We have compiled a list of great resources for China expats that we use ourselves on a regular basis or that helped us to get started in the beginning. Some of those are free, others are not.
Please note that some of these products are affiliates. That means if you buy using the link on this website, I receive a small commission for the referral, at no extra cost to you. This way you can support the Beijing Expat Guide without spending any additional money.
I only recommend products here that I have used myself and would not hesitate to recommend to friends and family. Of course, you have to decide for yourself if these may be useful to you.
Useful China Expat Magazines
You can find free print copies of these expat magazines in many expat restaurants and bars. All of those provide restaurant listings and reviews, write about activities and many other topics for expats.
- The Beijinger – Probably the most well-know one of these three; also has an active forum and classifieds.
- TimeOut Beijing – Also has a Shanghai edition.
- That’s Magazine Beijing – Also has a Shanghai and a Pearl River Delta edition.
There are plenty of other English-language magazines that cater to specific groups of expats in China (expats with kids, for example), so check what’s available in your city.
Must-Have China Expat Services
You can get away with very little while you’re in China, I can tell you that from experience. But there are a couple things that – at least for me – have become a must have as an expat. Take a look and decide for yourself what is necessary for you.
ExpressVPN: If you’re going to live in China, you need a VPN. Period. It’s pretty much the only way that you can stay sane in the midst of all the censorship madness going on.
Whether you want to post on Instagram, check your email or watch a show on Netflix, all of it requires the use of a VPN. There are thousands of VPN services available, but ExpressVPN has been one of the most reliable.
WorldNomads Insurance: If you don’t already know this, the insurance provided by your school or employer in China sucks. Seriously, take a moment to read the fine print and after you’ve been thoroughly scared, come back here and continue.
Paying for insurance always seems like a waste of money until you have to use it. I’ve had to use it before…and I can’t stress enough how much you should consider it.
Money Services for China Expats
It’s important to be able to get money to/from China as an expat. In my experience, it’s much easier to get money into China than to get money out of China, just so you know. I recommend getting a Chinese bank account if you can, and here are two services that can help save you money.
TransferWise: Maybe you’ve got a steady paycheck in China or maybe you’re a poor student. I’ve been in both situations and I still ended up wiring money from my home bank to China.
There are so many different ways to get money in China, but the easiest and cheapest for me has been using Transferwise. It’s cheaper than wiring money or pulling cash from an ATM, and you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to do.
eCard Global Payments: If you’re an expat who doesn’t want to get a Chinese bank account, you need to consider the UnionPay-branded eCard. I’ve been using it for months now and it’s saved me tons of money.
You can read more about eCard here, but the basics are this: UnionPay is accepted everywhere in China (as opposed to Visa/MC which aren’t), you don’t have to pay wire fees and the ATM exchange rate fees are better. I’ve literally saved hundreds of dollars using my eCard instead of my Visa Debit card in China.
Luxury China Expat Services
If what I already mentioned above falls under the “must-have” services, then what I’m about to share with you below could be categorized better as “luxury”.
Traveling Mailbox: Formerly, my “home address” was my parent’s address in the US. That worked…until it no longer did. They didn’t enjoy being my personal assistant and honestly, they often forgot to pass along my mail in a timely manner.
That’s when I found Traveling Mailbox, which is perfect for any long-term expat. You get an address in the US and when you receive mail, it is instantly scanned and you can either ask to open, forward or trash it. If you’re not from the US, check out this breakdown of the best virtual mailbox services globally.
Expat Relocation Services: If you’re moving a household and you need more space than the two suitcases that each person gets to check on an airplane, you might need to get a quote from a relocation service. I’ve done this once before and it was surprisingly affordable. The only catch is that you usually have to wait at least a month or two for your stuff to arrive. Use the form below to get quotes from up to five different relocation companies.
China Expat Handbooks
There’s a lot of information that you need to know before first moving out to China as an expat. You can search websites like this one for as much as you can, but it’s often best to get all the information neatly organized and packaged in an easy-to-read book. Here are two that I recommend:
- Newcomer to Beijing – This is a book on how to get started as a new Beijing expat. It covers a lot of topics specific to being in China’s capital city, but pretty much anybody who is moving to China will find this guide helpful.
