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The 11 Best Places For Expats To Live In China

China is a massive country with rich history, culture, architecture, and food. If you are an expatriate, digital nomad, or long-term traveler looking to settle down in China, this guide will tell you the 11 best places for you to live, such as Hangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, or Chengdu.

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With over 1.4 billion people living in China, how can you know the best place for you to move? To make it simpler for you, we’ve compiled the top cities expatriates love to live in.

We’ll break down their stats, pros, and cons so you can be better informed while preparing to move across the world. We’ll also explore the health insurance options in China you have so you can get the coverage you need as you settle into your new home.

You may also be interested in reading about the best places for expats to live in Asia.

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The 11 Best Cities In China Expatriates Should Move To

The 11 best places for expats to live in China are Hangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Xi’an, Qingdao, Kunming, Tianjin, Nanjing, and Fuzhou. Read on to learn about what each city has to offer, where it is located, how big it is, and some brief pros and cons about it.

#1 Hangzhou

Hangzhou brings in a lot of tourists. It is famous for its silk production and for bring the birthplace of China’s longjing (“dragon well”) green tea. It is an export base for east-central China, and it is connected by railway to Shanghai and Ningbo. It also has several universities.

As a large university city, Hangzhou is an excellent location for students. It has Zhejiang University and many affiliated hospitals, including one of China’s top 100 hospitals.

  • Population: 11.9 million people
  • Location: Mideast, Zhejiang province 
  • Best City for Expats who: Are students or solo travelers

Pros:

  • One of the safest cities in China
  • One of the cleanest cities in China
  • Affordable living
  • Excellent medical care
  • Well maintained infrastructure
  • Good balance of city life and outdoor activities
  • Very modern with high-tech start ups

Cons:

  • The internet is noticeably slow
  • English is less commonly spoken there

#2 Shanghai

In Shanghai, there is always something for everyone. It is one of the grandest cities in China with whatever type of lifestyle you want, and it is the most commercially developed. It can be described like the United States’ New York City. It has remarkable scenery and excellent work opportunities.

  • Population: 24.8 million
  • Location: Mideast, Shanghai municipality
  • Best City for Expats who: Business-minded people and entrepreneurs

Pros:

  • It is famous for its awe-inspiring skyscrapers
  • It has a modern, western lifestyle
  • It has endless opportunities for innovative startups
  • It is the home to several major world headquarters

Cons:

  • Obvious language barriers
  • It can be pretty congested

#3 Beijing

Beijing is bursting with impressive technology developments, and it has 7 UNESCO World Heritage sites, making it very popular for tourists. It has maintained its rich dynasty heritage making it a fun place to explore. There is great ease of life, culture, and business and education opportunities.

  • Population: 21.54 million
  • Location: Northeast, Beijing municipality
  • Best City for Expats who: enjoy rich culture and history and/or are solo travelers

Pros:

  • It is safe compared to other large cities
  • The job market is competitive
  • It is a great place to live while exploring the rest of Asia

Cons:

  • Cost of living can be expensive
  • There’s quite a lot of pollution
  • It has extreme weather

#4 Shenzhen

If you’re looking to move to a place in China with a fast-paced, foreigner-friendly location with plenty of western-style food available, Shenzhen is the place for you. It has one of the largest economies in China, and is a perfect place for tourists.

  • Population: 12.4 million
  • Location: Southeast, Guangdong province
  • Best City for Expats who: want to advance their career and/or start their own business

Pros:

  • The pollution is notably improved here compared to other large cities
  • It has a booming economy and innovation
  • Good public transportation
  • Home to the “Window of the World” theme park

Cons:

  • Common small crimes, like pick-pocketing
  • A lot of the locals smoke, harming the air quality
  • Very hot and humid wet season

#5 Chengdu

Best places to live in Chengdu

Chengdu is known for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, and it has a numberless quantity of street vendors for food lovers. It also has the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding for all those panda lovers and gorgeous outdoor scenery for all those nature lovers! It’s got a little mix of everything.

  • Population: 14.4 million
  • Location: Midwest, Sichuan province
  • Best City for Expats who: are foodies and/or nature lovers and/or love pandas

Pros:

Cons:

  • Air quality is poor
  • It rains substantially
  • The job market is smaller

#6 Xi’an

Best places to live in Xi'an

Xi’an is home to the largest population of English speakers, which can be important to expats who only speak English. It is designed to make things easier for travelers and is a very tourist-friendly city. It is full of culture and history to explore, such as the archeology site Terracotta Army.

  • Population: 12 million
  • Location: South-central, Shaanxi province
  • Best City for Expats who: are English speakers and/or history buffs

Pros:

  • Lots of authentic cuisine and sightseeing
  • Affordable living
  • A lively nightlife

Cons:

  • It is quite congested with traffic
  • Poor pollution and hygiene

#7 Qingdao

The city in China with the biggest reputation as an expat city is Qingdao. It is home to the International Beer Festival where they are known for their local beer “Tsingtao.” They also have their Golden Beach, Olympic Sailing Center, and expat-designed social events.

