Six Tips to Help You Adjust to Chengdu

Note: This is the first post published by a new contributor, Brendan. Make him feel welcome by leaving a comment below!

I’ve been intending to write this for a little while now, not least as a token of my appreciation for all the times Chengdu Living has been an invaluable ‘go to’ source of information for me. I held off on writing this until now so I could at least feel some way qualified to give an authentic point of view on the thrills and spills of adjusting to life in the ‘Du. It’s been just days shy of a year since I leapt out here with only one eye open, and I finally feel like I’ve settled into being a part of Chengdu. It’s been every bit worth the frustration.

Chengdu streetsAnd so to the following: six things that will either have you in an eternal spin, or if you get your act together and practice using even a little common sense, will steer you towards a far easier transition than you might have thought possible. I’ve either made half of these mistakes myself, or have been rightly entertained by the tales of woe told by other poor souls who too should have perhaps known better.

I’ll keep these points brief, but will very likely expand on each as a separate article in the coming weeks.

Tip #1: Plan Ahead & Build Contacts

This one is a no brainer (no, really!), but I’ve seen examples of bad planning that have even shocked me. One such post in the Chengdu Forum read something like: ‘Oh my god, I just got here and I don’t know where I am, and only have $xxx in my wallet. Help!‘. No need point out the epic failure to plan ahead in this instance, but you get my drift.

Before you even get here you should have built up a foundation of knowledge, and where possible, contacts of people who may (or may not) be useful to you. You’re already one step ahead if you’re reading this. Chengdu Living forums were a massive leg up for me before arriving, eventually steering me toward the visa agent who handled my change of visa upon arrival. Knowing what you’ll need to be taking care of ahead of time and planning for it might be common sense, but only if you’re actually practicing it.

Tip #2: Get Reliable Information & Secure The Right Visa

Again, this one is fairly obvious unless you relish the idea of being detained, deported, or denied entry from/into Mainland China. Yes, dozens (as in hundreds!) of people have played it to the wire and managed to fix things at the final hour, but why go through all the hassles and stresses when you could have had it all worked out smoothly ahead of time?

China visa

Know why you’re coming, and plan accordingly. I know from experience that even outside of China, when you step into a Chinese consulate on your home soil looking for a visa, you are in fact entering the twilight zone. The best piece of advice I could give anyone coming to China is always (always!) do your research, no matter who you have telling you ‘this is how it is’, because 9 times out of 10 you will be receive conflicting information. Make sure it’s always you who is the informed party, and you’ll save yourself most of the running around you’d be dealt otherwise.

Tip #3: Scout Out a Place to Live

So I don’t have to repeat myself any further, the key word is planning! Circumstances will be different for many of you, but we all want to have a place to call home, and leaving it to chance will put you in all manner of awkward situations. There are agencies with an online presence, though you should expect to pay higher rents if this is your chosen route. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be as informed as possible when it comes to renting an apartment/house/other in Chengdu. Standards are just not the same here, and your protection is all but non-existent, so do your homework and invest some time in figuring out what will make your being here more livable.

Agents are everywhere, so the first thing is choose wisely. Know that they will expect 1 month as a deposit, and typically 3 months in advance. This is often negotiable, particularly if they expect you to be staying for an extended period of time. Agents will also seek 50% of 1 months rent commission. Before you sign anything, double check everything, and make sure some form of maintenance/upkeep clause is included in the contract to protect you from anything unforeseen. Lastly, expect something unforeseen!

Tip #4: Eat Good

Everyone’s got to eat, right? It might sound simple (and it is!), but you should give this some thought if nutrition is even half way important to you. I’ve seen too many sorry looking (Western) souls sitting in a Pizza Hut, kidding themselves that ‘this is really good food’. Language aside, you can eat extremely well here in Chengdu.

Sichuan foodYou just landed in Sichuan, and whether you know it or not, the food here is awesome. Scary stories of recycled oil, fake eggs, and pesticides aside, getting out and about in Chengdu, and in particular your neighbourhood, will have you eating like a King without having to break the bank. You’ll find Supermarkets selling pretty much everything you’ll need, but the adventurous souls will be stumbling upon food markets that sell an awesome array of fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, and a host of condiments. The prices in the markets also mean you can buy much larger quantities for less.

