A Guide To Living in Changchun, China as an Expat

Liz Smith
Liz Smith

Liz Smith left the daily grind in the States to travel the world with her husband. Eventually teaching English in China & loving it, she began sharing her experience with others who are interested in embarking on this new adventure!

 / Jan 18, 2018

Changchun is an important hub of political, economic and cultural activity in China. As the second largest city in Northwest region of China and capital of the Jilin province, it's home to over seven million people and contains seven districts and three counties. Though the city has switched hands from China and Japan over the years, it has been apart of China since 1948.


Perhaps one of the biggest reasons that Changchun has grown so rapidly and continues to do so is because of its expansion in fields like education and industry. Not only does it contain thirty-six different universities and colleges, but the city was also China's first automotive producer. Since then, Changchun has been nicknamed the "City of Science and Technology" as well as the "City of Automobiles."


Neighborhoods & Districts of Changchun 


As mentioned before, Changchun contains seven districts and three counties. If you're looking to be at the center of all the action, the district of Chaoyang sits at the urban core of Changchun. It features many of the city's most popular attractions--including the South Lake Park and the Changchun Cultural Square. From here, the Nanguan district isn't too far away and it contains the Peony Garden and the Changchun Huguo Prajna Temple.


Located north of the Downtown area lies the Kuancheng district -- a huge part of the city's transportation. Kuancheng has Changchun's Railway station, which was where the Japanese and Russian railway junction was set up back in the 1930's. For anybody who's looking to get in or out of the city, they'll have to most likely travel through Kuancheng first.


The Erdao district, which borders Kuancheng in the northwest direction, doesn't lack attractions either. Here, you can find the Changchun Century Square and North Lake Park. As for the Lvyuan district, you can look forward to the Changchun Film City and the First Automotive Group building--where some China's first automobiles were made.


As for the Shuangyang and Jiutai districts, there really isn't any tourist attractions or urban development to be seen -- Shuangyang is mostly made up of suburbs and residential areas while Jiutai mostly contains rural farmland.


Getting In and Out of Changchun, China


When it comes to getting in and out of the city, you have three main options to choose from -- train, bus or plane. For those who like to travel by train in China, there are two railway stations located within the city: The Changchun Railway Station (located in the Kuancheng district) and the West Railway Station in Lvyuan. 


Out of these two options, the Changchun Railway Station is definitely bigger and will be able to transport you to more Chinese cities while the West Railway specializes in bullet trains that go back and forth from Beijing, Shanghai and other urban areas.


For flying, the Changchun Longjia International Airport not only contains domestic flights to most of the bigger cities but also to several ones abroad as well. Currently, they have around 63 different airlines to choose from and handle over three million passengers annually.


If you can't stand flying or riding the train, however, there's always the option to take a long-distance bus too. In the city, there are three different stations to choose from: the Highway Passenger, the Kaixuan, and Central Bus Station. The buses connect all over the Jilin province, and it's relatively easy to get to cities like Beijing and Shenyang.


Transportation & Traffic Around Changchun, China


Though much of Changchun's urban area is fairly compact, there's plenty of different ways to get around. The city buses, though they may be loud and crowded, can get you to almost any part of the city that you need. A quick tip to remember when traveling by bus though is to pay attention to exactly what kind of bus it is -- those that have only a driver typically cost around 1 Yuan, but buses that also have conductors make their prices based on the amount of stops you travel.


The subway is also another popular option for getting around in the city. Currently, there are four lines (though the plan is to have more in the future) that run through Changchun. Other than that, taxis and the tram are available for public use too. The tram line is historic though and the only line in use today is Number 54 -- which goes by most of Changchun's tourist attractions.


If you're planning on driving your own vehicle in the city though, it's worth noting that the traffic can get pretty congested. Not only is the city tightly compacted, but the narrow highways can cause cars to get backed up for quite awhile during busy hours.


** Read more about public transportation in China


Safety and Scams You Should Be Aware of in Changchun


When it comes to pulling off a scam, foreigners are often the perfect targets. Most of the time, they can't speak the language as well and aren't very familiar with the culture. While Changchun is a fairly safe place to live, there are a few scams to look out for.


One the popular scams in most of China's major cities is the Teahouse scam -- the targets are usually native English speakers and people who have not been in the city for very long. Essentially, the Teahouse scam involves a group of people coming up to you and asking for help with the English language. 


If you agree, they'll take you to a teahouse and everyone will order drinks. When the bill comes, the total will be an outrageous amount of money, and when you ask your new friends for help, they'll vanish and leave you to pay it all. In the end, you'll be stuck paying a bunch of money to a teahouse that isn't even real. To avoid this scenario, the best thing to do is just refuse to help the strangers or suggest your own teahouse to go to -- one that you know isn't fraudulent.


Another thing to look out for is pickpockets. Be on the lookout in airports, train and bus stations as these are often popular places for them to be; travelers are often carrying large amounts of money, passports, and other valuable items worth stealing.

