High expectations

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 July, 2012, 12:00am


Beijing and Shanghai are the best cities for expatriates to live in. However, this may indicate that the two have the largest expat populations and better amenities, services and opportunities, instead of where they prefer to live.

The 2011 Amazing China survey was conduced by Chinajob.com, under China's State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA) between July last year and January, and ranks cities according to how livable they are for expats.

A total of 18,000 votes were received to rank 20 shortlisted cities based on government policies, administration, working conditions and living environment, that were further broken down to 18 categories.

The top 10 cities in order were Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Guangzhou, Suzhou, Chongqing, Xiamen and Hangzhou.

Beijing and Shanghai led other cities by a big margin as they took the top two positions in all but one of the categories.

According to a summary of findings published in the China Daily in April, living environment seems to be the main concern, as those cities facing environmental problems seemed less attractive to foreigners; so did those cities that had low ratings in 'international education for children'.

Respondents also cited pollution and traffic as the main challenges, but they are aware of efforts under way by local governments to improve environmental conditions.

SAFEA and Chinajob.com are dedicated to attracting foreign talent to China, so many of the respondents were likely gleaned from the pool of foreign experts - mostly teachers and trainers.

This may help explain why other cities popular with expats, most notably Chengdu and Kunming, did not make the top 10.

For foreigners who have lived in China for a longer period of time and are able to speak Chinese, the top 10 cities represent those with the greatest expat populations, and that are developing quickly, but are not necessarily the most 'livable'.

'Most of the people living in Beijing and Shanghai have yet to take a stab at living anywhere else and, when they do travel to other cities, the lack of creature comforts really jumps out at them,' says Jeff Crosby, a Beijing-based consultant.

'Yet the results also show how far ahead the first-tier cities are in terms of amenities, services and opportunities. I'd much rather live in Kunming, but Beijing is where my career is taking off.'

Experts agree that Chinese cities offer as many advantages as disadvantages to foreigners.

The key is the individual experience in the city, as much as the macro-conditions the area offers.

'Any truth about what life is like here in China is based on intangible factors that can't accurately be measured,' Crosby says.

'Drop someone into the greatest city in the world, give them a bad job, a dilapidated apartment, lousy friends, bad food ... and they'll hate it.

'The opposite is easily true: even in a bad city, good circumstances can lead to happiness.'