Foreigners Leaving China – What’s The Reason?

In china business, vlog by Michael Michelini14 Comments

Foreigners Leaving China

The China In and Out

Moving to a new place is always a stressful one – but especially China. It is a “whole new world” – both online and offline. The adjustments one needs to go through are significant, and when I see a new group of people coming here, I always wonder how long they will be able to stay.

Check out the video blog discussing it below, or read on after the vlog.

Terry’s In & Out of China Story

My old friend Terry Lin is one of them. He came in February of this year with a bunch of friends to work here, but they are already placing out after a few months. A common trend I have to deal with over the years unfortunately.

The mindset shift needed for China is significant. I left in 2010 thinking I would never move back. I was transitioning to Philippines, taking trips back and forth between Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Manila. I think the time mentally checked out of China helped me to re-prepare for the moving back that year. I couldn’t complain anymore and I willingly moved back knowing what to expect.

Maybe that should be a requirement for all foreigners who want to live in China. Come here for a while, maybe a month or two, and see how you adapt. Most of us do complain about China and there of course are bad things about it. But its a process, and we either need to accept China for what it is, or leave.

It is clear from the stacks and stacks of books about – you cannot change China. Either you adjust, or you leave.

Makes me think of one of my friends Andrew (aka Boozer, RIP) who I met when first moving to China. He told me I was too high strung here and trying to make things happen too fast, so one of three things would happen:

The 3 Outcomes of Adapting to China

  1. I’d Leave China
  2. I’d Deal With China For What It Is
  3. I’d Have A Mental Breakdown

Experiencing All China Phases

I have been through all 3 of those cycles (well not a full breakdown, but there have been some of those “China days” as many foreigners here can relate with me on) – and for the most part I have settled to option 2 – I’m dealing with China for what it is. And no, I didn’t “give in” – instead of that I would say I have a clear understanding of how the system works in China, as well as the system overseas and I know how to quickly adjust between the two “worlds”. That is a skill that is extremely valuable, and I think is required for you to do business not only in China, but anywhere outside of your home country. You need to respect the countries you are visiting in and doing business in and realize it is a different set of rules.

Now I almost get annoyed when I see another foreigner rushing into China thinking they can apply their MBA skills to “make China efficient”. There is so much more to it. China is the way it is for a reason – and they resent it when a smart MBA comes here thinking they can teach Chinese how they should live and do business.

What Is The Future For Foreigners Living in China?

Well we are all wondering the future of foreigners living and working in Mainland China.

To be honest, I don’t think it will get easier for foreigners in China. I see it getting more divided and more different. I see a Chinese internet that is totally cut off from the rest of the world’s internet. Almost like those AOL days when you would click the WWW icon to go to the “world wide web” and a warning would pop up:

“Its dangerous out there, are you really sure you want to leave the AOL walled garden and enter the wild and open internet?”

I think it would make you re-confirm after as well. So I see China building up more and more infrastructure, systems, and technology so that it has everything inside of the firewall and physical wall so that it can further separate itself from the rest of the world. I won’t comment if that is right or wrong but that is just the way I see the trend going.

So for those who want to rush into China and think you can take the bull by the horns and fix it – realize – you need to adapt for China – not the other way around.

Update: I Left China Myself!

When I first made this video blog I thought I would be sticking in China for the long term – but – after 10 years (well almost 11) I left in the end of 2018.

You can watch another video and hear my leaving China experiences here The Mass Exodus of Foreigners Leaving China.

A Visit to China in May 2019

I have to admit, I miss Mainland China. I took an intensive 4 or so days to China and Hong Kong with a lot of business to do.

I still have my WFOE company in China, and invited myself to China from Chiang Mai. That was pretty amazing, and I received a 10 year business visa for Canton fair and other reasons.

Yet, I felt many foreigners are still leaving at a high rate. More friends I haven’t seen in such a long time who have been there 10 – 15 years are also moving back to America and their home country.

Feel there will be even more leaving soon from the meetings I had.

