Living in Shenyang China - a Guide for Expats and Tourists

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!

 / Sep 29, 2017

Shenyang is a truly fascinating city, boasting breathtaking tourist attractions, vibrant culture and a modern infrastructural system that continues to define it as an important transportation hub in northeast China. The city has become popular with expats and tourist alike, and it is particularly a cherished place by expats across the globe. Here is a guide to familiarize you with this city, in case you have been thinking of moving to Shenyang, or if you want to move to Shenyang for work or business. 


Overview of Shenyang City 


Formerly known as Manchu, Shenyang is a Chinese city that is located in the country’s northeastern region. It is also the largest and capital city of the Chinese province of Liaoning, and it lies on the middle portion of Liaoning province. It is the largest city by urban population in northeastern China. The city’s regions comprises of 10 metropolitan districts, two counties and one county-level city. 


Shenyang is one of China’s oldest cities and it has a history dating back over 2,000 years. It is well known for its cultural relics that symbolize the prosperity as well as subsequent decline of the Chinese last feudal dynasty. The city is quite significant to China considering that it has abundant resources. It is also one of China’s most important industrial centers. It further serves as the commercial and transportation hub of the country’s northeastern region, especially with Korea, Japan and Russia. 


Neighborhoods / Districts of Shenyang 


The city’s metropolitan area initially comprised of 5 smaller inner urban districts that were surrounded by larger suburban districts and 4 rural counties on the west and north sides. Here are some of the most prominent districts of this populous city.


Shenhe District - The district is situated in the city’s central area and it is the headquarters of the City Government. The district covers an area of approximately 23 square miles and an estimated population of 716,417 as of 2014. 


Heping District - Located slightly west of the city, the district covers an area of approximately 59 kilometer square. The district is a commercial hub, as it hosts all sorts of commercial businesses. It is particularly known for its Taiyuan Street, which is a famous shopping district not just in the city, but also in the entire Northeastern region of the country as well.


Dadong District -The district is a crucial industrial zone and it is one of the largest inner districts of Shenyang. It is home to some of Shenyang’s popular tourists landmarks like the Bawang Temple amd Wanquan Park. 


Tiexi District - The district is Shenyang’s most populous district. It constitutes the largest part of the city’s western part. It is particularly famous for its heavy industry and large residential complexes.


Shenbei New District -The district is basically the city’s new development zone. It makes up the largest area of the northern suburbs. It covers an estimated area of 34 square miles.


Yuhong District - the district forms part of the city’s western and northwestern suburbs. It has a landmass of approximately 193 square miles and a population of approximately 435,333. 


Getting In / Out of Shenyang 


Being a huge transportation hub in China’s northeastern region, Shenyang is well connected to the outside world as well as other Chinese bigger cities, thus making it rather easy and convenient for people to get in and out of Shenyang. Here are some of the common means of entering and leaving this city.


By air - Flight departures and arrivals (both domestic and international) are handled at Shenyang Taoxian International Airport, situated in Hunnan District. The airport is China’s 20th busiest airport and it is also among the country’s 8 key airline hubs. Almost every visitor coming to the city from any international destinations must use this airport. The airport also has a number of airlines reaching multiple international and domestic cities. From the airport, travelers can either take a shuttle bus or a cab. There are several of them waiting outside the airport.


By train -Train transportation offers another convenient way of getting and leaving Shenyang, particularly for people arriving from other cities in Northeast China like Changchun, Dalian and Harbin. There is also a high-speed railway that can travel as fast as 3000 km/h. The city has 2 main railway stations namely Shenyang Railway Station and Shenyang North Railway Station located in Heping and Shenhe districts respectively. 


Transportation / Traffic (getting around Shenyang)


There are many types of transportation in China that make it easy to get between cities and around within the city.  As already mentioned, Shenyang is a huge transportation hub in northeastern China. In this regard, it has a superb transport system characterized by subways, speedways and railways, thus making it easy for both locals and visitors to get around the populous city. Below are a number of transportation means you can use for purposes of getting around the city. 


