Jobs in China

China is the world’s second largest economy and has a thriving private sector. It’s also renowned for its long history and mesmerising culture. In recent years the number of expats wanting to live and work in buzzing metropolises like Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong has grown exponentially.

The nation’s economic stability makes it an attractive option to those disheartened by the job opportunities available in their own country. Furthermore, a large amount of multinational corporations are opening in China whilst others are relocating their Asian headquarters there.

But anyone hoping to advance their career in China should also bear in mind the fact that competition for well paid expat jobs is fierce and extremely skill dependent.

As cheap labour can be easily found, the majority of positions available in companies are for senior level employees. It is expected that top grade applicants will have impressive relevant qualifications and significant work experience as well as some command of the main Chinese language, Mandarin. Some employees expect even a mid-level foreign worker to understand and speak a degree of Mandarin.

If you make no effort to learn the country’s language you may find integration and securing a well paid job in China much more difficult!

Some can also find the cultural differences very hard to get their head round. To make your expat experience as rewarding and successful as possible research China’s culture and traditions so you have some idea of what to expect before you arrive.

Expat Facts

Roughly 85% of expats are employed by international companies/foreign invested firms. The majority of expats which are hired by local Chinese companies work in manufacturing or engineering.

Main Types of Work Available to Expats:

Accounting & Finance (e.g. Commercial and Financial Directors)

IT (e.g. Web Developers, Programmers, Graphic Designers and Project Managers)

Advertising and Communications (e.g. Consultants, Advisors, Creative Directors, Marketing Directors)

Teaching (Primarily teaching English as a second language)

Health Sciences (e.g. Development and Research)

Banking & Finance (e.g. Consumer Sector CEO’s, Risk Managers, Compliance Managers, Anti Money-Laundering Managers)

Manufacturing and Industry (e.g. Operation Managers)

Marketing and Sales (e.g. Marketing Managers, Sales Managers, Directing Sales Teams)

Engineering (e.g. Skilled engineers, Project Supervisors, Civil Engineers)

Legal (e.g. Co-ordinator of In-house Legal Team)

Human Resources (e.g. Consultants and Managers)

Marketing and Sales are the sectors which hire the most expat workers, at 30%.

Banking and Financial sectors hire 25% of all China’s expat employees.

Engineering is the sector with the third highest level of expat employment at 15%.

Finding a job

If you are looking for a high paid job with a multitude of benefits than the easiest way of procuring it is through sector-relevant contacts in your existing country or similar contacts already working for a Chinese company. Contacts can inform you when a suitable position opens up. They can also support a recommendation and offer invaluable advice based on their own experiences.

Web searches are obviously good ways of learning about potential jobs. Chinese companies prefer to advertise through Chinese websites, which often means some understanding of Mandarin is vital if you want to understand them. Conversely, multinational, European and American companies are more likely to structure their sites to cater to their populace and word them in English for broad appeal.

If you have moved to China but have been unable to find a job than the classified sections of English based magazines are particularly good places to find contract or part-time work.

For expats looking to teach English, jobs in basic and higher level education and in private language schools are generally advertised through the school/institution or through agencies. A TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate is usually a prerequisite. A Masters degree can increase both your chances of finding good work and the salary you can expect.

It is also possible to find permanent work through an internship with a public institution of foreign company. Such internships are generally unpaid but they can lead to job offers and will make you more attractive to future employers.


Some expats assume that by working in China they will command a much better salary. Whilst this is true for some people it really isn’t always the case. The average expat salary generally varies from £15,000 to £70,000 but it is possible to earn less than the lower figure and more than the higher.

There are a couple of factors anyone hoping to work in China really should be aware of:

In China there is a very strong work ethic and expats will be expected to work hard for their money. Laziness and lateness are not tolerated.

Being bilingual will get you more money! As is often the case for expat workers, in China the more experienced you are and the greater your language skills the more you will be capable of earning.

Depending on which industry you plan on working in an understanding of Chinese etiquette and business customs can be very important.

The majority of expatriate workers in China have qualifications from some form of higher education.

In the past attractive expat salary packages, often including housing payments and school fees, were offered to potential recruits from other countries. Although the packages offered now may not be quite as lucrative, an expat hired from outside of China will still earn considerably more than one appointed locally.

Workers in rural areas will earn less than those doing the same job in a city.

Many companies ask for a minimum of 8 years prior experience.

Smaller companies may pay less, larger companies may pay more.

Chinese law decrees that women under the age of 25 will only receive 3 months of maternity leave. Women aged 25 and over are entitled to an extra month.

Expats who already have children should also know that a good-quality international education can cost a HUGE amount, up to and beyond £100,000 a year in extreme cases!

Employment Packages

A low level of pay can be made up for by a comprehensive employment package whilst what seems like a high salary is far less attractive if it comes without one. Be aware that not all companies offer expat workers employment packages. The type of employment package also depends on whether the company is hiring an already local expat or one from overseas. An expat who already lives in China will receive significantly fewer benefits.

A good employment package can include tax coverage, a housing allowance, free or subsidised education for the employee’s children, evacuation insurance, coverage of shipping fees and annual bonuses. Free healthcare, lessons in Mandarin and yearly return flights to your home country are particularly coveted additional benefits.

Cost of Living

The cost of living in China is quite a bit lower than in the majority of western nations, meaning a smaller salary will go further (if your lifestyle isn’t too lavish!) However, the cost of living in big cities, like Beijing, is considerably higher than the cost of living in rural areas.

In China most expats are taxed roughly 20% of their monthly salary, but expats commanding a particularly high wage can see this rise to 40%.

Health insurance can cost around £150 a month so you can make great savings if you ensure that health insurance is included in your salary package.

Self Employment

Being a self-employed expat in China can be difficult as without an employer to support you obtaining a work visa is quite a bit harder. Also, if the nature of your work is restricted to your local environs you may find that knowing how to speak and understand Mandarin is essential to your success. If you are intent on being self employed then be prepared for some issues, obstacles and time delays!


In many Western nations anti-discrimination laws are strictly upheld, but this is not the case in China. The majority of Chinese employers expect an applicant to include a photograph of themselves when they submit their details. Often employers will also specify the age or the gender of the worker they want – they may even require them to be attractive! Interviewees may find some of the questions asked to be invasive or rude, but it’s perfectly legal for Chinese employers to ask them so be prepared to handle it!

Things to remember once you get a job

Before formally accepting a position make sure that you’ve checked these all important things: your annual pay, what currency you’re paid in, what date you’re paid/how often you’re paid, what holiday you’re entitled to, what the overtime policy is, what taxes will be deducted from your pay and the terms on which either side can terminate the employment.

It is equally important to establish what extra benefits are attached to your contract.

According to The Labour Contract Law formal contracts of employment must be drawn up within a month of an employee starting work. The employee must also receive a copy.

Working Conditions

The Chinese Labour Laws were updated in 2008 and are supposed to safeguard workers from poor or dangerous working conditions. Although some would question their success, by and large the working conditions for expat employees are significantly better than for Chinese locals.

The main cause for expat complaint is the uneven work/life balance. Theoretically, a working week runs from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm, Monday to Friday, resulting in 40 working hours a week as standard. This often isn’t the case with many employees expected to work overtime for little or no additional pay.

In China there are three national holidays a year, Chinese New Year, International Labour Day and National day. Each results in a week off work, but the government has made it a requirement that workers make up for this excess by working over the weekend before the holiday.