Arriving in...Beijing


Fraser Clarke

Making a career move overseas can be a daunting prospect, however we’re hopeful that we can be of help. In our latest Odyssey Exclusive series, ‘Arriving in…’ we’re going to take a look at your journey to a new life abroad.

We’ll aim to cover all the basics to make sure that you’re as prepared as you can be for the move, and get the most out of life in your new homeland.

In the penultimate installment in the series we’ll look at Beijing, the capital of China, a location which looks set to have an exciting future as a leader in global healthcare.

Getting there: Despite being in the Far East, getting to Beijing from the UK is relatively straightforward. The city is a major hub for business in Asia, and as a result is a busy route for those involved in a range of different industries.

Air China, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways all offer direct flights from London Heathrow to Beijing Capital International Airport, whilst a number of other airlines (SAS, Finnair and Air Astana) all offer flights with layovers.

Beijing itself is an absolutely vast city, and so journey times to the popular residential areas from the airport can vary. Most expats choose to live in the east of the city and, depending on traffic conditions, this is often little more than an hour from the airport.

Accommodation: As previously mentioned most expats moving to Beijing choose to live in the east of the city; mainly in Chaoyang, Dongcheng and Shunyi.

The city itself is vast, and there are plenty of options when it comes to choosing accommodation. These range from traditional Chinese houses with courtyards, to modern skyscrapers, detached villas and townhouses.

Where you choose to live will depend on your circumstances. If you value space over location then most people will live outwith the city centre, whereas those looking to be right at the heart of the action will sacrifice living space for location.

Keeping in contact: It can be difficult to reach home from Beijing, with a lengthy time difference and strictly controlled internet making communicating tricky.

Messaging service WhatsApp is currently banned in the country, however communicating using Skype is still possible. Social media networks like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and search engines like Google and Bing can only be accessed by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

For mobile phones, China Mobile offers quick data access speeds, and faultless coverage countrywide, whilst China Unicom can offer more attractive deals, however their coverage isn’t as strong in more remote areas. 

Basic rules: China is still a Communist country, and as a result there are a number of rules to be aware of. We’ve compiled a quick list of five to know before making the move:

  • Avoid criticising the Government in public, this could land you in serious trouble.
  • Keep greetings formal, a handshake is more than enough even for a close colleague. 
  • The rules of the road are totally different! Giving way is seen as a sign of weakness, and so we’d recommend employing a driver, or jumping in a taxi to get around.
  • Don’t attempt to take bring in potentially controversial literature, this can be confiscated at the airport - and could even lead to deportation.
  • Contracts are written in both English and Chinese, however only the Chinese version is legally binding. Make sure to get it translated by a trusted friend, expert or colleague.

Getting around: Beijing is vast city - more than ten times bigger than Greater London, and with a population of more than 21 million.

As a result exploring it can take time, patience and a bit of local knowledge. Using the modern, clean Metro system is probably the easiest way to get about - with the system well signposted in English.

Taxis are also readily available - though not during peak times, whilst there are bus routes throughout the city, however travelling times can be lengthy.

If you’re looking to explore further afield then travelling by air is really the only option. The airport is the world’s 13th busiest, and offers domestic and international routes to help you explore the rest of the Far East easily.

Things to see: Chinese culture is still evident throughout Beijing, despite its modern facade. There is therefore plenty to see and do in one of the world’s most interesting cities:

  • The Great Wall of China - You couldn’t possibly visit China without visiting one of the world’s most iconic historical sights which stretches for more than 13,000 miles.
  • The Forbidden City - home of the ruling Chinese dynasties from 1420 until 1912, this is another historical sight that is not to be missed.
  • Tiananmen Square - Perhaps the most iconic image of China, you can feel the history as soon as you visit the square.
  • Chaoyang Theater - Showcases the best in traditional and contemporary Chinese entertainment.
  • The Workers' Stadium - Hardly an architectural marvel, however for sports fans the home ground of the Chinese national football team is worth a visit.

The working environment: The Chinese working environment is unique, with tradition still playing a key role in the formalities of business:

  • Be prepared to be a leader. As a Western trained medic your opinion will be taken very seriously, so arrive with ideas, and be prepared to be asked plenty of questions.
  • ‘Saving Face’ is a uniquely Asian concept, whereby you have to keep your ‘honour’ by acting in a way that shows respect and humility. We’d recommend reading up on it prior to a move.
  • If you’re handing over a business card, do so with both hands.
  • Personal questions are often asked at the start of a meeting, to try and establish common ground and make both parties feel comfortable.
  • Always refer to someone by their title, unless they ask otherwise. It is seen as respectful.

Don’t forget: 

  • Organise your finances before making the move, have you converted enough money, do you have an overseas bank account, should you be paying any tax at home?
  • Will your credit/debit cards work abroad?
  • Is your airport pickup sorted, and do you know where you’re staying when you arrive?
  • Do you have a phone that will work in your new location?
  • When is your official start date?