How Not to Mess Up a Move to China

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Written by  February 21, 2017

10 tips to make your transition abroad easier. 

It’s that time of year again. International school teachers all over the world are anxiously awaiting contact from potential employers, having already attended a recruitment fair. They've conducted countless Skype interviews at strange times to accommodate different time zones. Those of you who know where you’re going, congratulations. And if it’s China, you lucky thing, read on!

If you’ve been recruited by any well-established school, you’re likely beginning the entry visa process, which means that now is also a great time to start thinking about how you’re going to prepare for arrival and settlement in China. Here are my top 10 tips for nailing a move to China:

 1. Get a VPN.

The free ones are good in a fix, but most quality VPNs cost money. Bite the bullet and make the investment. When you’re behind the Great Firewall and you can still get on Google, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr, you’ll be so happy you did. Do it before you leave your home country because getting a VPN once you’re in China takes a lot of time and effort that you could be using to eat all the things.

2. Ditch the Android mobile device and switch to literally anything else.

Android is Google-based. The Great Firewall blocks Google. It’s possible to circumvent some of the issues using a VPN but is it really worth the hassle?

3. If you’re a non-tiny size in clothing or shoes, stock up on the essentials.

Comfy work flats? Pumps? Sneakers? Bras? Undies? Save some room in your suitcase for them because Chinese fashion is absolutely unforgiving to Western bodies. If you want something fancy once you get here, visit your local fabric market with the business card of a vendor recommended by your new colleagues. They’ll make you a suit or a ball gown; nothing beats made-to-measure.

4. Prepare your medicine cabinet.

You can walk into a pharmacy in China and buy many medications that would be considered over-the-counter in Western countries, but the chances of you getting a counterfeit or less effective medication are very high.

I visit Costco every summer when I'm home and buy common painkillers, cold medication, allergy tablets, antacids, supplements and charcoal tablets (for the crazy gastro you will inevitably get during your first forays into real Chinese food). Even though I feel like a drug mule on the way back to Shanghai, it’s worth it when I or my colleagues get sick. That being said, definitely check out the sweet, dark syrup known as Pi Pa Gao when you come down with the sniffles; a tablespoon in a mug of hot water cures all.

5. Download WeChat, the instant messaging/payment/entertainment app that basically runs the country.

WeChat will take over the world one day, and rightfully so; you can pay your bills or your landlord with it, send your friends red packet gifts or Starbucks drinks at Chinese New Year, make delightfully inappropriate stickers to send to your friends and conduct entire conversations with people who don’t speak English because of the handy in-conversation translate function. Honestly, WeChat is amazing and I’m convinced it will one day render all other instant messaging apps completely obsolete.

6. While you’re at it, download some other useful apps for China.

Nihao is an app developed for foreigners living in China; it’s one part social media, one part handy translation tool, one part city living guide, and a lot of things in between.

Also consider downloading an app that tracks air quality; high AQI days are an unfortunate reality of living in China, and it can be particularly problematic in the north. An AQI tracker app will alert you if it’s a face mask day, and your lungs will thank you.

Lastly, a city guide app will help you navigate the city by taxi or metro by providing up to date listings for venues, restaurants, shopping malls and leisure facilities as well as providing taxi cards to show drivers and the location of the closest Metro station. In China, technology is your friend.

7. Read a book.

The CultureShock! series did a great book on China. Even though some of the advice is geared towards people doing business, much of it is useful for people in any career. It also provides some basic language pointers; knowing how to address people respectfully as a foreigner will usually get you far.

8. Make sure you have enough money.

If you’re not able to find a rental agent who will do right by you, you’re probably going to have to fork over a lot of money when you find an apartment, sometimes as much as four months’ rent. And while food is pretty cheap here, it’s not free. You’re going to want to be able to fill your new fridge and furnish your apartment with the items not provided in the rental agreement, so make sure your bank account is well-padded before you arrive.

9. Inform your financial institutions that you’re going to be using your card abroad.

Inform them twice, if necessary. There’s nothing worse than rocking up to the cash register at the supermarket with an overflowing cart and having every card in your wallet get declined because they’ve all been security flagged.

10. And finally, put your game face on.

Get excited! You’re moving to China, a huge country with a super rich history and one of the most geographically diverse places in the world. It’s going to be an adventure, and that’s definitely something to have a great attitude about.

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Laura Winberg

Laura Winberg is a Canadian-trained high school teacher specializing in IGCSE and IB Geography. After teaching in the UK, she moved to Shanghai to work at an international school. You can usually find her seeking the best xiaolongbao in the city and planning prom for the umpteenth time in her life.

Website: teach-travel-live-eat.tumblr.com/

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