Resources for China Expats

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.

Magazines which can be good resources for China expats

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, one of the best VPNs for ChinaExpressVPN: 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.

 

Get insurance as an expat in China using World NomadsWorldNomads 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.

Use Transferwise to get money into ChinaTransferWise: 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, digitizing your physical mail as an expat in ChinaTraveling 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.

Travel to China guidebook, one of many excellent resources for China expats

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!


Comments

Resources for China Expats — 22 Comments

  1. Wow this looks like a great site. I am moving to Beijing in August and look forward to using some of these resources. Do you happen to know I there are any yoga schools in Beijing that give class in English?

  2. How come I’ve just found out about this! Thanks for compiling such an informative site. Great work! I’ve been having problems with my Skype though. There’re days I just can’t log in. Is it in anyway related to the censorship? It never happened back home. And, at the risk of sounding like an ad… may I offer an app update to your list? Grabtalk. It’s released like last week? I know it cuz my roommate was on their user panel. Never paid attention to Grabtalk until when I was stuck in Sanlitun the day before. I couldn’t get a taxi and the Uber driver canceled on me…yea my Chinese was too bad. So I thought I’m up for anything and downloaded Grabtalk. Turned out this is a great Laowai survival app. I texted my location and where I was going, it got me a ride minutes later and told the driver all the essential info for me. Later on I tried Taobao shopping with Grabtalk too, the service was pretty nice. Just thought you might want to know 🙂

    • Thanks for your nice words, Chris! And for sharing your good experience with Grabtalk. I’ll check it out and add it to the page. Keep the good info coming!

  3. Thank you for providing this great website full of useful information. I’m technically a 北京人but I’ve been living in NYC for over 20 years ever since I was a kid. During this time I’ve lost touch with all my school friends since we didn’t have email or internet back then. My wife, a Japanese American, and I have been back visiting my parents for about 3 times now but we often find things quite boring because people here only seem to care about shopping and eating. We are planning on using all the info you e provided to our advantages! Thanks!

    • I’m glad you find my website helpful. I sometimes hear from returnees that they feel like strangers in their former home country. Check meetup.com to find people with shared interests here. Best of luck!

  4. Hey Gina! Check out a WeChat app called “Spoonhunt” (Add account ID: Spoonhunt), it lists local restaurants with their top recommended items in English with prices & photos. Covers almost all tier 1-4 cities in China, so it’s helpful for your travels as well : )

  5. Hello,

    I will be in Beijing from nov 14th until dec 02nd.

    I would like to know if you have tai chi classes during these days and if I could have some classes.

    Thank you,
    Mayra

  6. Hi – wonder if you can direct me to a tech support group, or individual, who can help me in English with my computer problems?

    • Hi Jan, I send you an email with contact info for a great IT guy who helps with software and hardware problems.

  7. Looking for any and all help I can get reguarding moving to Beijing this Spring. We need housing advice but most importantly I need animal advice. We are coming from Manilla with an old dog and a young kitten. So Vets and no quarentine airports please.

  8. The most useful app I have – Pleco
    I honestly don’t think I would make it through my life here without it. It’s saved me more times than I can tell you!

    • Pleco has good functionality. It’s not my favorite dictionary app but very popular among expats. (You can find my review of Pleco and two other apps here.) No matter which Chinese-English dictionary app you use, you will definitely need one for every day life in China.

  9. I really like your website. I would love to visit China although I am not able to do that. I do some Chinese cooking at home here in America and enjoy it immensely. I would like to do some schooling but, not able to do that either. Is there some really good dvd’s available that a person could use as cooking lesson’s?

    • I’m happy to hear you like my site Terrence.
      I don’t know of any good cooking lessons on DVD but there are a some videos posted on YouTube.

  10. Please note and correct the information about the FC Club (Beijing). In January 2012 I changed the name of the FC Club (Beijing) which I organised from late 2006 to the end of 2011 to the FCGroup. The FCGroup address is http://www.fcgroup.org

    We currently host activities every Tuesday.

    – 1st Tuesday: Foreigners and Chinese – An All Industry social networking evening to help stimulate new ideas that can only be found outside the box.

    – 2nd Tuesday: Future and Career social networking evening to matchmake job seekers with staff seekers and young professionals with mentors.

    – 3rd Tuesday: Fashion and Creative social networking evening – An evening where FAME Fashion, Media, Arts, Entertainment meets PRAMS Public Relations, Advertising, Marketing and Sales.

    – 4th Tuesday: Finance and Consumers. A social networking evening for BEEF & I … Business, Executives, Entrepreneurs, Finance and Investors, Start-Ups, Hi Tech, Legal.

    The FCGroup additionally organises larger scale events once a quarter and during the warmer months “Escape Concrete Beijing” daytrips.

    • Thanks for the detailed info, Colin.
      I added the FCGroup info and link to the list of networking groups above.
      The FC Club as global networking organization is still active under that name with some events in Beijing and other Chinese cities, so I left the info up there as well. The more options to network, the better, I think.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.