What to know about bringing electronics when you move to China

If you’re moving to China from the US, you’ll need to be aware when you bring any appliance or electronic with a plug. The US is a little odd and uses a different voltage than most other parts of the world. They use a 110V system where China (and most everywhere else) uses a 220V system. What this means is that you’ll need to just be aware and check before plugging in your US-bought electronics when you get to China. It’s also a good idea to check the voltage requirements before you ship something you won’t be able to use.

Photo by Yagan Kiely

That said, you shouldn’t have any problems with MOST of your electronics. Most computers, cell phones, tablets, cameras, gaming systems etc. are designed as dual-voltage devices and are fine to use anywhere on 100-240V. Notice I said “most”. It’s still a good idea to double check and make sure your device won’t get fried if you plug it straight into a China outlet. Continue reading


Guess what?

I need to tell you a secret. I’m working on something. Finally. I just about, pretty much, almost decided to make this happen. It’s something we’ve talked about it since before we moved to China, since this blog was just beginning, and I’ve had friends and readers suggest it many times. But I was unconvinced.

I have had many reasons why I can’t couldn’t do it.

A book.

It’s just too… Continue reading


Top 12 Chinese Phrases you should learn to speak when you move to China

The Mandarin purist police are going to get on to me for not giving the tones with the pinyin here. Technically this is not the way you would write out these phrases. (Although if you want to get really technical, to be written in Chinese they would actually be in characters. But then, that would be completely pointless for teaching pronunciation.) Every syllable has a tone with a special intonation that makes it understandable in Chinese. The truth is, if you’ve studied enough Chinese to know the tones… you already know these phrases so you could just skip this post anyway. AND if not, having me type them here won’t teach them anyway. (Ok, I admit it. The truth is, they’re just hard to type.)

Think of this as merely a crash course. For those phrases you’ll use all the time. To aid your charades when you really need the help of a word. The most basic of communication. And really, to let the Chinese know you aren’t just some stuck up foreigner who thinks the whole world should speak your language. That you really want to TRY. And no matter how bad you butcher it, you’ll get a smile. And usually an over-the-top appreciation for your efforts. Because even the Chinese know its hard. And they are, thankfully, so much more gracious than we (especially in America) are to those who don’t speak our language.

The Basics: Hello, Good-bye, and Thank you

1. Ni Hao: {nee how} Hello. The most basic greeting. Chances are, you already know this one. But if not, at least now you’ll know what’s being said when you hear this a hundred times a day.

2. Zai jian:{zI (rhymes with eye) jee-uhn} Good-bye. Another basic. Use it often.

3. Xie Xie: {“she she” or “shay shay”} Thank you. Now this one is really just for us, the foreigners. Actually, the Chinese don’t say thank you very often. And you might even get a few odd looks, but I think it still makes you sound polite, or at least friendly. I say it all the time, no matter if they don’t understand why you thanked the taxi driver for taking you home even though it’s his job.

Saying “Yes”:

First, let me say, there is no direct translation for the word “yes” in Chinese. Normally, if you want to agree you just repeat the verb. But there are a couple of phrases that get that point across. Learning when to use which can be a little tricky, but even if you guess wrong your point is made.
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Reader Question: Website & Technology

Asking questions of those who have “been there” is a great way to prepare yourself for the crazy adventure that is moving to China. Even though you can never be completely prepared for such a drastic change, knowing what to expect goes a long way to making the transition much smoother. I was so thankful to have a fellow expat friend who generously fielded numerous questions before our move. It was such a huge help to us, and one of the main reasons I decided to start this blog. I recently received a question from a reader, and I thought I’d share the questions and response in case it helps someone else in a similar situation.

Reader Question:
My family has LOVED all the information we have learned from reading all of your posts. I’m sure we haven’t gotten through everything yet, but we are learning from it. If all goes according to plan we (my husband and I, as well as our 3 kids) will be moving to Shenyang the beginning of 2012. I was hoping that ya’ll could help me with a few questions. For one, I wondered what host site you use for your blog? The one you guys have set up is exactly what we would like to have in place.

Second, how hard has it been to stay connected technology wise? Like I said, we have 3 kids. I have read that there are ways around the government blocks online, but I have read so many positive and negative things now that I’m just confused. It is very important to us to try to keep our technology connections so that our kids don’t feel completely cut off. At this point we don’t even know whether to purchase computers from the US before we leave or China once we get there. We really want to be able to contact family and share all the adventures they are having.

