Departure to Beijing

Preparing for your move to Beijing

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Preparing to go abroad includes securing important documents, making copies, and a lot of planning. Ideally, you should make 3 copies of your passport, visas, and other important paperwork. Keep one with you, one in an accessible, but safe place (ie safe deposit box), and one that is with a trusted relative of friend that can give you the information if something were to happen to you or the other copies.

    A checklist of other things to consider:
  1. Passports: check expiration- must not expire within 6 months of your arrival. Make at least 2 copies and keep one in a safe place separate from your original passport.
  2. Secure medical insurance and possibly travel insurance to prevent unmanageable medical bills and enable entry into other countries.
  3. Research and apply for a Visa. This can take several months to obtain before you leave.
  4. Save enough money to support your cost of living and lifestyle plus travel costs with enough of a buffer to be prepared for the unexpected.
  5. Bring things to facilitate transition like a universal electric plug adaptor, any medications you take, or anything else to make you comfortable during the transition.


On the home front, make sure all bills are paid or have a means of being paid. If you are retaining a residence while abroad, make sure the rent/mortgage is taken care of and that utilities are being paid while you are away. Insure that important institutions like your bank are able to reach you.

If you are retaining a bank in your home country, ask about fees for overseas transactions. If you have a credit card, find out if there are additional fees or any changes you need to make with your account. Inform banking industries that you will abroad so as to not arouse suspicious activity on your account as anti-theft systems can see this activity and put a most inconvenient hold on your account.


It is best to inform tax offices of any change in residency. Some countries have reciprocal tax agreements, and others may require you to pay some form of taxes both in your home country and aboard. Most National Tax Administrations are an excellent resource for exactly what steps to take when moving away. For more information, refer to our section on taxes.

For example, UK nationals should refer to the HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for details of managing their taxation payments and National Insurance contributions in the UK if they are living and working in Beijing.

Research Cultural Differences

Some behaviors that are quite normal in China, may be somewhat jarring for foreigners. The more you know about the differences and the better prepared you and your family are, the easier the transition.

Spitting: This behavior is extremely common. In the street, shops, supermarkets, hotel lobbies, hallways, restaurants, on buses and even in hospitals. Traditional Chinese medical thought believes it is unhealthy to swallow phlegm. Spitting has declined in more developed urban areas and since the SARS epidemic of 2002, but can still be observed frequently.

Smoking: People can smoke almost anywhere with the "no smoking signs" rarely followed. Very recently smoking has been banned on buses, the future will show how successful this new ordinance will be. Some restaurants in Beijing now forbid smoking. Western restaurants more frequently enforce the ban.

Identified as an Outsider: Anyone who does not look Chinese will hear calls of "hello" or "laowai" commonly. Laowai means "old (and thus respected) outsider". Heard mostly outside of the large cities, these calls will come from just about anyone, of any age. , and are even more likely from the very young and can occur many times in any given day.

Staring: This can be quite disconcerting. It is usually simply curiosity. Blond hair is especially attractive and people may want pictures with you. However, people with dark skin may encounter discrimination, but rarely outright violence.

Pushing, shoving, jumping queues/lines: There is not much respect for queues, particularly at train stations. Pick a line that looks like its moving and remain assertive about your spot. Crowding within the line is common and not seen as rude.

Sanitation: Many Chinese do not cover their mouths when they sneeze. The sit-down, western toilet is not common in China. The more common is a squat toilet basically over a hole. Toilet paper is not common so it is advisable to carry your own. Called weishengzhi or mianzhi, it can sometimes be purchased from the money-taker at a public toilet. It can also be bought in bars, restaurants and Internet cafes for 2 RMB. Put used paper in the bucket next to the toilet as poor plumbing can be gummed up by tissue. Soap is also uncommon, so hand sanitizer is helpful. Many hotels have Western toilets and some western establishment such as KFC.

Visiting: A small gift should be taken to a host's home. Also remove your shoes before you enter your host's home. Note that hosts tend to make or order more food than you can eat because it is considered shameful if they can't stuff their guests. If you attempt to finish all food, it means that you're still hungry and may prompt your hosts to order more food. In regards to drink, you are expected to take it or your friends will keep pushing you. Excuses like "I'm allergic to alcohol" is usually better than "I don't feel like drinking".

Criticism: Chinese can be very harsh in criticizing their own culture, government and society. However, it may be unacceptable for criticism from foreigners. The Chinese are immensely proud of their nation's culture, history and economic development, at the same time they are profoundly insecure about the perception of China overseas.


Standards of health are different, not necessarily worse than other Western cultures.

Water should not be drunk from the tap. In hotels potable water is usually provided in a thermos flask in your room. Generally, tap water is safe to drink after boiling. Purified drinking water in bottles is available everywhere, and is quite cheap. Beer, wine and soft drinks are also cheap and safe.

For a longer stay in China, you should receive several vaccinations. Your health-care provider can help you determine what you need. See a health-care provider at least 4–6 weeks before your trip. There are some basic shots and preparation everyone should take.

  • Hepatitis A
  • Typhoid
  • Malaria, Dengue fever (parts of southern China with mosquitoes)

Routine vaccines should also be up-to-date, such as influenza, chicken pox, polio, measles/mumps/rubella (MMR), and diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT).

The SARS outbreak of 2003 was serious at the time, but has since been resolved. The bird flu was also an issue, but avoiding under cooked poultry or eggs should prevent infection. Because of these outbreaks, if you are running a fever or otherwise obviously ill you may face several days quarantine.

For concerns about your health when abroad, the World Health Organization (WHO) publishes International Travel and Health which is revised annually and is available free online. Another excellent resource is MD Travel Health. It provides free, complete travel-health recommendations for every country and is updated daily.

Update 12/05/2011


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