10 Things to Know Before Moving to China

Updated: Jan 13, 2020

Camila Luna

So… you’ve finally made the jump and you’re moving to China (or thinking about it)! You might be getting so many reactions, from “be careful, it’s not safe!” to “you’re crazy”, to “whoahhhh SO fun!”. Today, I’m here to clear up fact from fiction:

1. Download a VPN. NOW. Before you even touch Chinese soil.

What is a VPN? Well, it stands for “virtual personal network”. Somehow, it tricks your phone/computer into thinking you’re in a country other than mainland China. And let’s be real, that’s about all I know about how it works. But… but… why would you want to trick your technological devices into thinking you’re not in China? Let me explain:

Do you like Instagram (or hate it but spend hours in it anyway)? Do you like to make Google searches? How about Gmail? YouTube? Facebook? Netflix? Tinder? New York Times, BBC, or any other western news source? Well, NEWS FLASH! All those websites are BLOCKED in China due to The Great Firewall of China. Once you are on Chinese soil, you will not be able to access any of these sites. The reason why these websites are censored is very controversial, and for another article entirely.

But I digress. If you want to keep accessing your typical western websites, you NEED a VPN so that your phone thinks that you are in France/Taiwan/ Italy/LA, etc so that you are not subject to Chinese internet laws. So yes, what you are thinking is correct: VPNs are not exactly legal. So don't go around talking about them very openly. The two most popular VPNs are ExpressVPN and Astril.

2. China is probably the safest place in the world (as long as you aren’t political/do drugs/do anything even remotely illegal).

If you have a tendency to be a rebel without (or with) a cause, it’s honestly best not to go to China. If you like bar fights, smoking anything other than cigarettes, or being outspoken on your strong opinions on politics, best not to come. Chinese jail is not fun.

However, as long as you are a law-aiding foreigner (or “laowai” in Manderin), you are SO safe. Actually, I’ve never felt safer in my life! Men here don’t harass, whistle, or catcall on the street, no matter how short your skirt is. Yes, people stare, but its mostly out of curiosity than out of sleaziness.

Violent crime rates are super low. I’ve lost my passport once and my wallet thrice, and all four times, everything was returned to me 100% in tact. In fact, the police helped me find the taxi where I left my things using the footage from the street cameras on every corner (yes, it's a surveillance society- another topic for debate.)

3. You can forget about your western credit cards, because here, we have the payment process of the future!

Credit cards don't really work here. Instead, we each have our personal QR code (on WeChat or Alipay) that is linked directly to our Chinese bank accounts, and we pay for everything using our phones in seconds. I don't even remember the last time I touched Chinese money.

We don't need Venmo or Paypal here because we can transfer money to our friends also using this personal QR code.

If you encounter a homeless person, the old "sorry I don't have cash" won't dissuade them, because... yes, you guessed it! Lil' mama will pull out a photocopy of her personal QR code and tell you to can scan money to her bank account. You can imagine how shocked I was when this first happened.

4. Download WeChat.

WeChat is like Instagram, Seamless, Facebook, Google search, Snapchat, work email, personal email, text messaging, Venmo, and Paypal combined. If you don't have Wechat and you live in China, are you even like, a real person?

5. China is THE FUTURE!

If you live in China and you learn Chinese, and learn how to navigate this culture and society, you can do anything. China is the home of the biggest airport/metro system, the fastest train, the most groundbreaking companies, and the biggest cities in the world. The American Dream is cute, but the Chinese Dream is where it's really at.

6. A lot of foreigners are racist AF.

Yeah I get it, culture shock is a thing, but there's a difference between not knowing-- or not wanting-- to assimilate, and being a straight up racist douche bag towards the people of the country you are in.

When you first arrive, you will probably be shocked at what you hear some foreigners saying, and you might speak up, which is what you SHOULD do. Racism is not something you should ever get used to.

I still kick myself when I don't speak up when I hear terrible comments, which I honestly take personally, because I know that as a black and Latina woman, throughout history, people have and still do say these same things about me and my people. Stopping racism is everyone’s responsibility.

7. Get ready to hear people making a horrible spitting sound on the streets.

Sorry, you’re just gonna have to get used to it. And on the same token, I recommend not blowing your nose into a tissue and then putting said tissue back into your pocket in public. It’s considered disgusting according to Chinese etiquette.

8. You're gonna meet people from every corner of the earth.

Get ready to make friends from places you had never dreamed of!

9. Reggaeton, salsa, and everything Latino is currently trendy & on fiaaaa in major Chinese cities. You thought you would have to give up your favorite jams? Well think again. Get ready to dance the night away to Maluma, J. Balvin, Marc Anthony, and all your faves!

10. If you have tan or dark skin, bring your own foundation/makeup products from home!

Trust me, you will NOT find a dark foundation color. Just stock up at home and bring your products with you.

Is there anything else you would like to know before moving to China? Let us know in the comments!

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