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Expatriate in China: some advice to put in your luggage

As the Chinese saying goes: “If you want to know the road in front of you, ask the ones who come back from it”. Thus, if you are currently preparing an expatriation in China, here are some problems that expatriates often meet arriving in China and some solutions to it.

  1. Travelling to China without having previously asked for information to some expatriates yet in the country…

Problems that expatriates encounter are often the same: cheats during tea tasting ceremonies, taxis having “forgotten” to turn on the meter, etc. Some networks exist and keep a watch on Westerners recently arrived in China. How to avoid these traps? It is very simple. You just have to enquire into some information to expatriates yet in the country about the difficulties they have met.


  1. Thinking that English is sufficient to communicate…

Quite a few Chinese people speak English. Consequently, learning a few words in Chinese to bargain there can be very useful.

Asking in Chinese the price of a good (多小钱? pronounced “dou oh siao si âne?”) or knowing how to count to 10 in the language can easily divide the price by three. Indeed, if in China you have to bargain everything, a Westerner being reputed as “richer” than Chinese citizens will have the original price multiplied by six or only by two if he tries to bargain speaking Chinese.


  1. Imagine that a contract will give legal authorization…

In China, the vision of a contract is very different from our. Thus, a signed contract will be considered by the Chinese as a state of the bargaining at a precise time but could easily evolve, be modified or even cancelled. If you succeed in making a Chinese partner sign a contract to his disadvantage, you can be sure that this contract will not be enforced and it will be difficult for you to make it enforced.

Some Western businessmen have thought to ask that the contract be signed in the presence of a lawyer so that the contract is enforced. Unfortunately, that is exactly the contrary that happens then. Asking for a lawyer’s presence during a bargain with some Chinese partners will offend your business partner or even block the bargaining. In China, business relationships are based on a mutual confidence. The only way to be sure that the contract will be enforced is so to establish with your partner a stable and mutual confidence relationship.

To establish this type of relationship, you will have to contact and meet your business partner in informal lunches, to visit his company, etc. You will need a lot of patience and investment to establish a privileged relationship so that your contract is admitted by your partners.


  1. Underestimate Guanxi’s importance…

What is the “Guanxi”? This word means “network” in Chinese. If in Western countries a “powerful” businessman is rich, in China a “powerful” businessman has an important “Guanxi”, in other words he has an important family and friends’ network. In the Chinese culture, every business relationship will depend on this network developed with the time. Thus, do not hesitate to develop your network in China. Your friends’ network will quickly become you business one and vice versa.

In China, boundaries between family, friends and business relationships are confused. Chinese people do not hesitate to get family, social and professional life mixed up. Limiting your exchanges with Chinese citizens to a professional relationship will have for consequence to make your order price increasing and/or to risk that your contracts will not be enforced (cf. 3 above).


The list of the often-made mistakes by Western expatriates is not exhaustive. Losing your temper, not bargaining, refusing a gift, accepting a business card without taking the time to read it, etc. The mistakes made by Westerners are numerous. The biggest one is to think that Chinese culture “is not so different from ours”. How to avoid it? Do not go in China without previously taking some information about the numerous norms and values to respect in this country. To do it, here are some websites to complete this article:

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