Tips for new expats living in China
2008-05-12 14:27:14 [ Big Normal Small ]     Comment
BEIJING, May. 12 -- A whopping big salary may not be the main reason for relocating to China, but no matter what your deal, opening a Chinese bank account seems to be a challenge for everybody.

But it "really is a simple process", says Colin Dixon, an Irish expat who has been living in Beijing for three years. "Although the process itself may be simple, indeed the longest part of the process is sitting in the queue."

To open an account, an expat needs a local phone number, a local address, a passport and an application form. A Chinese friend comes in handy because the application form is in Chinese.

"In China, cash is still king," says Dixon. Many expats opt to open local bank accounts so they don't have to pay high transaction fees with an international bank. Also, some of these overseas accounts may not be accepted everywhere.

Dixon advises opening two accounts because most ATMs have a maximum withdrawal of 5,000 yuan (714 U.S. dollars) per day per account.

Having two accounts enables you to double the withdrawal amount, in order to afford those big-ticket items, such as last-minute air tickets and electrical goods.

He also says it is wise to withdraw money from an ATM before major holidays because the machines often run out of cash in the lead up and are not restocked during the holiday period.

Shopping can be another baffling experience. But in China's big cities, newcomers can find whatever they're looking for, according to Irma Bollhalder, a volunteer for Make it Easy in Beijing, a group that meets regularly in the capital to share their experiences.

"First of all, it is important to be friendly, be sure to establish good relationships with the shopkeepers," she says.

"Also don't be overly concerned about the nickels and dimes.

"Shop for the best price but expect that every once and a while you will get ripped off, have a good attitude about it."

Chinese antiques are prize possessions for many expats, who decorate their homes with lovely Middle Kingdom curiosities.

However buying these "must-have" artifacts can cause problems for many first time buyers because most don't realize they need to get a "fake relic certification" from the shopkeeper.

According to Chinese law, a relic certificate is required to export anything pre-1949. There are some pre-1795 items which are not exportable at all.

Age, however, is not the only determining factor. To get a relic certificate, a buyer first needs to have an official relic inspection, which costs 20-30 yuan and then the certificate, which costs 200-300 yuan.

"Be sure to ask the shopkeeper," suggests Bollhalder, who has lived in Beijing for five years.

"Not having a relic certificate is a huge risk. Customs can seize and search a whole shipment if a relic certificate is not in order.

"They aren't professional re-packers so this can get particularly messy."

To receive a relic's inspection, call 6401-4608 or visit the Bureau at Jianguomen.

Employing the services of an ayi (nanny) is also popular, however many newbie expats don't know where to begin. Finding an ayi is actually rather easy, according to Bollhalder.

"There are a ton of agencies and expat clubs around, just be sure to do a background check," she says.

This background check may include a trip to the clinic for a health examination, which may sound a bit harsh, but is actually quite common in China.

Bollhalder says it is a good idea to register an ayi for basic emergency first aid course while they are at the health clinic, especially if there are children in your home.

"Maybe you can set them up with some sort of local health insurance," she says. "It isn't necessarily expected, but they really appreciate it."

Be sure to set out the ground rules from day one, according to Bollholder.

Tell them to be flexible but be sure to be clear on what you expect, she says.
"There are certain parts of your expat lifestyle they may not be used to," she says.

"Show them what quality produce you want them to buy, where to take your kids in an emergency, how to use a washer and dryer, maybe buy a bilingual cookbook.

"They will be really grateful for everything that you teach them."

Enrolling your children into a playgroup is another challenge but many big-city expat magazines have advertisements for parents seeking playgroups.

Parents also worry about their teenage children. One good piece of advice is to ensure your teenage children carry a photocopy of their passport in case of some emergency.

There are plenty of sports options for older kids, day and night. "Most schools offer fantastic sports programs," says Bollhalder.

Golf, dancing, soccer, hiking, taichi and kungfu are just a few sports on offer.

Additionally there are Chinese classes, summer camps, religious activities, and every kind of after school activity imaginable.

Health issues are usually always on top of the worry list.

An expats' health and life insurance must be up-to-date, "just for peace of mind", says Bollhalder.

Tips for new expats living in China
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