Pollution and the Impact on Expatriate Life in Beijing and Shanghai, China

    May 15, 2018 @ 07:12 AM / by Eugene Kobiako

    Beijing-Foggy View 2-004330-edited

    Political, economic, and social epicenters, but the air pollution...

    Beijing and Shanghai are two of China’s most populated and active cities. They are political, economic, and social epicenters that attract a large percentage of multinational companies, and thus expatriates, in China. 

    There is no deficit in good quality housing and recreational activities in either city, but the major obstacle standing in the way of full enjoyment is the infamous air pollution. The air quality in both cities suffers due to traffic, industry, and rapid development.

    We’ve all seen pictures of hazy Beijing streets with people walking in masks, and that image is not far from the reality I found while on survey. Many people in China (and throughout Asia) wear masks, and they have become even more popular as concerns about pollution rise. Upon arrival to Beijing Capital International Airport, I was greeted by several shops selling respirator and surgical face-masks. My hotel also provided free masks at the front desk and in my room, although they were simpler than the options I saw available in those airport shops.

    Building a Healthy Routine while Monitoring Air Quality Forecasts

    Locals and expatriates alike watch forecasts of air quality, and many smartphone users have apps that provide up-to-date data on the current air quality index, including the levels of PM10 and PM2.5 particulates in the air. The majority of the population, including the expatriate community, have developed their own routines to avoid prolonged exposure to the air. When spending quick bursts of time outside, often in transit between filtered, indoor spaces, almost everyone wears a mask. While most are cautious about spending time outside, parents, in particular, carefully limit the outdoor time of children, who can be more sensitive to pollutants.

    Air filtration systems can be found in many international schools in the city, and at the International School of Beijing, sports and fitness facilities take place under pressurized domes with advanced air-filtration technology. For expatriates, pollution is also a major consideration when choosing housing. Some housing units already include filtration systems, but other expatriates invest in air filters, purifiers, and humidifiers for their homes. With the less-polluted countryside a short road trip away, many expatriates and locals escape the city over the weekends.


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    Air Pollution in Shanghai vs Beijing

    While in Shanghai, I saw many of the same precautions. Just as in Beijing, a majority of the people outdoors wear face masks, although on most days pollution is slightly less severe there than in Beijing. Less severe pollution leads to a higher number of outdoor activities and although I saw fewer green areas in Shanghai than in Beijing, most people seem to enjoy the city with less hesitation. While escaping to less polluted countrysides isn’t as easy as in Beijing, I found that many people travel west towards the city of Suzhou and Lakes Yangchen, Taihu and Dianshan that surround it, although pollution in these areas can be as high as or higher than in Shanghai.

    A Hardship Evaluation: Making choices for health and family

    Air pollution has a major impact on expatriate life, influencing housing decisions, school choices, and daily activities, although more so in Beijing than in Shanghai. Both cities have plenty to offer in terms of activities, but a majority are indoors. If you'd like to learn more about how pollution impacts expatriate life in China or anywhere else around the world, click below today:

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    Topics: Air Pollution, Hardship, China, Beijing, Hardship Evaluations, Insights and Experience, Shanghai

    Eugene Kobiako

    Written by Eugene Kobiako

    Eugene joined AIRINC in 2016 as a surveyor and analyst in the Cambridge office, and is currently a client engagement representative for the Asia-Pacific region. A native of Seattle, he received his B.A. in European Studies and B.S. in Biology from the University of Washington in 2012. During his studies he spent two semesters abroad: one in Copenhagen, Denmark and one in Ottawa, Canada. Prior to AIRINC he has worked for the governments of Mexico and the European Union. He has been to over 80 countries for both business and pleasure. In addition to English he speaks Russian and Spanish fluently as well as some French, Danish, German, Swedish, and some basics in a few other languages. In his free time he plays the guitar and bass guitar, enjoys football (soccer) and hockey, studies foreign languages, and is an avid vexillologist. He is based in Hong Kong as of February 2020.