14 September 2016

Clint MacNichol - Expat in Zhaoyuan, China

Clint MacNichol - Expat in Zhaoyuan, China

We’ve had the chance to talk to Clint MacNichol, 42, a Canadian expat who has moved to China with his family. Mr. MacNichol who has been living there for two years, is now a business person.

Read more about his experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I was born in the province of Quebec in Canada, but spent the majority of my life in Atlantic Canada in the Province of New Brunswick.


Q: What made you move out of Canada?

A: The Short Answer: The need to see the world and understand its people first hand.

The longer answer: As the West maintains the ill-fated idea of more debt solves more debt, I am convinced this will not end well and therefore felt the need to remove my family from the repercussions of such policy. I do not want my children suffering the burden of foolish decisions made today.


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

A: Our family is currently living in Zhaoyuan, China, found in the province of Shandong.

Prior to relocating, the Young Travelling MacNichols could be found in Canada’s North. While there we came across a business opportunity involving an English Training School. The business opportunity was very attractive, and the idea of being able to have my children learn Chinese was something we could not pass up.

I am a firm believer of a massive economic shift happening towards Asia. As a parent, I know I cannot and will not decide what my children will do in the future, but I am quite certain speaking fluent Mandarin will be a handy tool to hang on their belt.


Q: How long have you been living in China?

A: We are approaching the two-year mark and are planning at least another year and a half. From there we will reassess.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: We are a happy family living under one roof.

Relocating to China when not knowing one word of Mandarin was a huge adjustment. For no one more so than our children. Our struggles and triumphs can be read by at Travelling Macnichols.

I tend to always see the positive in things; our travels have certainly brought our family closer together. Sure we get on each other’s nerves, but these adventures have created a bond that would not have formed if we maintained a ‘normal’ life back in Canada.


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

A: I am a wandering soul; the distance does not bother me. HOWEVER, I am not alone in this, and other family members do miss Canada, specifically, they miss family. And likewise, the grandparents are not amused by the fact their grandchildren are an ocean away.

We are fortunate Skype does not charge by the minute. The YTMs keep in touch a great deal. Whether by Skype, Facebook or through our blogs, the folks back in Canada can keep tabs on us anytime. We have even had one parent make the journey over and is planning another visit soon.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: The biggest surprise about living in Zhaoyuan, China has been the people.

Unfortunately, so much false information is spread in the West regarding places like China, the reality is very shocking...in a good way.  The people of Zhaoyuan and anywhere we have visited in China, for that matter, are simply the friendliest; most helpful I have ever met.

Other than the occasional taxi driver trying to take advantage of the ‘foreigners’ we have never felt in danger or nervous about our surroundings.


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: Fortunately, thanks to our business here, we have come to meet many people who have opened their homes to us. We have been to weddings, small villages and so many functions simply because everyone wanted to be around us more in order to ask lots of questions…..they are very curious.

In our case, our two young girls have developed social circles because we have them attending local Chinese Schools. As for the two adults in our family, finding friends in the community comes about in different forms.

The biggest obstacle for my wife has been due to cultural differences. Given that woman here follow certain social norms, such as marrying young, the typical middle-aged Chinese woman has different priorities than that of my wife. In my case, most of my interaction comes from business activities. I have developed some social contacts, but for the most part, we meet due to business commitments, but social conversations arise.

I would say that is certainly one big impediment of living in ‘rural’ China. We are the ONLY expats for 100’s of miles. A fact that has helped our business, by making us quite a novelty.  So I would say we know many people, but have not developed tight relationships.

Given our experience with our business, the young single woman would be the least suitable person to reside where we are unless you have made the concerted choice to seek out relationships and learn Chinese. However, the young Chinese woman is not a young Western Woman. Drinking at a bar, for example, is not considered proper for a young lady. While there those who do, they make up a small percentage of the population. You will find other common areas…….like shopping...haha.


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

A: As for the cost of living, China is dirt cheap. I should qualify that, living in small town China is cheap, centers such as Beijing and Shanghai consistently rank as the most expensive places in the world to live.

