Moving to China is a big step for many people. There are many cultural differences between China and the rest of the world. If you’re thinking of making it your home base, read up on the country and see if it’s the right place for you!

Before moving to China, we knew little about the country, the people and general life there. There was something almost every day that surprised us; whether it was the terrible Beijing pollution, getting splattered by bits of cow being hacked up in the supermarket or a taxi ride lasting FOREVER but still only costing £4.

We’re by no means China professionals – we have barely begun to scratch the surface of discovering the country’s beautiful temples, parks and historical streets. There’s a lot we wish we had known before we came – not that we wish we had been put off, but because it’s just nice to be prepared!!

Read More: 8 Reasons Why You Should Move To Beijing

10 Things To Know Before Moving To China

For a lot of people, China is a bit of an enigma. Not many people know much about the country, despite it being the most populated in the world. China has so much to offer and has drawn us back so much that this is our third year living here.

Don’t get me wrong, before we moved we didn’t have a clue what to expect and were actually really nervous. The big barrier is obviously the language and not even being able to read menus because Chinese characters = wtf. 

Big Pants CCTV Building Beijing
Big Pants is pretty impressive!

We quickly accustomed ourselves to life in Beijing though, and we’re desperate for everyone else to realise what it’s really like here. I can almost guarantee that most of your perceptions of this huge country aren’t right, and you’ll be surprised about how similar our lives in China are to back home.

1. The Food Is Not What You’re Expecting!

I am a BIG Chinese takeaway fan. Chinese-style pork, egg fried rice, beef chow mein, prawn crackers, sweet and sour chicken balls… I had always been told that real Chinese food was nothing like what we were used to at home, but that it was much better.

When we first arrived, we were actually disappointed with the Chinese food we were being served.

To start with, a lot of the meals they serve in restaurants involve some sort of internal body part, and that freaks me out. I managed to try some chicken heart and sheep tendon but I was very drunk and would not do it again!

Lamb meat in boiling stock
we genuinely thought this was dinosaur

However, the more we explored, and the more locals we met, the better the food became! We found some amazing small local restaurants, who serve huge delicious meals, including my favourite cumin-flavoured BBQ lamb skewers!

Don’t give up when you first move to China – the good food is there but you have to know where to find it, what to ask for and how much to pay for it!

There is something called stinky tofu which I wouldn’t personally recommend based on the stench but some people think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread!

Read More: 7 Authentic Chinese Dishes You’ll Love

2. You Will Not Die If You Use A Tuk-Tuk

This may only be partially true. We filmed our first journey sat in the back of this tiny home-made taxi. And we thought we were going to die.

However, despite the crazy driving of everyone in Beijing, we’ve didn’t fall out of the side once or get hit by a car so we think we did pretty well.

A lot of the foreign teachers we worked with talked about their huge fears using one, but we used them all the time and don’t think twice about it. You can even pay for your journey using WeChat!

A small red 3 wheeled vehicle used for taxiing people around
pretty fancy ride home

They’re cheap, quick and fun – sometimes it’s just interesting being in the various styles. Some only have a wind shield, some have doors. Some don’t have indicators, others have a reverse gear. It’s luck of the draw when we jump in, but for 60p a journey who cares!

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3. Queuing Doesn’t Happen Often!

We were actually warned about the pushing and shoving before we arrived so we did expect it, especially since we are living in a huge capital city with over 20 million people going around their daily business.

However, we found it bizarre that people will literally push you down the stairs to get on a tube that is CLEARLY TOO FULL, but if they’re already on the platform, people form orderly queues following the instructions on the floor.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a different story when you are getting on or off. People stand in the way of the doors watching videos on their phones without a care in the world whilst people fight for their lives trying to escape the train.

Before moving to Beijing you should know that the subways are very clean and very well maintained
how much nicer is this than London!?

And I have seen others literally bend in half to squeeze into a space that should only fit a very small dog, only for another train to arrive 30 seconds later.

There are also queue lines and fences at bus stops, which are a brilliant idea.

You are never in line for the wrong bus and you’re literally shepherded on one after the other so there aren’t any elbows in your face. Good call, China.

4. There Are A Lot Of Rich Areas

Somewhat naively, I always assumed China was a relatively poor country as a whole.

We get a lot of cheap clothes and goods from there, and the stories in the media can give the impression that China isn’t very well developed.

Obviously it’s a huge country so there are going to be under-privileged villages, but Beijing is home to many many rich people. The city is full of posh shopping centres and flash car garages.

Read More: How To Send Money Home From China Without Insanely High Fees

In some areas, food and drink can be more expensive than London, but these places aren’t just catering for ex-pats.

Very high end fashion label shops in Beijing
Beijing can be posh too!

