Foreigners in China: Is there really an expat exodus?

From SmartIntern:

2013 saw several high profile foreigners exit China, with three of them, Marc Van Der Chijs, Charlie Custer, and Mark Kitto, penning articles explaining “Why I’m leaving China”. These articles, combined with record pollution in Beijing, sparked talk of an Expat Exodus from China. A year and a half later, we at SmartIntern were curious- is there really an Expat Exodus? What follows is our attempt to find out..


  1. They Exodus effectively STARTED in 2012 with the Chinese 三非 campaign, and the new Social Insurance Policy (actual news, look it up) that would place a new tax on any company trying to hire foriegners. The result is that foreigners are EVEN MORE expensive than they were before, and hiring locals is much more attractive than before. This essentially punishes companies for hiring foreigners, and helps promote local employment — essentially the government’s number one priority to avoid things like riots, etc.

    Also, the data here is confusing: This blog is posted in 2014, and they’re using data from 2012 and using statements like, “There has been a 5% dip in Foriegners coming to China this year compared to last”. I’d like to get a confirmation on what the years and what employment %s are.

    At the end of the day, China is still very much a developing country with exceptionally low wages compared to the west (GDP/Capita is about 25% of USA for example), which is going to limit potential wealth for foreigners in China. Having said that, there will always be more and more students coming in to party, go clubbing and pay off student loans. Ironically this is one of the only things for which the Chinese government will actually grant you a working visa! Want to work as a Sales Manager? Get lost. Software/UI Designer? Beat it. English teacher? Come on in!!

    In other words, it’s very likely that foreigners will leave once they hit the 5 year mark. Even the biggest China fans, who marry and want to settle down, aren’t deluded enough to consider settling down in China. They take their new wife and child abroad.

  2. Yes, Mikes got it right.

    Also visa policy has changed (and continue to change like the weather) making obtaining visas a massive chore for the casual expat. Some cities operate a 5 year limit on work visas, forcing people to leave for at least a year before reentering.

    Career wise, unless you are on a western salary at a foreign company, a scientific specialist or working at an international school then the wage ceiling is pretty low.

    Air pollution has been bad in Chinese since I can remember (2008).

    1. As many as 300 million Chinese are still waiting for Canadian visas after more then 10 long years and you westerners are complaining about a short limit on the visas.

      Even the refugees from the EU, the US and the middle east are fast tracked into this country, no waiting on line and no money needed but not for the Chinese. Racist Canada we are.

  3. “The US is instigating China to interfere in Iraq because it hopes to pass the mess to Beijing and to slow down the development of China,”

    A slow down in China that’s why expats are leaving, and not leaving soon or fast enough for the Chinese.

  4. Um…you might want to double check those numbers for Shanghai. There are 633,000 foreigners in China and 210,000 of them live in Shanghai? Really? Which is only one percent? I might believe 21,000, which would be more than one percent.

    I’m starting my 10th year here. People come and go, but I’m personally not seeing a shift in either direction.

  5. It depends who you classify as ‘foreigners”. Most young western expats hang out in certain bars and only mix with other western expats. There’s a huge and larger population of other Asian expats from Japan, Korea, Malaysia etc that you’d not notice and who hang out at totally different places.
    Not everyone wants to hang out with a bunch of expat American, Aussie or Brits beering it up and getting stupid drunk and vindictive towards each other. Most expats in China are not white trash losers coming from bankrupt economies and shagging Chinese prostitutes in Manhattans or Maggies.

    1. You are not lying, too many white and black rejects from the west for the Chinese working gals to put up with.

  6. This infographic really puts into perspective how few foreigners there really are in China are how much they are concentrated in Shanghai. As a comparison, did you know that there are 433,150 people of Chinese descent living in the UK?

  7. It would be interesting to follow up on an article about those high-profile expats you mentioned and ask “what they are doing now” and if they miss or are still involved in China.
    Marc Van Der Chijs,
    Charlie Custer
    Mark Kitto
    Chris Devonshire-Ellis
    Andrew Hupert
    you should be able to find some more. That would be an interesting article for reading. You can probably find them all on Linked In or Facebook.

    1. It’s the right word. China does not permit immigration. Even foreigners married to Chinese are only considered ‘visiting family’ and cannot legally work. Upon divorce or death of the spouse, the visa is not renewed and the foreigner must leave – even if there are children involved.

      Don’t make the mistake of thinking China is like the country you’re from. It’s not.

      1. and the new big one. if you marry a local, you would be told westerners can not get mortgages or own a house in china, which is wrong but anyway, you are likely to be told put the house in the locals name don’t worry if you are married its split 50 50 on an divorce, wrong it your name is not on the registration documents then it belongs to the local 100%. this has brought fourth a new job opportunity, girls are marring older guys, getting the guy to buy the house in her name, and bam one year and 1 day later divorce.

        the reason most people who really know china, including the educated locals want to get out of China as fast as possible, fact.

        second the government is becoming more blatant in its discrimination, gone was the smile while robbing you of IP replaced with a don’t like it don’t come, while understandable with the increase in the domestic economy, one should remember history, keep telling people to bugger off and they will and take all their cash with them.

  8. 5 Years! Yes, here I am…or I was..

    I am Italian. I Moved to China (indirectly after 1 year in London, UK) in January 2009 and “flew off” in April 2014. I simply had enough of China and its “professional racism” vs. Laowai!

    I happily live in Singapore now, with my adorable Chinese fiancee.

    For young people, yes I recommend to spend a few years in China (particularly Shanghai). However, if not entrepreneurs of hired by foreign companies, don’t expect too much from the local job market. No bad feeling, but is a fact, the market is becoming more Chinese oriented because the firms competing in the market are increasingly Chinese. Simply put.


    1. Wow so glade you and her are gone from China.

      Great to hear she won the lottery and you got a white worshipper out of China, well the works for me and that one least white worshipper in ghetto China to worry about.

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