Again, we have really enjoyed reading about all of your experiences (although I gotta say I literally gagged last night reading about the taxi driver chewing on his hack!!! I already know that the first time I hear that sound and realize what it is….I will most likely puke! Oh well, that will just be another story to share, lol) We look forward to any future posts and any information you guys can share with us.

Happy day,
H and family
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Visas, residence permits, and police registration

China is a paper and red tape-loving country. All you have to do to figure that out is plan a trip to visit, and it gets even worse when you move here. We recently had a little issue with our paperwork and I wanted to pass on the info we found out so you won’t be stuck in the same awkward situation.

We’re coming right up on our one year mark here in China (crazy!) which means it’s time to renew the residence permits. But when we started doing some checking we found out that we were missing some of the paperwork that was supposed to be taken care of 9 months ago. umm. oops?

So I’m going to try and lay it out for you. I’m certainly no expert, but having recently done this (incorrectly) I’m hoping I can give a simple crash course in Chinese paperwork so you at least have an idea of what you need to do to be legal.

Disclaimer: I am no expert. Please do not rely solely on this explanation. As I mentioned, we did this wrong the first time. It is for your information only. You should probably find an expert to help you with all this mess. Yes, it’s kind of a pain, but necessary.

The simplified process:

  1. Get a visa in your passport that lets you enter China. There are several types including tourist, work, and student visas.
  2. Register where you are staying with the police station. Valid for 3 months. If you are staying in a hotel, they do this for you when they take your passport at check-in. You’ll need to do this yourself (or your realtor can help) if you move into an apartment or other type of housing.
  3. Get your residence permit by taking your police registration paperwork and your medical exam paperwork and your passport to… er, somewhere. Told you I’m no expert.
  4. Go back to the police station with your valid residence permit and register AGAIN. This time it’s valid until your residence permit expires. The expiration dates on the two should now match.
  5. These are valid for either 6 months or one year. To renew again you’ll start at step 3 taking your police registration to get a new “sticker”, aka. residence permit, in your passport. Then take THAT back to the police registration to update your paperwork there. Told you it’s lots of red-tape.

Now for a little more explanation Continue reading


Reader question: Negotiating your expat contract

I recently received a question from a reader asking for advice and insight on their upcoming move to Shenyang. I thought the question and response might be helpful for someone else as well, so with permission I’ve posted our correspondence. If you’re currently on expat assignment and have something else to add, I’d love for you to chime in on the subject in the comments. If you’re not yet an expat but also have questions, feel free to ask away and I or my fellow expats will try to fill in with what we’ve learned so far.

The more information we can share, the better off we’ll all be.

Reader question:

Hi. My husband and I just returned from a job interview in Shenyang. The company flew both of us over for a look-see and interview. We were there for 3 days. (I know, who goes all the way to China and stays for just 3 days?) The work would likely be in both Shenyang and Yingkou, or perhaps mainly in Yingkou. It would be a 2-3 year contract.

I’d appreciate any advice you’d like to share. My husband is supposed to let the company know what he wants for compensation and benefits. Are there benefits you’d recommend asking for? What about Chinese taxes? Are there employers who pay taxes for their employees? We saw that the marginal rate goes up to 45%, and then we would owe US taxes as well. I read in China Daily while we were there that foreign workers will now be covered by the Chinese social security, medical and unemployment insurance, to the tune of an additional 11% payroll deduction. That wouldn’t leave much for us!

We recognize the challenges we’d face living in China, and think that we can not just manage, but truly come to enjoy the adventure. I’ve enjoyed reading about your experiences, and look forward to having our own China stories to share.

My thoughts and suggestions:

LB and I finally got the chance to go through some of your questions (I have no idea about a lot of the details like taxes and stuff.) We had a few thoughts on the subject between us. Not sure how it works out with you, but we were pretty fortunate to be sent by an international company who has quite a few expats here already. It was NOT a perfect process by any means (get ready to be flabbergasted over and over… and make sure you throw any expectations you have out the window. You’ll be much better off for it.) but they do take care of us pretty well. Will you be working for a Chinese company as a foreign expert? Not sure how that will change the process, but it surely will. It is a different culture for sure. Make sure you get it all in writing, but realize even then, that doesn’t always mean a whole lot when you’re dealing with this culture. You’ll still have to ask for things even if they’re in the contract.

You’ll want to keep these things in mind at the very least.

Shenyang China Riverside Garden

1. Housing: Make sure they are providing you with housing. Most companies do. A budget of 15,000 – 20,000 RMB per month should be sufficient for a furnished apartment or, in some cases a townhouse, in a nice complex/neighborhood although that will likely vary a lot depending on what city you’re in. That will get you a very nice apartment in Shenyang.

