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Hitting the Best Expat Hot Spots in China

With its rich history and unprecedented economic growth, there's no shortage of reasons why expats flock to China for international travel. But regardless of why someone wants to experience life in China, it's often nice to connect with others who are going through the same process of adjustment to a foreign country.

The two most popular areas in China for expats are Beijing and Shanghai, according to the survey "2012 Amazing China" by International Talent magazine under the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs.[1] Here is some key information that expats should know regarding what to do in China at both of these locales.


1. Popular Regions

Affluent expats tend to congregate around the former French Concession for work, living and dining.

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The most expat-inhabited areas for people living overseas in Beijing are in the Chaoyang District, says Christine Surlien, consultant for ChinaScratched, an online resource for expats living in China.

The Central Business District (CBD), in east Beijing, has high-end apartments, lavish restaurants and sky bars like Atmosphere, the highest bar in Beijing. Expats working downtown frequent these lavish establishments for happy hour and on weekends, she says.

Just north of Beijing is Shunyi, also known as "Expat Village." It's a popular town for expats with children. This area includes communities of gated villas, international schools and luxury homes.

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2. What to Do

Beijing's expat community is active. When it's time for retail therapy, expats head to Sanlitun Village, a 19-building shopping center that includes stores from Adidas to Balenciaga and an entire floor of international restaurants, Surlien says.

Other expats socialize through local events, reading English-language publications like City Weekend to find nearby activities and sports, Surlien says.

To cover the cost of activities, expats can use a trusted online foreign exchange service that offers currency exchange and convenient bank-to-bank international payments that can be initiated via laptop, tablet or smartphone. Additionally, using this service can help expats avoid fees from using their credit card in a foreign country, allowing them to make the most of their money transfer and stay in control of their finances.  


1. Popular Regions

Affluent expats tend to congregate around the former French Concession for work, living and dining, says Stephany Zoo, marketing director and co-founder of the Bundshop, an online retailer that sells clothing, accessories and home décor created by high-end, independent designers.

The French Concession in the heart of Puxi housesalmost a third of Shanghai's expat population and has visible European influences like Colonial-style lane houses and tree-lined streets. Many expats live on the North side in People's Square and Nanjing Xi Lu to visitcontemporary restaurants and quirky, luxury brand boutiques, Zoo says.

2. What to Do

Expats in Shanghai flock to shopping centers like Plaza 66 to browse through luxury brand items from Louis Vuitton and Bvlgari. "For shopping the tailor markets, pearl markets, Yu Garden and the many boutiques in the French Concession are popular with the expat crowd,"says Judith von Prockl, managing director of Gourmet On Tour Ltd., a U.K.-based business that provides culinary tours in Shanghai. Similar to a shopping center, tailor markets are large buildings filled with shops, each with its own tailor who will custom make designer garments for a fraction of the cost.

"Expats can have [a designer] suit, which would be $2,000 back home, made for them for $60," von Prockl says.

While places such as the tailor markets are among the hot spots of today for international travel, tastes and trends are always changing. Expats can keep up with these changes and find out about local events by reading English-language magazines like City Weekend, That's Shanghai and Time Out Shanghai.

[1] "Expats prefer Beijing, Shanghai," April 11, 2013, China Daily

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