Guangzhou, China Report of what it's like to live there - 04/15/23
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?
Yes, first time living abroad for my family, and the fifth time abroad for me.
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?
USA. 43 hours flight by USG charter from Washington DC. Normally 20 hours to west coast USA. Can fly direct via Hong Kong to LAX/SFO or fly via Seoul from Guangzhou.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What years did you live here?
5. 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?
Small, but nice and very above average housing. All housing are apartments that are max 10 min drive to the US consulate. Many other foreign missions live in the same housing complexes. All are in TianHe.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Western groceries are very available. You can find almost anything here at western grocery stores or via online shipping. Cost is 1.5-2x the prices in the US. Local Chinese groceries are very cheap. Anything is deliverable for a very, very small fee.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Root beer, US cereal
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a ton of great western and Asian restaurants next to housing and foreign missions. These are the most frequented. You can have anything in the city delivered via scooter for less than a dollar within an hour (meituan).
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We have small cockroaches and the occasional earwig. Nothing to complain about here.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic pouch. Local postal facilities seem good and reliable. May need local language to use though.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Roughly $1000 per month for a full-time, live-out maid/caregiver (called ayis here).
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Small gym available at the US consulate. Every housing community has a gym here. They were closed or required reservations during COVID, but all are open and no reservations needed. Each community also has a pool.
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?
Very few places take credit cards. Most of them would be westerner-focused or a large brand name at a mall. In China, WeChat Pay and AliPay are king. Life would be hard without either of those phone apps. Cash is seldomly used now, but ATMs are pretty common in bank lobbies and are safe and reliable.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are a few English-speaking church groups, but is completely dependent on the expats to run. Foreign and local religious groups are not allowed to meet together or mingle.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can get by using Google Translate or just pointing and showing numbers on your phone. Not many people speak good English here apart from stores targeting westerns. Signs are sometimes in English, but often just in Pinyin (romanized Chinese). US Consulate has language classes available for staff and EFMs.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
No. China builds their new infrastructure to be very accessible, but YMMV on the location. Older parts of town might lack facilities or assistance.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
All public transportation is very safe and affordable. Taxis are about $1.50 from the furthest housing community to the US Consulate.
2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?
China has strict laws on vehicle imports. A standard new car built in the US would not meet regulations in China and would require roughly $3k in modifications. They drive on the right side of the road. Most vehicles are electric as there are laws taxing gas vehicle use. Most car brands are seen here (Ford, Toyota, Buick, BMW, Mercedes, etc).
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is very hit-and-miss in China. Most of the housing comes with free internet (5-8Mbps) that is routed through Hong Kong to avoid the Great Firewall of China (GFW). We can get fast local internet (100mbps) added for about $20/month if needed, but you would need a very reliable VPN to get any use out of it.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Google Fi is very good and reliable here. It even includes a US data connection that lets you bypass the Great Firewall of China. You will need to also get a local phone number to use any of the local phone apps. Most people have a dual-SIM phone, or use a single-SIM with additional eSIMs for their home-country plan.
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 idea. Some neighbors have dogs and seem happy with the care they get here. Some do ship US dog food via pouch regularly though. Some locals in the areas even have alpacas at home and walk them on the street.
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?
Only US consulate employment for US diplomats. They can't even work in international schools here. Lots of teaching options if you're not with a diplomatic/consular mission though.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
We were advised against it as it could be misconstrued either as employment or outside influence on China.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual everywhere for work. Ok to wear casual clothes on the street and at malls. Formal dress rarely seen unless you're a senior official or businessman or a housing complex employee.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
China is incredibly safe due to the mass surveillance of the people here. There are cameras and device tracking everywhere. Petty theft or crimes of opportunity may happen, but I've never heard of it happening here so far.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
This is a very split question for people here. I arrived the same day most COVID restrictions were lifted. No quarantine or testing needed at all. No showing "health codes" on your phone for entry to buildings or even areas of town. Masks were originally religiously worn, but is about the same level as people wearing them in the US. Some still wear masks for personal protection against other illnesses or for pollution. This place feels very open and accessible and COVID is no longer a scare or worry here. Life continues like normal except for COVID-era relics on the street across town (testing stations, mask signs, line stickers on ground, makeshift quarantine facilities).
If you ask anyone before I arrived though, this was a pretty scary place to live health-wise. City districts were closing without prior warning and some people were unable to leave home or leave to go home from work. The main hospitals used by expats were in closed city districts, meaning you'd be unable to get any medical care if needed (appendicitis is a very life-threatening condition without treatment). People were throat-swapped daily for COVID and had a real fear of their phone health code turning red. Some people reported being stuck in their housing compound for almost their entire tour here due to the restrictions. There's a lot of talk of PTSD for these folks as they bore the brunt of the hardship.
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?
Moderate for Guangzhou. Definitely not as bad as many other places in China, but not a clear sky paradise here. Many are worried about air affecting health and will opt to wear KN95 masks while outdoors.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Pretty sterile city area. I would worry most about food allergens as you don't always know what's in the local food and how it's been prepared.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Perfect weather in the winter and spring. Gets really hot and humid during the summers.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Many good schools here. Most US consulate families send kids to AISG, which is about 10-15 mins drive away for the elementary school. The middle and high school is about a 40 minute drive away. Good experience so far and very high quality. Some parents complain that it's becoming a US prep school for local Chinese and doesn't cater to expats like it did previously. There are concerns that expat kids are left behind because local Chinese students learn the curriculum from their tutors and speed through the classroom discussions.
2. 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?
Not many English-language preschools are available. One that many expats used closed down just as COVID restrictions ended and many were forced to hire a nanny for care. Can't speak to quality.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Medium-size in my opinion. It used to be huge, but COVID restrictions caused many to go home. Many expats that overstayed their visas were finally sent home during this time as well.
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?
Consulate social events, Community Liaison Office (CLO) events, and local expat restaurants will host trivia and happy hour nights. Many women have a membership in the International Women's Club of Guangzhou.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for everyone. Most people here are first and second-tour officers. Singles have a great time traveling around Asia. Flights are relatively cheap out of Guangzhou and will only get cheaper as flights increase, e.g. Thailand is 3.5 hours away. Many activities for families as well. Ascott is usually picked for singles and has a great community. Canton Residence/Mansions is usually picked for families.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Nope. It makes things difficult for both us and the locals due to political pressures and differences.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, local people don't seem to care. Many employees and LE staff wear LGBTQ+ awareness lanyards at the consulate. Not sure if there's a good scene to meet other LGBT people as we don't mingle much with locals as-is.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Heard it might be hard for anyone with darker skin.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Many fun things to do both in the city and in the area. Close to Hong Kong and Macau, as well as many big southeast Asia cities by plane.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
All shopping is done online on phone apps. Most things in the world seem to be manufactured in this area, so you can get it quick, cheap, and easy.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Safe, convenient, clean, and easy.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Housing is very small and tight. There isn't much storage, so leave tons of stuff at home. You'll also be buying a TON of stuff as it's made here, so make sure you have room!
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Oh yes. This is a wonderful place to live. China is difficult for other reasons, but it's a wonderful and nice place to live.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter coats, car, aspirations to eat orange chicken daily, US dried foods
4. But don't forget your:
Manners, cell phone, and VPN