Be adventurous here, and don’t be afraid to put yourself in potentially awkward (pointing) situations. There’s an abundance of eat out joints that will serve up some of the best food you’ve tasted in your life. Enjoy!

Tip #5: Get Around and ‘Know Your Hood’

Forward planning (damn it!), and doing your homework aside, you will need to figure out where everything is at and find your bearings. It might take some time, but it shouldn’t be daunting. There are a number of ways to approach this, so figure out what works for you, and get going.

I approached this half methodically, half haphazardly… I started by spending the first day literally walking around the entire area my apartment was located in, with nothing but a GPS pointer on my mobile to remind me which way I was facing. In the next few days I hopped on and off just about every Metro stop, and proceeded to do the same in each area. I looked online ahead of time for cafe’s and restaurants, so I could stop off for coffee or eats along the way.

Google Maps and Google Translate will get you a long way. Translate on my mobile has been massively useful to this day, storing all of your searches in memory, so flashing a destination at a taxi driver will have you on your way immediately, and is a good back up should you get lost.

There’s always the bike or scooter option too, and you can be up and running on a new scooter for as little as 2,000 RMB ($325 approx.), zipping around Chengdu with all the other stunt drivers. Which leads me nicely to my next, and final point…

Tip #6: Stay Sharp & Look Ahead

This one doesn’t just apply to the insanity that is all things Chengdu/China traffic related, this applies to everything I’ve covered and more. Hopefully I don’t need to say it again, but unless you think out all the possibilities ahead of time, you can expect to be facing some headaches. And don’t take it for granted that this applies only to the bigger issues, it doesn’t. No matter how trivial, or otherwise obvious to you and I, get ready to be infuriated at times by what at first may seem like sheer ignorance. Soon enough you’ll find yourself waiting to step out of an elevator, or off of the bus, only to be faced with 50 people trying to occupy the exact space your feet are planted on before you even blink. No one hates you, it’s just the mix we’re all in, so get used to it and play along!

Chengdu traffic

Perhaps I should close by saying patience really is a virtue, and the sooner you get some, the sooner you’ll settle into the change of pace and attitude that exists here. Remember Chengdu is a 2nd tier city, and although it has come a long way in recent times, there’s a stretch to go before you’ll find people holding doors open for you, or remembering that you agreed to meet at 1 o’clock, and not 3! You already took the leap of faith to get here, so go with it and make the best of every opportunity and experience that comes your way. There are countless people you’ve yet to meet will tell you it’s worth every effort.

I for one hope you work it out.

53 thoughts on “Six Tips to Help You Adjust to Chengdu”

  1. “This one is a no brainer (no, really!), but I’ve seen examples of bad planning that have even shocked me. One such post in the Chengdu Forum read something like: ‘Oh my god, I just got here and I don’t know where I am, and only have $xxx in my wallet. Help!‘. No need point out the epic failure to plan ahead in this instance, but you get my drift.”- Thats me! 😛

    Exchanging USD to RMB is important when being first dropped here!

    Ditto on the ‘competition’ for the little space avail when in high traffic areas…

  2. Chengdu has transformed so much over the last 5+ years, a lot of the preparation you could make today would have been difficult or impossible when we arrived here.

    Still this is a useful checklist for anyone who’s new in Chengdu or considering coming here. It’s surprising how many people don’t take these steps, but I suspect that detracts from the adventure aspect for some.

    One thing that I still enjoy is just going to a random part of Chengdu and walking around just to experience it. A few months ago I accidentally passed the subway stop I was supposed to get off at so I got off at another one and walked there. I passed through neighborhoods I hadn’t seen before and it was a great experience, albeit totally unexpected. Chengdu is really a large city and it takes years to explore the whole thing.

  3. One suggestion i would make is to leave your cultural baggage home, including the political stuff. Sure, this place has problems, but highlighting the perceived superiorities of western liberal democracy ain’t doing anyone any favours. It’s like telling a guy who has only ever eaten vanilla ice-cream that the chocolate flavor will change hsi life. He’ll nod politely and say “sure, I’ll give it a try” but that’s about as far as it goes. Remember, the chocolate flavor might not be in their stores…

    • Good suggestion Ray. Adjusting to the “Chinese way” of doing things is one of the most confusing and stressful facets of becoming a resident in China, but it’s a lot easier if you can let go of the Western way of thinking while you’re here.

