My biggest challenges settling in China

Did you settle in already? A question that I heard many times after moving to China. In this post I give insights into my biggest challenges after coming to China and how I dealt with them.

My biggest challenges settling in China
Photo by Matthew Henry / Unsplash

In March 2023 my family (my wife, daughter and our two dogs) and I moved to Shanghai, China. Many people asked us this question: Did you settle in already?

Did you settle in already?

A few months after we moved, friends and family asked us this question: Did you settle in already? I really wanted to tell them "Yes, totally! Everything is great and we love it!" What I ended up telling them was: "Yeah, you know, I think we still need to set up some basics and it will take a bit more time."

I was left with a feeling of anger, I felt misunderstood. Couldn't they see that moving is always hard? Even moving within the same country, sometimes within the same city, can be hard. You need to set up your new home, maybe you have a new job and need to get to know new colleagues and a new way of working, you need to find new places to do day to day things like grocery shopping, find new doctors, a kindergarten or school for your children. This is hard cause all of this needs to happen while your life (and those of your family members) continues - or is expected to continue - as usual.

The further you move from your last place, the harder it will become. We moved to a different continent, a door to door journey takes around 24 hours, there is a time difference of 6 to 7 hours. We were faced with a different culture. Not only for me and my daughter struggled with this. Even my wife needed a transition phase after she has lived in Germany for over 10 years. My daughter and I were faced with a language we did not speak.

During the first months there were many challenges I needed to overcome: I could not even do grocery shopping, I did not understand the Chinese mobile phone apps (most of them are not translated into English), I needed to find good translation apps, I did not know how to search for stuff I need in the household, setting up a bank account and connecting it with the ubiquitous WePay and AliPay was a big challenge, finding clothes that fit me is still not easy, dealing with health insurance, hospitals and reimbursements - just to name a few.

How we settled in

The first 12 months passed quickly and we spend them mostly with setting up the basics: finding and renovating an apartment, finding a kindergarten for our daughter, setting up bank account and payment apps, figuring out how to book an appointment at a doctor and how to deal with the various systems in hospitals (each hospital has its own system!). Finding a good vet, supporting our daughter that did not speak Chinese and felt insecure during the first three months a lot, dealing with sickness, supporting our two dogs and figure out how we can give them a sense of nature at least sometimes in such a big city as Shanghai.

I finally understood what family members and friends intended when they asked us if we already settled in. They worried. They wanted to hear from us that everything will be fine, that we will be fine, cause we are now very far away from them and they cannot easily support us. Looking back at my first reaction to their question, I did not understand that. I just felt that I would be too slow "settling in".

I am not complaining about all those challenges we had so far. It makes our life colourful and after all this is what life is all about. Just remember that things will take time. Take those questions from friends and family as their way of saying "we still think of you and hope you are all doing fine". Take the time you need. Settling in is hard. No one but yourself decides how long it will take.

When was the last time you needed to settle in somewhere? How did it make you feel? How did you cope with being in a new environment?