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What Is It Like Being a Foreigner in China?

What Is It Like Being a Foreigner in China?

Written by GavinUpdated Nov. 24, 2023
Foreigner in China

Whether you're planning a week-long trip to China, or looking to spend an extended amount of time to live in China for work, for studying, or for travels, there will be lots of surprises waiting for you as a foreigner in China. 

Read on to find out more about what to expect as a foreigner in China, and some resources on how to be prepared so there are fewer surprises.


Learning Chinese can help with life in ChinaLearning Chinese can help with life in China

One of the biggest changes you'll have to make while in China (unless you're lucky and already a Chinese speaker), is learning to live without being able to communicate as easily as you're used to. This is because most people in China do not actually speak much English, especially when you leave the bigger cities behind and venture inland.

There are many different languages in China, so you'll want to learn a few words of the language spoken in your city of choice in order to facilitate communication and getting around a little easier. Alternatively you'll have to resort to using body language or using a translation app (for example Pleco or Learn Chinese Mandarin, both of which are featured as some of our suggestions for apps for China travelers), which isn't ideal but can be done!

Learning a little bit of Chinese ahead of your trip can help you manage this, especially if you're planning on going to China to work or study, or for a longer trip. Either way, learning a few words will help you break the ice in your conversations with people and you'll have a more positive experience being a foreigner in China.

Culture Shock

There is so much to learn about Chinese cultureThere is so much to learn about Chinese culture

You'll be shocked as a foreigner in China! This is because there are bound to be big differences between your culture at home, and culture in China.

Being a foreigner in China might make you slightly uncomfortable at times, as you'll be discovering things you are not familiar with, such as the way that people are extremely honest and direct with the things they say, the way that it is normal to call a waitress in a restaurant by shouting loudly, or because you might not know that Chinese people are used to public squat toilets that do not have doors to close in many parts of the country.

Read up on how to deal with culture shock in China ahead of your trip; it will help you prepare for your time there.


China Highlights can arrange cultural exchanges tooChina Highlights can arrange cultural exchanges too

People will be very curious about you if you are not of Asian ethnicity, especially if you go outside the bigger cities. This is because many people in smaller cities or the countryside will have never seen foreigners before, or they do not see them very often, and you'll notice people talking about you or looking at you. 

Things such as blonde hair and blue eyes are so uncommon in China that people will be very curious about them, and will likely come closer to you to take a look.

Depending on where in China you go, people may ask to take photos with you (or they may just take photos of you without talking to you first because they are likely concerned that they won't be able to communicate with you). While this may seem very different from what you are used to, remember that there are lots of cultural differences and that none of the curiosity is coming from a bad place and there are no bad intentions.


China is a safe and family-friendly destinationChina is a safe and family-friendly destination

China is an extremely safe place to be in general, regardless of whether you are a local or a foreigner, and visiting or living there. It is usually safe for tourists throughout the country, and China Highlights keep a close eye on situations that might be developing at any time. For the latest situation, see our China Tourist Safety page.

If you have any specific concerns, feel free to contact us with your questions about being a foreigner in China, or traveling in China.

Although you might feel like you are drawing attention to yourself, rest assured that a high police presence throughout the country means it is one of the safest places to be.

First Trip to China?

The Great Wall and China Highlights customersVisit China's incredible Great Wall with us!

Let China Highlights give you a hand planning your trip to China if it is your first time. Either browse our most popular tours to hotspots such as Beijing or Shanghai, or let us customize a trip to China of your own if you've done your research and know what you want to do and see while you are in China.

With 20 years of travel experience, China Highlights is your go-to for all your China adventures!

Further Reading

Learn more about China!Learn more about China before you enter!
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