By city bus - The city has over 3,000 city buses running on more than 140 lines. City buses can reach almost all places across the vast city, hence offering a convenient and affordable means of transportation around the city. However, city buses are still vulnerable to the city’s heavy traffic and thus it can end up taking more time to get to your destination of choice, especially if the destination of your choice is within the CBD. However, you can still travel fast and conveniently by a city bus if you are traveling farther from the CBD. 


Subway - this is absolutely one of the fastest means of getting around Shenyang. The city has 2 subway lines that has been on use since 2010. With a subway, passengers can conveniently and quickly travel around the city.  Read more here about riding the subway in China.


Taxi -The city has more than 100 taxi companies running over 19,000 cabs. There are different brands of taxis operating in Shenyang, though the most common brands include Santana, Zhonghua and Jetta. There are also non-air conditioned and air-conditioned taxis in the city. Just like in other Chinese cities, taxis fares are largely dependent on the travel distance. However, there are still some other factors that influence taxi fares. For instance, air-conditioned taxis may charge more than their non- air conditioned counterparts. Fares may also be higher at night than there are during daytime. 


Rental cars - there are several car rental companies in Shenyang that rent various brands of cars at affordable rates. While renting a car can be a great idea especially for a business mission, driving on the city’s congested streets can be nagging and overwhelming particularly for foreigners who aren’t versed with the requisite traffic rules. As such, get a driver to drive you to places of your choice upon renting a car. 


Long-distance bus - taking a long-distance bus can be a nice option especially if you want to get to any destinations that are way far away from the city, or those that can’t be accessed by other means of transportation such as city buses, subways or taxis. Considering that the city boast a well developed road network, traveling by bus can be a great option for passengers wishing to travel far distances from the city. Nevertheless, long-distances buses are normally overcrowded, and some buses are full of pickpockets and other petty thieves that prey on innocent passengers.


Safety / Scams to be Wary of in Shenyang 


Although Shenyang is relatively safer than other Chinese cities, there are still some people who normally prey on foreign nationals-particularly tourists. Below are some of the scams that you are likely to encounter in the city, and which you need to be wary of for the sake of your personal safety. 


Teahouse scam - lots of foreigners fall for this scam upon arriving in Shenyang, though it is also common in other bigger Chinese cities. The scam is all about a young couple approaching and starting a brief conversation with you in English. Thereafter, they will request you to accompany them to a teahouse where will be handled a bill totaling hundreds and sometimes thousands of RMB. By that time, your new friends who brought you to the teahouse will be nowhere to be found. The best thing to do so as to avoid the teahouse scam whilst in the city is to refrain from talking to strangers you encounter in the streets. Visit a reputable teahouse (they are several of them across the city) if you feel like taking or sampling Chinese tea. 


The art scam - This scam is almost similar to the teahouse scam. It is about people who masquerade as art students approaching you and luring you with all manner of tricks to accompany them to their gallery. But once you are there, some people will force you to buy some worthless, overpriced art. The only way to avoid this scam is simply by not taking the bait.


Traditional medicine scam - the scam entails being invited to a traditional medicine clinic tour, where a physician will take their time to examine you before they diagnose you with a 'serious’ ailment . The clinic will then ask you to pay a decent amount of money so as to get the medicine needed to cure you. Avoiding this scam is pretty simple for all you have to do is to stay away from traditional medicine clinic tours. Instead, go to a reputable clinic whenever you want to be examined by a physician.


Fake taxi scam - in most cases, you may be approached by a motorist who is luring you with cheap taxi services. Nevertheless, avoid such motorist and always use an official taxi whenever you need one. Unauthorized taxis are known to charge ridiculously high fares, not mention that drivers may drop you anywhere even before you reach the intended destination. 


Shenyang Climate & the Best Time to Visit


Shenyang has a humid continental climate that is normally influenced by monsoon. Temperatures can get as low as -28.5 C, and still get as high as 36.1 C. July is the hottest month of the year, while January is normally the coolest month. The best time to visit the city is October since the weather is sunny almost daily. Winter is particularly an excellent time to visit the city because the annual Ice and Snow Festival held during this season is quite enjoyable and entertaining. 


