Once a secretive country almost completely closed to the outside world, China has grown into the world’s most populous country and its second largest economy. With a huge manufacturing sector, this once-quiet giant of a country is now a booming giant, attracting expatriates and retirees from around the world due to its massive recent levels of development and low cost of living.
A large country, both geographically and in terms of its population, China is a difficult place to define. With numerous different cultures found within its borders, a wide range of climates that range from tropical heat and humidity to the bitter cold of the north, and some of the world’s top international cities, this giant mega-country truly offers everything for would-be retirees.
Unfortunately, despite China’s now close ties with the rest of the world, the country’s visa system leaves a lot to be desired for those looking to make the country their new home. Tourist visas are relatively easy to receive from any consulate or embassy, but short time limits and restrictions on back-to-back visa use makes it difficult for retirees to get a ‘feel’ for the country.
Likewise, retirement visas are limited and difficult to qualify for, particularly for those without a lengthy career inside China before their retirement. For retirees with a Chinese spouse, one or two year spousal visas are available with relatively few restrictions, and can be a viable option for a long-term stay in China.
This makes China a significantly more difficult country to retire in than its southern neighbors, particularly Vietnam and Thailand, both of which offer retirement and permanent visa schemes designed to bring in expatriate retirees. Nevertheless, many retirees still choose China as their primary country of residence while in Asia, often by using repeated tourist visas.
China is a large country with a rapidly growing economy and a huge range of different cultures, all of which are tied to a specific region. As such, it’s a country of contrasts and cultural differences – a custom that’s common in the southern regions, for example, may be absent in the north. Likewise, it’s common for prices to vary dramatically from one region to another.
For example, a high-end condo in a first-tier city such as Shanghai can cost close to the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Inner city suburbs and desirable areas can increase the cost of living even further, particularly in business-friendly regions. Generally speaking, a reasonable one-bedroom condo in Shanghai or Beijing will cost upwards of $500 monthly.
In the countryside, this type of budget is enough to rent a large three-bedroom house, and perhaps even more in some of the more remote regions of the country. It’s worth noting that the quality of construction in many parts of China – particularly the countryside – is mixed, and that buildings ‘age’ much more rapidly than they tend to in Western cities and other countries.
Purchasing property is difficult for non-Chinese residents, with a variety of restrictions making it a tough process that’s often interrupted by changes to the law. Due to the red tape involved in buying property in China – aside from condominiums and apartments, both of which are less troublesome than land – most foreign residents and retirees instead choose to lease their properties.
China’s banking system is growing at a rapid pace, as are its ties with many Western countries. A variety of personal and business accounts are available for residents in China, most of which will allow for stress-free business with other countries. Bank of China – which is officially based out of Hong Kong, but operates in China – is a favorite for expatriates and retirees.
Due to the larger amount of red tape involved in Mainland Chinese banking, most expatriates aim to use a dual currency HDK and CNY account based in Hong Kong. This allows for simple accounting with foreign banks, a wider availability of cash while outside of China, and the added legitimacy of a Hong Kong bank account.
China is a gigantic country with hundreds of cities and thousands of small towns, each often home to millions or hundreds of thousands of individuals. As such, it’s difficult to know which area of the country to move to. Most retirees in China – particularly single retirees – choose major cities due to their extensive expatriate services and greater international atmospheres.
If you’re retiring to China with a Chinese spouse, however, it’s likely that you’ll know your planned destination well in advance. Well most foreigners will have trouble naming most non-coastal cities, China is full of second-tier cities offering great services and entertainment options at a fraction of the cost of living in Shanghai or Beijing.
China is well connected with other countries in the region, both by air, by road, by rail, and even by sea. Flights from coastal cities and major settlements depart for Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam on a frequent basis. Most international flights destined for Chinese cities will pass through Hong Kong or Singapore before entering the mainland on a connecting flight.
Cell phone service and internet is widely available in China, typically fast and user-friendly, and rarely expensive. Modern broadband internet is available in all major cities, with rapid download speeds the norm. China’s cellphone network is well designed and capable of handling a fairly high volume of calls, making communications a non-issue for most residents in popular areas.
Home to a huge variety of cultures, the world’s second-largest economy, and a population that is rapidly becoming more educated and worldly, China is a country that’s on the verge of a great line of changes. As such, it’s both an exciting place for retirees and a peaceful retreat, offering the best of what East Asia can give to visitors.