However, here is how an expat should view moving to a Developing country, and this is key. In places like China, Asia or South America, the cost of what you NEED to live is cheap. Food and Housing, the essentials, are cheap. The items that don’t matter, like the plastic crap to decorate your home or clothes with a specific logo;  the things you have a CHOICE in buying. Those are expensive. The West is very much the opposite. 

  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: Coffee can be cheap, around 10yuan (2 Canadian dollars), but let's just say China is a place of great tea… We have only found two coffee shops in all of China who can distinguish between a Latte and Cappuccino. Sorry for sounding like a coffee snob. For me, it is probably the only thing I really miss from the West.

We recommend buying beans and making coffee at home.  


  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: Food here is ridiculously cheap. Most of my lunch time meals are never more than 2$ (Canadian Dollars). If you want to pay more, you certainly can, but the ‘whole in the walls’ and food stands are where the great real food is made. We have come to the point where most of our family meals are take out or at restaurants due to the pricing. Breakfast is the only consistent meal made at home.


  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: Naturally, if you want to pay more, someone will take your money. However, expensive is not always better. More often you are paying for the environment.

For the most part, food quality if far more important than the “look” of a place. Some restaurants, simply running a counter, will have lines of people outside, wealthy and poor alike, while an expensive restaurant will be half full and mainly used for special occasions.


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

A: A bottle of local wine runs the gamut, from quite cheap, all the way to anywhere you want to go. With that being said, the Chinese have not quite perfected this skill, so trial and error will highlight your wine search. There certainly are worst things to be burdened with.

In our province, Shandong, there are some very famous [in China] vineyards producing wines, but their tastes do not really match the pallet of anyone accustomed to wines from other parts of the world.

Moreover, thanks to import taxes on foreign goods, a bottle from abroad can be 2, 3, four times as expensive.

From our experiences, the Hong Kong Duty-free shop has had the best pricing on alcohol. Be sure to have your F/X app ready to make sure and currency does fluctuate.


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

A: We have gone through this process and the one piece of advice I would pass on, is BE PATIENT. There will be some paperwork, and you will have many people come by to deal with your task. You will be a part client, part sideshow attraction. I doubt many banks in Mainland China have anyone experienced in this matter, and there will be a lot of huddles.

Other things to know:

  • You will have banks tell you it cannot be done. Many folks at the local bank level are not up on all the regulations. Keep trudging on.
  • Setting up your online banking will involve more steps than you can imagine, but I will say this. The Asian banking system is doing much more with online banking than you will find in the west. 
  • Just because you have a bank account does not mean you can transfer money back home. As a foreigner, you will have to use Western Union-type services. Unless you have a relationship with a local. A good thing to have, because the transfer costs are next to nothing for a local to transfer funds abroad.
  • To open an account, all you need is your passport and your Visa stamp. Some will open an account even if you are here for a short stay, but a Visa indicating 60 days or more is better. Just in case have a local address to give them
  • Alternately, if you have the chance, open an account in Hong Kong that has branches in China and has them open a China-based account for you.
  • There will be delays simply from the fact their system is set up for Chinese Characters and Chinese Names. Those darn Phoenicians clearly were not planning ahead. Even the forms will be a tad tricky. Practice writing small, since the signature box or name box is sized for a few characters, not an Anglo-Saxon name.


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

A: There are certainly a few redundancies in order to keep a lot of bureaucrats occupied. However, the process is nowhere near as cumbersome as I had imagined. I have had the same, if not worse, experiences in Canada.

With agreements developing between countries and China, more and more of the process is being streamlined. It is now very possible to receive a revolving Visa, allowing you to enter China up to 90 days per visit and valid for the life of your Passport. Check Visa for China for county specific agreements

We are in a fortunate situation. My company handles all Visa applications for any foreign employees we hire, so we have come to be quite informed. Knowing what I know now, my concern would not be the government, but agents and Chinese employers, cutting corners.

So if any has questions or looking for advice, contact me anytime.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in China is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: To date, we have been fortunate. Our only experiences have been a dentist visit and eye appointments.