Best Things To Do in Shenyang For Tourists 


There are numerous exciting things for tourists to do in Shenyang, from cultural attractions to historical sites. Here are some of the top things tourists can do whilst in Shenyang. 


Relaxing at Beiling Park -This is the biggest park in the city and it sits on a 3,300,000 square meters piece of land. One of the park’s prime attractions is Fang Cheng Cemetery. The famous park attracts over 1,200 tourists who frequent here to enjoy fun activities such as skating, kite flying and horse riding among other fun activities. It is a great place to spend your free time especially with friends or family. 


Tour the Shenyang Bird Island - popularly known as the Ganhezi Island, this island is unique due to the fact that, it is the only bird watching area in northeast China. Located in Hunhe River, the island covers a total area of 49.26 hectares. It boasts natural forests, wetland, ponds and brushwoods, thus making it a haven for wild animals. Visiting the island aboard a boat can be a wonderful experience and an opportunity to watch various species of birds in China. 


Visit Marshal Zhang Mansion - this is one of China’s iconic military residences that was built in 1914. Despite its old age, it is a strong structure boasting well-preserved furnishings and interiors. Visiting here will present you with an opportunity to witness how the country evolved from a completely ruined imperial dynasty, to a globally revered nuclear superpower in a matter of a few decades. However, the relics and documents are all labeled with tags written in Chinese. As such, an English translation app comes in handy for purposes of translation. 


Connect with nature at Botanical Garden - located in the midst of the crowded corner of the city, the Botanical garden offers ample space and tranquility than anywhere else across northeast China. It is not just a nice place to spend your weekend, but it is also a great place to connect with both nature and your inner-self. This elegant garden was built in 1956 and it is dotted with a wide variety of flowering plants, medicinal bushes and herbs. Upon visiting this awesomely beautiful garden, you will witness more than 1,700 different types of plants, not to mention the fact that the garden boasts some of the most unique and rarest species of plants known to botanists. 


Go for a group tour at Qipan Mountain -The beautiful mountain forms the last part of the breathtaking Changbai Mountain range. The mountain is one of the city’s scenic locations. Moreover, the mountain is a beautiful natural reserve which has gradually become a top tourist attraction not just in Shenyang, but also in China as well. It is a nice place to go for a group tour at the weekend. There are elegant resorts, beautiful watersport parks, hunting reserves and entertainment spots at Qipan Mountain. You can also climb to the top of this mountain and experience panoramic view of Shenyang city. 


Life in Shenyang for Expats 


If you have been planning to move to Shenyang to live and work there, then there is no doubt that you are full of excitement.  But on the other hand, you may be wondering what life will be like in a city that you know little about.  After all, leaving the place you have been familiar with for years and then starting a new life in a completely different city can feel overwhelming. However, life in Shenyang can be easier only if you know what to expect. 


First, Shenyang is a great city to live for expats. The cost of life here isn’t that high in comparison to other cities and residents are ever happy and welcoming. With a modern infrastructure, the city is well connected to the outside world and thus you can move to virtually any place you want - within and outside the city. With so many restaurants offering western dishes on their menu, then you won’t have problems finding your usual dishes whilst living here. Better still, the Chinese food served in most of the city’s restaurants is tasty and at times irresistible. 


But moving to Shenyang can expose you to culture shock just like anyone else who has been to this city. Considering that Western culture is way different from Chinese culture, then you may find it hard to cope with some aspects of the Chinese culture. Again, there is the issue of language barrier considering that the city’s dominant language is Mandarin Chinese. Simply put, almost everyone in Shenyang speaks Mandarin Chinese. 


Tips for expats living in Shenyang 


If you have a new job prospect in Shenyang or you have just moved in Shenyang as an expat, knowing how to adjust to the new life ahead is absolutely important. Here are a few tips to help you navigate through your new expat life in this city.


Prepare ahead of time - the kind of preparation you do while moving to Shenyang will definitely make or break your experience in this city. In fact, the secret to experiencing a rewarding life in this city ultimately depends on how adequately prepared you are. As part of your preparations, you can read widely on life in this city in general, starting from where to live and where to go shopping. You should also pack essential items, credit cards and mobile devices alongside anything else you might need whilst living there. Most importantly, prepare mentally for the new life ahead. That way, you will definitely find it a lot easier to adapt to your new life upon settling down. 


