Preparing to relocate to China, for the majority of people, is a richly rewarding experience, and with the right preparation and knowledge you can face the challenge with confidence. To help you, here are five useful tips in preparing for your move.
- Make the Most of Your Look-See Visit
If your move is being handled by a relocation agent on behalf of your company, it is more than likely that you’ll undertake a Look-See Visit, a (usually) whirlwind trip where you’ll have the opportunity to look at potential housing and international schools, and have a chance briefly to orientate yourself.
Because this visit is usually very quick and there’s so much to see, to make the most of it some research beforehand is vital. Spending time reading a good relocation guide before your visit will mean you can narrow down your searches on the Look-See Visit. Perhaps the most important thing is to know which expat neighbourhoods are going to enable you to get to and from work relatively painlessly and, if you have a family in tow, how easy it will be for the kids to get to school.
Getting a visa for China is relatively straightforward provided you have all the appropriate documentation prepared in good time. You will also need to have at least six months validity remaining on your passport, so think ahead and plan in a passport renewal ahead of time if necessary.
For most expats looking to relocate to China, they will either be on an F, L or Z visa. A Z Visa is a work visa, and this is also the visa that any accompanying family members will also be issued with. You can expect to have to renew your visa every year so it’s important to be able to keep all of your vital documents secure, but nevertheless accessible.
- Health Preparations
You should inform your doctor or GP about your impending relocation as early as possible if you or any members of your family accompanying you have existing medical conditions, and take copies of your health records with you. It will also be helpful, if you take regular medication, to check that this will be readily available in China (arranging to see a doctor during your Look-See Visit is the best way to do this). It is also a good idea to take a prescription with you so that there is no need to rush to a doctor as soon as you arrive.
It is also important to schedule your vaccinations well in advance of your departure. Some vaccinations need to be completed up to three months before you leave home, while some need more than one shot, usually a couple of weeks apart. It’s important to keep a record of these vaccinations and to take them with you.
- Be Prepared for Some Culture Shock
No matter how well-prepared you are to relocate to China, it is likely that you will experience some form of culture shock to a greater or lesser degree. Culture shock generally has four distinct stages:
- Honeymoon Phase, where everything is new and exciting, and you thrive on the never-ending new challenges that you face.
- For many expats, the transition into the second phase (called the Negotiation phase) is the result of the frustrations of engaging with a foreign culture, especially in China where the language barrier can make everyday, mundane tasks difficult to accomplish without assistance.
- This phase is called the Adjustment phase. Kicking in after around 6 to 12 months, this is where the coping mechanisms that expats devise to cope with frustrations and difficulties start to make life easier. Some do this by becoming ‘adopters’, that is an almost total integration into local culture, very often the result of finding a Chinese partner. A larger number (‘cosmopolitans’) will manage to achieve a sense of balance by blending elements of local culture into their life, while still living a predominantly expat life. For another group, this phase involves largely rejecting local culture and making little or no attempt to interact and engage with local people, the language or food.
- The Mastery phase is where those who have become adopters or cosmopolitans are able to engage and participate in Chinese culture, and a sense of normalcy has been achieved.
- Learn About Chinese Etiquette
Particularly in a business setting, gaining an understanding of Chinese etiquette can help you to avoid frustrations and misunderstandings.
- In China, people tend to shake hands lightly, so if you’re not given a hearty grip, don’t be offended.
- Expect lots of small talk at the beginning of a business relationship, as getting to know someone well is essential to Chinese commercial dealings.
- When exchanging business cards, always do so with two hands, and take the time to read any card you receive before you put it in your wallet or pocket. Make sure your own business cards are in pristine condition.
Mark Angus is a writer for Expat Essentials. Expat Essentials produce expatriate guides for families moving to Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, designed to provide comprehensive information on international schools and the education systems in these cities, as well as useful tips on healthcare, housing and getting connected in a new city.