A Guide to Living in Guangzhou China

Josh Wilson
Career China Digital Marketing Manager
Nov 26, 2017

Guangzhou is one of the largest cities in China, located in the southern part of the country just over the border from Hong Kong and Macau.  Beyond it's vast history and distinct Cantonese culture, Guangzhou is an international business hub thanks to it's location along the Pearl River delta.  In addition to the business opportunities here for expats, there are plenty of things to do in Guangzhou China, hence living in this city can be quite enjoyable. This Guangzhou city guide will walk you through important things to know about this historic & modern city in southern China. 

Overview of Guangzhou

Traditionally Romanized as Canton, Guangzhou is the most populous city in Guangdong province, which is in southern China. It is also the province’s capital and commercial city. It is situated along the Pearl River, which is about 75 miles north-west of Hong Kong. Guangzhou is also located 90 miles north of Macau. The city has a history of more than 2,200 years and it is a vital transportation hub in southern China today. It is China’s third most-populous mainland cities after Beijing and Shanghai, besides being one of the country’s five national cities. According to 2015’s census figure, the city’s administrative area is one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world thanks to its estimated population of over 13,501,100 residents. Guangzhou has the highest migrant population than any other Chinese city. 

Neighborhoods / Districts of Guangzhou 

Guangzhou is regarded as a sub-provincial city, with direct jurisdiction of several districts. Below is a comprehensive outline of some of the city’s most popular districts. 

Liwan District – originally a western suburb of the city, this district is divided into two areas by Pearl River. These two areas are namely Fangcun in the southwest and Xiguan in the Northeast. 

Yuexiu District - located east of Liwan District and West of Tianhe District, Yuexiu District is Guangzhou’s cultural and political center. It is particularly well known for its high-quality education. 

Haizhu District - just south of central downtown, and it was once the city’s largest district. It is known for its booming real estate industry. 

Tianhe District - Bordering Baiyun and Yuexiu Districts to the north and west respectively, this District is home to some of the city’s landmarks such as Citic Plaza, Guangzhou Opera House, Guangzhou Museum and Guangzhou International Finance Center. 

Baiyun District - situated in Guangzhou’s northern suburbs and named after Baiyun Mountain, this district is regarded as one of the city’s natural attractions. 

Panyu District - situated in the heart of Pearl River Delta, the district bears the oldest remains of the city and currently one of the city’s most vibrant commercial centers. 

Conghua District - the city’s main mountainous area lying on the north of the Pearl River Delta. It is famous for hot springs and a fast growing economy. 

Getting in and out of Guangzhou

Guangzhou is south China’s most important transportation hubs, meaning that it is well-linked with the rest of China. In this regard, entering Guangzhou and leaving the city isn’t an issue since there are a number of options travelers can use for entering and leaving Guangzhou. These options include:

Air - Baiyun International Airport is the city’s main airport and China’s 2nd busiest international airport in regard to traffic movements. The airport boasts 123 scheduled flights, where 86 of these flights are domestic flights between Guangzhou and other cities across the country, among them Xian, Shanghai and Beijing. The airport’s international flights cover Asian nations such as India, Burma, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia among others. The airport further offers flights to Paris, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Lagos and Seoul. The airport boasts convenient ground transportation system that mainly comprises of shuttle buses and taxis , 

Train -The city is home to three stations that handle passenger transport, Guangzhou East Railway station, North station, and Guangzhou South.  Between these stations there are a number of trains throughout China, including overnight sleepers and high speed trains.  You will also find trains to Hong Kong too.  Overall, Guangzhou is well connected anywhere you want to go in China via train.

Long-distance bus - Guangzhou has a convenient and superb road system operating from the city’s downtown areas to different cities countrywide. There are close to 20 long-distance bus stations operating long-distance buses to cities surrounding Guangdong province. Long-distance buses can offer a cost-effective transportation option to people coming to Guangzhou or those leaving Guangzhou to other cities surrounding Guangdong province. 

Ship - Being one of China’s crucial port cities, Guangzhou boasts several inner ports such as Humen, Xinsha and Huangpu. Ship routes lead to over 300 foreign ports thus making water transportation available for travels leaving or entering Guangzhou from various foreign ports. 

Transportation / Traffic (getting around) 

Getting around Guangzhou is seamlessly possible thanks to the many transportation options available. Below are some of the most popular transportation means that are used to get around Guangzhou. 

City-bus - there are plenty of city buses across Guangzhou, including night lines, daytime lines, tourist buses and airport shuttle buses. City-buses can get travelers to almost any place throughout the city, and there are sight-seeing bus lines that carry tourists to major attractions in Guangzhou. 

