Shenyang, China Report of what it's like to live there - 06/10/24

Personal Experiences from Shenyang, China

Shenyang, China 06/10/24


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

3rd time living abroad, prior cities were Beijing and Bangkok.

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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?

Washington, D.C. is the home base. There are a lot of good connecting flights through Seoul, which makes the trip 22-25 hours with one stop.

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3. What years did you live here?

2022 - 2024.

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4. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

U.S. diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is focused in 4 hotels that offer serviced apartments that are 3-4 bedrooms. Amenities are pretty good in the hotels, ranging from gyms, pools, breakfast (for a small fee), room service, maid service (for a fee), etc. Most of the buildings are modern and people are happy with the housing. Commutes will be 15-40 minutes driving, depending on which consulate building you work from and which housing you are placed in. Some employees working on the consular section can walk to work from the south-side apartments.

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

You can find almost everything you need. Sam's has a great app in english with fast delivery. The grocery stores have a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, and there are a couple of grocery stores with imported products (baking goods, pasta, cereals, etc.), although they are pricey.

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

Canned goods that are frequently used for cooking (rotel, olives, artichokes, canned beans, sauces), good wine and craft beer are good to have, unique items to cook with.

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

The delivery is abundant and cheap and you can get any food delivered in under 30 minutes. The convenience is unbelievable. You do need to decipher the Chinese apps, but you learn how to do it with practice.

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

Almost no insects in the city.

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Daily Life:

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

The DPO is spotty and items take 2-4 weeks to arrive. Locally, packages are cheap and easy for delivery.

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

We have a full time nanny and housekeeper for about $1300 per month, including abundant overtime. It's easy to find part time help as well.

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3. Do you feel that it is safe to walk, run or hike outside? Are there areas where bike riding is possible? What is the availability and safety of outdoor space for exercising? Are these easily accessible?

Extremely safe from the crime aspect, but it can be scary to walk and avoid getting hit by scooters on the sidewalks. There is construction everywhere, so you often have to walk in the street. Bikes are possible but you need to be very careful because the cars use a "bigger is better" approach and do not give bikes the right of way. There are some very nice parks and a river bike path for exercise, but it's only warm enough to use for half of the year. It can be very dusty and dirty outside, so it isn't always pleasant to exercise outside.

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

The hotels include decent gyms, but several people go to high end gyms that are affordable. If there are workout classes, they would almost certainly be in Chinese, which makes them relatively inaccessible for expats.

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5. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

No, you must get a Chinese bank account and use Wechat to buy anything. Wechat recently allowed foreign credit cards to be used within the app, but in Shenyang it is rarely accepted (in the bigger cities like Shanghai, it's much more acceptable). People don't use cash anymore, so if you are here longterm you must get Wechat (or Alipay) set up to pay for everything.

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

I don't believe there are any at time time, although the Catholic church may reopen services in English in the future.

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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?

You need some basics. The more the better, although people get by without the language. You can use Wechat to translate most things, and there is an uber-like app called Didi that you can use in english to get taxis. But your life will be easier if you work to pick up some basic phrases.

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

Yes, definitely. The sidewalks are unpredictable and missing in a lot of places.

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

Yes, the metro, taxis, and buses are extremely cheap and reliable.

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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?

You don't need a car, but if you have one anything works. You might want a little higher clearance that won't be as impacted by potholes. When it rains (which is rare) the streets can flood. In the winter, there is black slush on the roads, or snow, so higher clearance is helpful for that as well.

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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?

Yes, but it's slow and spotty. You should have a VPN downloaded on all of your devices before arriving into the country to be able to access non-Chinese websites. Downloading a VPN on your router is also recommended. I kept GoogleFi and that's been wonderful because the phone works pretty well without a VPN, but even that is often slow and I have to switch to my Chinese SIM to access some apps and websites. The lackluster internet is one of the very frustrating things about living here.

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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?

You can get Chinese SIM cards for cheap and they are easy to top up from your phone each month. I was also happy that I kept my GoogleFi data plan because it allows me to access U.S. internet with less issues (although it is often slow and doesn't integrate well in Wechat).

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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 a vet, but I don't know about quality. There is no quarantine, but the entry and exit customs requirements can be time consuming and annoying. People have dogs and walk them outside, but it's just on the street and they aren't allowed in the parks. It seems like a little bit of a sad life for dogs. Only one of the consulate apartment complexes allows dogs, but more of them allow cats.

