Expat lifeline in Shanghai reports financial insecurity causes most stress

Published:  20 Mar at 6 PM
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Counsellors at Lifeline Shanghai, China’s only English-speaking helpline, are reporting that worry over financial security is now a major cause of stress in the expat community.

Launched in 2004, the unique charity’s majority of calls at that time concerned lonely housewives distressed by their cheating husbands. Ten years later, Shanghai’s many female expats are more concerned about money than mistresses.

Programme manager Allan McDean says that husbands starting relationships with Chinese women were the top of the tree for problems when the charity began its work in the expat community. Secretaries and office girls were mentioned endlessly, with long-standing wives having no idea how to deal with their husbands’ infidelities.

Nowadays, he added, problems are more in-depth and give cause for concern over expats’ mental health, a change that he’s tracked over the past five years. Ten years ago, expats offered contracts by multinationals in Shanghai were showered with housing allowances, high-rated medical insurance, fees for private education, cars and drivers and regular flights back home.

In the last several years, luxury packages doubling salaries have almost ceased to exist, replaced by localised contracts at far lower rates. Expat concerns include moving children to local schools from international educational facilities, inadequate or no medical support, soaring rents and the necessity of moving to a cheaper district.

According to McDean, financial stress is damaging more and more relationships. Local expats with their own businesses serving the community are also in dire straits, with restaurant owners in an upscale district reporting a fall in customers.

In China, social pressure is one result of downsizing as regards property and ostracism often results. When expats are forced to move, they often lose all their former friends and become social outcasts, putting a huge strain on marriages.
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