• published on 6/19/2024
  • 5min

Checklist before moving to China

This guide explores the essential checklist for expats, from visas and culture to living costs and healthcare before their big move to China.

Checklist before moving to China

As China continues to emerge as a global economic powerhouse, many companies are establishing or expanding their operations in the country, leading to increased expatriate assignments. There were over 845,000 foreigners living in mainland China according to the 2020 National Census.

One of the major draws for expats is the relatively low cost of living in many Chinese cities compared to major Western cities. This affordability allows them to enjoy a higher standard of living or save a significant portion of their income.

To ensure a successful and hassle-free move, we have compiled a comprehensive checklist that covers the essential aspects you need to consider before moving to China.

Visas and documentation

Depending on your purpose of travel, you may require a work visa, student visa, or residence permit. To work full-time as a lawful employee in mainland China, you will need to acquire a Z-visa, also known as an employment visa. This visa category is specifically for foreign professionals taking up regulated employment with companies operating in China.

To obtain the Z Visa, applicants must provide various documents, including a valid passport, a work permit, an employment contract, and other supporting documents.

If expats plan to bring their spouse or dependents to China, separate visas and documentation may be required like a Dependent Visa (S1 Visa). This visa allows immediate family members to accompany or join the primary Z-visa holder in China.

Housing and accommodation

The cost of living in China's first-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, or Shenzhen is substantially higher compared to smaller cities. Rent, groceries, utilities, and other expenses can be 30-50% more expensive in these metropolitan hubs.

For instance, renting a one-bedroom apartment in central Beijing typically falls between USD 870 and USD 2,180 per month. As with most places, larger apartments tend to be more expensive. Expect to pay around USD 2,800 for a three-bedroom apartment in the city center. Generally, you'll need to pay one or two months' rent as a deposit when leasing an apartment in China.

Many expats, particularly those on corporate assignments, may choose serviced apartments or residential compounds designed specifically for foreigners. These complexes often offer modern amenities, western-style facilities, and a sense of community with other expats. Popular locations include Guangzhou's Zhujiang New Town, Beijing's Chaoyang District, and  Shanghai's former French Concession.

See more: Best places to live in Shanghai for expats

Banking and finance

Before your move, it's advisable to notify your home bank about your plans to relocate to China. Inform them of the duration of your stay and inquire about their services for international banking, money transfers, and access to your accounts while abroad.

Major international banks like HSBC, Citibank, and Standard Chartered have established presences in China and offer account options specifically tailored to the needs of expatriates. These banks often have English-speaking staff, online banking services, and familiarity with foreign banking systems, which can ease the transition.

Alternatively, you can open an account with one of the major local Chinese banks, such as Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), or China Construction Bank (CCB). These banks offer various account types for foreigners, including multi-currency accounts.


China has an extensive and efficient public transportation network, particularly in major cities. Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen have vast metro systems that are clean, modern, and relatively inexpensive. Metro apps and English signage make navigation straightforward.

Ride-sharing services like Didi Chuxing, often referred to as the Chinese version of Uber, are widely used and great for shorter trips or in areas with limited public transportation options.

Culture and language

While English is becoming more widely spoken in major cities, learning basic Mandarin can go a long way in navigating daily life in China. Even mastering simple phrases for common interactions, such as greetings, expressing gratitude, making requests, and asking for directions, can help build rapport with locals and make everyday tasks more manageable.

China has a rich and ancient cultural heritage, and understanding local customs and etiquette can help prevent unintentional offenses or misunderstandings. It's essential to be mindful of gestures, gift-giving practices, and dining etiquette. For example, in Chinese culture, certain gifts, such as clocks or anything involving the number four, should be avoided as they are associated with funerals and death.

It is also home to numerous festivals and celebrations throughout the year, each with its own unique traditions and customs. Festivals like the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, and Dragon Boat Festival offer opportunities to experience traditional customs, cuisine, and festivities.

International schools

If you have children, choosing the right international school is crucial for ensuring a smooth educational transition for them. While most international schools have expensive tuition fees, it's important to consider factors beyond cost, such as:

  • Curriculum alignment

  • Accreditation

  • Facilities

  • School reputation and offerings

Some of China’s top-rated and most prestigious international schools include the International School of Beijing (ISB) and Shanghai American School (SAS).

For the best chance of admission, families should begin the application process 12-18 months before their desired start date. This allows time for school visits, application submissions, and securing acceptance before relocating.

Healthcare and insurance

In terms of healthcare, China boasts world-class medical facilities in major cities. These hospitals are equipped with advanced medical technology and employ highly skilled healthcare professionals trained both domestically and internationally.

China has a national health insurance program, the Urban Employee Basic Medical Insurance (UEBMI) scheme, mandatory for employed citizens and legal foreign residents. It covers a portion of expenses at public hospitals and clinics. However, many expats opt for international health insurance plans to access broader medical services and facilities when relocating to China.

Read more: 2024 Guide to Health Insurance & Healthcare in China

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