Among all the reasons that attract travelers to China and Chinese culture, has also emerged the vision of creating a better life, building a future over there.
Over the years spent working in Xiamen, I met hundreds of foreign teachers, businessmen, artists, models. Most of them traveled to China for pleasure or to study Chinese, but in the end decided to stay a little bit more, and then a little bit longer…
If you plan to move to China for a while, you might ask yourself, what is the best place to live in China? A few travel writers in my community had something to say about it. Here’s what they shared about their favorite cities to live in China.
CHENGDU IN SICHUAN PROVINCE – the best city in China for foodies
Chengdu is the birthplace of Viola from The Blessing Bucket. The city has become a compelling destination for foreign travelers and expats. Viola knows many Canadian teachers who went to teach English in Chengdu and ended up staying long-term. As someone who was born and raised in this city, she’s quite proud that it’s finally getting the recognition it deserves. Whenever she returns to Chengdu, she recalls fond memories of growing up there, mostly memories of gulping down delicious street food with her cousin at stalls on the side of the road and visiting tea houses with her parents on the weekends.
Chengdu is famous for being a haven for foodies traveling to China, especially if spicy is your thing: Chengdu is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Ever heard of “Mapo Tofu”, “Hot pot” or “Kung Pao Chicken”? Yep, you will find no better than Chengdu to eat these internationally famous Sichuan dishes. Living in Chengdu means your taste buds will never be unsatisfied. There is also an endless list of cool things to do in and around Chengdu. From nature spots like Qingcheng Mountain to the Giant Panda Breeding Centre, one can never be bored. With a day-trip from Chengdu, you could visit Leshan’s Giant Buddha, a spectacular megalithic sculpture that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For expats, it’s a great thing that Chengdu is developing so fast year by year. As a major economic and cultural hub in China, the city is catering more and more to foreigners, making life here easier to navigate. In spite of its growing popularity, however, Chengdu has retained its old-time laid-back charm that I adore. In the future, I would love to return to Chengdu and live here again. After all, I can’t be parted with the best hot-pot in the world for too long…
XIAMEN IS ONE OF THE MOST LIVEABLE CITIES IN CHINA
Xiamen is one of the main cities in Fujian province, on the southeast coast of China. It is an underrated travel destination, to a fault! Xiamen is located on a big, round, subtropical island connected to mainland China by a bridge, and later it’s population increased and spread off the island.
Xiamen’s weather is warm and sunny 9 months a year. The highlight of the city, which makes it one of the best place to retire in China, is a boardwalk that starts near the West Gate of Xiamen University and covers all the southern part of the island is home to recreational sports, restaurants, gardens, and has access to the cutest shopping districts. Xiamen was one of the ports opened to the Western world when the Chinese Empire was collapsing, therefore is now one of the richest cities in China. The architecture on the tiny Gulangyu Island and of many buildings in Zhongshan Road remembers the colonial past and adds charm to the beautiful southern cities. I worked and studied in Xiamen from 2010 to 2016. Head here to know more of the good reasons to live in Xiamen.
I’ve also created a Xiamen City travel guide for first-timers you might want to check out.
The Terracotta Army near Xi’an
XI’AN IS THE BEST PLACE TO LIVE IN CHINA
Daisy from Beyond My Border has a complex relationship with Xi’an. She moved away from the city right after birth and returned as a student years later. In recent years, she traveled to Xi’an a handful of times as a visitor. Without a doubt, this city should be on anyone’s itinerary when visiting China. There are lots of things to do in Xi’an, which is also the old capital of China. The city has a grand history and numerous famous sites, such as the Bell Tower and the Terracotta Army. Xi’an is also known for its delicious street food and the variety in its cuisine. You can find snacks and treats at every turn of the street.
There are lots of expats in the city, with a magazine the “Xianease” documenting events and gatherings. From international students to those teaching English, Xi’an has become one of the most popular destinations for expats in China. Xi’an is not as expensive as that of Shanghai or Hong Kong but has a great quality of life with fast transportation and a modern lifestyle.