Another option would be to negotiate a smaller monthly allowance for an unfurnished apartment plus a stipend for purchasing furniture or shipping your own furniture from the States. This was actually the option we chose, and I was really glad we did. It was great to be able to choose my own furniture and design my own home rather than feeling like I was living in someone else’s house. I will say that if it hadn’t been for the new Ikea in Shenyang though, I doubt this option would have worked out as well. Also, I don’t think this is very common in China. Most apartments come furnished, I believe, but it worked out really well for us.

Our company goes through a realty company who specializes in placing expats (We used KELT. There is alsoCentury 21 in Shenyang). It was a big help dealing with people who speak English and who’s job it is to take care of the lease, dealing with the landlord, getting your proper permits, etc. We also don’t deal with paying the rent at all. That is paid directly by the company. We do pay for utilities though. We’ve been here almost a year and still occasionally contact them with any issues we have with our apartment (like yesterday, when we woke up to no electricity). Our realtor has become a great friend who I call on for all kinds of questions and translating. She was indispensable in the beginning when we were just learning to function here.

If they do agree to pay for your housing, make sure you are able to pick your apartment, or at least see where it is they want to put you. The exact apartment. Most apartments are privately owned and one building can have several levels of quality. I would suggest negotiating a “housing allowance” and then shopping for your own place. To me, it is the most important part about making this place feel like home. Especially for you as the wife since you’ll be spending a lot of time there.

2. Car and driver: I’m not sure how you’ll work out working both in Yingkou and Shenyang but google maps says it is about 2.5 hours drive. If you’ll have to do a lot of commuting back and forth I would definitely make sure you are provided with a car and driver. Inside Shenyang, it is no problem getting around with the buses and plenty of taxis. We don’t have a car and do fine without it, but I think if you’ll be outside the city then you’ll need one.

3. Language lessons: You need to learn Chinese to really have a good experience here. It’s a difficult language and some people don’t bother learning it but I think you have a much less frustrating experience when you can break down the communication barrier even just a little. I would suggest asking for a set language budget or set number of hours of tutoring for both you and your husband. I think the companies I’ve heard of usually offer 100 hours.

4. Moving costs: Negotiate your shipping and moving costs. You’ll probably need at least an air freight container. They come in several sizes. Another option is a sea freight container. They are much larger and are typically used if you want to bring your furniture from home. They take much longer to arrive however.

5. Vacation time: This one has been a big issue for us. If you’re going to want to travel a lot (and there is so much to see in Asia!) make sure you have enough time to take off to do it. I think you need at least 20 days, probably 25 would be better.

6. Home flights: Will they pay for you to take a trip home once a year or twice a year? For both of you? If so, do you get extra days to compensate for the travel time or will you have to take vacation days? Something to think about considering it takes 3 days of traveling to get to the States and back.
(p.s. A trip to China in 3 days?? How in the world???)

7. Taxes: This is the one I’m not so sure about. You are responsible for taxes in both China and the US. You’ll definitely need to hire a professional to take care of all the taxes. I would make sure that is also paid for by the company. Most companies here take responsibility for paying the Chinese taxes. (I’m not sure about the China Social Security thing, haven’t heard anything about that.) Our company takes care of all the taxes here and our pay stays the same. They also offset the taxes in the US so that we pay the same as we would if we were still employed in the US. One other thing to remember is that all of the benefits they pay for such as your car and driver, your housing, etc. is considered taxable income by the US government even though it isn’t showing up in your bank account. Add it all up and that first tax bill will make your eyes pop out of your head.

8. Getting paid: You want to get paid in the US if possible. There are two ways it is done here. One company that I know of pays 75% of your income in the US and 25% in Chinese RMB. Even at 25% most people don’t spend that much and end up with lots of RMB left to change at the end. It is a real pain and quite difficult to change money back from RMB to US dollars. Our company pays 100% of our paycheck in to our US account and we then make a wire transfer (reimbursable at 1 per month) to our Chinese bank account in the amount we need. Either way works fine I think. Getting paid 100% in China is usually a huge hassle so I’ve heard.

Salary: Obviously it depends on the company, but generally, if you work as an expat for a foreign company you can expect your previous salary + 30-50% increase (b/c you have to live without Dunkin Donuts whole bean coffee and JIF peanut butter.) + cost of living adjustment + additional compensations listed above. I would say that most expats come to China for the money. But it is a GREAT experience even without the padding of the bank account!


Am I ready to move to China?