Metro - at the present moment, the city has nine metro lines. They use a stage-fare system, whereby passengers pay in accordance to travel distance and thus the longer the travel distance, the more the passenger will be required to pay. The metro lines connect most parts of the city with each other and thus one can travel to the city’s key areas such as Bayun Airport and various railway stations. Using the metro in Guangzhou is very similar to using the subway in other Chinese cities.

Taxi - the city has countless taxis operating throughout day and night. Taxis charge in regard to the distance travelled and thus travelers travelling for longer distances will definitely have to pay more. 

Water bus - there are about six water buses operating along the Pearl River. Waterbuses are a convenient transportation option especially for tourists who want to experience the beauty of the Pearl River. 

Safety / scams to be wary of in Guangzhou 

As with most Chinese cities, Guangzhou is overall considered quite safe - especially for expats.  However, there are some notorious scams running in Guangzhou which often target vulnerable foreigners.

Tea House Scam - here, some strangers will approach you and engage you in a conversation. After a while, the strangers with beg you to go with them to a teahouse where you will be invited to taste some Chinese tea, only to be issued with a massive bill yet you were told it was for free. Stay away from this notorious crime by turning down tea sampling invitations from people you absolutely know nothing about. 

Unofficial Guide Scam - though quite rare, a stranger may approach you and ask where you plan to go sightseeing that day. They will insist on coming with you once you inform them where you are headed to. They will even tell you they are a professional travel guide. When it is time for both of you to part ways, they will demand you pay them a huge amount of money for their service. Never allow anyone to accompany you to your sightseeing tours. Again, don’t pay them for their 'service’ regardless of the scene they might cause.

Unofficial Taxi Scam - here, a driver of unlicensed taxi vehicle will approach you and promise to give you a ride at a cheaper price. If you agree, you will be taken to strange places where all your items and money will be taken by unknown people. Therefore, desist from using any unofficial taxi and you will definitely avoid this scam. 

The Art Gallery Scam - the scam isn’t just common in Guangzhou, but also in other Chinese cities as well. Here, an art student may approach you courteously requesting you to come with them and check their art gallery. But once you view their work, they will start insisting you purchase their overpriced art work and they might call other people to intimidate you in case you refuse to make a purchase.

Consequently, never follow anyone to go and see their art work, especially if they are total strangers. 

The Massage Scam - here, a Chinese lady will approach you offering free massage. If you accept, she will lead you to a room and then ask you to take off all your clothes in readiness for a massage. But things might turn nasty and another person will enter the room and run away with your wallet or the lady herself will escape with your wallet and other valuable personal items. The rule of thumb here is to always turn down free massages from Chinese ladies you encounter in public places. If you really want a massage, get one from a licensed spa. 

Climate - Best Time to Visit Guangzhou 

Guangzhou climate is overly warm and humid throughout the year, devoid of clear divisions of the seasons. Due to a humid subtropical weather, the city experiences warm winters, sufficient rain and sunshine, hot summers and little frost. The best time to visit Guangzhou is in autumn particularly late September all the way to early December. The worst time to visit Guangzhou is from June to August, when the weather is extremely hot. 

Top Things to Do in Guangzhou for Tourists 

Guangzhou is ranked one of China’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting countless tourists each year. As such, there is a wide array of interesting things for tourists to see and do in Guangzhou.  

1. Spend your leisure time at Chimelong Safari Park 

Spending your time in a park that combines a world-class zoo , circus and amusement park can be an experience worth spending your leisure time on. The Safari Park boasts a 320-acres zoo that is home to a wide collection of wild animals, and it is also China’s largest animal safari theme park. The park’s amusement park commonly known as Chimelong paradise is a topnotch park offering some world-class rides and thus ideal for visitors with kids, while the crocodile park is the world’s largest crocodile farm, hosting over 100,000 crocodiles. 

2. Ascending the Canton Tower 

Tourists enjoy climbing this tower simply because it is one of China’s tallest structures. Being the city’s tallest structure, this tower can give you panoramic views of Guangzhou and its breathtaking skyline that largely consists of shimmering skyscrapers. At night, this awesome tower lights up Zhujiang New Town area and the Pearl River Area. You can take an observation ride to the top of the tower and ride in revolving glass ball while watching the city from the highest point. You can also enjoy an international cuisine of your choice at the tower’s rotating restaurant, which is ranked as the highest rotating restaurant on earth. 

3. Go for a sightseeing tour on Shamian Island 

The island has been rated as one of the country’s top 10 tourist attractions. It boasts the oldest foreign settlement, which was established in this island right in the Pearl River as early as 19th century. You can take a sightseeing tour of this island and stroll among some of the old European buildings of various styles. You can also taste some delicious seafood at one of the city’s elegant restaurants. You can still take a pleasurable walk in some of the beautiful gardens as you unwind and get some fresh air.


