To Migrate

On November 2013, tired of Spanish crisis, widespread pessimism, a nonsense drift in my profession and the lack of stability in my hometown Barcelona, I decided to make a leap to uncertainty.
One year later I can recap and review what worked, what was useful and what not. Hope my experience can help others with a “leap to uncertainty” in mind. That’s what worked for me, if you follow this steps and you success is not my fault.

BCN-SH

Destination

My move started 10 months before landing on strange land. I spent some weeks analyzing potential destinations considering as many variables as I could, looking for the safest bet according to my profile. My argument can be briefed as:

– Where there are need for investment on design?
Growing countries. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
– Which has the stablest growth, shows a more interesting cultural shock and means the biggest linguistic challenge?
中国 (China)
– Which is the Chinese city with more business? Meaning, more opportunities.
上海 (Shanghai)

Training

I fully spent the following months on learning about my destination and plan my landing.
I left social networks to focus, and went back when had everything ready.
I reed blogs about China —history, news, personal diaries— like books.
Studied mandarin by myself, with a grammar book, another one about survival level (yes, well, Mandarin For Dummies) and the web-tool www.memrise.com to memorize Chinese characters. I got the HSK1, which barely allows you to have an understanding on how the language works and basic words like 你好 “hello”, 谢谢 “thanks” and 关系 “connections”.
I checked the bureaucracy, visas and restrictions that entails establishing in China, despite the ambiguous and changing legislation.
I analyzed the situation of my profession there. Structures, kind of projects, clients, requirements…
I told my people about my destination which leaded to advises, help and new friends on the other side.
I got in touch with many companies and connections before leaving.
I bought a round trip ticket, cheaper than a one way one, and necessary to show a return ticket when managing the tourist visa.
I rented one month on different centric neighborhoods through Airbnb.
I organized a farewell party.

Leap

Passport, 16 Kg luggage, emotive hugs, never ending journey, and, Shanghai.
Just had one month tourist visa (extensible to a second month at most), and a return ticket.
After the jet lag and celebrate the indian new year (stuff…), I took the pulse of the street and learned to move around. Cities are easy, and Shanghai is as well.
I signed in the police station. You have to sign in every time you move, travel, change visa or cross the street…
I bought a Chinese SIM.
I analyzed the grocery stores and restaurants on the surroundings for my survival. My first Chinese restaurant was (under my ignorance) Sichuan’s food, the spiciest food in the world, I detoxed all my body through all my pores…
I did not made tourism, I met the city while I was moving around.
The first week I tried to met with all my contacts, and made as many interviews as I could. Despite some of the contacts where fruitless they kept my moral high.
I did some freelance works and declined some others that could take me too much time.
Three weeks after landing: “We would like to offer you the position. Looking forward to having you on board!” : D

Establishment

With a contract —plus a degree diploma, two year work experience and a couple recommendation letters— you have easy way to the work visa, which means stability. Time to follow bureaucracy, company’s agency guided all the process. Takes some months, several visits to the bureau offices, a lot of ID photos, a fun medical check and an exiting and entering back to the country.
I looked for an apartment through several websites. Hosting in different flats for the first month helped me to know what to prioritize. First, proximity to the office. Second, good AC and heater. Third, a western toilet. All you need to rent is your passport and the according wad of cash, no need of work contracts nor specific visas. You can pay the rent by cash and the bills on the buildings reception or the grocery store.
I opened a bank account at ICBC and asked for e-banking. Even though they don’t speak english, they will make it easy for you, money…
At the beginning it’s hard to find where to buy. For flat’s equipment I looked on foreigner’s forums, like www.shanghaiexpat.com, where other foreigners sell second hand stuff because they move. Ikea also helps, even though you have to dodge the crowd looking for a bed to take a nap. Later, with patience and a translator (fanyi.baidu.com) I made it signing up in taobao.com (the web that sales everything in China) and alipay.com (Chinese Paypal), which allows you to buy anything at lowest price. There’s no way to create a guide, they constantly change the sign up process. Be patient, it really worths.
Making friends was the easiest part, foreigners are very open and you can easily create bonds with your colleagues. Meeting people is always interesting since they all have different background than yours.

Extra advises

• Observe and respect the locals, is the best way to understand everything we know as “cultural shock”. You will end up embracing some of their habits, like drinking hot water and go down the street on pajamas.
• Don’t look like a tourist. You cannot avoid looking like a western, so, at least look like a dweller.
• Do your best on speaking Chinese. It’s the best compliment to your host country.
• Eat everything. Chinese cuisine is delicious and widely diverse, despite you don’t know what you are eating most times. Get ready for spicy and hot.
• People will tell you to not trust Chinese, that they are always moved by interests. Don’t trust foreigners.
• Use Chinese versions of Google apps, like Baidu Maps or Baidu Translate. Google Maps, besides that needs VPN, fails all the time.
• Buy a filter pollution mask. If you wear glasses buy one with valves or you will tarnish them.
• Do not air your flat with pollution indexes over 150 PM2.5. An air purifier can help.
• Don’t drink tap water but it’s not necessary to brush your teeth and to get showers with mineral water.
• If you have to bargain, compare the product on Taobao. Show it to the seller, or he kicks you out or accepts his defeat.
• In case you have to bring savings back to your home country do it through gold, doesn’t have taxes as currencies, but be aware of fluctuation and thieves.
• Get out of China every 6 months at least. China can be too intense and is good to air yourself. Travel even for a weekend, Asia is an astonishing place.
• Enjoy the experience.