Is China still a popular expat destination?

30th November 2016
Is China still a popular expat destination?

With high earnings, good prospects for career advancement and strong financial security, China has always been a popular destination for British expats.

However, there has been evidence that its attraction is waning in recent years. A report in the South China Morning Post says that the number of British expatriates in Hong Kong had dropped by 10.64% from June 2015 to June 2016, based on figures from the Immigration Department.

Despite this, the country continues to rank fairly high in Quality of Life surveys, including the Natwest Quality of Life Country Index, which places China third overall in a survey of 2,400 expats. Additionally, in Mercer’s well-regarded 2016 Quality of Living Rankings, many Chinese locations sit mid-table with Hong Kong scoring highest (70), followed by Shanghai (101) and Beijing (118).

The downsides

There are a few possible reasons why the British expat population in China is dwindling. For a start, it is an expensive place to live as housing and general living costs are high. This is especially difficult for those with added children, childcare and education costs which are on par with university tuition fees. International schools are the only option for English-speaking children as China’s public schools teach almost exclusively in Chinese and follow a strict exam-based program.

It can also be more difficult to integrate and settle into the country. The culture is very different, from its government censorship of media, causing a less liberal outlook in comparison to the West. The language barrier can also make it problematic to form relationships outside of the expat community and there are various traditions and business practices that need learning to build professional relationships.

A large portion of the expat community in China are there on temporary contracts, so there is a lot of movement. Often when these contracts come to an end, British workers return home or move away to further progress their career in places like Singapore, which is one of the most popular Eastern locations for expats to choose to relocate to.

Financial advantages

While there may be reasons for some people - particularly those with young families - to decide not to relocate to China, there are still plenty of UK workers making the move East and benefiting hugely in both careers and finances.

China remains popular for those in business due to its growing economy, which offers a range of potential for personal and commercial advancement. There is an ongoing demand for skilled workers and there are good job opportunities across the country, particularly in the financial hubs of Beijing and Shanghai.

Moreover, it rates highly for having more disposable income, large salaries including good wage growth and an increase in savings ability. According to HSBC’s Expat Explorer Survey’s report on the country, over a third of expats (34%) in China say that they moved to the country to improve their job prospects, which compares to around 25% globally. Generous company benefits are also widely reported for the country and buying property can prove a very good investment.

For these reasons, China is likely to remain a popular expat destination for the right people, particularly if career progression is high on the agenda.

Information correct at the time of publication.

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