The dentist’s environment was far more up to date than I expected to see. Dental hygiene is not a huge priority here, so this service will only improve in time. The office I visited could be described as being about ten years behind the typical western office. Rest assured my visit did not take place in an alley with a spit bucket.

I would warn against relying on the ‘rural’ or small town doctors, some of their methods are dated. They don’t’ seem to quite understand the difference between bad cold and flu.

Make your way to a larger center and you will get a glimpse of how the Chinese contend with processing large numbers. Our eye visit involved seeing many practitioners, instead of one. But with each person doing one specific task (exam), they are able to process far more people. And keep in mind, when we visited the eye doctor, we did not visit a floor or wing of a hospital, the entire six story structure was the ‘eye hospital’.

In total, our daughter received her eyeglasses for a total of around 120.00 Canadian Dollars. In two hours after her exam was complete.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in your home or China? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: We secured coverage to get us back, should something serious occur, but with the cost being so low here, we deal with other healthcare costs ourselves. I would suggest researching and buying coverage that makes you feel comfortable.


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to China? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: We were fortunate, in that we had made a purge of many items prior to moving the Canadian Arctic. Moving to China involved mostly clothing, personal items and a suitcase of Barbie dolls. Everything followed us on the plane.


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

A: Anyone without prior experience should realize there will be an adjustment period. The first few months are daunting, especially, if you are away from the larger centers. Gone are any signage that you can understand, everything is a shock to the senses. Places like the grocery store are just a constant smack to the senses.

This type of experiences gives you perspective on things you may not have considered. Looking at all the Chinese Characters and unable to read any, a visitor to China will quickly understand what is like to be illiterate.


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



Two things, living in China allows you to see what China really is. Not how it is portrayed in the Western Media. This is a society quickly advancing into the future. And second, the people of China are the most welcoming group I have ever encountered. So no, not every is where grey peasant outfits and is constantly in long lines. No, you will not be arrested at the whim of some police officer….Mao is long since dead. You will see entrepreneurship flourishing.


Since they are still progressing, many things are still rough around the ages. Construction standards in apartments are not up to Western standards. A vast improvement to their previous arrangements, but no way up to what we would call typical standards.  

My big turn off is how bathrooms are dealt with. Go anywhere and they seem to be an afterthought or looked at as simply a necessary evil. Many restaurants do not have them and often the only options are the public toilets, which consist of the squat variety and are not the cleanest.


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

A: Our area is quite a blue collar. The area has been too busy working and saving;, things have not developed on the leisure side. There are many markets to cruise and a small amusement park.

However, recently there has been a push by the government to encourage tourism and culture. So, there are those trying their hand at creating more reasons to come here.

The area is very well known for their seafood, Gold (Zhaoyuan is known as the gold capital of China) and a seaside area is being developed for tourists.  If you are a fan of Leather and Fur, we have a large retail hub, of about 300,000 sq meters of nothing but fur and leather.


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

A: Moving to Canada is most likely not in our future. The next phase in our life will be relocation to South America. We are still doing our homework, but open to new opportunities.


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

A: Learn the language! It is not that hard.

There seems to be a reflex by many of the expats we meet, to start to list how things are wrong or bad here. Almost as a bonding tool, expats will dive right into the negative things. Whether it is the mindset of the locals or what they eat or how they dress, there seems to be an automatic need to look down upon their hosts. 

Please try to avoid that. It is not as though the fine, perfect specimen of a person found in the west just dropped from the sky one day. It was not too long ago residents could be seen throwing bodily waste out their bathroom windows….in London or New York.


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

A: I am, of course, a fan of Expatfinder.com (please send the 5$ we talked about for that plug...haha)

I guess this is a good place to be a little self-promotional. I am proud of my budding blogs Scotch in my Glass and the Travelling MacNichols. I try to provide a different perspective on life abroad and hope to make people rethink commonly held beliefs.

In our case, since we are living a slightly different life in China, in small town China, that is, and since we have children attending local Chinese schools, it is hard to find sources of anyone sharing what we are doing. 

Thanks for the opportunity to share our story and we are certainly open to passing on our experience to others interested in taking a step sure to send family and friends into a panic state.