Thinking about Moving to China? Family Fun and Travel

Matt | Family,Traveling | Friday, June 24th, 2011

Continuing on with questions about moving to China, here are a few more of them you might want to ask or answer before you come.

What entertainment is available for children or families?

My first reaction to this question was I’m not really sure as I arrived in Beijing a single guy and left a happily married man. The more I thought about entertainment for children and families the more my mind centered on expat magazines, such as TheBeijinger, Timeout and CityWeekend, and how the often have sections devoted solely to children and young families.

When you arrive in Beijing you can pick up the expat magazines at most western restaurants and cafes such as Grandma’s Kitchen or The Bookworm. I would recommend you pick up a few of these magazines shortly after you arrive and scan through for anything that looks good. Once you pick an event, you’ll likely meet some expats with kids who can give you better information on what they recommend for children. As there is a strong expat community in the larger cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, with many international schools, there are also a lot of organizations that are family friendly. It took me two years to figure this out, but after I did I quickly found a Saturday morning ball hockey league which led me to ice hockey and I also found many Toastmasters clubs. These magazines are great for connecting you to many interesting and exciting happenings in the large cities.

For example,

If you are planning on moving with a young family this is obviously a much more challenging decision than when I decided to come alone back in 2005. If possible, I recommend you take a trip to China, by yourself or with the entire family, to get a better perspective of what one to two years living overseas may look, feel and taste like before you move your family.

How much would I pay for a personal day tour to several places?

This is a tough question as it depends on what you want to do. The expat magazines have loads of travel excursions that range from reasonable to expensive. Also most hotels, if not all, will have a travel desk where they can book your day trips or future travel plans. To give you a general idea I recommend you pick up a travel guide book, such as Lonely Planet or Fodor’s, as the prices range depending on the type of travel you want to do. Also, be careful as to when the guide was printed as some prices may be higher than the book, but it should give you a general framework to budget with.

Thinking about Moving to China? Taxes & Banking

Matt | Banking in China,Taxes in China | Friday, June 10th, 2011
Continuing on answering the questions a reader posted, thanks again by the way, here are a few more of my thoughts. These are my thoughts and opinions from my experience of living in Beijing for four years.  I hope I can give some insight into the situation although you should continue to do other research.
One of the most important things that I can recommend before moving to China, or to any country, is to do your research.  Make sure you have a good understanding of what you are getting yourself into and are asking as many questions as you can.  Then at some point you will have to make a decision, without knowing how everything will work out.  Finally, if you are flexible enough with “open eyes, an open mind, and an open heart,” you will end up in a better place.
How are income taxes handled in China?
Income taxes in China are deducted from your paycheque every month as source deductions.  From a nice little handout a former employer gave me, here is the breakdown of how income tax works for foreigners.  I received this in 2006 and so things may have changed now, but this should give you an idea and things to think about.  The tax you pay is a sliding scale ranging from 5% to 45%, but generally speaking it is quite low.  I will give you the brackets and then show you an example.
Full-Time Employees
Tax Bracket     Monthly Income     Tax %     Tax Rebates
1                         Up to 400 RMB             5%              0
2                         500-2,000                   10%            25
3                         2,000-5,000                15%            125
4                         5,000-20,000              20%            375
5                         20,000-40,000            25%            1375
6                         40,000-60,000            30%            3375
7                         60,000-80,000            35%            6375
8                         80,000-100,000          40%            10375
9                         100,000+                    45%            15375
  • Foreigners first 4,800 RMB is tax free.
I have given a lot of big numbers, so I will walk through an example of one of my old pay cheques to show that the tax rate we pay is actually quite low.
While working as a PT trainer one month I earned the following
10,782 RMB gross salary
5,982 RMB taxable income
x 20% (this is the only bracket I was in while in China!)
1196.4 taxable income before rebate
-375 tax rebate in this tax bracket
821.4 tax actually deducted from my salary
7.6% (821.4/10,782) actually tax rate for the month
9960.6 RMB amount deposited in my bank.
Overall, I found the tax rate quite low as a full-time foreign worker.  Additionally, you can reduce your taxable income with a Meal Allowance for business purposes, ie restaurant recipes, but no more than 4,000 RMB/month.  I never did this, although you may see a lot of locals getting official receipts at restaurants and from taxis likely to reduce their taxes payable.
Another thing to note is that if you live in China for 5+ years continuously you are classified a Chinese Citizen for tax purposes and you are only entitled to the rate of 1600 RMB not the 4800 RMB for Foreigners.  Therefore, it would be wise to leave China for more than a month (30 days) every 5 years.
Finally, if you are earning in the higher tax brackets it would be wise to talk to a professional, tax accountant and lawyer, to help you understand what your options are.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, I never got to that level.
Would you explain further any online banking and money transfers steps to the USA?
As for banking in China and setting up direct deposits, I wrote an earlier post here about how to do this.  I was able to wire money from my ICBC account to my account in Canada regularly.  Now I wasn’t sending large sums ($500-$1000 CAD/month), but for most people I think this would be the case.  If you want to send back a lot more money, again I suggest to talk with a good banker, lawyer or business owner who is already doing this.  Best of luck.

