My slightly different tips for living in China (Part 1)

There’s a plethora of tips available online for foreigners who want to study and work in China. Fortunately, many of them are similar, which at least provides a virtual comfort blanket that many people are undergoing the same stresses as you are, or even better, have undergone them for you beforehand.

However, it can get a little repetitive hearing the same careful-watch-out-for-pollution and don’t-forget-the-meter-in-the-taxi urban fables, so I decided to rummage through my often unreliable memory and filter out some slightly different tips for those who are already clued up on the basics. Before anyone takes umbrage to my bold attempt to be ‘hip’ and ‘different’ I can definitely assure you this collection of tips is nowhere to be found on the internet. At least definitely not in this order.


Anyway. It should be mentioned that those who know best about living in China are of course Chinese citizens themselves, however there are a few challenges reserved for those of us who have relocated to the Middle Kingdom (minus one point for use of ‘Middle Kingdom’ cliche).

1. Put a tenner on your Skype account.

Amongst visa processing fees and the hassle of finding change for the photo booth, topping up your Skype account seems like an unnecessary expense. However, it’s saved my bacon on several occasions where a Chinese SIM card just won’t do. For example, one cold February afternoon in Beijing I tried to buy something online with my British bank card – you guessed it, my card was as blocked as an old toothpaste nozzle. Fortunately, I had some money on my Skype account to make the several arduous international calls to my bank’s helpline in order to resolve the matter. Frustrating? Incredibly. Impossible? No.

2. Find someone you trust.

If you have someone close to you whom you trust absolutely and wholly, I was told by my bank that it may be worth allowing them access to your home country’s bank account.


Before you start recoiling in horror, I am NOT recommending sharing bank details with that friend who you can’t avoid in the street because they’ve seen you already and oh no they’re making their way over to me. This is merely my experience. Your bank account is private and one of the most confidential things you have and you are under zero obligation to share it with anyone, even your cat. With that being said, I requested that my mum be allowed access to my British bank account should there be any emergencies that I couldn’t solve from China, such as changing direct debits or transferring money.

Personally, I would only choose a very close parent or an extremely trusted confidant, as well as discussing options with my bank and researching the steps fully. You will both need to sign papers at the bank but the process is relatively smooth. You can also decide whether you entrust your trustee with a debit card. If you have any reservations whatsoever about sharing your account, even with a close family member, then DON’T DO IT. But seeing as I can’t imagine my mum evading police capture with wadfuls of my pitiful student savings, I was comfortable. Just be mindful that the person will be able to view your statement and transactions, and you should always monitor your home bank account regularly and report any discrepancies immediately. I felt I was suited to this seeing as I only had a small amount in the account and was only keeping it open for practical reasons.


3. Have a few passport photos for emergencies.

Bonus points if you have some visa-size ones too. Whilst in China I have often been confronted with documentation that requires a passport or visa-size photo – everything from my residence permit to an ID that allowed me to swim in the deep end of a local pool (yes). Having photos on hand can reduce a lot of irritation and running around trying to find photo booths.

4. Best of both worlds – WeChat and QQ

WeChat and QQ are the hallmarks of social media and easy communication in China. While most people seem to gravitate towards WeChat, it can be handy to have a QQ account on hand as well. The reason? It often became stressful trying to strike a balance between the professional and the private on WeChat. Although there is a function to block certain users from seeing everything from your cliche Insta-coffees to your weekly-meeting PPTs, I found it easier to reserve my QQ for clients and professional relationships. Here, I also posted language-learning content and homework for my students, keeping all my posts relevant to the environment without the need for my colleagues/students to sift through my filtered holiday snaps.

5. Stock up on beauty essentials

China is a haven for skincare products. Often I feel like I could take care of every molecule of my face using a separate, specialised cream and serum. In the past, I’ve also had a lot of fun trying out different make up tools that you would seldom find in Europe or America, including a pencil specifically designed to draw on aegyo sal (a Korean trend for cute puffy bags under the eyes). However, one area that always left me stumped was lip colours.

China of course caters to its own market, however the trend is currently bright, translucent shades of shocking pink, scarlet and candyfloss, definitely striking a marked difference to Europe’s current love affair with autumnal browns and purples. If you still fancy keeping up with the trends back home, it might be wise to stock up on these lip colours as well as lip liners, otherwise, like me, you might face many a crestfallen walk out of Sephora. Same goes for blonde eyebrow pencils.

Dispelling some old myths:

It is often written and blogged and bemoaned that Chinese supermarket shelves lack some personal toiletries such as deodorant, aerosol hairspray and tampons. While this may have been true a couple of years ago, market tastes have changed and drugstore brands such as Watson’s (which appears on most high streets in first-third tier cities) stock all of them, if a little hidden. While you may have less luck in your local corner shop, I have definitely seen these products in larger internationally-branded stores.

Yes, you can buy chocolate in China. In most shops.

Yes, you can buy cheese in China. Not in most shops.

So that concludes the first instalment of my slightly different tips for living in China. Do you agree with these tips or find them helpful? Let me know via Twitter or in the comment box below. See you next time!






  1. money on the skype account? sturdy advice.
    extra visa size passport photos to carry around all the time? almost essential. but there is always the late night foto shop around the corner.
    wechat and qq – ‘stressful to find a balance between professional and personal life’? what the hell’s that? :). I’ve obviously lived in china too long. I cant tell the difference. Nobody I know acts like there’s a difference. HELP!
    beauty essentials and Watsons – oh, the choices! i bought an AVENE product in italy last vacation for 5 euros – back in China, its over 300 kuai at the local beauty stall in the middle of Walmart….
    tampons and cheese? come on, its not the 90s!
    and you forgot Starbucks! everyone’s haven for coffee, tea, and …. stuff.


  2. YES for the visa – sized photos! I had to get some emergency ones in China, now I have id photos that look like the Barbie version of my face – interesting, but not useful!
    For the tampons, I’d still take my own – I just don’t trust what chemicals are inside the Chinese ones.


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