’t you consider the following destinations:

  • Jiuzhaigou
  • Zhangjiajie
  • Zhangye
  • Kunming
  • Three Gorges
  • Guilin
  • Qinghai
  • Yellow Mountain

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5. Get out of the country too

Depending on how long you will live in China, you will want to get out of the country every once in a while. Many expats that are happily living in China long-term leave the country at least once a year. A trip abroad puts things into perspective and reminds expats of the charms and reasons for living in China. Without these breaks, living in China can become challenging and sometimes even exhausting. Popular short-haul destinations include Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, and South Korea. Just be aware of the current COVID-19 restrictions, such as showing proof of a negative RT-PCR result (subject to change).

6. Be adventurous (yet cautious) with food

China has exceptional cuisine throughout its provinces. Sticking to dishes you know can be safe but boring. With so many different dishes to try, it pays to explore the cuisine and open yourself up to all the unique flavors. It’s worth noting that you may need to give your body some time to adjust to the local ingredients. You might want to keep some upset stomach relief tablets on hand just in case something doesn’t sit right.

7. Learn to cook

While you should definitely explore the cuisine and make use of convenient delivery services, you’ll also want to know how to cook. After all, there’s only so much street food, take-out, and Chinese food that a person can eat before wanting something different.

Learning how to do more than heat up your leftovers is a great skill to possess. Perhaps sign onto a cooking school course, where you can interact and engage with professional cooks and improve your Mandarin. Win-win!

You’ll be able to add some variety to your meals and enjoy non-Chinese cuisine. This is especially true if you’re living in a smaller city with limited access to international food. Plus, preparing your meals allows you to ensure food quality and stay on top of your nutrition.

8. Make yourself comfortable

Planning on calling China home for the next year or more? Then spend a little extra on making your stay a comfortable one. Little touches like a nice carpet for the living room or a barbeque grill for the balcony can go a long way. China will be in your face from the moment you open your front door, so be sure to create a comfortable oasis that you’re happy to return to at the end of the day. You can do many things to make your place feel more homely, even if you’re just renting an apartment in China.

9. Take charge of your experience

If you surround yourself with people who constantly complain, you’ll turn into a complainer too. Don’t rob yourself of a rich experience by nitpicking and criticizing the local way of life. Get used to the fact that people will invade your personal space, spit where they please, and blatantly cut queues.

If you look foreign and are traveling outside of first-tier cities, know that you’re going to get stared at – and be okay with that. Things are not like your home country because you are not in your home country. Be respectful and courteous in all your encounters, and it’ll be reciprocated.

10. Secure health insurance

Health insurance ensures your medical treatment costs are covered, yet many expats surprisingly believe they don’t need it. It is highly recommended unless you have a comprehensive group and corporate health insurance plan. Even though basic medical treatment in China’s public hospitals can be cheap, major treatments can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Local hospitals typically don’t recognize international health insurance, while private hospitals do. Fortunately, private hospitals also have state-of-the-art equipment, English-speaking doctors and medical staff, and more. Unless you have a lot of money lying around, a life hack for expats is to secure health insurance ASAP.

Contact Pacific Prime today

If you’re looking for private health insurance for yourself or your loved ones, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the best plan possible. Pacific Prime compares health insurance in China so you can secure the right plan for your needs and budget.

Whether you’re looking for expat health insurance or family health insurance in China, we’re here to help. Contact us to receive impartial advice or a free quotation today.

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Disclaimer: Pacific Prime solely represents, operates and manages locally regulated insurance products and services in the territory of PR China. Any references to Pacific Prime Global Company or Group, the international services, insurance products or otherwise stated written or verbally, is for introduction purposes about our overseas network only as each entity is fully independent.