Chinese Food

Matt | Chinese Culture,Cooking Chinese Food | Friday, May 27th, 2011

Here is a response to a 6th grader concerning food in China.  I thought it was very smart and brave of this student to reach out and ask for this information.  I was glad to provide it, although talking about Chinese food made me extremely hungry..

What is in a typical Chinese daily diet?
A typical Chinese diet involves a lot of rice.  Rice is known as a “main dish”.  It is usually served at the end of a meal to fill up with.  A Chinese person would often say they are not full unless they have a “main dish”.  A main dish could also include bread, but it is usually white rice.
Along with rice, Chinese also eat a lot of vegetables and tofu as well as soups.  Most dishes are stir-fried using garlic, ginger and green onion and then with sauces usually including soy sauce, Chinese vinegar, sesame oil and or peanut oil.
For most meals there would also be a meat or a fish dish included.  These could be cooked in a variety of ways.  Meats are mostly stir-fried with some vegetables mixed in.  Fish is cooked in different ways.  One popular method of cooking fish is boiling it in a spicy water and oil mixture where there are so many peppers that the waiter has to scoop out 2-3 bowls of peppers before you can start eating it.  It is called Shui Zhu Yu and it is very delicious.
Sounds like a lot of food huh?  It usually is.  But it is also delicious.  Another great feature of eating in China is that they use a “shared plate” system: they order many dishes for the table and everyone uses their chopsticks to pick out the food they like.  It’s kind of like a buffet at your own big round table except that you use chopsticks to pick out your own food.
Overall, I think a Chinese diet is quite healthy as they eat a lot of vegetables and tofu as well as eating freshly made food.
What’s the most unique food you have eaten in China?

The most unique food I have eaten would probably be Hot Pot.  Hot Pot is very popular in China especially in the spicy Southwest province of Sichuan (some people in North America spell it the old way, Szechuan).  Picture a big pot filled with spicy water and oil on one half and a chicken soup flavoured water on the other half.  This pot is brought to your table and a burner is placed under it so that it will come to a boil.  In this “hot” pot you put in vegetables, tofu, thinly sliced beef, mutton, as well other interesting things (such as pigs brains! – which I could not eat).  When the vegetables and meats are cooked you reach in with your chopsticks and pull out your food, dip it in a sesame sauce to cool off the spicy flavour and eat it.  Hot pot is delicious especially in the colder Fall and Winter months.
Again, this is a social type of meal and it is fun to eat with a group of 4+ people.  Most Chinese meals are meant to be shared and so eating is very social.  Food is very important to Chinese culture.

What is the oddest thing that you have ever eaten?

The oddest thing I have eaten is tough to say because in China you can eat some very interesting things.  The choices range from the safe dishes I mentioned above (except the pigs brains) to things like silk worms on a stick (like a shish-kebab), rabbit ears in a spicy sauce (also from Sichuan province), to fried scorpions.  I think the fried scorpions were the oddest thing for me as I am a really picky (aka bad) eater.  They tasted like fried chicken bones.  They were small about 1 1/2 inches long and very crunchy.  There wasn’t much taste to them.  Still that was quite odd for me.

What was the most expensive thing you have ever eaten?