  4. Hi,
    There is a chance that I might have to move to Chengdu. Could you please advise on how much I should expect to pay in a month for housing, food, entertainment, etc.,
    Let’s say between US $750 – 1,000/ month on a 1-bedroom in the US, what can I expect to find in Chengdu for the same amount? How much should I be prepared to pay for utilities (cable TV, internet, heating/cooling…)?

    Thank you!
    I am glad I found this site, awesome!

  5. $750 a month in Chengdu goes a long way, just as $1000 affords you a good standard of living, but there are many variables. As more new properties have risen up, so too have the rents, so it’s not difficult to find apartments asking 20,000 RMB monthly and beyond along the subway route, or central to the city. With a little ground work, and perhaps some advice from the forum, you’d not have any trouble finding a clean, decent, comfortable apartment for around $300 US monthly. That’s going to leave you with utilities of well under $100 US monthly, and then the rest is easy. Good food is available everywhere, with new restaurants and cafes popping up constantly. Food markets keep your food bill low too if you’re cooking, and you’ll not have any trouble finding cheap drinks.

    I’d say if you have $1000 US set aside as a monthly budget, you’re not going to have any trouble enjoying your time here.

      • You can live really comfortably on $1,000 a month in Chengdu. My roommate lives on about $400 a month and wants for little. I probably spend about $1,000 a month on living expenses and mostly do what I want, eat what I want, take taxis almost everywhere, etc.

  6. Getting to know your hood is key. I know far too many folks who don’t utilize the friendly services of folks who will glue your shoes, sew your buttons, serve up the best veggies or help fix leaky pipes. Get to know your hood, some key copiers and bike guys are grumpy, others are eager to fix your chain and fill your tires for just smiling and responding politely to their questions about you/ why you are in china/ if you can eat spicy etc.

    When I first came to Chengdu I biked everywhere, all around 1st ring road, to the train station and back, all around the tourist spots, back and forth from Wenjiang and Huayang. Getting to know the roads (and traffic) will help you plan adequate transportation time and keep you from getting ripped off in taxis.

    Tip #7 Learn as much Sichuan Dialect as you can. Sure you may not all throw down like Sascha, but if you can get a handle on some basics of sichuan hua you’ll get treated more like a local. (and be treated to countless gan beis, dinners and mah jong parties if you are so inclined…)

  7. My suggestion as a local girl to the newbie laowais here: go to hash house Harriet. The panda hash. U will find many ppl who lived here for a long time so u can ask all sorts of questions about living here and food (plz,guys, u don’t spend hundreds of yuan to have pizza hut and McDonalds in the Chinese food paradise of chengdu).

    U r drinking beer in a Sunday afternoon with friends anyway. Why not do some exercises then drink beer and make some friends on the panda hash. I’m sure u will see some hot bodies running across the countryside for u to follow up and have some “casual” chat 🙂

    That’s how we make friends to Phuket and koh Samui and Vietnam or malaysia and Indonesia. The fastest way to make friends. 🙂

  8. Heres another tip…

    Do not take large sums of money out at once!

    There can be many speculations to this, but one logical one is that you will be tailed if you take out large sums of money, and if you look like a foreigner, then you will be targeted doubly! Its that or check your place for bugs, cameras and what not.

  9. Hello Brendan,

    Just a wee note to say, that I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

    I have now spent many hours researching Chengdu, and a fair bit of time on this site(had noticed that you are an avid contributor). However, I guess it’s true what you say,… no matter how much planning you do, something unforeseen will inevitably crop up which will catch you off guard.

    I am intending to make the big move (from the UK) in August, with a view to starting a teaching job in September and can honestly say that I am absolutely terrified!!

    May be in touch in future with a question or two…

    Thanks again,


  10. Always great to be noticed Sandi! 😀

    Glad you’ve been finding the site useful. Feel free to PM me anytime, as well as inviting feedback from the forum.

    August in Chengdu will be a great time to be making the jump.

    Good Luck!

