Top 10 attractive cities for China expats — 2012 edition

The results of China’s annual expat survey, conducted from September to December last year, are in. More than 175,000 expats participated in the survey via both online and offline voting.

The 10 cities were selected based on their performance in terms of policy and administration, as well as working and living environment for foreigners. Criteria required the cities be prefecture-level or above, and excluded Hong Kong, Macau and any cities in Taiwan.

Below is a quick summary. For the full story, see the People’s Daily article.

#10 – Qingdao, Shandong

Qingdao Pier/Jiaozhou Bay, Qingdao, Shandong. Photo: M. Weitzel | Wikimedia Commons
Qingdao Pier/Jiaozhou Bay, Qingdao, Shandong. Photo: M. Weitzel | Wikimedia Commons
  • Pros: Favorable living environment.
  • Cons: Administrative environment, children’s education and level of globalization.

#9 – Xiamen, Fujian

Xiamen. Photo by groucho.
Xiamen. Photo by groucho.
  • Pros: Exceptional living environment and favorable entrepreneurial environment.
  • Cons: Foreigners’ salaries are lower than expected.

#8 – Tianjin

Tianjin. Photo by qejecit.
Tianjin. Photo by qejecit.
  • Pros: Health care working environments.
  • Cons: Policy environment requires improvement.

#7 – Nanjing, Jiangsu

Nanjing Night. Photo by Let Ideas Compete.
Nanjing Night. Photo by Let Ideas Compete.
  • Pros: Attractive living environment. Promising future work policies and career development opportunities.
  • Cons: Unsatisfactory administration due to institutional and procedural issues. Low salary.

#6 – Hangzhou, Zhejiang

Hangzhou's West Lake. Photo by Ryan McLaughlin
Hangzhou’s West Lake. Photo by Ryan McLaughlin
  • Pros: Favorable living environment, especially its abundant natural environment. Optimistic outlook for future career development opportunities in the city.
  • Cons: Low marks for its working and entrepreneurial environment and salary.

#5 – Kunming, Yunnan

Kunming. Photo by Alan Ye.
Kunming. Photo by Alan Ye.
  • Pros: Good administrative environment, and an attractive living environment.
  • Cons: Lacking cohesive policies to attract and hire talent. Healthcare and education could be improved.

#4 – Suzhou, Jiangsu

Shantang Jie, Suzhou. Photo by Ryan McLaughlin
Shantang Jie, Suzhou. Photo by Ryan McLaughlin
  • Pros: Balanced development. Human settlement environment, working and entrepreneurial environment and promotion opportunities.
  • Cons: Administrative environment could be improved.

#3 – Shenzhen, Guangdong

Shenzhen's Meridian Genting Observation Deck. Photo by Richard Yuan.
Shenzhen’s Meridian Genting Observation Deck. Photo by Richard Yuan.
  • Pros: Attractive working environment, and high salaries. High marks in terms of its development plan.
  • Living environment was graded unsatisfactory, particularly in regards to health care and children’s education.

#2 – Beijing

Bustling Beijing. Photo by Trey Ratcliff.
Bustling Beijing. Photo by Trey Ratcliff.
  • Pros: Outstanding administrative environment, policy environment, health care environment and children’s education.
  • Cons: Natural environment of habitat, working environment and traffic.

#1 – Shanghai

The Bund, Shanghai. Photo by Christian Ortiz.
The Bund, Shanghai. Photo by Christian Ortiz.
  • Pros: international atmosphere and multicultural environment. Health care and children’s education.
  • Cons: Administrative and natural environments.

What do you think? Any obvious misses or glaring bias? Pretty accurate?


  1. Nothing surprising here! Oh except personally for me… I found Xiamen a little strange when I visited…especially the food. Don’t think I could easily live there, even though I’d love to be back near the sea.

  2. I’m in Xiamen, and the foreigners that I meet here often stay longer than those I’ve met in other cities. The big/industrial cities attract people who come for the bang and the buck and then skeedaddle, but Xiamen is kind of like expat flypaper. I suppose a lot of southern coastal cities are, too.

  3. I miss when Ernie Diaz used to do this on China Expat. Now that had class, was funny as shit, and really told the issues in depth. Like expat bars to go for one thing!
    The results funnily enough were the same as here, but…I dunno…just nostalgia I guess. Lost Laowai has inherited what China Expat used to do, but it just ain’t the same.

    • Aside from pulling together the photos, this is just People’s Daily (or whatever group did the happy foreigner survey). You do raise a good point though, perhaps we could put together something a bit more authentic and un-population biased (as FOARP pointed out).

      I’ll not even attempt to fill Ernie’s shoes though. Ernie is a genius and a friend.

  4. Hello,
    I would include Chengdu, after all is developing very fast and more companies are starting their activities there.
    From a personal and not professional point of view, I would love to live in South China, Sanya..m… somewhere in Hainan!

  5. Ryan,

    Just wanted to thank you for so many years of helping people like me out with information, tidbits, and guides. You are awesome!

    Thanks so much!

  6. Thanks for this resource. It’s all good. That said, I find the Chinglish descriptions extremely annoying and ultimately meaningless. I lived in Qingdao for a year. Beijing for two. Tianjin for two. Frankly, they are all anonymous, soulless dumps. I’ve been in a wonderful S.China city now for almost 3 years and love it. Friendly people, a livable space, can zoom around on a motorbike. Deeply regret having wasted so many years in the dystopic and barren wasteland which is the north of China.

  7. Pingback: China's first-tier cities barely suitable for living, report says - Lost Laowai

  8. Your pictures you have posted are stunning. I’m leaving to China (again) very soon, and this makes me even more excited to get there!

  9. there is hardly anything on your blog on Changsha, Hunan. Quiet invisible city huh ? …just wondering. Looking for info about it from expats’ blogs

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