Tips While Living in China

Settling in to any new culture takes time and preparation. To make your transition easier, we've compiled a checklist of what you might expect as you prepare to teach in China.

China is known as a place of etiquette and ceremonies. Many proverbs have been passed down from generation to generation such as "civility costs nothing" or "courtesy demands reciprocity," and so on.

Another aspect of Chinese culture that you will undoubtedly encounter is the philosophy of “face” (Mianzi).

Having "face" (Mianzi) means you are viewed by your peers, superiors, and subordinates as one in harmony with the prevailing disposition of society. Simply put, Mianzi can best be understood as the avoidance of embarrassment in front of others.

To avoid unnecessary mistakes and embarrassment during communications, an understanding of Chinese etiquette is essential.

  • When visiting someone, do bring a gift of fruit, flowers, or food. Before bringing alcohol, check to make sure the person will enjoy it. If the recipient does not open your gift, it does not mean that he or she is not interested in it. It is polite to open a gift after the guest leaves.
  • Remember when entering any home in China that you need to take off your shoes.
  • When dining at a home, you will be offered more food. To not disappoint the host, you may accept a little more depending upon how full you are. When you are truly full, be sure to refuse firmly or your host will continue to refill your bowl.
  • Always stand up when being introduced and remain standing throughout the introductions.
  • Use both hands when presenting business cards and be sure the writing faces the person to whom you are presenting your card. Cards should also be received with both hands.
  • The Chinese do not like to be touched, particularly by strangers. Do not hug, back slap, or put an arm around someone's shoulder.
  • Do not bring a clock as a gift.
  • Do not point using the index finger—use an open hand instead.
  • Do not show the soles of your shoes.
  • Do not immediately put a business card in a pocket or bag—this is considered rude.
Applying for your Employment Visa (Z-Visa)

Employment Visa (Z-Visa) is issued to an alien who comes to China for a post or employment and to his or her accompanying family members. Please submit the following documents with your application:

  1. Passport: Your valid passport must have at least six (6) months of remaining validity with at least one blank visa page in it.
  2. Application form: One completed Visa Application Form (Q1)
  3. Photo: One passport photo (black and white or color is acceptable) glued or stapled on the application form

How to apply: You may come to the Visa Office of the Embassy or Consulate General in the consular jurisdiction in which you live to submit the application.

  1. Please make the check or money order payable to the Chinese Embassy.
  2. The processing fee is $130 USD.
Banking/Sending Money Home

Adjusting to a new country and to your new role as a teacher in China can be hard enough, without having to also think about organizing your finances in a very different banking environment.

The Bank of China and CITIC Industrial Bank provide personal banking for foreigners in China, as do the two main foreign banks, HSBC and Standard and Chartered. The main branches of China's other banks may also provide such services, but their banking facilities are likely to be more limited.

To open a savings account, you usually just need to complete a signature card, show your passport as identification, and make the appropriate deposit (varies depending on the bank and type of account).

The banking system in China is slow, and there are some restrictions on the services available. For example, 24 hours notice is needed to withdraw the equivalent of $5,000 USD or more (Bank of China) or $10,000 USD or more (CITIC). It takes several weeks to cash a bank draft drawn on a foreign bank. (This is important to remember when opening your account.)

There are also Bank of America and Chase bank branches in both Shanghai and Beijing.

If you need a cash advance against your credit card, one can be processed at the head branches of Bank of China in most cities with a 4% commission charge.

If you need to wire money or have money wired to you while in China, go through Western Union and its China affiliate, China Courier Service Corp (CCSC). Western Union charges a 5% service fee.

Money/Cost of Living

The official name for the Chinese currency is Renminbi (''people's money''), often abbreviated as RMB. Issued by the People's Bank of China, it is the sole legal tender in China for both Chinese nationals and foreigners. The primary unit of Renminbi is the Yuan, and the other official abbreviation for the currency is CNY (China Yuan). The Yuan is divided into jiao and fen. For current exchange rates visit: http://www.xe.com/ucc/.