- Travel to China | Everything You Need to Know Before You Go – I also recommend this guide written by long-time China expat Josh Summers. Technically a travel guide book, it has so much practical information about traveling in China, that I think it’s very useful for new expats as well.
Online Expat Networks
If you’re the extroverted type who wants to find connections outside of your work/school, here are a few online networks to consider:
- InterNations – A very active expat community that hosts regular events, has activity groups, an informative forum and classifieds. Requires a free membership; some activities and resources are for premium members only (affiliate link).
- INN Beijing International Newcomers Network – Targeting newcomers to Beijing but also attracts some long timers with monthly meetings and coffee meetings in different neighborhoods. Since meetings are during regular work hours, you will meet mostly expat spouses.
- FC Club Fortune Connection Club – A now global networking organization with focus on China that hosts regular events targeting professionals.
- FCGroup – A Beijing networking group that hosts regular events (Colin, who organizes these events, gives specific info on the regular events in his comment below)
- Meetup Beijing – A source for finding meetings with people of shared interests.
Activities-Based Groups in Beijing
- Beijing Hikers – Well organized day hiking trips with local flair, often to less restored sections of the Great Wall and local villages. Opportunity to meet like-minded people. Also offer travel trips within China.
- Dandelion/China Hiking – A small outfitter with more of a family feel. Organizes regular overnight camping trips to more remote sections of the Great Wall (decent gear is provided) and also longer hiking trips all over China.
- Black Sesame Kitchen – Chinese cooking classes. Semi-hands on (you do some prep work but the chef demonstrates the actual cooking), fun, and tasty.
- The Hutong – Cooking school for Chinese and global cuisines and other activities.
- Agoda – A travel website with a great selection of hotels in China and in Asia in general, all at good prices. I like it for the the user reviews and the good descriptions, with many photos of the hotel and every room. You can also book flights with Agoda.
Useful Apps for China Expats
Most of the apps listed here are available for Apple and Android devices. You can download those directly from the app stores.
- WeChat – Similar to WhatsApp, you can send text, audio and picture messages for free, have group chats, post Moments, make audio and video calls, and more. Almost everyone in China uses it.
- TrainChinese – I use this dictionary app almost daily on my smartphone to look up words or get the audio for pronunciation. You can also review vocab using the flashcard function, train your listening skills with their audio app or learn numbers with their number app. It can be installed it on your smartphone, iPad and computer and sync across all devices.
- HanPing – We use the Pro version of this great dictionary. While the audio is not as good as TrainChinese, HanPing lets you write unknown characters to look up in the dictionary.
- Sohu TV – With this app you can watch TV and movies including some foreign TV series and movies. It is entirely in Chinese but not too difficult to navigate. You can also go directly to their website.
- PPTV – An app like Sohu TV, just with a different selection of TV shows and movies. Available for Android and Apple.
- Skype – Video calls over the internet, essential for keeping in touch with folks at home. Skype to Skype calls are free. We have an account so we can also call land lines and mobile phones in other countries. We also use a Skype number (paid service) as our US phone number.
- US Embassy Air Quality – The US consulate publishes air quality readings taken hourly at the embassy compound in Chaoyang to keep their citizens informed. In addition to the app, this website has more detailed info for more locations.
- WayGo – This translation app is fairly new to me and not yet available as Android version so I haven’t used it much. It translates menu items from Chinese characters to English when aiming the iPhone or iPad at the name of the dish.
Resources for Learning Mandarin
- A Practical Chinese Grammar – The best Chinese grammar book I came across. Very well organized with many useful examples using English, Pinyin and Chinese characters. Most other grammar guides I saw make very limited use of Pinyin, so you have to be able to read characters for those books.
- Tuttle Learning Chinese Characters – A fun approach to understanding, writing and memorizing the 800 most useful characters.
- Fluenz – This language learning software, similar to Rosetta Stone, is not cheap but from my perspective the best way to get started learning Mandarin before coming to China. Fluenz is geared towards adults learning Chinese using great explanations that relate to your own language, rather than full immersion without explanations.
I hope you find these resources for China expats useful. Are there resources that you think are missing here? Let me know!