SHANGHAI IS STILL CONSIDERED ONE OF THE BEST PLACES TO LIVE IN CHINA
Angela from Chasing the Unexpected lived in Shanghai for a year and absolutely loved it. She learned Chinese at East China Normal University and had a fantastic experience. She admits that her first introduction to life in China has been a bit of a cultural shock. Not only she couldn’t speak nor understand a word of Chinese, but she couldn’t even get the pronunciation right when she tried to look up words in the dictionary. Thankfully, she didn’t give up. With time, locals started appreciating that she was making the effort to learn their language! This is definitely the basic tip she wants to share with anyone moving to China: study some basics of the local language and things will be much easier and pleasant.
Shanghai is a very organized city, and even though taxis are not expensive, using public transport is very convenient. The metro is widespread and reaches just about everywhere you will need to go, and so is the bus network. As soon as you arrive, don’t forget to register with the Police. If you are staying at a hotel, they will do this for you, but if you are moving to Shanghai and have already found a flat, you need to do it yourself. They will give you a temporary residence permit that you will have to extend once you have the visa you are in Shanghai for, be it work or study. If you are still looking for a house, check out the different districts first. While areas around the French Concession, the Bund, or Xintiandi are very trendy, they can be pretty crowded and expensive. I lived near Hong Mei Lu and absolutely loved it. It’s close to the metro, several restaurants, shops, and the Pearl City shopping center. This guide on things to do in Shanghai might be helpful.
Beijing’s Temple of Heaven[/caption]
BEIJING ISN’T THE BEST CITY TO LIVE IN CHINA
QINGYUAN IN GUANGDONG PROVINCE
If someone looks for “best cities in China”, the first places that usually come in mind are Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. But there are many other, smaller cities, located “in the shadow” of the famous ones, that many people don’t know. One of them is Qingyuan, a middle-sized city, located in Guangdong province. Krasen came to China from Bulgaria and discovered Qingyuan when he met his travel mate and spouse since it’s her hometown.
There are two things that make it really worth living there. First is its location: “in the middle” of Guangdong province, a real delight for those who like the urban hubs like Guangzhou and all other cities of the giant Pearl River delta, which are very close by. And Qingyuan itself also offers enough urban experience. Instead, for those who like nature, they can enjoy wild mountains, deep forests, remote villages, karst hills, rivers, and caves. Qingyuan is also much free of industry and pollution.
All these features make the city a really nice city for living and a great starting point for trips around the south part of China. To read further, have a look at this Qingyuan guide.
SHENZHEN IN GUANGDONG PROVINCE
Shenzhen is an ultra-modern, fast-paced metropolis in Mainland China that borders Hong Kong. It is surrounded by a pretty coastline and has a few nice beaches nearby. Although the city itself is only forty years old, it has the fifth strongest economy in Asia. Shenzhen is also home to Ten Cent, maker of China’s most widely used social media app WeChat, and Huawei, one of the world’s largest smartphone makers. These are only a few of the many interesting facts about Shenzhen.
Brittany is from California, USA. Together with her brother, she moved to Shenzhen in 2012, to improve their Chinese. Although at times she experienced culture shock and periods of homesickness, she found it very easy to adapt to life in Shenzhen. Other than Shenzhen, she also spent time in Zhuhai and Taipei. But she prefers living in Shenzhen.
Firstly, Shenzhen is next to Hong Kong so on days she wants to take a break and experience a more western atmosphere, she can easily visit Hong Kong. Moreover, compared to other cities in China, Shenzhen is very foreign-friendly. It’s easy to find imported foods and foreign restaurants. Also, western toilets can be found in many businesses. In addition, pollution is a lot less in Shenzhen than in other cities and there are many blue skies throughout the year.
To learn more about some of the things to see and do here, check out her article about Shenzhen city.