Guangzhou, China Report of what it's like to live there - 01/10/09

Personal Experiences from Guangzhou, China

Guangzhou, China 01/10/09

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, this is my 3rd expat experience.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

18-24 hours total travel time.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

For the U.S. Consulate there are apartments in the consulate building and two other sites that have private apartments. Traditionally people without kids live in the Consulate and those without live at the other complexes, but as the community grows this is changing.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Almost everything is available. Prices for Chinese brands are slightly cheaper than U.S. prices. Western brands are more expensive, but it's all affordable.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Be sure to bring dishwasher soap. That's the one thing I haven't been able to find here. Pretty much everything else you could want is available locally. Baking supplies can be hard to find.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

KFC, McDonalds, Papa Johns, and Starbucks are everywhere. Lots of great restaurants are available. Prices vary, but $5-15 is standard for a nice meal out.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Practically none. There are cockroaches and ants, but they don't seem to be a major problem.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

APO takes 2-3 weeks. DHL also ships here, but is expensive. I've never used the standard Chinese post system.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Definitely available. About US$10-15 a day for domestic help.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, the consulate housing complexes all have gyms and there are many commercial gyms throughout the city.

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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's still tough to find places that take credit cards, but ATMs are everywhere and I've never had any problems using them.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are several Christian churches in town. I'm not sure which denominations are represented. Other religions might have a tough time.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Those in the consulate building have AFN.The local satellite package includes HBO, CNN, BBC, ESPN Asia, and Star (a Hong Kong network).

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Chinese people don't expect much from foreigners and you could survive here with little or no language (although not without hassles), but knowing some Chinese would make it much easier and more enjoyable.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

It would be tough, but possible. A lot of the buildings still lack ramps, but the infrastructure is improving. It would be tough, but better than a lot of other spots in the developing world.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Trains are great. The subway is really convenient if you work at the consulate. Buses are incredibly cheap, but crowded. Taxis are everywhere and very cheap. All types of transportation are safe.

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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?

A car is not necessary in Guangzhou. The subway system is very good and cabs are extremely cheap. If you wanted to bring a car something smaller is probably easier to manage.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Available and very reliable, although a little slow. I pay about US$35 a month.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Sim cards are available at any convenience store. Phone prices might be a little higher here than in the U.S., but if you buy in the US be sure to get a quad band phone. If you buy a phone here you should do it in Hong Kong to avoid getting a counterfeit one.

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Pets:

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. There is a size restriction on dogs, but it's not strictly enforced.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

I don't have any first hand experience, but I've heard horror stories about the vets here. It's better to leave your pet with a friend.

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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?

It can be tough. There's no bilateral work agreement, so diplomatic spouses have to work within the mission. There's a lot of industry here, but it seems like most of the expat jobs are outside of Guangzhou

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Comparable to the U.S.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Very unhealthy. The pollution is the one really terrible thing about Guangzhou. It's a constant factor and will affect your health. It also makes normal outdoor activities much less enjoyable.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

I get a flu shot, but it's not required. I got rabies and encephalitis before I came.

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3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Very safe. There is some pickpocketing and petty theft, but Guangzhou is far safer than your average American metropolitan area. I don't know a single person who's been the victim of a crime here.

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4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The pollution is the big one. There's also the constant concern about another epidemic in this part of the world. Medical care is available, but for anything big most people go to Hong Kong.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Very hot summers, warm and rainy winters. Lots of gray days due to the pollution.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

No experience, but I haven't heard too many people complain. Most of the consulate children attend the American International School Guangzhou.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

Most people hire domestic help to take care of their kids during the day. The going rate is about US$10-15 per day.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Certainly for basketball and soccer. Other sports could be tougher to find.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Moderate. I'm sure there are a lot of people here, but spread out through a city this size it doesn't really feel like it.

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2. Morale among expats:

Decent. Pollution is the biggest complaint.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

It centers around eating, but there are also English language movies, decent bars, lots of shopping, and lots of other activities. It's only about two hours to Hong Kong and there are endless things to do there.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Good for families and couples. It can be a little rough on singles given the peculiarities of dating in China, but I'd still think there's more good than bad.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I haven't seen any examples of prejudice here and I would guess there is a community somewhere here, but I don't know much about it. I'd guess it's ok.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Very few. The people who may have the toughest time are Asian-Americans as the expectations are much higher. Non-asians get all the credit in the world for being able to say a few words in Chinese, but if you're ethnically Chinese and don't speak fluently people will look down on you. African-Americans may also have some minor issues, but nothing to worry about.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

There's a lot to do here, but it can be tough to find and a pain to get to. Guangzhou has most everything you could want, but you really have to search for it. The best thing about Guangzhou though, are the restaurants. The food here is really great and inexpensive. Most types of cuisine are represented.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Tailor-made clothes, cheap consumer goods, and of course food.

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9. Can you save money?

Definitely, but there are so many good places to travel to.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, it's a good spot to spend a couple of years and a remarkably easy city to live in, but I don't plan on coming back any time soon.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

China guidebooks. They only have a few pages on Guangzhou.

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3. But don't forget your:

Air filters and adventurous spirit. Guangzhou can be lonely and isolating or a decent time. Be sure to get out.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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