Of course, you are probably wondering what you will get for your Yuan's worth. Local cuisine costs much less than food purchased from American chains and restaurants. But getting your daily dose of Starbucks or McDonalds when available is still affordable for teachers in China:

Item Price (RMB)
Starbucks Tall Frappuccino 29
Beer (270ml) 5
Soda (250ml) 4-5
TGI Friday's Burger 100
Big Mac 5
Box Lunch 5
Shampoo Chinese/American 15/200
Cable TV

State-run Chinese Central TV (CCTV), provincial, and municipal stations offer around 2,100 domestic television channels. The availability of non-domestic TV is limited, although selected foreign channels are allowed to transmit via cable in Guangdong province.

China National Radio and China Radio International carry out state-run radio broadcasting. The latter broadcasts in more than 40 languages. The BBC World Service and the Voice of America can be received in China.

Cell Phones

There are several options on the mobile phone front:

The most popular option for English teachers in China is to buy a local sim card. The sim cards are available for a one-time fee of approximately 100 RMB and work as rechargeable cards thereafter; recharge cards being available at 50, 100, 300, and 500 RMB respectively. There are a couple of options when choosing a network for your local sim. However, China Mobile has been the most convenient option for procuring sim cards.

China Mobile

This provider works throughout China, and the sim cards are available at many outlets throughout China including the airport. The price to make a local call on this network is 0.60 RMB per minute. However, the downside to China Mobile is that they also charge a small fee for receiving phone calls. The price for international calls varies depending on the country you are calling.


China has had a personal income tax system since 1980. There are uniform rates for Chinese nationals and for foreigners, but people who live in China for less than a year are only required to pay tax on the income they earn within the country. Any income from elsewhere is tax-free. Foreigners who reside in China for more than a year, but for no more than five years, also have to pay tax on any income that is generated in China.

Different tax rates are levied on various categories of personal income. Progressive tax rates on income start at 5% for monthly income not exceeding 500 RMB, and go up to 45% for income exceeding 100,000 RMB per month.

Under certain conditions, American residents working abroad are entitled to exclusions on foreign-earned income. If you are a U.S. citizen, then the U.S. Embassy can provide you with copies of the "Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens Abroad" and "Overseas Filers of Form 1040,” or you can download these documents from www.irs.gov.

Canadian citizens should refer to: cra-arc.gc.ca/menu-e.html.



Getting around in Beijing is fairly convenient. There is a small subway system that can be convenient when you are close to a station, which is not always the case. Tickets are 2 RMB.


Taking a bus is only 1 RMB but can be confusing at first, especially if you can't read Chinese characters.


The easiest way to get around (but also the least economical) is by taxi. Fares range from 10 RMB for any ride within a few miles or about five minutes to 70 RMB for a 45-minute ride across Beijing. The average taxi fare for getting around the city in a convenient way is about 15 RMB per ride.


We've compiled a partial list of the items to bring with you to China. Remember that the country uses a different type of power (China is on the 220 volt system), so you will need to purchase a converter or buy electronics after you arrive.


Bring enough clothing for summer and winter. Remember China is a very large country and thus has a large range of climates. Smaller cities encourage a more conservative approach to attire whereas cities like Shanghai are developing a more western look. To best determine what you need to bring, review the temperature and weather of the city in which you will be living.


If you are on any prescription medication, including birth control, it's best to bring it with you. You'll be able to get pain relievers or cold medicine, but if you are loyal to a specific brand, you should bring that, too.

Personal Items

Most things are available in China. However, if you prefer certain brands i.e., certain types of toothpaste, make up, hair products, etc. you will want to bring them with you.

Photocopies of Important Documents

If your passport or photo ID gets lost or stolen, it will help to have photocopies to show at the Embassy.

Pictures from Home

While you are teaching English in China, photos will ease homesickness and fascinate your new students, who will no doubt be curious about your family and home country.

Western Food and Spices

If you plan to cook as you would at home, you may have trouble finding western spices. Just be sure to leave any spices you bring with you in their original packaging, or you might have difficulty explaining things to customs.

An Open Mind

If nothing else, leave your expectations at home. You are about to teach English in China and experience a country that is very different from your own, so you'll need to be willing to adapt. When in China, do as the Chinese do.