15 September 2016

Marta Marino - Expat in Suzhou, China

Marta Marino - Expat in Suzhou, China

We’ve had the chance to talk to Marta Marino, 31, a Spanish expat who has moved to China alone. Ms. Marino who has been living there for eight years, now works as a translator.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I am from Cáceres, a small city in the west of Spain.


Q: What made you move out of Spain?

A: I started studying Chinese when I was 18. After graduating from university, I came to China to improve my language skills in Beijing. Later I went back to Spain for a year and found a job there, but the company sent me back to China after a while.


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

A: I currently live in Suzhou, China. The employer that sent me here has a factory in this city.


Q: How long have you been living in China?

A: In total, counting the time I have been studying and working here, about eight years.


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

A: I came alone and met my boyfriend here. He is local, so he’s well-adjusted!


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

A: Of course, family and friends. Social media, messaging apps and Skype help a lot! I don’t have many holidays, so I only go back to Spain once a year.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: They are mostly friendly and willing to chat or help if you need it. In Suzhou, I have noticed less “foreigner staring” than in other parts of China.


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: When I was a student it was very easy, I made a lot of friends (mostly other foreign students). When I started working, I noticed it got more difficult. Maybe because I don’t go out much, so I basically have to make friends with colleagues. But now I work from home, so that’s even harder! My current social circle is mostly composed of local people which I met through my boyfriend.


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


  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: More expensive than in Spain. Around 25-35 RMB.

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

A: You can get a decent plate of noodles for 15 RMB. Cheaper than in Spain.

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

A: The sky is the limit, haha. There are VERY expensive places in China, but the most I would spend on a meal would be 400-500 RMB per person.

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

A: I had to look this up, I had no idea. It seems you can get a bottle of Chinese red wine for as cheap as 30 RMB, and imported from 70 RMB up to several hundred. Cigarettes are around 10-15 RMB I think. Maybe there are even cheaper ones because everybody smokes here.


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

A: Bring your passport and be patient! Queues can be long in banks. If you don’t speak Chinese, try to go to a major branch where someone might speak English, or bring a Chinese colleague or friend to help you.


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

A: It is said that bureaucracy was invented in China, right? Getting the visa and residence permit can be a nightmare, so it is always a good idea to check beforehand if your company has other foreign employees (and thus have experience getting the work visa). If they have never hired a foreigner, prepare for a hell of a ride, contradictory information and countless visits to visa offices. It might happen that in the end, the company is not even able to get you a work visa at all.


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

A: Hospitals in the big cities are ok. Public hospitals are cheap and effective, but crowded. International hospitals are ridiculously overpriced, but staff speak English, and normally you don’t need to wait for much. If you don’t have insurance, I would recommend going to the public hospitals.


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: My insurance is provided by my company. It is expensive, but the company pays for 50%. Better companies pay for the full insurance! I think the essentials should be coverage for accidents and repatriation in case of serious illness or death. Luckily until now I’ve only had to use the insurance for minor problems and health check-ups.


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: The first time, when I moved to China to study, I only brought one 23 kg suitcase with me. The second time, for work, I brought two suitcases. Most of my things are in Spain, at my parent’s place. I never had to use a mover. It was quite memorable to decide what to bring and what to leave, though! I basically only brought clothes and shoes.


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

A: When I came to China as an expat I had already been here before as a student, so I knew what I was going to find in terms of way of life, food, people, etc. However, something that I had not found out before as a student was the differences in the workplace. I worked in the manufacturing industry, and I had to learn that when Chinese workers or suppliers said everything was ok, and I shouldn’t worry, I should worry. A lot. Chinese people will not tell you there is a problem until the situation is completely out of hand.


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

A: For me, the positives are that it still feels “new”, even though I’ve been here for a long time. I always discover new restaurants, new products in the supermarket, new places to visit, etc. I also like the convenience of Taobao and other Chinese sites where you can buy basically anything and have it delivered. I also like the people (as individuals) and the karaokes! On the negative side, what everybody knows: pollution, food scandals, bureaucracy, people as a mass, crowded places, scarce holidays…


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

A: In Suzhou, there are a lot of parks, lakes and canals. When the weather is nice, people here like to do barbecues outside and fly kites. The city is also suitable for cycling, and not too far to the west, there are mountains where you can hike.


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

A: I don’t have any definitive plans for the moment. If I have children, I would like them to attend school in Spain.


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

A: We all have Bad China Days, and This Is China moments, but let’s try to be positive and remember why we are here.


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

A: I read many blogs written by people living in China, like Speaking Of China or Cup Of Zhou. For events, I like to check Time Out and City Weekend. In Spanish, China Lati is a good resource. There are also many Facebook and WeChat groups, and for Chinese news, I basically rely on WeChat. Oh, I also like my own blog, of course! Marta Lives In China.