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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?

If you are here with a diplomatic mission, spouses cannot work on the local economy. There are a lot of open jobs for spouses at the consulate, and they are rarely filled so there isn't a lot of competition for the jobs.

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

Business casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

No, it's super safe.

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

Most food is clean, but people seem to get food poisoning about once a year from restaurants. There are two American doctors here that are very good and help navigate through the healthcare system for various issues. One is a pediatrician, so we feel comfortable that our infant is getting good medical care. There is also a good modern hospital for obstetrics, but there is definitely a cultural difference in the philosophy of care. You will be medevac'd for most major medical issues. There is a Japanese dentist and Korean chiropractor that people use and like.

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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?

I would rate the air quality as moderate. The air quality isn't as bad as I expected, but we still check the AQI to see about the air quality each day before going out. There are weeks when it can be really bad and you avoid going outside, but it usually doesn't last more than a few days in a row. There are generally a lot of dust and allergens in the air - even in the winter time, I struggle with allergies. Also, people smoke a LOT so that is annoying. Smoking is still allowed in restaurants.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Most restaurants ask if anyone has allergies, so they pay attention, but I'm not sure how much I trust it. For example, it's common for vegetarians to order a dish without meat, but it comes sprinkled with pork "for flavor". There's a some cultural disconnects. I would make sure to learn some good Chinese words to make your allergy clear when ordering.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Yes, during the winter the days are really short (it gets dark by 4pm) and it is so cold and dark that it gets depressing. We all get into a bit of a funk. I took two vacations this past winter, and was so glad that I left during this season. It really helped with the winter blues.

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

There are four distinct seasons. The spring and fall are lovely, the summer gets pretty hot (85+ degrees F), and the winter is so cold and seems like it goes on forever. During the winter, the air is extremely dry and we relied heavily on humidifiers in the house and lots of body lotion.

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Schools & Children:

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

The international schools are decent for younger students. For high school, I think the education can be ok but there aren't a lot of students so the social life for high schoolers might be tricky. There are several good preschools, but it's also very cheap to hire nannies.

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

I've heard that QSI is good at catering for special needs, but it's best to reach out directly to the school.

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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?

Yes, they are affordable. Children here seem very happy with the preschools, but they can be a far drive from the housing.

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

Yes, through the schools.

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Expat Life:

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

It's a small expat community, especially after the Covid years. Still, morale is pretty good. I think people expect it to be hard to live here, but are pleasantly surprised at how modern it can be.

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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?

There are some good bars and restaurants that expats go to, there's a hash group for running, there are gyms with social groups, and there are a lot of good weekend trips you can take. It's not a typical international city, but there are a lot of interesting places popping up. I like going to the "coffee district" that has a lot of coffee shops and cafes. People hang out in the malls a lot during the winter months.

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

It can be good for all groups, but you need to put yourself out there and find the fun.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

The language barrier makes this difficult, unless you make friends through work.

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

It can be ok, but I don't think there is a good dating scene. The LGBTQ community seems quite small.

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

If you are not Asian, you will stick out here and garner some attention, but I am not aware of people having a negative experience based on their race in Shenyang. Our infant gets a lot of (nice) comments when we go out, but we are often chastised for not putting socks and hats on her, which is annoying. People also feel alarmingly comfortable touching her without our permission.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The Harbin Ice Festival is a must-see, Dandong is a cool weekend trip to gaze at the North Korean border, there's a fast train to Beijing that is only 3 hours. Travel is unique and interesting in this region.

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

See above.

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

No, there's nothing interesting to buy here... Beijing and Shanghai have some decent shopping. You can buy a lot of cheap items from Taobao, so some people get furniture and other items before departing.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

It's super cheap here, we eat lunch out for $2-$3 each day, taxis are a similar price. I love the parks during the summer, they are vibrant and full of life.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

It's a lot harder to live here compared to Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou because it's not international. I wish I didn't compare it to the other big cities as much.

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

I'm not sure.

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

foreign credit cards and cash.

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4. But don't forget your:

excellent quality winter boots and long winter coat.

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

Peter Hessler books are great (River Town, Oracle Bones, Country Driving).

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