A lot of our posts are funny. Sometimes intentionally; other times merely because of the subject matter. This one isn’t really intended to be – this is directed at those of you who are considering a move to China for an extended period of time. We remember doing a ton of research and asking lots of questions of ourselves and others before agreeing to come. Here is what we think you should ask yourself when trying to decide if moving to China is a good idea for you.

Obviously this can’t be comprehensive as personal details will greatly impact your choice. What your job will be, where you’re from originally, what part of China you’re moving to, will all impact your experience. However, we’ve seen the following as challenges that we or other expatriates have had trouble with and think you might too, regardless of your personal details.

So are you ready to move to China? Continue reading


10 things you should pack when you move to China

Packing for ChinaI remember one of the biggest headaches when I found out we were moving to China was figuring out what to pack. I had no idea what to expect and was completely overwhelmed. Will I be able to buy what I need when I get there? What is and isn’t available? What if I don’t pack it and then they don’t have it? What if I forget something and then need it???
Continue reading


Chinese Medical Exam: Part 3

Station #2 of our Chinese Medical Exam: Bloodwork

To give you a little background, my husband really doesn’t do well with blood. Well, actually just his own blood. He doesn’t really mind it if someone else is bleeding out, just can’t be him. He hasn’t actually passed out from giving blood in several years, but as soon as we walked into the bloodwork room, I knew we were in trouble. If you’ll remember also, we haven’t eaten anything in almost 24 hours. Not a good combination.

First off, you walk into the room and up to a counter. Kind of like at a bank. Above the counter, there is a big glass window running from wall to wall and all the way up to the ceiling. Behind there are the Chinese nurses, in their nice white lab coats with all the little test tubes, cotton swabs, and needles and such laid out on the counter behind the glass. It’s a simple process. You walk up and grab a seat on this little rolling stool. Stick your arm through the little gap between the counter and the glass and the nurse does her thing.

Immediately I’m thinking “Oh no, this is going to be bad.”

I look over at him and he’s already turning pale. Now I start taking stock around the room to figure out where I’m going to put him after he’s laid out. Luckily, in the corner off to the side there is a hospital bed pushed up against the wall.

Good. Only problem is it’s on the other side of the room from the stools and counter. I really hope he makes it that far. The floor did not look particularly clean. Thankfully at this point, including our translator from the visa office, we were the only ones in the room.

I hop up to the counter first hoping they could get me done quickly so I could head over and stand by him at the ready. I was much less worried about him passing out (that was a foregone conclusion in my mind) than I was about him falling off the stool and hitting his head on the floor. Then we’d have to go to the real Chinese hospital and that was not somewhere I wanted to try out on our first day in the country.

They went ahead and took my blood and I got some cotton to hold over the little hole and then headed over to stand next to him. They were just starting to swab his arm. He was as pale as a ghost.

I took his backpack from him and started talking.
“Are you ok?” Trying to distract him as much as possible. I was standing off to the side and behind him so he’d have to look at me and away from her.

“Yeah, I’m ok.” He didn’t really look convincing and we’ve been married long enough for me to tell he was lying through his teeth.

The nurse made quick work and through the translator told him to hold the cotton on tightly to stop the bleeding. He was still just sitting on the stool. Blinking.

“Are you ok?”

“Uhhh.” he said, “I think so.”
In macho male speak, that means “no”.
Grreeaaattt. But at least he’s still upright at this point. And it actually seemed like the color in his face was starting to come back a little.

“Can you please just go over and lay on that bed for a minute?” (…so I don’t have to catch you. You’re heavy.)
I was ignoring our translator at this point, but I kind of had the feeling she was tapping her foot behind us ready to get us moving on to the next room. She had no idea.

“Well, I’m just going to go over there and sit down for a minute.” He stood up slowly and I grabbed his arm and walked with him over to the bed.

Sweet. We made it. The bed was kind of high and he was just sitting on the edge with his legs hanging off the front. I’m still standing in front of him just in case. But at this point, I’m thinking we’re probably home free.

Then he started to get pale again.

He was still sitting on the edge of the bed leaning forward a little and I was still worried he was going to fall

“Please just lay down.”

“I’m just going to scoot back and lean against the wall.”

“Please just lay down.”

He ignores me and starts sliding back toward the wall. His back doesn’t even touch the wall before he’s gone. I caught him as he’s slouched forward. Now, because he didn’t listen to me and lay down like I asked him too, I’m having to try and lay him. Both his legs are hanging off the side of the bed, and I’m still holding both of our backpacks and trying to get him situated.

