Centralized, state-owned utility companies that provide electricity, water, and gas to people all over China are definitely a thing of the past. Today, each city has its own set of utilities providers which compete with each other and offer different payment models. These companies, however, are still regulated by government bodies to some extent. In any case, you should keep your utility bills in mind when calculating your cost of living.
Even before your move you should research the electricity supply in China. In general, it is 220 volts and both two-pin and three-pin sockets are used throughout the country to power electric appliances. You can purchase adapters in your home country or in China after your arrival at a small price.
Your landlord or the manager of your property should be able to inform you about the utilities supplier of the building you live in. If the electricity bill is covered by your rent then your account should be in your landlord’s name. In most cases, however, you will be responsible for your own account. Simply contact the office of your provider and give them your details. They will then transfer the account to your name and may ask you to pay a deposit. However, this only works if you can take over the old account of your landlord or the previous tenant. If you have to set up a whole new account (this might be the case when you move into a newly-constructed apartment building), then you have to visit the office of your provider. Make sure to find out if they can connect you the same day or if you have to wait several days for a connection.
You will receive your electricity bill in the form of a monthly statement. Make sure to pay your bill in cash or with your debit card at an office of your utilities provider. In some cases, you can even use an ATM-type machine there to scan and pay your bill. Only some cities let you pre-pay your bill by inserting Integrated Circuit (IC) electronic cards directly into the meter.
If you are not sure how to pay your bills, have a look at our article on banking in China.
Depending on where you live in China, you may get your supply of gas from a bottle or a gas pipe. The latter is mostly available in bigger cities and the process of setting up an account or paying your bill is similar to that of your electricity account. If your provider asks you to read your meter, you should be aware that the reading will allow them to make an estimate for your monthly or bi-monthly payments. Every few months a representative of your gas company will come around for an official reading, to adjust your bill.
If this option is not available for you, you can get bottled gas for cooking from local delivery companies. Talk to your building manager! They might be able to give you the contact details of the delivery company or put you on a delivery list.
Every city has a regional water company that supplies all households there. Usually, the water account for your new home should be open when you move in, so that you will only have to transfer it to your name. Some apartment buildings will also use reclaimed water to flush the toilet for instance.
Either way, please keep in mind that tap water is usually not suitable for drinking. This is why many people have water dispensers in their home. It is relatively easy to have the bottles for the dispenser delivered.
Most rental agreements include central heating in the rent as one of the additional services. At the same time, however, there is a fixed heating period (usually from mid-November to mid-March) determined by the government. Unfortunately, winter often begins early or simply lasts longer than expected. This is why it makes sense to have an additional heat source to fall back on. Often the AC units also have a heating setting. You should find out if this is the case in your new apartment and if your AC is actually working.
Utility Companies in China
There are various utility companies throughout China. In terms of water supply, every region has its own supplier. However, when it comes to electricity companies you have a lot of suppliers to choose from. At the end of the day, it comes down to five major providers (all of which have independent subsidiaries):
- China Datang Corporation
- China Guodian Corporation
- China Huadian Group
- China Huaneng Group
- China Power Investment Corporation
Phone and Internet Connection
This is the most expensive, and for most expats also the most important, item on the list of utilities. There are three state-owned telephone providers in China: China Unicom, China Mobile, and China Telecom. Unicom and Telecom offer extensive services including landline and mobile phones, as well as internet connections. China Mobile, on the other hand, focuses exclusively on mobile services. All three have different offices throughout the country and, as internet and mobile use have increased in recent years, the service is generally good.
The Ministry of Information Industry (MII) is the organization that regulates internet and phone usage. Keep in mind that internet usage is restricted by the government and some websites are not accessible. Most apartments in China already have a landline installed so all you need to do is call the service provider to activate the account. The same applies to internet connections. Most of the newer apartments are equipped with fiber optic cables for fast connections. When it comes to mobile phones, it makes sense to shop around. Each of the providers mentioned above offers a variety of packages, rates, and special deals. If you want to sign up for a monthly subscription, as opposed to a pay-as-you-go service, a Chinese friend or co-worker may have to sponsor your account.