Now Why Do You Think Foreigners Are Leaving China?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

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  1. I gotta hear more about your 2010 departure and why you eventually returned. I know so many people that will say how x, y, and z (usually) Southeast Asian country is better than China, but they always end up coming back to China to live and work. I’ve experienced the feeling a few times where I thought I’d leave China for good, mainly after my 1st year, but I’m 6 years deep at this point and as happy and optimistic as ever. Plus, I could never go back to America because they don’t have WeChat 🙂

    1. it is crazy how America is now falling behind in the tech world….its insane – guess both of us are here for the long term – really excited to build stuff up together soon!

      I’ll definitely catch you up on my 2010 departure and return – but it did help me a lot to appreciate and prepare for china on my return and was helpful.

  2. You can either adjust and accept china for what it is, or you will leave.

    Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks will either accept America for what it is, or they will leave.

    Immigrants, including chinese immigrants will come to western countries and if they don’t like something how it is, they try to protest, lobby, or whatever to change it. Kind of a double standard I’d say. The biggest thing that affects us in China is the racial discrimination and social segregation we face. Few people who make blogs like this will ever talk about it. But I believe that the local immigrant aociety in china should bond together and they should find ways to confront the discrimination the same way Martin Luther King jr did in America.

    1. Author

      i’d love it if the local immigrant society in China would bond together – problem is – not many stick around long enough and foreigners in China are…. in and out.

  3. After 6 years, the nationalism for me is too much. Nationalism is rising everywhere but I just run into politics wherever we go. The staring is accustomed and we come into contact with nice neighbors and people on the street. However there is an increasingly nationalistic fervor growing as well as extraordinary state control over social aspects of daily life like going online. I have grown a lot in this country and I am grateful but I have the right to vote, get untainted food, rule of law and the right to fair trial based on evidence in the States.
    . I appreciate America a lot more now and realized that in China a foreigner is a welcomed guest until he no longer is. A foreigner in China is always an outsider and has no rights. Everything is great and rosy until it isn’t. God bless those who stay for many years to come in China, because I feel your going to need to count your blessings as time goes on. If your astute politically and have stayed for awhile in China you’ll know what I mean and how I feel. Good luck.

  4. Hahah, that is an interesting take on China. When I first arrived to China I went through that intolerable phase. Most people who come to China have the mentality that they need to ride it out, otherwise you are seen as a failure. Once you ride it out, you have the best of both worlds.

      1. I’ve lived in China for 7 years. I am married now, with a child here. I think China is an alternative to America. Half the world sees America as the bastion of freedom and the land of milk and honey. The other half of the world from Russia, Middle East, Africa, Australia and other countries also see China as a step up, a land of opportunity, milk and honey. There are now two milk and honey countries in the world. You just need to learn Mandarin to succeed in one.

  5. arrived in china in 2004, left after 15 yrs, just a few days ago. became fluent in chinese, lots of friends, deep emotional connection to china, own small translation company. govt authoritarianism yr after yr getting too much. city mgt beating street vendors, mob demolition companies force ppl out of their apts if u dont sign on dotted line, myself included. china has lost its cuteness and charm. i made the decision three yrs ago to leave but took that long to be able to fully pull up roots. then hong Kong errupted and you see the commie brutality at work, spitting image of Tibet, xin jiang, falundong, tiananmen persecution etc etc etc. china firewall has citizens brainwashed and or afraid to make commentary. for a person who came to china with the sole purpose of learning Language n culture it was absolutely fantastic. but after dictator xi took office, those days are over. for the foreigners Whom are still in china, please be careful. due to hongkong, their disdain for all things china and the ccp manipulation of news, you will be wise to keep a low profile. peace to all

    1. Author

      hi Henry,
      Thanks for sharing with us here – it is a tough decision to move after 15 years invested I wish you the best in your next chapter

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  7. 2020 will be my last year in China. The Internet and VPN situation is gettng worse and I rely too much on outside news, YouTube and radio to live in China another year. It’s gotten unbearable.

    1. Author

      hi Joshua,

      I hear you bud, I was just visiting for a few weeks and I couldn’t get anything done….. best of luck in your next adventure. I hope the time in China made you better and stronger – for me it sure did.

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