31 August 2016

Caterina Russo - Expat in Beijing, China

Caterina Russo - Expat in Beijing, China

We’ve had the chance to talk to Caterina Russo, 27, an Italian expat who has moved to Beijing with her sister. Ms Russo who has been living there for two years now works as an investment manager.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I’m from the South of Italy, where China is seen mostly like a weird country no one could possibly move to.


Q: What made you move out of Italy?

A: I decided the world is too big to live your life all in the same country.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I live in Beijing, China. It has always been my dream, but it’s hard to explain how a twelve years old Italian girl could have dreamt of China, that’s why I usually say I felt “the Call”. Maybe I was Chinese in another life.


Q: How long have you been living in China?

A: I’ve been here for almost two years.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? How are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I live with my sister, who shares my insane passion for China. The rest of my family lives in Italy. Both my sister and I are very flexible dynamic girls and we adjusted pretty fast to the expat lifestyle.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: When homesickness really gets bad I buy Italian imported stuff and cook myself an Italian dinner accompanied by a good bottle of wine.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: I think Chinese people, in general, are very warm towards foreigners, but sometimes they can also be annoying, especially when they stare at you or make you feel an outsider even if you speak perfect Chinese and are integrated into the city life.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in China? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: It’s very easy to meet people and make new friends in China and especially in Beijing. Expats go to all sort of city events; the city has a bustling nightlife, and you can meet friends of friends who immediately become you friends (considering we all live away from home and we feel the need for a safety network). Make Chinese friends can be even easier: they usually talk to you and ask your WeChat.


Q: How does the cost of living in China compared to your home?

A: Beijing has become a very expensive city. Sometimes can be even more expensive than Rome city centre.

  • How much is a cup of coffee?

A: 5 euro

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: 2 euro

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: 40-50 euro to peaks of 100+ euro

  • How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: An imported wine can be crazy expensive. Local wine is around 3-4 euro. Cigarettes vary a lot but are cheaper than in Italy. The cheapest pack doesn’t cost more than 1 euro.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in China?

A: I don’t have one.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: Visas are getting more and more expensive, but the paperwork is still acceptable. Work permits are almost impossible to get; it really depends on the company, but it takes a lot of time (1-2 months) and a lot of money.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: Moving to China is like moving to the Moon. Everything is hard at the beginning, even to get yourself a meal. But maybe the biggest challenge was finding a decent place at an affordable price. Housing is really expensive in Beijing.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in China?

A: Living in China makes you stronger, much more patient and ready to overcome every obstacle. It changes you in a good way. The downsides, especially in Beijing, are the terrible pollution, the traffic jam, working over time without bonuses and the high cost of living.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: Beijing is a city of wonder. Except for the tourist’s attractions, I strongly recommend to discover the Hutongs, the old city maze of alleys, in Gulou and find out how locals live their daily life. Experience university students’ nightlife in Wudaokou and find out the cool expats places in Sanlitun.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: I’d probably move back to Europe, not sure if I’m going back to Italy tho’. I don’t plan on staying in Beijing forever, mostly because I feel the need to live closer to my parents.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Enjoy every moment, good or bad. Let China change you. And then get Chinese friends to help you out with the big stuff, like finding a place or signing a contract.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about China?

A: If you want to find out more about expats life and love in Beijing you can check my blog.