The Year of the Rabbit: Canadian moves to Shanghai, China.


-Where were you born?

I was born in New Westminster, BC Canada. It’s now incorporated within the Metro Vancouver area up in the Pacific Northwest on the West Coast of North America.

-In which country and city are you living now?

I live in Shanghai, China. It’s roughly 18 million people and considered world class city by the leading expats.

-Are you living alone or with your family?

I live with friends at the moment.

-How long have you been living in China?

Just relocated to Shanghai from the West Coast of Canada about a week ago, but have lived as an expat in Japan for over 12 years.

-When did you come up with the idea of living in China?

I chose to move to China because of my previous living experience in Japan. I had always wanted to use my skills that I had developed in Japan but at little use for them in my previous career working the oil patch in Canada.

After spending 7 years in Canada and long time friend that I met in Japan had kept in contact with invited me to work with him in Shanghai. So, I packed everything up and went on a 2000 km road trip back to my home province, spent Christmas with my family and left for China.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?

Not at all. If you have the right paperwork (supplied by your employer) and prepared to wait, it’s pretty routine. It is not that difficult to arrive on a tourist visa (make sure you get a multiple entry) in order to change to a suitable working visa in Hong Kong which is not far.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?

Most employers will provide reasonably comprehensive medical coverage as part of a standard contract – I got travel insurance before I left and made sure that I could “top it up” in regards to paying for here in China to keep it active while abroad.

-How do you make your living in China?

I’m location independent and work on several online based businesses.

Unless you are like me having a business already established, you will most likely be looking to teach English.  There are a number of good sites that list English teaching jobs in China. It’s a good idea to be wary at first as there are a lot of cheats. The most important thing is to find out an English school’s reputation.

-Do you speak Chinese and do you think it’s important to speak the local language?

I’m learning, Mandarin (putonghua) and being able to speak it is a huge asset. I know that from my experience in Japan and made sure to be fully functioning to live properly. Otherwise, you are just completely off-limits to society here and need someone to baby sit you when you are getting around.

Being able to speak the language here not only brings you closer to the people,
but it provides you insight into local customs and promotes better cultural understanding.

-Do you miss your country sometimes?

Things like skype, msn or gmail phone, make it fairly easy to keep in touch.

Where do you like to do in Shanghai?

Of course their are lots of historic (the French Concession) and natural areas to keep me busy as well as develop my interests – namely learning Chinese and photography/digital design.

-Do you have other plans for the future?

As mentioned, I’ll be getting married in the not so distant future. We’re planning a small tropical beach wedding either in Southern China,

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

I currently live in housing provided. It’s a beautiful two-bedroom apartment, and more than suits my needs. I’m not sure what local rental or purchase rates run, but it’s reasonable to assume you can rent a nice two-bedroom apartment in most places in Shanghai for between 4,000 RMB to 5,000 RMB  a month.

-What is the cost of living in China?

The cost of living in China is quite low, provided you live like everyone else lives. If you’re out at the pubs and clubs every night drinking imported beers and living large and eating at high end restaurants, you’ll blow all your money fairly quick.

However, one area where China is very unlike my home in Canada is eating out. Eating at a small restaurant that serves domestic Chinese food will often not cost you much more than cooking the meals yourself ($5 to $10 for two people to eat). A taxis are ride will rarely cost you more than $3 USD and a bus is 30 cents anywhere in the city!.

Big supermarkets like Tesco, Walmart and Carrefour are widespread and offer quality food at a fraction of the cost of Western countries. For an even cheaper, if a bit less hygienic, option – markets selling everything from pets to produce are also easy to find. A basic knowledge of Chinese and local pricing is a must though and another for foreigners. You need to learn how to bargain for things.

-What do you think about the Chinese people?

Generally speaking I would say most locals are friendly and extremely curious about foreigners.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in China?

I’m sure these are different for everyone. Personally, I hate red tape, and China’s cluttered with it. There is a lot of bureaucracy for darn near everything, and it can be stifling at times. Customer service is still a relatively new concept in China, and is bound to improve as the country moves away from State-run enterprises to private business.

Life is generally pretty easy here for foreigners. ESL teachers make a modest (by Western standards) salary,  often making 2-3 times the average local income, and is definitely not working full-time hours to earn it.

It is also an interesting time to be in China. There is lots of talk about China being “on the rise,” and though personally I don’t completely buy the hype, it is still a vibrant time to be in a country that everyone is so interested in talking about.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in China?

Many, and I suggest they visit my site on the subject that is listed below. Basically my only advice is “come with no illusions.” Expats in China constantly joke about newcomers and how they hop off the plane with images of how they feel China should look or act.

The only thing you can bet on is that it won’t be what you expect and you may be surprised to learn that it is a very interesting place to be in Asia as we enter the first decade of the 21st century.


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