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China’s top cities for expats

China is a huge country, and most expats tend to live in the areas where they have the most business opportunities.

Some professions, including teachers, may live further out in the provinces, but in general, most expats tend to make their lives in China's main cities. China is as famous for its colourful history as well as its recent economic growth, and most Chinese cities combine the very old with the very new.

Beijing

Mercer’s Cost of Living Index ranking: 10 in Asia

Home to 52 Fortune 500 companies, and 98 of China's largest corporations, Beijing is where most expats tend to live and work. Not only is Beijing China's capital city its also the diplomatic, cultural and political hub for the whole country. The city recorded a population of 11.51 million, at the most recent census in 2000. Even though many companies may have manufacturing premises elsewhere, they will retain an office in Beijing to deal with government bureaucracy directly.

Climate

Summers are humid and hot. Most of the rain occurs from June – July. The hottest month is July with temperatures reaching 26 C. Winters are cold with temperatures in January as low as –4C. But, both spring and autumn are pleasant, though there can be sandstorms in the spring and the autumn temperatures can be changeable.

Air pollution

Locals and expats alike all complain about the air pollution in Beijing — as a result of this, dust permeates the city’s whole atmosphere. Beijing is China’s 13th most polluted city. You can buy an app that will advise you about the quality of the air, but if you have to leave the house to go to work, this won't help you. An air purifier for the home and the office is recommended.

Employment

The main area for the scientific and technological industries is the suburb of Yizhuang, as it's the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Area (BDA). The university area of Heidian is also known as China's ‘Silicon Valley,' and this is where both Microsoft and Google are based. The Zhongguancun Science Park is also known as ‘Electronics Avenue,' as it's the largest of all of China's 100 science parks and attracts many expat workers.

The banking sector also draws in many expats, and even though China’s stock exchange is based in Shenzhen and Shanghai, many of the world’s leading banks have branches in Beijing, including J.P.Morgan and Goldman Sachs.

The large numbers of international schools throughout the city also make Beijing an attractive proposition for the many expat teachers that live in the city.

Property costs

  • Monthly rent for a furnished 900 sq. ft. property costs £1,562 in an expensive area
  • Monthly rent for furnished 900 sq. ft. property costs £942 in a cheaper area
  • Monthly rent for a 480 sq. ft. furnished studio flat in an expensive area is £806
  • These figures are correct as at October 2016

Shanghai

Mercer’s Cost of Living Index ranking: 7 in Asia

Situated in eastern China and often rated as China’s most popular city, Shanghai is the busiest container port in the world, and also China’s leading centre for commerce and finance, it has a population of 23,019,418. Rated by Mercer 2016 Quality of Living Standard as 101st in the world, Shanghai attracts many expats.

Climate

Shanghai is considered to have a mild climate. In winter the temperatures only go as low as 4C. The summer months can be hot, July and August are the warmest months, and you can expect temperatures to rise to 28C. Autumn tends to remain warm until November and December when temperatures fall to around 8C.

Air pollution

In common with many other Chinese cities, the quality of the air in Shanghai is poor as a result of pollution. The U.S. consulate publishes a daily record of air pollution readings, and this should help those expats that are prone to chest complaints. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified the pollution in Shanghai to be on the same level as ‘level Group1 human carcinogens' — the same degree as cigarette smoking.

Employment

Shanghai has plenty of job opportunities. From manufacturing to banking many expats make their homes here. Shanghai's main industries include the petrochemical, electronics, chemical and steel industries. There are also plenty of opportunities for teachers. Its position as China's banking centre also means that those in finance and law can expect to find jobs in this city. 300 of the world's leading enterprises have investments in Shanghai's economy.

Property costs

  • 900 sq. ft. furnished accommodation in expensive area, monthly £1,639
  • 900 sq. ft. furnished accommodation in cheaper area, monthly £997
  • 480 sq. ft. furnished studio in expensive area, monthly £979
  • 480 sq. ft. furnished studio in cheaper area, monthly £527
  • All figures correct at October 2016

Tianjin

Mercer’s Cost of Living Index ranking: 20 in Asia

A major port in the north east of China and with a population of 7.5 million, Tianjin was voted China’s third most popular city for expats in a 2013 poll. The city’s architecture still retains some European buildings as a result of concessions granted to settlers in the 19th century, though skyscrapers and other modern architectural features dominate most of the city.

