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Moving to mainland China

Your guide to expat life in mainland China. The road to success in Asia

Want to move to mainland China?

If you decide to move to mainland China, you’ll join one of the world’s fastest developing economies in a place where tradition and modernity coexist comfortably.

As a country which continues to reshape the global economy, mainland China remains hungry for talented expats eager to accelerate in their career. Mainland China is one of the best destinations in the world for people keen to climb quickly up the career ladder, and employers are offering salaries to match.

For new arrivals, the culture shock can be severe. Many expats face an impenetrable language barrier that makes dealing with local bureaucracy especially frustrating, while the energetic cities of Shanghai and Beijing can leave newcomers feeling overwhelmed. Getting used to the extreme weather conditions in some parts of the country is also a challenge. That said, the country as a whole is considered very safe – another key benefit, with many parents in particular feeling safer and more secure than they did at home.

Ultimately, the benefits of living in mainland China mean that many expats change their minds about leaving and end up making this cultural wonderland their long term home.

Basic info about mainland China

  • Population: About 1.4 billion
  • Capital city: Beijing
  • Largest city: Shanghai
  • Main languages: Mandarin is the official language, but there are hundreds of local dialects. Cantonese is spoken almost exclusively in Hong Kong, Macau and parts of Guangdong and Guangxi provinces.
  • Main religion: Most Chinese people don’t consider themselves religious, but major religions include Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, with Protestant Christianity growing in popularity.
  • Political system: Single-party socialist republic
  • Time: GMT+8
  • Electricity: 220V, 50Hz. Chinese standard three-pin plugs are most common.
  • Currency: Chinese renminbi (RMB), also called the Chinese yuan (CNY)
  • International dialling code: +86
  • Internet domain: .cn
  • Emergency numbers: 110 (police), 120 (ambulance) and 119 (fire)
  • Road Traffic: Drives on the right

Weather in mainland China

The weather in mainland China differs significantly between its geographically distinct regions. Southern mainland China is hot and humid during summer, with frequent rain and temperatures above 30°C (86°F). Winters range from mild to warm, with light rain and low humidity. Northern mainland China, including Beijing, has harsh winters with some of the country’s lowest temperatures. Summers are hot and humid, with considerable rainfall and temperatures sometimes exceeding 37°C (99°F).

Key phrases

  • Hello Ni Hao - 你好
  • Good Evening Wanshang Hao - 晚上好
  • Goodbye Zai Jian - 再见
  • How are you? Ni Hao Ma? - 你好吗?
  • Thank you Xie Xie - 谢谢
  • Yes Shi - 是
  • No Bu Shi - 不是
  • Do you speak English? Ni Hui Shuo Yingyu Ma? - 你会说英语吗?
  • Can you help me? Ni Neng Bangzhu Wo Ma? - 你能帮助我吗?
  • I’m sorry Dui Bu Qi - 对不起

Shipping to mainland China

You can ship goods to mainland China from your home country, but it’s often easier to avoid the hassle and buy new items when you get there.

Air vs sea

Air freight is a popular and fast way to transport small items, although costs are higher than shipping by sea. Air freight is usually billed by weight, whereas sea freight is billed according to the size of container. Many expats prefer to pay for excess baggage when they fly so they have their belongings when they arrive. There aren’t many unusual restrictions on what you can take into mainland China, but be wary of shipping things that might be considered sensitive or harmful by the government. This includes anything overtly political.


While you can take pets to mainland China, potentially cramped apartments and limited outdoor space make it a decision worth careful consideration. You can import one pet per Z visa. You’ll need an international health certificate from a government affiliated vet and an up-to-date vaccination certificate. There’s a 30-day quarantine period, although your pet may be allowed to spend part of that time in your residence. In some Chinese cities, you also have to register your pet and pay a licensing fee.

Top tips for mainland China

See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in mainland China.

Understanding Chinese business practices like exchanging business cards with two hands and basic words like ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you’ will go a long way in mainland China.
Even with some difficulties, enjoy the experience, open your mind and see the world from a different perspective.
Challenging, fast paced, rewarding, sometimes stressful, mainland China has opened up my horizons, increased opportunities available to me, and has helped me to advance personally and professionally.
The education and medical condition is very good - plus there’s sustainable development and good momentum of development within the national economy.
Try local food across different parts of the country, you’ll never be bored with the range of different flavours. Every province is different!

Expat Explorer Survey respondent

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

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