Expat China: Risk, Culture, Working Hours and Language

As an expat moving to a country outside of your own culture, the prospect can be quite daunting.  However if you have information your require on what to expect, a little bit of courage and lots of drive anything is possible.

International cost of livingWhat is the RISK RATING for China?

This is generally LOW, however it is MEDIUM for Non-central districts of cities in the Guangdong province; and the remote border areas of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR)

Crime itself is of a petty nature and poses the main risk, specifically in crowded areas such as markets and train stations, and confidence tricks, ranging from basic tourist scams to more elaborate commercial ones do occur.

Actual violent crime against foreigners is rare, but not unheard of against Ethnic-Chinese visitors, regardless of nationality.

What are the General Cultural Tips you should try to stick to?

1. It is customary to arrive slightly early for social engagements.

2. When dining in a restaurant, it is inappropriate to discuss illness, death or tragic events as it is seen as bad luck.

3. Restaurants usually close by 21.30, therefore expect to eat between 19.00 and 20.00.

4. It is a customary during a meal that conversation should focus on giving compliments to the chef.

5. Food is often eaten with the hands and rice bowls are lifted to the mouth.  Spitting phlegm during meals is common and is an accepted practice not intended to be discourteous.

6. Foreigners will be expected to use chopsticks and asking for a knife and fork may be considered insulting, read the situation before deciding what to do.

7. Superstition is taken seriously.

  •  Four is an unlucky number associated with death. Some people will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid having the digit in their telephone number or address.
  • Eight is a lucky number that is associated with wealth.

8. Do not use exaggerated gestures or facial expressions as the Chinese do not typically use these while speaking, and may find them distracting when used by others.

9. Gift giving is somewhat ritualized and is important.

  • Avoid gifts of great value, as they may embarrass a Chinese person and may be declined.
  • Smaller tokens, such as souvenirs from your country, are seen as expressions of friendship and symbolize hope for success.
  • Red or gold wrapping paper is appropriate, while black and white are colors of mourning.
  • People may often decline a gift several times before accepting it, they are being customarily polite, be persistent until they accept.
  • It is customary to bring a gift when invited to someone’s home such as fruit, candy or a souvenir from your home country.

10. Do not discuss politics as these may be sensitive, e.g. China considers Taiwan as its province and not a country;  avoid criticism of China, its policies or leaders.

11. Photography is not allowed in airports or government buildings.

What about Business Cultural Tips?

1. Introductions are usually quite formal, the Chinese traditionally nod or bow slightly when greeting, however handshaking is also common and appropriate.

2. If greeted by the somewhat uncommon custom of applause, the appropriate response is to applaud back.

3. Business Cards:

  • It is advisable to have business cards printed in both English and Chinese as these are usually exchanged upon introductions, have a large supply handy.
  • Read the card you are given carefully before placing it on the table during a meeting.
  • Never write on a business card or put it in your wallet or pocket.
  • Carry a small card case.
  • Do not put cards away until the end of the meeting.

4. Use both hands to both present and receive cards.

5.  Chinese surnames always form the first part of the name, e.g. Hu Jintao is Mr Hu.

6.  Make appointments in advance.

7. Punctuality is very important in China for both business and social engagements.

8. When referring to the nation on formal documents or speeches, it is appropriate to use the full title: The People’s Republic of China.

9. Business dress is conservative:

  • Men should wear a suit and tie.
  • Women should wear either a dress or a skirt and blouse.
  • Avoid low necklines or skirts above the knee.

10. Business is not generally discussed over a meal.

11. If you are invited to a banquet during your stay:

  • These are often extremely lavish, involving many courses and considerable alcohol.
  • Formal meals will often be accompanied by a series of toasts to the call of ‘Gan Bei!’ (Finish your glass!).
  • Foreign guests could be expected to return the toast.
  • It is also polite to invite the host or hostess to a return dinner – preferably in a hotel.
  • If hosting a banquet, pay close attention to the seating plan, which should reflect the hierarchy of the guests’ organisation.

12. Open displays of emotion are frowned upon particularly in business circles:

  • If a foreigner becomes angry, their Chinese counterpart may react by laughing.
  • This has nothing to do with humour or ridicule.
  • It is one way of maintaining self-respect (‘face’).
  • Loss of face can be humiliating.


There are no specific risks for female travellers or businesswomen. However, all women are advised to follow commonsense security precautions such as:

1. Observe and respect local clothing customs.

2. Plan your itineraries bearing in mind risks incurred by women in various modes of transport available in your location; prioritise security in your choice of transport.

3. Do not travel on public transport after dark without a known male companion.

4. Be prepared to ask trusted contacts to accompany you to your car, a taxi or your hotel after dark.

What should you tip in restaurants and hotels?

Tipping is not officially allowed, but is becoming increasingly common. Restaurants and hotels may include a service charge of 10-15% in the bill. Taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped.

Working hours

Working week: Monday to Friday

Government departments, banks and private offices: 09.00-17.00/18.00, though some close between 12.00 and 14.00

The Official Language is : Mandarin, known locally as Putonghua.

It is spoken in business circles even in southern China, where Cantonese is the vernacular. Chinese business people are increasingly learning to speak English, but in many cases, an interpreter is required. English is not widely spoken outside business circles.

Enjoy your stay….

Xpatulator.com provides up-to-date cost of living data for over 700 locations worldwide, employers and employees can calculate how much is needed to earn in another location to have a similar spending power. Steven McManus is a Remuneration and Benefits Consultant and founder of  http://www.xpatulator.com

About Xpatulator

Xpatulator.com is a website that provides international cost of living information and calculators that can help you determine cost of living indexes, cost of living allowances, salary purchasing power and international assignment packages to compensate for cost of living, hardship, and exchange rate differences.
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