4. Go for a cruise tour of the Pearl River 

Nothing can be breathtaking like seeing Guangzhou while on a cruise. Being China’s 3rd longest river, Pearl River is home to some of the city’s most scenic spots and thus taking a cruise tour along this river can help you encounter the best of Guangzhou. 

5. Attending the Semi-Annual Canton Fair

This is definitely the most popular visitor highlight in the city. If you are a trade enthusiast, attending this event will help you meet with scores of prominent people from the world over who come to this event each year. 

Life in Guangzhou for expats 

Expats living in Guangzhou enjoy a unique cultural setting with diverse influences. The booming Chinese economy is quite appealing to most expats because of the many employment opportunities created by the city’s versatile economy. Guangzhou is home to many international businesses, thus providing endless opportunities for foreign workers and expats with a good education. 

Generally, expats can earn more whilst working in Guangzhou than they would earn in any other international city. The cost of living is overly low and the fact that expats are exempted from paying high taxes means that they can make a very decent living in Guangzhou. There are a variety of expat activities, including clubs, bars, and other hangouts.  The city is also home to one of China's top football (soccer) teams, so there is a lively sports culture too.  Also, being conveniently close to Macau and Hong Kong make for wonderful getaways during the weekend or holidays.

Guangzhou has a long history with rich traditions; however, it is quite different than other regions in China because of the distinct Cantonese culture here.  This is home of famous "dim sum" and having "morning tea" is a lovely tradition where you have a long brunch full of dim sum and tea while chatting with friends.  The traditional Cantonese language is sometimes spoken by older generations, you may also hear younger people using a mix of Cantonese and Mandarin - even though Mandarin is the only official language that is taught in school.   

Tips for Expats Living in Guangzhou 

Below are some valuable expat tips that will help you cope with life in Guangzhou. 

1. Prepare for the new culture by learning its various aspects, including Cantonese culture

2. Connect with other expats and foreign workers in Guangzhou, to make friends, discover the area and enrich your experience

3. Befriend the locals, they are incredibly warm and helpful in Guangzhou.

5. Never compromise your safety and avoid any instances that might get you in trouble especially with the authorities. 

6. Be ready for a new life and try to adjust to new changes where possible. 

Guangzhou Festivals / Events 

Guangzhou Lotus Festival - the festival is celebrated each year at Guangzhou’s Lotus Blossom Hill from July to August. It is normally marked to celebrate flowers, whereby more than 280 varieties of lotuses are displayed during this festival. 

Polo Birth Temple Fair Festival - the festival is celebrated to commemorate one of China’s legends, known as Polo. During this wonderful festival, people hold a polo temple fair to celebrate this Chinese legend. 

Spring Festival Flower Fair - this festival entails hosting a flower fair, where millions of residents across the city decorate the streets with fragrant and beautiful flowers. 

Kite Festival - from ancient times, there has been a tradition for people in Guangzhou to fly kites on every 9th day of the 9th Lunar month. This festival is set aside for kite lovers to fly their lovely kites in an event that attracts tens of thousands of people. 

Expat resources in Guangzhou 

Expat websites 

Expat.com - the global directory of forums related to expat life in China has an exclusive section for Guangzhou city. 

Expatriates.com - the online community features information on global expat life, with a section of expat life in China and a sub-section of expat life in Guangzhou city.

Internations - the expat website features guide, tips and relevant advice on expat life in China, with a subsection of Guangzhou city. 

Chinese Learning Resources 

Pleco - the Chinese dictionary app is designed to recognize and pronounce handwritten Chinese characters, and thus can be helpful to those who aren’t familiar with Chinese words. 

Waygo - the visual translator scans through Chinese, Korean and Japanese characters and then translates them directly into English. 

LearnChinese - this easy and simple to use Chinese learning phrasebook is essential for people striving to learn the basics of Chinese language. It offers English phrases that correspond to Chinese translations. 

Useful Apps for China

Flight Radar - this app is essential for the Guangzhou travelers who regularly use air transportation. It can help you get relevant flight information thus helping you avoid delays during your flights. 

Dianping - the app helps you locate some of the best restaurants near you whenever you are on your sightseeing tours in Guangzhou. It gives you honest reviews of all the best restaurants near you so as to enable you pick the best for your accommodation needs. 

** Click here to read our full list of the best apps for China **

Enjoy Your Time in Guangzhou

Guangzhou is a fascinating and historic city for both expats and visitors alike. It has a vibrant economy, superb transportation system and numerous expat employment opportunities, while also having a distinct southern Chinese culture with their own foods and traditions as well as many things to do for visitors and locals alike.  

Get more great advice on living and working in China! Read The Ultimate Guide for Moving to China

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