My flight from London Heathrow to Shanghai Pu Dong took 11 hours. From there I took a short domestic flight to XiangYang (listed as XiangFan), where I now live. I arrived late in the evening and I was met by my location manager and my foreign manager. It was all unfamiliar to me and I was in a bit of a daze. In this article I give a few suggestions for when you first arrive in China.
Step 1: Your apartment
My foreign manager drove me to my apartment in the dark and I had no idea where I actually lived. The first piece of advice is not to unpack fully. Instead, live out of a suitcase for the first few days. This is in case your language school decides to move you, or in case of a cockroach infestation. It’s also a good idea to take photos of your apartment. This is in case of disputes over fees at the end of your contract.
Step 2: Get your bearings
I didn’t receive the training I was promised in my contract. Instead, I had a full teaching schedule just days after arriving in China. There was no-one to show me around the city and I really struggled. It was a stressful time but I think there are ways to make the transition more bearable. Try to arrive in your city two or three days earlier than expected. This will allow you to explore the city without any immediate commitments.
Step 3: Sign the contract
Your language school may ask you to sign the contract straight-away, but you should wait. Before you sign, make sure you inspect your apartment and insist on the essentials. The essentials for your apartment are (i) hot water for showers, and (ii) a fast, wireless internet connection. I managed to secure a new wireless router as well as a new water tank when I first moved in, so you should be fine.
Step 4: Buy a SIM card
On my first full day in China my foreign manager took me to get a Chinese SIM card. You may find that your home SIM works well at first, but only if you arrive in a large city like Beijing or Shanghai. If you live in a small city you will definitely need a new one. It took us 10 minutes to buy one. Note that in China you can choose your own phone number (from a number of options). This is because numbers take on extra significance (i.e. there are lucky and unlucky numbers).
Step 5: Set up a bank account
Setting up a bank account in China is exactly the same as it is in the West, although it takes a lot longer due to all the paperwork. Remember that family names come before given names in China and middle-names do not exist. My name caused the bank in XiangYang a fair amount of confusion. In the end, they decided to reformat my name for the purposes of my bank account and I promptly forgot what they chose. This mistake caused further delays.
Step 6: Have a medical exam
Residence permits are valid for 12 months. To get one, you must first submit to a routine physical examination. The centers can only be found in the larger cities (I had mine in WuHan) and this may require an overnight stay. But your language school should send a chaperone who will guide you through the process. Your school may or may not pay your expenses, though.
NB: It may be a good idea to bring a few passport-sized photos with you
Step 7: Stay connected
You may know that the Great Firewall of China blocks Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as most blog sites and all Google services. I purchased a VPN package, which I use to access blocked websites. But from time to time the government has crackdowns on VPN providers, so you may decide to use communication methods that don’t rely on them. For example, QQ is an e-mail and private messaging service and WeChat is a smartphone application for instance messages and updates.
NB: Remember that your apartment will probably be located in an old building and so even with a functioning VPN you can’t expect a stable connection.