Guangzhou, China Report of what it's like to live there - 05/19/19
Personal Experiences from Guangzhou, China
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Previously posted in West Africa and SE Asia.
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?
While there are direct flights with mainland China airlines to the US, if you have the time fly out of Hong Kong, or transit Japan. Especially for personal travel, these alternative routes are cheaper and the airlines are better quality than China's.
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?
Serviced apartments. However, recent USG guidelines require you to pay for the cleaning service; otherwise, no maid service.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You want imported western items, be prepared to pay. For example, eight ounces of cheddar cheese is north of 10 USD. However, local produce at wet markets is plentiful and cheap.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None. I've adjusted to what is available locally. As a result, my consumption of processed food is almost nonexistent, I'm healthier, and the variety of produce available is impressive.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Meituan is an app for food delivery; try not to get run over by one of their yellow (silent) electric scooters. Taobao is the local version of Amazon, and they deliver within a day or two.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Not in the housing, but outside is another story.....
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Delivery via USG pouch or DPO can vary from ten days to three weeks. Amazon, Walmart, and Target seem to be favorites. Unfortunately, some people insist on skirting the rules and ship liquids, which often rupture in transit and mess up others' shipments.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Help is a couple hundred dollars per month and up. It's a great way to pick up Mandarin, Cantonese, and other local languages.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
All the apartment buildings have a gym, and several have a pool. Or, bring a bicycle and ride the extensive walkways along the rivers.
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?
I get cash from the Consulate; that ensures not being given counterfeit money on the street, which taxi drivers do on a regular basis. Get a local bank account and use the phone app to pay. I use non-China charge cards very rarely, usually at international businesses and airlines.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
In town, many signs are bilingual, but except at the higher end establishments there is not a lot of English. Cantonese is the local language, which is very different from Mandarin. The younger generations speak both Mandarin and Cantonese, as Mandarin is the official language. Learn whatever you can; locals appreciate it. Without some language you will have significant difficulty integrating and communicating, especially away from the city.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Minimal problems in high-end areas, but the rest of the time quite challenging.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Bus and metro/subway is clean, new, inexpensive, and extensive. Didik taxis are reliable. Local freelance taxis should be a last resort unless you have excellent Mandarin and/or Cantonese.
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?
Unless you have a family and plan to travel outside the city, a car is not needed. Many officers get a car, and use it so rarely that they only put a couple hundred miles per YEAR on it.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet speed is so so. Get a high quality VPN before entering the country.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Put the VPN on your phone also. Get a local SIM card, which is quite inexpensive. Plan on ditching your phone when you depart for good. Big brother tracks everything.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual, except for special events.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Violent crime is virtually unheard of. Crimes of convenience, like pickpockets and counterfeit currency, are common. However, the darker your skin color, the more likely you will be confronted with overt racism, and more than one African-American has been attacked.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Don't trust local medical or dental care. Anecdotally, many of the modern clinics have the most advanced equipment, but the employees are clueless on how to utilize or diagnose. Recently, an employee's child went in to have a broken arm x-rayed, and the employee had to show the clinician how to operate the x-ray machine! Head to Hong, Singapore, or Taiwan.
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?
Compared to other mega cities in China, Guangzhou has better air quality. However, by any other standard it can get bad, red-zone bad, for weeks at a time. Many people here have health issues related to the air pollution. Get a high quality reusable mask.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Food allergies are a foreign concept here. Prepare your own food if you have food sensitivities.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
SAD, yeah. Winters can go for weeks without seeing blue sky, with both pollution and low clouds both contributing.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Winter cool and cloudy, a very brief pleasant t spring and autumn, and a hot/humid summer preceded by an intense rainy season transition. Occasionally a typhoon will come in, but usually not strong enough to blow out too many windows or down trees.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Plenty at the schools.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Lots of expats, almost exclusively business or Consulate/embassy-employed.
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?
Get out and explore, walk the city, get out of the cocoon of the high end districts. People are friendly, and food options are mind-boggling.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Up to you to make it work. If you're willing to get out, you'll find lots of options.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Although not illegal in China, social pressure on locals to get married and have a child is quite strong. Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Taiwan all have a much more active and visible gay community. Guangzhou has numerous chat groups and NGOs, but the bar scene is minimal. Now that Taiwan has legalized gay marriage, things may change on the mainland.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
African-Americans and others with dark complexions will definitely have more challenges than others. Asian-Americans that don't have Mandarin as their first language also engender curiosity. However, if you're willing to dive into the local culture, you will find lots of opportunities to mingle.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
See above. China is still a male-centric and ageist country. Job listings will normally specify gender and age parameters, and sometimes even marital status.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Get out of the big cities and explore-- China is as big as the US and has a vibrant history. Visit regional countries; flights are plentiful and cheaper than domestic flights! The high speed rail network is amazing; clean, modern, reasonably priced.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Local markets are varied and fascinating. Ride a bus or take the metro to a station and just explore.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Furniture is cheap, but the wood is not properly dried for a colder dry climate; you have been warned. Tailored clothing is relatively inexpensive.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
You can save a lot of money if you live like a local. You can easily find filling healthy meals for fewer than 3 US dollars on the local scene.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I had better language skills; the better it is, the easier it is to integrate.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
For China, Guangzhou has the best climate, and is great fir getting to Macau and Hong Kong.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Car, sense of privacy, expectation that people understand the concept of queueing.
4. But don't forget your:
Umbrella, walking shoes, bicycle, and a face mask.