Erica Fairchild

Living in a smaller Chinese city when you start a new job in China can make your life much richer, in more ways than one. But why should you choose a smaller Chinese city over one of the bigger more famous ones, like Beijing or Shanghai for example? In this post, you'll find the 9 reasons why you should downsize the city that you'll live in, but upgrade your Chinese experience.

1. Savings

Living in a smaller city in China is super cheap. But what can you get for this "cheap" living? On Smart Shanghai, you can find a decent apartment for around 2,500 RMB, but you'll find that little bit more luxury for around the 3,000 mark.

Let's compare that to a smaller city around 40 minutes from Shanghai. The picturesque Hangzhou or “heaven on earth” as it is known in China. Here you'll find a beautiful and spacious one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen and bathroom for around 2,500 RMB. If you don't like living alone, you can expect to pay 1,500 RMB.

2. Transport

The high-speed rail network means that the bullet train, also known as the “gao tie,” can travel at 300km per hour. That means a trip from Beijing to Shanghai only takes 4 hours! China's super fast and efficient rail network makes it easy to get around and perfect for travelling to new destinations. You're always in reach of a big city.

Inner city transport varies. On the whole, cities like Nanjing, Hangzhou, Xi'an, and Suzhou have subway networks that make travelling around the city more convenient.

No subway? Fear not, there's never a shortage of taxis, and if your Mandarin is up to scratch, why not try Uber or China's own Didi Da Che. Like most major world cities you can get around pretty safely and efficiently.

3. Community

As a foreigner, you may be met with caution or intrigue. But as you live in China you will build relationships with the woman who sells you baozi at breakfast or the man who sells you a bag of fruit; you might even get a discount or an extra plum here or there; they may even try to help with your Mandarin!

4. Language

Said to be one of the hardest languages in the world, foreigners from all backgrounds make their pilgrimage to China to speak Putong Hua. There's no better place to be than a small city to learn Chinese. Smaller cities are an excellent environment for practising, as many of the older generations don't speak English very well.

If you're nervous at the thought of not knowing enough Mandarin, or being able to communicate then don't worry. Body language and pointing are more than sufficient, and you'll get by pretty well. The only time you'll need extra help is with a haircut here and there.

5. Slower pace of life and Culture

If the hustle and bustle, and heaves of people in the major cities send nervous chills down your spine, if the thought of rushing around and jumping on packed subway trains isn't for you, then the smaller city might be up your street. They're still busy compared to most western places, but there's a noticeably slower pace of life that feels more relaxed and will allow you to have the personal space that you are looking for.

6. Food

Chinese food is pretty amazing! While you're here, you'll probably come to love Chinese food more than you can imagine. However, now and again, we all miss our home-cooked food. It's true that if you live in Shanghai or Beijing, you'll have more chance to scratch that itch when you're feeling a little homesick.

But what about smaller cities? The good news is there are small import supermarkets and even big Wal-Marts that will offer some Western food. If that fails, there seems to be a Starbucks, Costa, KFC, McDonalds and Pizza Hut everywhere. Italian restaurants and burger restaurants are popping up all over the place too. Although these may not be your first choice, they become something familiar when you're in need.

7. Shopping

If Chinese style isn't your style, then you can find affordable western fashion like H&M, ZARA, Gap and Decathlon around most cities including the smaller Chinese cities. If you're looking to spend that little bit more then, Clarks offer decent shoes but seem a bit too pricey. Other options may include Calvin Klein and other high-end brands. Also, discount sports stores mean you can buy Adidas, Nike and other big brands slightly cheaper if not the same price as back home. Don't forget, you can always try some and grab a bargain.

8. Social life

Social networks and friends are invaluable when living abroad. Within no time, your new WeChat will be full of local and expat contacts. You'll find that big city or a smaller Chinese city, there's always the opportunity to build lasting friendships, new travel partners, and KTV buddies. In the smaller city, the network isn't as large, but you'll be surprised how far and wide the expat travels. Follow apps, visit expat guides and websites for your city, More Hangzhou, More Suzhou, etc. and reach out. Before you know it you'll be in a social network like that of your glory days in University, and your time here will fly by!

9. Place to see and culture

With 5,000 years of history, there's something to see almost everywhere, and you probably won't see it all. But that's ok. In your smaller Chinese city, you'll get the opportunity to learn more about one part of Chinese culture really well; you'll get the chance to see all the sights and villages around your new home. China is diverse, each town or city has its traditions. Exploring and understanding this is just as satisfying as just spending a few days in a new city and taking a few photos. You'll have great stories to tell, and you can learn from and educate other expats, and when the day comes to leave, if it does, you'll not want to go.

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