  11. Hello, I learned this website from one of my friends on facebook…I just wanna say: Wow!!!!OMG!! Thank you guys for setting up this website, introducing Chengdu to the world!!!

    I’m girl from Chengdu but I’m studying in NYC right now. It is such a pity that I didnt learn this amazing platform until today, otherwise I would definitely recommend this website to all my friends in Chengdu!:) They will feel surprised and LOVE

    Btw, I wanna say something to anyone who is interested in Chengdu:

    As a Chinese, I’ve visited many places in China and I can confidently tell you that Chengdu should be the most friendly city in our country. The mainstream value held by Chengdu people is that as long as you are happy and do not bother others’ life, anything is fine. We value individuals’ liberity to pursue their own lifestlyes and respect different interpretations about life itself. So everyone here doesnt like pushing others as long as people demonstrate that “I’m happy with my way”. For example, in Chengdu, you can drive a cheap QQ while nobody would judge you, which is the opposite in other cities of China.(Chengdu people like driving to suburban areas for relax during weekends.) In our eyes, the car is just a tool of tranportation and if we are happy, nothing is more important. But people in other areas of China only want to buy the most expensive car they can afford or, they would rather not to buy anything. And you can also see Chengdu men totally comfortable with top naked when they eat BBQ or hotpot during their summer time…:p~

    People here enjoy a casual lifestyle and a relatively low working pace. We LOVE majiang, massage and tea! You can find so many old ladies dance in plazas after supper time~~ We also have great historically enthusiam in spicy food, gossipy news and suburban exploration on weekends!!!Lol~~~~!

    This city is more curious and open to embrace diversity rather than other cities in China. Chengdu people usually show extraordinary enthusiam in participating events and parades. Many years ago, when Chinese football didnt suck that much the football fans in Chengdu chartered an entire flight for their favorite sports team to play abroad. When it was the big earthquake time in 2008, hundreds of taxis spontaneously gathered together and headed to the places where occurred earthquake for tranporting food and water. Despite of Delicious Food and Beauties, Chengdu is also surprisingly famous for lesbian bars and gay love around China. (Maybe it is because people here are usually skinny and with good-looking but “androgynous” face. Young kids love fashionable clothes and show great acceptance for homo-sex love.) Btw, if you watch a singer/dancer show on TV(similar to ‘American Idol’), there must be at least one candidate from Chengdu that occupies the top 3.

    In sum, there are so many interesting things that can only happen in Chengdu among all the cities in China. People are relatively more liberal and open here. However, we have seen few foreign faces in Chengdu so at most times, people here are nervous and tend to keep quiet when they see you guys:) But dont be frustrated, the only thing you need to do is to put on your sunny smile and say hi to them. After they are relaxed you will know how fun and kind Chengdu people are!Lol!!!

    • Oh, I want to supplement something: it’s inaccurate to say that Chengdu people are more liberal and open than other cities in China because there are many first lier-cities like Guangdong, Shanghai that are more dynamic than Chengdu. Instead, what I wanted to say is that when you stay in Chengdu, people pay attention on you and try to understand you. But in some first-lier cities, you will feel it is not because people there are liberal and open but because they dont care whether you are strange or what you are thinking.They only care about their money and their fast-pace life. Another thing I want to specify is that the “people” I’m talking about are the general citizens, not one or two particular groups that are normally more liberal than others in a city. Also, special administrative regions like HongKong and Macau are not in the discussion neither.

  12. Well, I just wanna finish the sentence: “They will be surprised and LOVE you guys!!!” I submitted by accident before I was done.

    Anyway, good luck for your exploration in Chengdu!!! :)))

    • Well thanks for the emphatic thumbs up Yishan. I’m curious to know what led you to the site in the first place.

      Spread the word!

      • Haha, I learned this from one of my friends on facebook but I dont know where she got this~ Anyway, let the word spread! :p

    • Hi, Yishan,

      I have been writing to a girl in Chengdu and have been researching the area, with the view, that I may visit there one day. It would be great, if you would allow me to pick your brains, when needed. As they say in life! its not what you know! but who.

