Chengdu, China Report of what it's like to live there - 05/18/16
Personal Experiences from Chengdu, China
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, I have also lived in Hangzhou, China; Hyderabad, India; Taipei, Taiwan.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Home is on the east coast of the U.S. There is now a direct flight on United from SFO to Chengdu, so the total trip is approximately 20 flight hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
8 months, previously lived in this city for 9 months 6 years ago but not on a government tour.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Consulate housing is moving towards service apartments (Oakwood, Ascott, Fraser Suites), which is very nice. For large families, there is housing on the consulate compound. There are a few older apartment buildings which are not as nice, but i think they are mostly being phased out. Almost all of the housing is quite convenient to the Consulate, either by walking or the metro.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
local markets are extremely cheap, but maybe not the cleanest. High end grocery stores like Ole are much more expensive and comparable to U.S. prices, but often the only place to buy imported goods.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Any liquids likes toiletries, olive oil, booze. Dry goods can be ordered online and shipped through DPO.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Starbucks everywhere, KFC, McDonald's, Chinese chains.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are mosquitoes, but I have not heard of any cases of dengue or malaria.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is quite inexpensive, but it is difficult to find someone who speaks English.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are more and more gyms opening up. Some are very fancy and expensive because gyms are new and considered a luxury service. There is a Crossfit box here with a good community.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
It is very difficult to use American credit cards here. Only large, western hotel chains accept them. Most people here operate in cash.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Chengdu requires more Chinese than other major cities in China, where people are used to speaking English with foreigners. However, it is not impossible to get by here. Locals are quite friendly and patient with people who speak little to no Chinese.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. There are very few accommodations for any physical disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Local taxis and buses are relatively safe. The metro is good, but not very extensive yet. Uber is here, and it is quite cheap.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Buy an electric scooter! The traffic here is terrible.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
The internet here is terrible, especially if you are with the U.S. government. Give up using the internet at all.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Cell phone plans here for smart phones are cheaper than in the United States.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
No quarantine. There is a decent English-Speaking Chinese vet here and also a Canadian vet who is very good. There is a fancy pet hotel here that is good. People here have pets, but they are still not very good at caring for their pets. It is rare for local people to spay and neuter or vaccine their own pets.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Not sure. It doesn't seem that good unless you are a teacher.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Volunteer opportunities are slim because of increasing pressure on NGOs by the Chinese government.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dress code is very casual generally, but often doesn't make sense. Sometimes you will go to a fancy restaurant and see people in sweat pants, but then when you go to the park, you will see women walking their dogs in high heels and dresses.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Petty theft is common in Chengdu, but violent crime is rare. If you are working for a foreign government, you might be treated with suspicion by local government authorities. There is growing hostility from the government towards foreign government workers or NGO workers, but so far, it hasn't affected personal lives too badly.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Air quality, food safety, traffic safety. The Chinese medical facilities are definitely not up to Western standards.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Air quality in Chengdu is not good. The average AQI here is 150-200 (very unhealthy). Unlike Beijing, which has very drastic changes in air quality with extremely good days and extremely bad days, Chengdu sits in a basin, so the smog tends to sit right above the city. The pollution rarely gets dangerously bad like in Beijing, but when the air is bad, it takes a long time to clear out. People with a history of breathing problems or asthma should probably not come here.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
If you suffer from food allergies, eating out will be very difficult. People here are not familiar with food allergies, and in local restaurants, much of the food will all be prepped together in the same pots and dishes.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Aside from the pollution, Chengdu is a generally cloudy place. It is often overcast, and sunny days are rare. It is generally very humid in the city, so summers are brutal, and winters are damp and clammy.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I do not have children, but I know there are a few international schools.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Medium-sized expat community. Small enough that you can get to know people pretty well and cross paths often, but large enough that you can still meet new people and find the ones with common interests. There is a large scope of people as well, from students to teachers to business people to diplomats.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
The food and drinks here are great. Sichuan food is delicious, and there are many good bars with a very good selection of American beer and wine.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it is a good city for families and couples without children, but I do not think it is a good city for singles. Dating is very difficult here. Children seem to have many activities to do, but the air quality could be bad and might prevent them from playing outside on bad air days. For couples, there are many good bars and restaurants, and a close-knit expat community.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I don't know. The Chinese government is not very welcoming of LGBT people, but Chinese people in general seem very welcoming and friendly. But I don't think dating would be easy.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Chinese people are very blunt, and Chengdu is not as exposed to ethnic diversity as other big cities in China. African Americans have faced racial stereotypes and discrimination. Also, any Asian Americans (even if they are not of Chinese origin) sometimes face challenges because people expect them to speak Chinese or do not believe they are American.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Traveling around this region has been wonderful. I have gone camping in the mountains in Sichuan, have enjoyed a beautiful cultural and nature tour in Yunnan, and I have explored ethnic minority culture in Dali and Kunming.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
For people who love outdoor activities, there are many groups to join. There is a group that runs nighttime bike rides, Hash Harriers plan runs outside of the city, and Weekend Escapes plans cultural and camping excursions on the weekends. Getting out of the city is very therapeutic. Within the city, I like to take Chinese calligraphy classes.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
The tailor - cheap, custom made clothing!
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Chengdu is one of the few cities in China that provides modern conveniences and western culture as well as preserving Chinese culture. It is not as fast-paced as Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou, and it also does not attract as many outsiders as those cities, so it has retained more of its traditional Chinese culture. It is a great place to learn more about Chinese history and culture. It is also very safe. Chengdu is located in a basin surrounded by mountains, so there is beautiful scenery and hiking and camping outside of the city. Also, Southwest China is a great travel destination. From Chengdu, it is easy to get to amazing tourist destinations like Jiuzhaigou national park, Lijiang, Shangrila, Kunming, and other great loations in Yunnan province.
10. Can you save money?
If you eat local food and only travel in the region, yes. If you eat western food and drink and travel outside of the area, then not so much.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The bad air quality and horrible traffic and general craziness can make going outside intimidating sometimes, so your apartment becomes very important. When I arrived here, I tried harder to make it feel like home inside.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Rice, chili sauce, western food, ski gear, electronics (they won't work and after you bring them here, you won't want to take them out of here).
4. But don't forget your:
toiletries (unless you like whitening cream), Booze, Books, DVDs (streaming here is impossible)
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Peter Hessler's books (especially River Town)
6. Do you have any other comments?
It's China. If you like China, you will like it here.