Chengdu, China Report of what it's like to live there - 08/07/17
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 lived in other European and Asian cities.
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?
DC. 14 hours direct from SF, CA.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
US Consulate compound. It is adjacent to the Consulate. <1 minute walk to work. Units are single-floor units with various sizes, some with balconies. It is simple and cozy but adequate. The compound has a playground, a tennis court and a pool. Kids love riding the scooters/bikes around the compound, playing tennis, swimming in the pool and having friends around to play with. Location is great. Walking distance to many restaurants, shops and a mall. Subway station is right around the corner.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
If you shop local, very inexpensive. Easy access to various Asian products at a good price (Korean, Japanese, Thai, etc.). European goods are available at a bit higher price.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We shipped liquid products such as sauces, alcohol, cleaning supplies, detergent, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. We were glad we did. All those products are available locally but we wanted to make sure they were safe and authentic (lots of counterfeits around).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
You can have anything delivered even just a couple of bubble drinks. There are various kinds of restaurants, Asian and Western and some are pretty good and reasonably priced. Many great Sichuan restaurants.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Nothing serious. We did have some signs of rats in the house but GSO took care of it quickly.
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?
Very affordable. Difficult to find an English-speaking helper in general.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Consulate has a small gym. There are bigger private gyms around that are inexpensive.
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?
Accepted at large stores and Western style restaurants. We were cautious and only used the credit cards where we felt safe and ATM machines at the banks. We did get counterfeit bills out of an ATM once but not in Chengdu.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are few English-language churches in town for foreign passport holders.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Knowing Chinese helps a lot as most taxi drivers and local vendors do not speak English. There is increased number of restaurants and cafes with English-menus but still most local places will have everything written in Chinese.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Affordable? Yes. Safe? Depends. We mostly used taxis and Uber. We needed to use Chinese to communicate with the drivers.
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?
Road conditions are fine in the city. Any car would work. We had an SUV and ventured out into the country sides quite a bit and there were unpaved, seriously off-roading kind of conditions but that is rare. We never felt as though our car was unsafe to park anywhere.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We used unlocked phones brought from the US. We did not want to buy any locally. When I had one stolen, I had to wait until someone could bring a phone from the US for me as it could not be shipped via pouch.
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?
There is an American vet who has his own clinic with local staff. He is great. There are kennels and groomers around but the quality of care is inconsistent and not the greatest although inexpensive.
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?
No employment locally. Consulate positions or US-based freelance work were common.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
They are available but public orphanages and organizations were apprehensive with foreign volunteers and limited exposure and access.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Petty crimes in general. We have a phone pick-pocketed and two bicycles stolen near the consulate.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Air quality is a serious concern. Health unit is very available but they will send you to Singapore for any serious illnesses and concerns.
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?
Bad. Chengdu is in a basin. The bad air stagnates through the year. We had serious health issues (respiratory) due to the air quality and two members of the family lost their medical clearances (cutting the tour short).
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
People susceptible to respiratory issues may be affected by the poor air quality. Food allergies are really not taken seriously at local restaurants. Educating Ayis (helpers) about food allergies could be challenging as the general attitude in China towards food allergies is nothing near the US standard.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Mild winters with some very hot summer days. Some rain but not for days at a time.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are a few. Christian (CDIS), IB (Leman), British, QSI, and some more smaller ones. We had children at CDIS. They loved their experience there. Their cafeteria food is still their favorite (across 5 schools overseas). Nurturing Christian environment. Academically ok but not challenging. CDIS had a giant air filtration system for the whole school building which we really liked. The campus is new, spacious and welcoming.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
QSI has a team of special education teachers and aides. CDIS accommodated some minor challenges but they sought evaluations and consultations from a special services department from their sister school in Tianjin. They have an excellent team of specialists to conduct a full assessment and create an IEP.
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?
Local international schools have preschools. Tuition is high. Some schools offer sibling discounts. There are smaller English-speaking preschools with mixed reviews.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Some. There are some expat groups/teams but depending on the interest and coach availability. Our children participated in sports and after-school activities offered by their school.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small. Morale is good. There were some expats (American and non-American) who were not happy in Chengdu. We had a great time exploring and enjoying the local culture and other cities in China.
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?
Restaurants, cafes, tea houses, strolls in the parks and by the river, biking and hiking outside the city, traveling to other cities in China.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
For couples and families, it seemed great. For singles, not sure.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. This is China. But for us expats, it does not affect us that much.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Travels to the beautiful Tibetan plateaus, to other historical and interesting cities, exploring Chinese/Sichuan foods.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Massages. Tea houses.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Some cool local art and handicrafts. Great place to get all your pictures/textiles/jerseys framed. Very inexpensive.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Low cost of living, easy-going locals, lots to explore.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Just how bad the air quality could be and last. Chengdu is a bit different from other Chinese cities as it is in a basin and the limited air flow keeps the pollution stagnating.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Without kids, yes, definitely.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Sense of order. Any expectations for driving/traffic standards.
4. But don't forget your:
Sense of adventure and humor. Be able to enjoy what is enjoyable and be okay to let go of any unmet expectations or unpleasant surprises. Our kids got good at jumping over spit foams and UL (Unidentified Liquid as they called it) laughing. I got good at chuckling when I got cut in line.