      My kindest regards


  13. @Yishan: i have to disagree with you to some extent; Chengdunese love status symbols just as much as those in the coastal provinces and Beijing. And i would also disagree that Chengdu is a liberal open-minded city; it’s relaxed but it’s also less reluctant to embrace the new than other more developed cities. I met an African guy in Beijing who has an African restaurant. its extremely popular with both locals and foreigners. I can’t see Chengdu embracing African food to the same extent.
    Stereotypes can be useful but it’s also a laziness (putting people in a neat little box). To be perfectly honest, i’ve never thought Chengdunese to be any more laidback than other major cities here. And I’ve lived in Chengdu for almost 10 years!

    • @tigerkuma: Hi I’m sorry that I replied so late…I’ve owned you a response for a whole year! Haha~ Ok, here are my thoughts:
      1. Every Chinese loves statues symbols. But the point I was trying to say is in Chengdu, people’ love for a more travelling-free life beats their status notions. You do find more small, cheap cars in Chengdu, compared to other second tier cities at the same level of affluence, such as Xi’an or Changchun. I stayed at North area of China for 4 years. Trust me, people there would rather buy nothing if they can only afford a cheap one. They think a cheap car is a shame on their face. To this point, Chengdunese have more tolenrace in terms of social status.

      • 2. Liberal open-minded—Let’s say Chengdunese is related more liberal open-minded in spirit, in terms of their original culture. Of course, big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou are doing better than Chengdu. But dont forget those cities are much developed than Chengdu. Every year, millions of young professionals and artists from the whole nation go to those “first-tier” cities to seek their dreams. Just like the dream for the big apple New York City. As a result of being a meling hot pot, those big cities present more acceptance to “liberal” because they have to. But that obtain of open-mindness was imposed by the outer condition. As a Chinese, I just found Chengdu, actually a kinda poor city in China, surrounded by mountains, showed extraordinary curiosity and openness to new stuff. And such trait is out of condition.

        • 3. Restaurant–it’s a little bit shame to say that…well, basically & usually, Chengdunese are very pround of the look, the complexity and spiciness of their Sichuan cuisine. Very locally protective of their taste of spicy. If you are raised up with spicy & salty food, it’s really hard to accept other light food without any taste or “decent” cooking effort. You will even found there are fewer restaurants from other provinces as well. The extraordinarily strong Sichuan taste makes other cuisines less attractive to locals. But I think as the economy goes better with more people coming in, Chengdu will be more open at eating:)

        • 3. Restaurant–it’s a little bit shame to say that…well, basically & usually, Chengdunese are very pround of the look, the complexity and spiciness of their Sichuan cuisine. Very locally protective of their taste of spicy. If you are raised up with spicy & salty food, it’s really hard to accept other light food without any taste or “decent” cooking effort. You will even found there are fewer restaurants from other provinces as well. The extraordinary Sichuan taste makes other cuisines less attractive to the locals. But I believe as the economy goes better with more people coming in, Chengdu will be more open at eating:))

          • 4. Sterotypes. Yes of course, sterotypes can not be applied on each Chengdunese. But it is used to descripe some specific atmosphere that one area shares. By the way, a typical Chengdunese loves to gossip sterotypes of all people. It is the fun! :p
            Last sterotype: we have the slang “耙耳朵” (soft ears) to describe Chengdu men, who usually tend to be soft and always listen to their wives! And Chengdu girls are always be seen as “spicy” “bold””brave” and “tough!”
            Hope this extraordinarily long response can show my sincere apology for my late reply:)) Have a good one.

  14. Hey brendan, good job. am impressed. I look for something easy for my eyes about Chengdu that is not in the “tourism” realm. Something earthy. You got right on. nice objectivity.
    I will go into Chengdu & need to plan alot I see. I will only visit for 2 weeks then return few months later to live. Will like to keep in touch with you as I get accustomed to the way of living. Am easy going myself & ready to retire there. I also appreciated the ladies comment from the university here. Keep the good work going. Thanx again

  15. Hi Louie,

    Coming for 2 weeks exploration is a great idea, I came for 9-10 days myself the first time to get a feel for the city. I can tell you I was struck by it’s charms immediately, and if you come with an open mind, perhaps you too will find yourself at the start of a new adventure.

    I wish you luck!

  16. Hi All,
    Firstly I would like to thank you for such an excellent site! I have found this site by accident and it has been such a help!