Climate

Winters are very cold in Tianjin, with temperature in January falling to as low as –5C. Spring and autumn are both mild with temperatures remaining at a pleasant 15 C. In summer the temperatures can climb to as high as 31C in July. The wettest months are June, July, and August.

Air pollution

Air pollution is a problem in Tianjin, and in 2015 the city issued its first ‘red alert,’ putting it on a par with Beijing. In a list compiled by Greenpeace, Tianjin ranked 11th in a list of China’s most polluted cities.

Employment

As it's China's largest port Tianjin is an important centre for the logistics industry. Aerospace and car manufacturing are also based here. Tianjin is one of China's centres of mobile phone technology as well as both the pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries. The main international companies with a presence in Tianjin include Toyota, Kraft Foods, Motorola, John Deere and Samsung.

Property costs

  • Rents in Tianjin are cheaper than in Shanghai or Beijing.
  • One bedroom flat in city centre £341.95
  • One bedroom flat outside centre £ 194.29
  • Three Bedroom flat in city centre £ 850.99
  • Three bedroom flat outside city centre £ 466.29
  • Prices are correct for November 2016

Guangzhou

Mercer’s Cost of Living Index ranking: 18 in Asia

Guangzhou is the largest city in China's Guangdong Province and lies in the south-east of the country. Known to Westerners as Canton in the past, this vibrant metropolis is still a popular destination for expats. Not only is Guangzhou a port, but it's also a centre of economic development and offers plenty of opportunity to its 8.525 million inhabitants. Guangzhou is also renowned for its cultural activities and its contemporary architecture.

Climate

The weather in Guangzhou is mainly mild and humid throughout the year. There is no clear division in between the seasons. The warmest months are in June, July, and, August when average temperatures can reach 90C, these months are also the wettest as Guangzhou does have a monsoon season. In the winter temperatures will only drop to an average of 5C.

Air pollution

Compared with Beijing and Shanghai, Guangzhou ranks 55 on the Greenpeace list of Chinese polluted cities. But, air pollution is still bad in the city. Air Quality Index readings are generally between 100 – 150, this puts it in the ‘unhealthy’ range.’

Employment

Car manufacture is one of the major industries in Guangzhou, as well as logistics. Toyota and Nissan both have branches here. The city's electronics industry is growing, especially in the high-end market, and, Panasonic, Sony and Ericsson have all invested in the city. There are numerous schools, universities and other educational establishments throughout the city and these frequently advertise vacancies for expats.  Other international investors in the city include Hitachi, Nestle, Siemens and Pepsi.

Property costs

  • One bedroom flat, city centre, monthly rental £536.00
  • One bedroom flat outside centre, monthly rental £ 302.55
  • Three bedroom flat centre, monthly rental £ 947.16
  • Three bedroom flat outside centre, monthly rental £ 551.28
  • Figures correct for November 2016

Shenzhen

Mercer's Cost of Living Index ranking: 12 on Asia

Situated in the south-eastern tip of China, and linking Hong Kong to the mainland, Shenzhen rates as China's fifth most popular city for expats. The city is located on the shores of the Pearl River, and has come to prominence as China's most ‘successful Special Economic Zone.' The city has a population of 7.009 million and is popular among expats for its cosmopolitan atmosphere and its contemporary amenities.

Climate

Shenzhen's climate is sub-tropical, though from July to September the city is affected by typhoons. Winters are mild with temperatures remaining a pleasant 59 – 61C. The summer months can become very hot, and temperatures in June, July, and August can climb to 84C.

Air pollution

Compared to other cities in China, the quality of the air in Shenzhen is good. Greenpeace gives it a ranking of 66 out of 74 cities surveyed across the country. And, air pollution in Shenzhen is frequently rated as ‘moderate,’ and scores between 51-100 on the Air Quality Index.

Employment

Thanks to its economic success, the city has a wealth of opportunities for employment and investment. Its principal industries are computer software, pharmaceuticals, microelectronics, biotechnology and telecommunications. The city is also recognised as a financial hub as well as a key centre for commerce and retail, and the city is still growing.

Property

  • One bedroom flat in centre, monthly rental £678.81
  • One bedroom flat outside centre, monthly rental £391.91
  • Three bedroom flat in centre, monthly rental £ 1,626.20
  • Three bedroom flat outside centre, monthly rental £ 854.79
  • All prices correct for November 2016

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