Getting a bank account was painless, as some sites mentioned (see one of the shanghaiexpat threads). I spent more time researching the right bank. Basically my parameters were:
- English website for e-banking and information
- Easy transfer of fund to US/India
- Enough branches around the city
- English-understanding staff
Choice came quickly down to Bank of China (BoC) and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), and finally I picked ICBC since I saw their branches almost everywhere I went for my house and school searches and they had one very near to where I live right now (XuJiaHui area).
They have a reasonably good e-banking site in English and they gave me a USB (RMB 60) which allows me unlimited transfers (haven’t tried the unlimited part yet!). Entire process took ½ hour, with 10 minutes of waiting time included (I went early morning when the bank was yet to open). The announcements about token numbers were in english too which was useful. Only thing you need is your passport and the your current address (no proof needed), and RMB 15 for initial processing/balance. Very smooth indeed!
Last week has been spent in looking for school for my 4-year old daughter and house for us. They are coupled because we want to stay close to school. Thankfully, we got referred to a local real estate agent who took us to houses which were not priced as other expat-oriented agents have. Having stayed in US for couple of years before coming here, we wanted similar features in our house:
- Quiet surroundings
- Greenery around us
- Swimming pool and Kid’s play area in the compound
- Villa/townhouse style houses, not high-rise ones which are so popular here
- Area which are expat-suited (shopping, school, etc)
Our regular Santa Fe relocation person told us we should not even think about Villas because they are outside our budget. However, our agent showed us some nice houses in the localities we asked her to. She has very basic understanding of English but we are able to communicate most things to each other. We only saw villas and hopefully we will be able to close on one of those. Thanks Judy!
Choice of school is currently boiled down to an American Kindergarten and an international school, depending on the house we are able to pick. Interesting question was whether we want our daughter to be in a kindergarten of American style (which she was used to in US) or a style which is closer to India (where she will study once we leave China). The question is still open, but it because moot once we realized that the kindergarten level in international schools do not have the rigor which Indian kindergarten levels have, and so they are more similar to American kindergarten anyway. Also, many international schools were outside our reach because they are too expensive, our tuition-and-housing allowance (which is exactly to cover these expensive items) can’t cover them! We certainly feel very middle class here (at least in the expat community).
We have been exclusively using the taxis and the experience is very good. You can find them all the time and mostly they know where you want to go by the address. However, we also learnt that it is useful to know the name of the general area you have to go, and the general direction, couple of times I had to rely on this information. However, by and large, using taxis is highly recommended.
We also tried Indian food last night, at Bukhara, which is supposed to be the best (and most expensive!) place here. It was a good ambience, good service and good food. However, our bill for 3 of us (including our 4-yr old daughter who had some shake) came to RMB 400, turned out to be more expensive than we thought! However, it was good to eat in an Indian restaurant after a long time (3 weeks!). The restaurant was reasonably crowded, given it was a week night, and had some boisterous groups (not sure if this was an exception or a rule). But I felt at home there, which is good.
As I mentioned in my previous posts, I am still to join my company because the paperwork was going on. Now the paperwork is done and I am all set to join tomorrow. It has been 3 weeks of uncertainties, doubt and frustration, and I am sure better advice and information sharing before coming here would have helped me plan this part better. In my next post, I will write about that also my thoughts on how to plan this better for any new expat coming to join a new company here.