Expats in China: nationalities and in which cities they settle

"Foreign tourists pose for photos on the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, 24 September 2009."

“Foreign tourists pose for photos on the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, 24 September 2009.”


You are living in China as an expatriate and you may be curious to know which nationalities are most represented in China and where expats live in China. In the past years, many factors have lead to a reduction of the expat population in China: serious pollution, strict regulations to obtain a residence permit in China, economy slow down, raising manufacturing and labor costs, managing positions gradually overtaken by Chinese nationals, increasing living costs in cities like Beijing and Shanghai… About 600 000 foreigners are living in China and China had about 328 000 foreign students in 2012.


Key facts for foreign employees:

  • 74 percent of expats in China are male.
  • 73 percent of expats living in China can barely speak Chinese and only 8% can speak basic Chinese.
  • Expatriation duration:
    • 30 percent of expats have been living in China for 5-10 years
    • 20 percent have been here for more than 10 years
  • 10 Foreign Nationalities in China : South Korea, American and Japanese are the 3 top foreign nationalities.

Top foreign nationalities in China

  • Most preferred city by expatriates in China: Shanghai (209 000 expats). However many departures have been observed in the past months.
    • Nationalities most represented in Shanghai: Japan> USA > South Korea > France > Germany > Singapore > Canada > Australia > UK
  • 10 cities most preferred by expats in China: Beijing (#2: 107 000 expats), Shenzhen (#3), Tianjin (#4), Qingdao (#5), Hangzhou (#6), Guangzhou (#7), Suzhou (#8), Xiamen (#9) and Kunming (#10).


  • 70% expatriates are happy leaving in China.
  • China has the highest-earning expats: 23 percent of expats in China are earning over $300,000 per year.


Key facts for foreign students:

  • Top 15 countries where most foreign students are from: South Korea > USA > Japan >Thailand > Russia > Indonesia > Vietnam > India > Pakistan > Kazakhstan > France > Mongolia > Germany > Malaysia > Singapore.
  • Top 5 provinces where foreign students study: Beijing > Shanghai > Guangdong > Tianjin > Zhejiang 


Conclusion: If leaving in China is easier and easier, expatriates still encounter challenges to adjust to the culture. Head hunters confirm that it will be more and more challenging for foreigners who don’t speak Chinese to find a position in China. 


  • China Briefing article: http://www.china-briefing.com/news/2015/01/08/nali-lai-de-overview-expats-china.html
  • China US Focus article: http://www.chinausfocus.com/political-social-development/expats-in-china-turn-to-entrepreneurship/
  • The World of Chinese: http://www.theworldofchinese.com/2014/11/who-are-chinas-typical-expats/
  • USA China Daily: http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2015-03/09/content_19753120.htm
  • http://www.thebeijinger.com/blog/2015/03/09/expats-prefer-shanghai-over-beijing
  • http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/913109.shtml
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I am living in China since 2007. I am sharing my experiences for other expatriates to make their stay in Beijing more enjoyable. As I am writing this blog for SCOUT Real Estate agency, I am also computing updates about the Real Estate market in Beijing, not only on residential properties, but as well on commercial locals and offices. Hope you enjoy your reading!