  • Population: 9 million
  • Location: South-facing coast on the Shandong Peninsula, Shandong province
  • Best City for Expats who: want a well-established expat city and/or plan to move with a group

Pros:

  • Amazing beer
  • Rich culture
  • Chill, laid-back atmosphere
  • Amazing sea-food restaurants
  • Designed with expats in mind

Cons:

  • Poor air quality
  • Expensive housing
  • Little job opportunities

#8 Kunming

One of the lesser populated cities, Kunming is great if you don’t like the claustrophobic city life. Being so close to the country, it has ample locations for you to get outside and breathe some fresh air, such as at the Stone Forest, Kunming Green Lake Park, and Grand View Park.

  • Population: 3.5 million
  • Location: South-west, Yunnan province
  • Best City for Expats who: like the outdoors and want a laid-back city

Pros:

  • It is still a big city, but with a more relaxed, smaller feel than many others
  • Diverse culturally, biologically, and geographically
  • It’s a great base for exploring the surrounding areas

Cons:

  • Locals don’t speak English as well
  • Cold winters
  • Hostile toward LGBTQ+ community

#9 Tianjin

Tianjin is one of the largest cities in the world, and it is located a 30-minute train ride from Beijing. This city is culturally rich and known for their comedy performance Xiang Sheng and their clay figure sculptures. They have elaborate skyscrapers and a booming business atmosphere.

  • Population: 15.5 million
  • Location: Northeast, Tianjin municipality
  • Best City for Expats who: love culture and history

Pros:

  • Excellent international schools
  • It has the longest renovated part of the Great Wall of China
  • It has some nice nature preserves 
  • Tianjin teahouses are known for their crosstalk entertainment

Cons:

  • Driving in Tianjin as an expat, like many Chinese cities, is dangerous

#10 Nanjing

Nanjing is another excellent city for expats because it has wonderful World Heritage sites, it has higher education opportunities, the nightlife is lively, and it has national monuments. It’s one of the few big cities that still has great access to peace and nature sites like Laoshan Scenic Area.

  • Population: 8.3 million
  • Location: East, Jiangsu province
  • Best City for Expats who: want a big city feel with lots of quiet places to enjoy nature

Pros:

  • Has Xuanwu Lake as a peaceful destination
  • There are natural sites in unexpected areas of the city
  • Housing is affordable
  • Plenty of familiar western food for expats and international students

Cons:

  • It seems English is less often spoken there
  • The weather conditions can be quite cold in winter because most buildings don’t have central heating

#11 Fuzhou

Fuzhou is known for its Taiwanese influenced culture and lifestyle since it is so close to Taiwan. It has a beautiful mountainous landscape, a unique Fujian subculture, and a major industrial and innovation scene. There is also a wealth of history and plenty of famous temples to visit.

  • Population: 2.7 million
  • Location: Southwest, Fujian province
  • Best City for Expats who: want to experience a variety of culture styles

Pros:

Cons:

  • For those who want a larger city, this one might feel too small

International Health Insurance Available in China

As an expatriate, digital nomad, or long-term traveler, it is important to have international healthcare coverage in case you find yourself in a medical emergency. It’s also important to continue getting well-checks if you plan to spend years away from your home country.

Pacific Prime has excellent travel insurance and healthcare insurance in China to meet all your needs. Here are a few of the possible global health insurance plans you may want while traveling the world:

Conclusion

China is a historically rich country with wonderful culture and opportunities. As an expatriate considering moving there, you’ll want to consider your cities carefully so you find the right balance of lifestyle, convenience, natural beauty, business ventures, and location.

After reading this list, you should have a better overview of the best 11 cities. You’ve also been introduced to Pacific Prime’s top-level insurance policies in China and around the world. To secure your travel insurance or health insurance, check out Pacific Prime now.

You may also want to read about the best places to live in South Korea and the best places to live in Hong Kong.

Wishing you happy travels!

Senior Content Creator at Pacific Prime
Serena Fung is a Senior Content Creator at Pacific Prime, a global insurance brokerage and employee specialist serving over 1.5 million clients in 15 offices across the world. With 2+ years of experience writing about the subject, she aims to demystify the world of insurance for readers with the latest updates, guides and articles on the blog.

Serena earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of British Columbia, Canada. As such, she is an avid advocate of mental health and is fascinated by all things psychology (especially if it’s cognitive psychology!).

Her previous work experience includes teaching toddlers to read, writing for a travel/wellness online magazine, and then a business news blog. These combined experiences give her the skills and insights she needs to explain complex ideas in a succinct way. Being the daughter of an immigrant and a traveler herself, she is passionate about educating expats and digital nomads on travel and international health insurance.
Serena Fung