Let’s face it, moving to China is no piece of cake. Transitions will be made easier by good employers, but in the end, you find yourself on your own in a strange country where you do not know anybody and (probably) do not speak the language. Looking back at my first year here, I would advise everyone considering the move as a “trailing spouse” to ask themselves the following five questions:
What are MY needs?
As an expat wife or partner, it is easy to get caught up in other people’s needs, especially your kids and your partner’s. Moving to China is a great opportunity for his/her career! The children will benefit from being exposed to other cultures! Let’s live close to the school/ the office to minimize commuting time! Don’t get me wrong, these are all good and reasonable thoughts. In the end, you will be the one spending most of the time in the house though. So make sure you like the neighborhood too, not just because it is convenient. Will you have a car and driver (for your partner mostly?), or is it easy to jump on the metro or even bike to get around town? If you had hoped to explore Beijing, take classes in town or work and you find yourself in Shunyi from where the commute into town can take quite some time, you may end up feeling frustrated, unless you have made the conscious decision to live there also taking your own needs into account.
Do I want to work?
If you come here on a Z (dependent) visa, you will not have the right to work. Of course, you may find a job and get a work permit. However, do realize that it may not be as easy as you like to find a job if you do not speak Chinese. There are many local, qualified people with decent English nowadays, for whom an employer does not need to go through a work permit procedure. Also, some companies are not allowed to hire foreigners, or only a limited number. Part time jobs are not as common as in e.g. Northern Europe, and you may need to work many hours with few holidays for a pay much lower than what you are used to.
If I want to work, what will I do?
Sorry if the above has discouraged you, that is not my intention. However, it is better to realize beforehand that the days where just being foreign could be a good enough reason to be hired in China, are definitely over. The main career option still seems to be teaching English, but if you don’t like teaching or your English is not that good (or, unfortunately, if you do not look Western), it may be harder to find something. Do research whether you can do the job you did at home in China. In a company here, or discuss with your employer the possibility of freelancing for them at a distance. Could you do consultancy for clients in your home country? If you wish to do something completely different from what you were doing at home, consider what this might be. Starting your own business? In what? Teaching yoga or aerobics? Start a cooking school? Check job sites to see what other jobs attract you. Continue reading