Monday, March 10, 2014

Migrating East: The Growing Expatriate Population in China

Because our breadwinner is an international businessman, my family has moved countries many times. Most people think our migratory patters are odd; when looked alongside global trends, though, they make sense.

Ten years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, when Eastern Europe began to welcome Western investment, my family and I moved to the Czech Republic. When the business world started buzzing about the growth of the Brazilian economic power, we’d already been living there for a year. When we arrived in China, though, we were late to the party.

The international community in Shanghai was nothing like what we’d encountered before. We saw Westerners, or waiguoren, almost everywhere we looked. (It was definitely still China, and things like squatty potties reminded us of it.) When we arrived in 2010, we were only five new members in an ex-pat community of more than 1,000; by 2013, the number had reached 173,000 people.

Foreigners living in China, at least according to HSBC, tend to love it. In its 2013 survey of over 7,000 global expatriates, China was found to be the best overall destination. Highlights included that those living in China were the only ones to report to enjoy a more active social life than in their previous country. Almost 75% of respondents with children considered China safer for them than other countries.

However, while these interviewed were glad about the additional benefits to their quality of life, it wasn’t usually a better social life or children’s safety that foreigners sought when they moved to the Middle Kingdom. Many companies send employees to the “Wild East” to open ground on new markets and opportunities. In Shanghai, an arena that seemed to be incredibly important was the car industry: it wasn’t a coincidence if the first three Americans you met who worked in Shanghai were all from Michigan.

In the last twenty-some years, the city has developed at a jaw-dropping speed.


Twenty years in Shanghai

From the omnipresent Starbucks to the newly opened Old Navy to Western-style restaurants like Element Fresh, it’s clear that the West is dominating this trend. There’s even a movie based on it: Shanghai Calling (2012), with its “strangers-in-a-strange-land” premise about an ambitious American attorney assigned to Shanghai. It may not be as funny to some, but I’d recommend watching it to learn a bit about Shanghai, China, and Western investment.

Either that, or hop on a plane and see it for yourself.

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