Understanding the Chinese culture is your best bet - This may sound pretty obvious though it isn’t. Most western expats find it difficult to appreciate the fact that every culture has its fair share of pros and cons. Since the Chinese culture is the dominant culture in Shenyang, understanding it is crucial to ensuring that you don’t fall victim of the culture shock for far too long. You can read books on the Chinese culture so as to understand this culture much better. 


Identify yourself with an expat community - There are mainly two benefits of doing this. First, it helps eliminate loneliness. Secondly, it connects you with other like-minded expats. This can help you feel like part of a larger group, rather than seeing yourself as a total stranger in a strange land. You can check online to see some of the expat forums in this city that suit your expat life. 


Don’t break the law - breaking the law in China can lead to imprisonment, not to mention the possibility of deportation. As such, refrain from doing anything that can potentially make you to be at loggerheads with the authorities. Pay your taxes on due time, don’t be involved in criminal activities and always make sure your passport is in order. 


Embrace the culture - understanding the Chinese culture is important, but embracing it is more important altogether. As such, learn to embrace every aspect of the culture, starting from how they interact, how they behave to how they carry out their functions. More importantly, do as they are doing and they will definitely like and respect you for embracing their culture. 


Popular Festivals / Events in Shenyang 


Here are some of the city’s most popular festivals/ events you can take part in. 


  • International Ice & Snow Festival - the annual event attracts visitors across the world, who come to experience the celebration of snow and other smaller events.

  • Shenyang Korea Week - the event is celebrated by residents of Korea and Shenyang living in the city, as a way of promoting both cultures.

  • International Music & Fireworks Festival - this festival is held annually in every August. During this festival, music fills the air while the sky is awesomely illuminated with colorful fireworks. 

  • Mid-autumn Festival - this festival is set aside for purposes of appreciating as well as offering sacrifices to the moon. Scores of city residents gather outside to celebrate the full-moon and to eat various types of moon cakes. 


Expat Resources in Shenyang 


Expats living in Shenyang can surprisingly have an easy time whilst adapting to the new life in the city, thanks to the myriads of resources available for expats living in this city. Below are some of these resources that are meant for expats living in Shenyang. 


Forums 


Here are a couple of forums where expats in Shenyang can link and interact with each other.


  • China Expat Forum - this is a forum for expats living and working in China, and it features a section for Shenyang.

  • Shenyang Expats - this active blog is meant for all the expats living in Shenyang and it shares information on best expats shops, restaurants and bars, as well as best places for expats to visit in the city. 

  • eChinacities - this forum provides expats working in Shenyang with updated information on employment opportunities in the city. It also features classifieds and ads, most of which target expats living in Shenyang. 


Apps


There are several apps for China that can be beneficial for expats who have Android and Apple devices. Below are a number of them.


WeChat - this app is China’s WhatsApp. It allows you to send texts, picture messages as well as audio messages for free. 


Sohu TV - the app allows you to watch movies and TV, including several foreign TV series as well as movies.


WayGo - having this app can help make your life in Shenyang a lot easier. It basically translates menu items from Mandarin Chinese to English. 


Resources for Learning Mandarin 


Learning Mandarin Chinese is absolutely important for anyone living or aspiring to live in Shenyang. Here are some of the resources you can use to learn the city’s dominant language.


Fluenz – the language learning software is designed to help first time learners of Chinese Mandarin learn and understand this language. It uses great explanations relating to the learner’s own language. 


Tuttle learning Chinese Characters - this language learning Chinese booklet offers a fun approach to learning, understanding and writing Chinese language. It is geared at helping the student memorize 800 most useful characters. 


Enjoy Yourself in Shenyang! 


Living and working in Shenyang is absolutely rewarding for expats. Not only does it have the rich history and culture so that you can immerse yourself and experience the real China, but it also has modern conveniences without the high prices of Shanghai or Beijing.  In fact, living here can be really fun provided you are adequately prepared for a new life in this truly fascinating city. 


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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!