    I am coming to Chengdu from Australia in August for a week to check out the place. I hope to be moving there at the end of the year for work, so the advice has been great.
    Question: I do have a Chinese contact in chengdu but is there a place where “western people” hang out? Online is great to chat online but nothing beats face to face!

    Thanks again for an excellent website!

    • Prices range anywhere from 100 to thousands of yuan depending on what kind of bike you get. I normally spend about 300-500 yuan on a bike and that’s for something pretty basic and solid.

  17. Brendan,

    I was hoping that you could shed some light on my situation. I am currently debating on leaving my teaching career here in the states for a great 2 year possibly more teaching fellowship in a school right here in Chengdu China. I have always wanted to go with this program in particular and I have a heart for China but I do have some major concerns. I currently live in the suburbs of Philadelphia so I am somewhat used to the hustle and bustle of a major city, although this seems to be a little bit more demanding. I also am very concerned about the pollution I keep reading about in the air. If its that bad, I am concerned about the health of my lungs as asthma and respitory problems already exist in my family. And finally I am concerned about the healthcare (medical, dental, and vision – I wear glasses) These are all things that I really could use some insight on before I make my final decision. Any pointers or other advice wuld be great. The school would handle a lot of the things that you mentioned as headache areas so I am not too worried about that. Thanks again.

  18. Hey Jonathan, first question is have you already been out here for a visit? I really think that’s vital if you’re coming from something solid back home with a view to stay long term.

    Hustle & Bustle is definitely on the up and up in Chengdu, but you can still avoid that without too much effort. Pollution however is a concern, even for those of us without any pre-existing conditions. Of course where you live and work within Chengdu will also determine your exposure, as will the precautions you take. I’d have to say this is a decision you can make only with your own research and judgement. Check the forum for some recent posts on the subject and you will find some useful data in there to begin with.

    Healthcare should only be a concern if you have no sufficient insurance coverage to protect you from the unforeseen. There are a number of companies offering comprehensive insurance to expats for around $2k US annually, give or take. Anything dental or vision related you will find very easy to deal with, as well as being cheap.

    There will obviously be adjustments coming from a city like Philly, there’s no avoiding that, but that shouldn’t stop you taking an opportunity if it brings new and unexpected experiences.

    Ask some questions on the forum and I’m sure you’ll receive plenty of responses from those who’ve already made the jump.

    Good Luck to you!

  19. I’m excited to be moving to Chengdu in late July, all the information on this forum is very helpful. It seems the moment I decided to make the move was the moment every Canadian who had ever travelled to China had something negative to say about it. I prefer to make up my own mind and read the stories form positive people who actually live in Chengdu…thanks for all the tips and info.

  20. Well you Canadians are a soft bunch!

    July is a great time to be arriving, Summer will be in full swing and you’ll get to see the city at it’s leisurely best.

    I had been living in Vancouver for 4 years before heading out here at the end of 2010, and I continue to be glad I made the move. Chengdu has a way of growing on you, as you’ll soon be discovering.

    One thing I’ll say is if you’re planning on shipping any possesions, make sure you have all of that dealt with ahead of time. You’ll need to make sure you find a carrier who knows how to efficiently deal with customs in China, or you might find yourself in for a headache. If that’s not an issue for you, then good news.

    Good luck heading out here!

    • Thanks for the tip and the positive vibes..I’m so looking forward to it..I’m not shipping much, the new work place has furnished apartments for me to choose from , but I was hoping to take some boxes on the air flight and pay for the extra…once they give me my flight I guess I will figure out the restrictions. One of the first things I need to do is find a good gym to work out at…doesn’t need to be anything fancy fact not fancy works better for me …any suggestions ?

  21. Hi Brendan,
    Great article. I live in Beijing and will be going out to Longquanyi District for a few months. I can’t seem to find much information on it, but know it’s one of the suburbs. Can you please tell me what’s it like? How far from Chengdu and best ways to commute? Things to do, etc., etc.

  22. Hi, Brendan!! Thanks for your commentary and insight. I’m planning on moving to Chengdu in early August 2016… not sure if I’m more frightened or excited, but your post is very helpful!!

    I hope I’ll see more posts on this site between now and August!

    Best regards,


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