The most expensive thing I have ever eaten was probably a lobster dish that was designed like a dragon.  For my wedding in China a friend of my wife’s family treated the families to a delicious meal.  As we were foreigners and since we were in Inner Mongolia which is far from the sea he wanted to show his generosity and so he order this dragon-shaped lobster dish for each of the tables.  This dish cost about 1200 RMB each which is about $200 USD.  There was one of these lobster dragons at each of the three tables.  Unfortunately, most of my family are also picky (aka bad) eaters and we don’t eat a lot of seafood, so we didn’t enjoy the lobster as much as others could have.  Still is was a beautiful dish and a beautiful gesture.

I hope this gives you an idea about Chinese food.  Thank you again for asking.  You’ve reminded me of how delicious Chinese food is and how friendly Chinese people are, unfortunately I am now very hungry :)  Thank you for your questions and good luck with your assignment. Hopefully, one day you will get the chance to go to China and eat real Chinese food.  You will love it.

Thinking About Moving to China? At What Cost?

Matt | Living in China,Working in China | Friday, May 20th, 2011

A reader recently sent me some questions about relocating to China with a family.  I will try to answer his questions and add any other information that I can over the next few posts.

What necessities should we pack, that would be hard to find or too expensive in China?
As for what to bring, I would recommend packing as light as possible.  This would make your future travel/relocation plans easier.  I’m guessing you would like to move overseas for a couple of years.  If so, again I wouldn’t take too much on my first trip over.  Some things that were vital for me were photographs and mementos from home.  These also come in handy in class.  Also if you have things that are unique to your culture or where you live this you may want to bring as it could add great context to your class setting.  My situation was different because I went over to China alone, whereas you will be travelling with your family, but still things that remind you of home can come in handy during the homesick stage of culture shock.
The things that I found difficult to find in China were minor things and or very specific.  For example, I found it difficult to find antiperspirant in China so I would bring an ample supply.  Also, I originally brought over some of my favourite English books.  The selection of books at the English book stores was okay, but I recently discovered that delivered to China and that solved my book issues.  Another specific thing that I brought over was my hockey gear.  This was something that I didn’t bring over until my third year in China.  Most things that you need you can get in China.  Remember they have Wal-Mart and Carrefour where you can buy most things you need. Depending on your size and fashion level, you may want to bring more clothing with you.  I am about 6 ft, 200lbs and I found it challenging to find clothes that fit.  Again, this is a minor thing. Overall, I found life in China refreshing, having less possessions to worry about.
What is the cost of living in China? For a family, I want to be able to travel and sightsee. How much to live comfortably?
This is a tricky question, because it depends.  The cost of living in China depends on how you like to live.  I like to hear that you want to travel and sight see through China, as it has so many beautiful and amazing sights to see.  Plus if you are teaching in China you will likely have some nice holidays off as well.  For cost of living, I will tell you how much I spent monthly, give you some background on this and you can adjust according to your situation.
Matt’s Situation
  • Living in a small bachelor apartment about 40 square meters/ approx 400 square feet (you will need a larger space, but for me it was clean, new and large enough for my needs; plus my goal was a commute that I could walk to my work).
  • Living in Beijing,
  • Monthly Averages
  • Near Central Business District (CBD), one stop south of Guo Mao,
  • CASH IN $2,250 CAD (13,500 RMB) working at Wall Street English as as Foreign Trainer
    CASH OUT $1,750 CAD
    • RENT $500 (3000 RMB) – but you could easily pay double this now depending on the size of your apartment and the recent inflation.  In China you pay rent 3 months at a time.  So first time you pay rent you pay for 4 months, because you have a 1 month deposit.  Then 3 months later you pay again.  So I have evened out the cost above, but you need to plan it out a bit when you are earning it because paying 3 months is a hefty amount at one time.
    • FOOD $650 (4000 RMB) – This is almost embarrassing to admit to spending such a large amount on food.  I ate out a lot and ate  a lot of Western meals.  Western meals will cost the same or more in China as in Canada/ the US.  For example a burger at Grandma’s Kitchen (Beijing) will cost about 65 RMB or $10.  A coffee at Starbucks, which I frequented a bit too often, cost 15 RMB or $2.50 CAD.  Whereas, if you like the Chinese do, eating at home mostly and eating Chinese food when you eat out you could spend a lot less than I did.  A large meal for 4 people in an average Chinese restaurant would cost about 100-200 RMB or $15-$30 CAD.
    • TRAVEL $100 (600 RMB) – I travelled about one weekend trip every month or so.  Travel in China is fairly cheap.  Decent hotels, like Home Inn, cost about 300 RMB ($50) per night.  Flights cost about 1000 RMB ($150 CAD) per person one way.  Travelling by overnight trains is the cheaper way to go where you’d spend 1/3 to 1/2 of that cost.  Overall, travel in China is cheap and highly recommended.
    • BACK TO CANADA $200 (1200 RMB) – I went home each year.  The flight home cost me about $1500 CAD, plus spending cash back home.  That is one negative about earning RMB is that when you go back to Canada/the US you burn through it quickly.  If you stay in China you can live quite comfortably on 10,000 – 15,000 RMB per month income ($1,500 to 2,500 CAD).
    • TAXIS/SUBWAYS $50 – Taxis are relatively cheap in China and I ended up taking them often.
    • SPORTS/HOCKEY $50 – Hockey is expensive, but great fun.
    • HOME PHONE/INTERNET/CELL PHONE/SKYPE $50 – Telephone and unlimited Net access was about $20 per month.  For my cell I used prepaid cards and that cost about $20 per month.  Skype was about $10.  This was all money well spent to stay in touch with family back home.
    • OTHER $150 -Books $40/mo (I was a book-a-holic); massages $30/mo (used to rehab my back and shoulder, but well worth the money).