About this time, I happen to look over at our translator who is obviously freaking out. Her eyes are huge and she’s just staring at us. I had just kind of left him all slumped over, half laying down with his legs all hanging off the side of the bed.

I just kind of waved my hand. “Don’t worry about it. Happens all the time. He’ll come to in a minute.” Did I ever mention what a good wife I am? I’m so sympathetic.

A couple of minutes later this tall Chinese doctor comes in the door carrying a cup of water. LB is just starting to come around and is starting to sit himself up. The doctor just looks at him, says something to Maggie in Chinese, hands the cup to me, and then just turns and walks out. Maggie, still looking a bit confused, reaches over to a bowl of candy on the counter and hands us a couple.

And that my friends, was just the second station.

Actually the rest went pretty smooth comparably. We continued through the rest of the physical, including x-rays and EKGs. Really, if my husband hadn’t managed to make it so exciting all by himself, it really wouldn’t have been that interesting. I will have to say, the Chinese really know how to herd you through. The whole process took less than 2 hours. Way less than it took us in the States. This might be the ONE time since we’ve been in China, that the process has been more efficient here than in the US. Efficiency is not something the Chinese value.

But the thing you just have to remember when you live in China… the process may not be the same, but if you get to the same result, what does it REALLY matter? Just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.


Chinese Medical Exam: Part 2

We were really excited to be heading to China to see what we were getting ourselves into. We were especially excited to get to experience a Chinese medical facility first hand on our first day in the country.

Ok. Not really.

Not at all.

We got to our hotel in Shenyang around 6 pm Sunday evening. Our itinerary said that Maggie from the visa office would be picking us up at 8 from our hotel on Monday morning for our physicals and we’d already been told that we needed to fast for at least 12 hours before the bloodwork. We were both obviously extremely exhausted. China is a 12 hr time difference from South Carolina and you combine that kind of jet lag with 24 hours of travel time and you have reached a new level of exhaustion. I walked into the room and fell face down on the rock hard bed. I didn’t even notice it felt like a concrete slab. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have even noticed if it WAS a concrete slab.

Left Brain headed straight for the shower and mentioned that we’d go get some dinner after he got out. I thought that was a good idea. Except that I never even blinked from that point on. Apparently, the big bed was too tempting for him too, because we both woke up around 3 am… starving. We had eaten on the long flight over, but that was around noon. And the last short flight from Seoul to Shenyang only served a light snack. And now it’s the middle of the night, and they’ve already said we couldn’t eat for 12 hours before the bloodwork.


There’s this thing about jetlag that they don’t tell you. It doesn’t just affect your sleep patterns. Actually I don’t mind the sleep thing so much. It’s the meal schedule that I have the hardest time with. Our noon lunch was actually a midnight snack to our bodies. And now it’s effectively 3 in the afternoon and we’ve just skipped breakfast AND lunch. And we’re supposed to wait another 9 hours before we’ll get to eat again.

This is not good.

So we both try to wait it out and kill some time by getting on the computer and skyping our families back home. FINALLY, 8 am rolls around and we meet Maggie and hop in the van and head to the medical facility.

This particular facility in Shenyang wasn’t really a hospital like I was expecting. I think it was some sort of facility set up specifically for this process. First we waited in a big bunch of people to get up to the counter. Ok, actually we only waited long enough for Maggie to cut off a few people and push her way up to the front. It’s kind of how they roll in China. There isn’t really a “line” that you wait in. You just all cram together in a big bunch and whoever is best at cutting off the next person and wiggling up to the counter first is the next one who gets served. No one gets upset or anything. It’s just the way it is. So anyway, Maggie was pretty good at this so we didn’t wait long.

Off we go to Station #1: Urine Sample.

My first experience with a “public” toilet in China. Wow. Just wow. The stall was just big enough to barely turn around in. And then there’s this hole in the ground. A ceramic hole surrounded by tile. Although actually I guess I wasn’t really supposed to need the hole since I had a cup. Without giving you WAY more info than you want to know, let’s just say it was quite a balancing act.

China Travel Tip: When you come to China, ALWAYS have a travel pack of tissues on you. You will need them. Even if your nose isn’t runny. If your nose is runny, pack 2. Most public restrooms do not have tissue available for you. In all honesty, I don’t find the hole in the ground thing that difficult. It’s not much different than going outside when you’re hiking or camping. And if you grow up on a farm, usually you’ve mastered the outdoor squat before you’re even potty trained.

Station 1 completed.

Station #2: Bloodwork turned out to even more exciting…