Speaking of airports, you should never get into an unlicensed taxi cab. Even if it seems convenient and the airport is filled to the brim, it's still not worth it. Many times, these unlicensed cabs don't even have meters, and when you get to your destination, they'll excessively overcharge you. At the very worst, they could even rob you. Though Changchun is pretty safe, as a foreigner, you must be on guard -- your lack of knowledge about the culture can make you vulnerable and an easy target for con artists.


Climate and Weather in Changchun

The wet, monsoon-like climate of Changchun can make it a chilly place to live. During January, it's not uncommon for there to be a constant covering of snow or a temperature well below freezing. 


If you're looking to make a trip to Changchun during the summer, the best time to go is in July--where the average temperature is 23 degrees Celsius or 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Overall, Changchun spends more time being cold than it does hot, and even the first part of the summer is usually spent wearing long-sleeves.


The Best Time to Visit Changchun

Depending on whether or not you prefer the cold, there are two good times to visit Changchun: during the winter to see the Changchun Jingyuetan Ice & Snow Festival or during the late summer to see the Changchun China Film Festival. 


If you're someone who has a harder time in the cold, it might be better to go during July--the hottest month of the year. On the other hand, for those who love wintertime, a trip during January would probably guarantee that you see snow and plenty of winter-themed events as well.


Top Things to Do in Changchun, China


When it comes to attractions, Changchun has no shortage of interesting things to do and see. For anybody interested in China's history, the Puppet Emperor's Palace is a must-see. The museum is the former home of the emperor Puyi, who was the last of the Qing Dynasty. When Japan seized control of the Northwest, Puyi was used as a "puppet" by the Japanese. Today, this palace is a symbol of Changchun's rocky past and a promise of a better future.


Another popular option is the World Sculpture Park. The large park features works from 270 artists from over a hundred countries around the world, and at this point, the park will be expanding to include new works.


Along the same lines, the Jingyue Pool is also quite popular with both locals and tourists. The national park includes almost five kilometers of water and ten kilometers of forest to explore. The clear water and lush green mountains are the perfect view, and during the wintertime, there's even a ski-resort to enjoy too.


Life in Changchun for Expats (and Resources)


When it comes to expats, Changchun seems to have the motto that quality is better than quantity. While the expat population isn't necessarily large, those who do live there often love the city and fit in well there. Part of this has to do with how Changchun includes these new members into the community. 


For example, in 2014, Changchun's expats gathered together and hand rolled different Changchun foods to reign in the new year. The event served to not only help the expats get to know each other but also to assimilate to Changchun culture too.


There are different local spots that expats meet and connect at, but in general, the city of Changchun is very interested in people that they feel would add something to the community as a whole. There's a couple of different resources that the city uses for this--such as their department in overseas expertise.


Changchun Festivals & Events


As mentioned before, one of the biggest events to take place around Changchun is the International Film Festival in late August. In the past, Changchun has been recognized as a pivotal part of China's film industry and this festival demonstrates that--there are awards given, special performances and plenty of food to go around.


The Changchun International Automobile Fair also showcases the city's central role in the automotive industry. Here, the aim is to present new vehicles as well as talk about the evolving automobile culture. Over time, this particular festival has garnered international attention and helped boost Changchun's reputation as a whole.


Though citizens of Changchun might not think about agriculture at any other point during the year, most citizens will at least stop by the International Agriculture Exposition to support local farmers. In the years that it has been going on, the festival has become a bit of tradition for Changchun locals to attend and has gained extreme popularity internationally.


Since it's home to the World Sculpture Garden, the city also happens to have an International Sculpture Exposition too. With artists, critics and art lovers alike, the exposition gathers many prominent figures of the art community in one place. For aspiring sculptors, the event is the perfect opportunity to showcase their work and get feedback from sculpting experts.


Along the same lines, the Changchun Folk Art Exposition is another local favorite. The theme of the pieces is always folk art, but each time, the artists and organizers of the festival look for new and creative ways to display the artwork to the public. Since its debut, this particular event has helped in building an economy and public demand for different expositions in Changchun.


Finally, the Changchun Ice & Snow Festival that takes place in January does more than just attract locals. The festival has become so popular that some tourists choose to travel to the city during the month just to be in attendance. During the time of the Festival, the entire city takes on the appearance of a Winter Wonderland--the streets, parks, and buildings are decorated with magnificent snow and ice sculptures. There's also a wide variety of activities to take place in--the food, art, and trading help draw in tourists and educate them on Changchun's local traditions and culture.


Living in Changchun, China Offers a Lot to Foreign Expats


Changchun is a vibrant city that has a lot to offer foreign expats.  This is a modern city in China with a long and interesting history.  Beyond the typical tourist attractions, the city is welcoming to expats and provides ways for them to meet each other and contribute to the community.  This makes living in Changchun a great option for expats moving to China.

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Liz Smith

Liz Smith left the daily grind in the States to travel the world with her husband. Eventually teaching English in China & loving it, she began sharing her experience with others who are interested in embarking on this new adventure!