    SAVINGS $500 CAD (3000 RMB) per month

    Could you breakdown the costs of typical food and services like: Utilities, Internet, Cell Phone, Groceries, transportation?
    Utilities are pretty cheap in China.  It is more of a challenge figuring out how and where to pay it.  For example, hot water I paid at my apartment complex and cost about $6 CAD per month.  You fill up on a card an insert it into the reader under the sink.  Electricity cost me about $11 CAD per month.  This one I could fill up at the bank (and some McDonalds actually!).  After I filled up the card, I would insert it into a reader outside my apartment.  Groceries are very cheap if you eat Chinese food or cook a lot from scratch.  For example chicken breasts cost about 7 RMB per which is just over $1 per breast.  If you are like me and buy imported coffee and cereal it will be similar to western prices.
    That is enough money for one night.
    I’m spent.

    Finding Inspiration

    Matt | Finding Yourself | Friday, May 20th, 2011

    Lately, I have been struggling for inspiration to write on this site.  I’ve been grasping at things to write about.  So I was grateful to see a few readers asking me questions about China.  This cracked a hole in my block.  Thank you for sending in your questions .  I will answer them as best I can over the next few posts.

    Practice Like a Shaolin Monk

    Matt | Goals | Sunday, February 13th, 2011

    Growing up I dreamed of being a kung fu (gong fu) expert.  Kung fu was a magical power that some people seemed to have.  There was a mystical aura to it.  People who knew kung fu seemed able to do just about anything and as a young boy that was what I had wanted.

    Living in China gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream, or a small sliver of that fading vision, by visiting the kung fu experts at the Shaolin Temple in Henan.  There I got the chance to see the unbelievable skill and strength of these Shaolin monks.

    While there, I also had a chance to watch them practice.  I then realized their secret.

    Here it is: Shaolin monks were great because they practiced perfectly.

    • They practiced kung fu 4 hours per day, six days per week
    • They drilled 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon
    • They did this for years with other like-minded individuals
    • They worked with coaches who were experts already

    It was their practice, their perfect work ethic, that made them seem magical.  This was a powerful realization for me because it meant that I could be a Shaolin monk too if and only if I put in the effort.

    Some other ways to achieve any goal (taken from my workout book – Nov. 2007)

    1. Decide what you want
    2. Seek out people who have done it already and ASK them everything you can
    3. Plan for success
    4. Expect challenges (plan for the turbulence)
    5. Do it
    6. Ride out the turbulence
    7. Review and learn from it
    It is unlikely that I will become a kung fu expert or a Shaolin monk, but I know whatever I want to do, effort is the fuel that will get me there.  You can do anything as long as you put the time and effort into it.
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