The business district is teeming with young professionals who were lucky enough to have been brought up in the centre, which has boomed in the last 20 years.

Of course, there are two sides to every city and a lot of people are very poor, but it’s definitely not what I was expecting.

Don’t get me wrong, the cost of living can be very low in Beijing if you need to stick to a sensible budget – but that’s the beauty of it. You can buy lunch for 20RMB, dinner for 200RMB and wine for 2000RMB if you really wanted to!

5. Schoolchildren In China Are Not Particularly Well-Behaved

This is something I definitely wish I had known before arriving to teach English in China.

All over the internet, there are people talking about how perfect the children are because their Chinese teachers are so strict. I have seen some teachers go so absolutely ballistic that I’ve been scared, as well as a few slaps and kicks here and there.

The latter does anger me, regardless of how shitty the kids are behaving, but I know there’s nothing I can do to change the way the teachers discipline their classes.

The punishments seem to do nothing though because some of these kids relentlessly talk (and not only in my class, which I was worried about in the beginning) and fight in the middle of a lesson.

The only time I was actually shocked about how quiet and lovely this particular class were being was when I put on some Christmas music and they started singing along as they drew Christmas trees – so cute!

Read More: A Typical Day In The Life Of An ESL Teacher

A classroom full of chinese pupils
my cutie pies

I personally feel that they need less time at school and more time to enjoy being a child – they sit in their classes at lunchtime to eat for about half an hour and then it’s straight back into lessons.

They do their army-like exercises in the morning but that’s the only time they’re outside, and even then it’s not free play. I think in England sometimes we are a bit too lenient on the kids, but I think China is far too strict. Where’s the balance, people?!

6. Kids Sometimes Poo In The Street!

Ok, not 100% true – it’s only really young children; I don’t see kids from school whacking down their pants in the middle of a path.

However, poo is still poo and it’s yuck, whatever age you are. You’re likely to see children being dangled over a public bin whilst they poop – nappies aren’t a popular concept in China.

Just ignore it and soon you’ll be used to it!

7. Don’t Wait Until You Get To China To Buy A VPN

Also be bloody grateful for normal internet!

Signing into Facebook immediately without having to log in via Seattle or somewhere I’ve never even been is a luxury you’ll miss!

We thought it would be best to settle in China first and then research VPNs but this was a bad, bad idea.

China’s government has obviously blocked certain websites for a reason and to prevent people from going on these websites they also block the VPN sites. Duh, of course they bloody do.

An internet provider page saying that it could not connect
the dreaded web page without a VPN!

This was something that we did not foresee and it made signing up really hard. Eventually we found that ExpressVPN worked so got the free trial – it was shockingly bad for us but it allowed us to then look at other options.

We now use Surfshark and have had no problems!

Read More: Download These 17 Incredibly Useful Apps For China

8. Stick Two Fingers Up To Royal Mail

If I order something online from Amazon back home, I can usually expect it within 3 – 5 working days.

A line of delivery tuk tuks in Beijing
super duper delivery drivers

That’s an acceptable amount of time for the order to go through, the warehouse to sort the order, the delivery lorry to fight the M25 and knock on my door, right??

WRONG!! In China you can order something at 12pm and it can be in your hands at 3pm THE SAME DAY.

9. Learn How To Count To 10 On One Hand

This is actually pretty cool. Obviously learning the names of the numbers would be helpful too but actions are easier to remember.

1 – 5 are just those fingers held up. We would normally use our thumbs to count 1 but in China you start with your forefinger, and the thumb comes when you want to show 5.

6 – Thumb and baby finger up, the rest folded down. It’s the sign we do when we pretend we’re on the phone.

7 – First and second finger touching your thumb, the rest folded down.

8 – Thumb up, forefinger out, the rest folded down. Imagine you’re a 90’s kids giving someone an incredibly cool ‘hey!’

9 – All fingers folded down apart from the forefinger, which makes a hooked sign. You’re almost making the number 9 with your finger.

10 – Cross your forefinger and middle finger. Sometimes people will use two hands and make a cross with their two forefingers but that defeats the object in my eyes!

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10. A Bank Holiday Is Not A Free Day Off!

A very annoying way to find this out is to enjoy National Day at home and then be told to come into work on the following Saturday.

I don’t understand it at all – what’s the point of being forced to take a holiday when you have to make it up on a weekend which breaks up your consecutive time off?

Two people in lifejackets with and inflatable boat
Beijing makes us happy

The whole of China follows this rule, not just schools, so it’s not as if we are being hard done by. I just think it’s weird – I would rather work a normal week and not have the holiday, cheers.

Read More: A Complete Guide To Teaching English In China

Did you know any of these things about moving to China? Have you experience culture shock anywhere in the world too? Let us know in the comments below!