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Country Facts – China

This information is provided to offer guidance to those seeking to live and work overseas. For more information we recommend that you speak with your national government Foreign Office (or equivalent).

An expatriate’s guide to China

Home to more than 1.3 billion people, China is the world’s most populous country and one of the largest in terms of size. Geographically, it spans five time zones, although the entire country is officially eight hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

China is a beautiful country with an intriguing history and expatriates who are relocating abroad in order to live and work there should be sure to take time to see and experience some of the cultural hotspots – like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.

Of course, it’s also important to learn all you can about life in China, as it can be much different from what you are used to.

Local laws and customs

Whether you’re living and working in China, or just there on a visit, all foreign nationals over 16 need to keep their passport with them at all times – police do carry out random checks. Within 24 hours of arrival, you should also register your address with the local Public Security Bureau, although if you’re staying a hotel, this is done for you when you check in.

Public order is strictly enforced in China, so you should avoid being near public demonstrations wherever possible – this is especially true in autonomous regions like Tibet and Xinjiang Uyghur.

If you’re planning to drive while in China, you will need to pass a driving test first.

Visitors to China should also be aware that drugs offences are extremely serious and can carry very strict punishments including, in some cases, the death penalty. Gambling is also illegal in China and you’ll also find that certain websites are blocked throughout the country.

Local language

It’s estimated that around one-fifth of the world’s population speaks some form of Chinese, although there are many varieties of the language – including the three most common, Mandarin, Wu and Cantonese.

Although the various versions of the language are quite different, they are all tonal languages and do share a few common words. Standard Chinese is based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin and is the official language of the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan. It is also one of the four official languages of Singapore.


The healthcare system in China can be difficult to understand, but it is not offered to everyone and does not cover all costs for those who are eligible.

Bigger cities like Beijing and Shanghai have large Western-style hospitals, but in more remote places the care you receive may be significantly different from what you are used to.

In either case, international health insurance is a must for expatriates in China. This will help ensure you get the care you need, without having to worry about the financial implications.

Schooling for kids

Education in China is free of charge – and compulsory – for children aged six to 15. Parents are, however, responsible for covering small costs such as paying for books and school uniforms.

Classes are held five or six days per week, depending on the school. They begin around 7am and end in the late afternoon – 4pm or later.

After the age of 15, kids may continue to high school, but parents will have to pay for this – in rural areas, many children will end their education at this point.


China is known for its strict social etiquette, and it’s important to preserve good manners and courtesy at all times. Handshakes are a common form of greeting – they should be firm but brief – and in most cases a formal body posture and sense of calmness should be maintained.

Gifts are considered a way of showing courtesy and they are given on special occasions. When receiving a gift, it’s customary to refuse the offer two or three times before accepting it, as a way of demonstrating modesty.

Meal times can be difficult to navigate when it comes to etiquette, but here are a few rules to bear in mind: never stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl, avoid pointing the teapot’s spout at someone, never allow a cup of tea to run dry and finally, as a mark of respect, you should begin eating in order of seniority.


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Of course, if you’re planning on travelling to China please ensure you have adequate expat travel insurance.

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