Shenzhen, China Report of what it's like to live there
Personal Experiences from Shenzhen, China
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. I previously lived in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hong Kong and London.
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?
Florida. The trip takes about 20 hours, flying to Hong Kong via Atlanta and Seattle.
3. How long have you lived here?
June 2012 to March 2014.
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?
Most expats choose to live in apartment complexes that are considered nice by local standards. Single-family homes are exceedingly rare in Chinese cities. Shenzhen's urban area is quite spread out. The biggest cluster of expats is probably still in Shekou, on the far west, but the location is inconvenient if you work in the CBD or Luohu.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There are good supermarkets (including Walmart), but you will need to be somewhat flexible in terms of brands and the availability of products.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Vitamins. Underwear. Casual wear (unless you're quite thin).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonald's, Burger King, KFC and Subway have outlets. There are decent Chinese and international restaurants. On average, for a good meal, expect to pay about RMB 100 per person.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Roaches. Take extra precautions, as you may need to compensate for your neighbors' unhygienic practices.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I've never had a bad experience with China Post. Just make sure that the English address you give out is clear enough.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Inexpensive, but try by all means to get a referral.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. I used to go to a gym called Dream, near King Glory Plaza in Guomao.
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?
If you have a Chinese credit or debit card you should be okay at most places, but you may encounter issues with foreign-issued cards. And some smaller places will not take credit cards are all. ATM are plentiful, but do not assume that your foreign ATM card will always work. If you find a bank that takes your card, make a note of it.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is a Catholic church next to Shen Guo Tou mall, and I believe they have an English mass.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can survive without speaking Mandarin, but your quality of life will be greatly enhanced in proportion to how much of it you do speak. Language classes are a very wise investment, especially if you plan to stay for the medium- or long-term. Get started as soon as possible.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. It's hard to get around without taking taxis at least sometimes.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Safe and very affordable.
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?
If you can, try to go to a service center with a Chinese speaker, to make sure you get the best plan for your needs. The China Mobile center in Shekou (near Sea World) was quite orderly when I went there, but the one near Book City in Luohu was not.
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?
Other than teaching English, opportunities are limited for expats.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Suits are rare. Most male office workers wear slacks and dress shirts, with short sleeves quite accepted. Jeans and/or casual shirts may be okay in some workplaces. Outside the office, people are quite casual, but at some of the more upscale establishments you may feel out of place in shorts.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
As long as you don't make yourself an easy mark for pickpockets and petty thieves, you should be alright. Violent crime is rare in China, especially against foreigners.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Personally, I tried to take care of all of my health care needs in Hong Kong, and fortunately never had an emergency. There are international clinics, often staffed by foreign doctors, though.
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, but still a better than in other major Chinese cities.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Brutal, humid summers. It starts getting nice in September, and then it's okay until April or so. Winter is pleasant for the most part, but there will probably be some cold, damp days (below 10 Celsius/50 Fahrenheit).
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are international schools, including an American school.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community is large, and morale is generally high, except for the occasional griping.
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?
Shenzhen's nightlife is quite vibrant. For expats the main bar areas are Coco Park and Sea World. There are many restaurants that are good and fun for group dinners.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's a good city for single men, especially those who speak some Mandarin. No major issues for couples, but couples where the man is foreign-looking and the female is Chinese or Chinese-looking will get the occasional dirty look. For single women looking to date, the situation may be challenging.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Expats will encounter prejudice from some locals on a somewhat regular basis. Usually it won't go beyond someone saying "hello!" in a mocking voice, or calling them "laowai", but cumulatively it can become an irritant. Blacks can expect added prejudice.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Sleeping in a yurt on the shores of Lake Karakul in Xinjiang. Visiting world-class attractions such as the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army in Xi'an. Traveling to nearby countries such as Japan.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Living in Shenzhen, you have access to all of the good things that nearby Hong Kong has to offer, including better hiking, beaches and cultural attractions. Although it is not exactly hidden, the artsy OCT-Loft area feels like it is a world apart from the rest of the city.
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
China is an exciting and interesting place. Shenzhen probably offers the most comfortable living experience in China for an expat.
8. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Heavy winter gear, though it will come in handy if you need to travel up north to Shanghai or Beijing.
3. But don't forget your:
Casual wear. There is plenty for sale, but you may not find larger sizes.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Train to Lo Wu (Jess Row). A short story, in a collection of short stories that has the same name.
5. Do you have any other comments?
The benefits of Hong Kong's proximity (and to a lesser extent, Macau's) cannot be overstated. Hong Kong airport is about two hours away (factoring in the border crossing), with flights to cities all over the world. You can pop over for shopping (especially food items and books not available in China), or just to get a break from sometimes-challenging China.
Overall, this is a great place to have an initial China experience. After some time in the city you will be in a much better position to determine whether you are ready to go deeper into China.