In the northeastern part of the industrial Chinese city of Guangzhou lies a condominium that looks like most others in the city, but it has a Hindu temple, an Indian grocery store and a caterer that supplies traditional Indian snacks.
This apartment building is home to an expanding community of entrepreneurs from China's economic rival, India, who have migrated to the capital city of the mainland's southern Guangdong province to set up businesses, in sectors ranging from procurement to food and beverage.
While these two major emerging markets in Asia boast of vibrant economies, China's superior infrastructure, ease of setting up a company and a robust manufacturing base are luring small Indian businessmen to travel further east. Plus, growth in the world's second largest economy has far surpassed India, averaging 10 percent over the past three decades.
"When I came on my first visit to China, seven years ago, I was just floored by the infrastructure. Then the Chinese yuan was eight to one U.S. dollar; it was so, so cheap to live here, start a business and have a good life," said N. Sirumal, a resident of the Guangzhou condominium, who migrated to the city in 2006 to start a procurement company that exports machinery used for manufacturing plastic products to West Africa.
As one of the country's main trading hubs, Guangzhou the capital of Guandong province is a convenient destination for export businesses. It plays host to the Canton Fair – the country's biggest trade fair that takes place twice a year, while the province, known as the world's "factory floor," is China's biggest exporter, accounting for over 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2012.
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Comparing India and China as a destination to launch a business, Sirumal said, "In India, it's a headache to set up a company, there's too much paperwork and bureaucracy." He added that factories in India often fail to deliver goods on time and are unreliable when it comes to quality control.
Sirumal, whose roots lie in India's financial capital Mumbai, said he saw much more opportunity in China, despite liberalization efforts in the South Asian economy over the past two decades.
"In China, registering the business as an export office was the easiest procedure. The Chinese are welcoming foreigners and foreign investments. There were enough lawyers to help register our business for a meager fee of around $2,000," said Sirumal.
Currently an estimated 3,000 Indian businessmen live in Guangzhou, compared to just 100 a decade ago, said Deepak Jain, an independent business consultant and chief coordinator of the Guangzhou Indian Association – an organization that hosts cultural and networking events for the local Indian community in the city.
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"Integration between Indian business owners and the local Chinese community so far has been easy. Ten years ago, Chinese manufactures didn't have much experience in international trade – they needed traders. What has happened over the years is that Indian businessmen have taught them the ropes," Jain said, including teaching local manufactures how to prepare the slew of documents required to export goods overseas.
However, operating a business in Guangzhou hasn't come without challenges, Jain said, pointing to growing competition due to the influx of foreign entrepreneurs in the city from India as well as South America and Spain, in addition to the rising cost of operating a business as a result of wage inflation.
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Earlier this year, the government announced minimum wages in Guangdong would rise by an average 19 percent starting in May.
Another major impediment to foreign business owners is language.
"Language is always a challenge, particularly when your business starts to grow and you need to monitor staff and what they are doing in a different language," said 34-year-old Ashwyn Daryanani, who came to Guangzhou in 2007 and set up a company to source building materials for construction companies in the region and in Africa.