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Working in China?

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China at a Glance

Working in China

The classic expat assignment is still common among many foreigners working in China. However, you may also want to start a job as a self-made expat without company support, due to the explosive economic growth. Our info on visas, work permits, and social security comes in handy in any case.

Even after the global economic recession of the past few years, China’s economy seems to remain on the road to success. In 2010, China overtook its rival Japan to become the second biggest economy in the world. The labor force working in China then generated an estimated quarterly gross domestic product of a spectacular 1.33 trillion dollars.

Recent figures show that growth has slowed down somewhat. But with an annual GDP increase of over 7% in 2012, it’s still comparatively high.

Although the general population working in China isn’t unaffected by the various economic crises, this does not necessarily impact highly skilled employees, middle managers, and executives working in China. The unemployment rates apply especially to rural areas as well as seasonal migrant laborers in the cities.

Visa Requirements

If you consider going to China for work, you should have a carefully thought-out plan and down-to-earth expectations. Although working in China is far easier than it used to be, to qualify for an employment visa (Z visa), you need to fulfill several requirements. You must obtain an official invitation to the country, together with an employment license or special status as a “Foreign Expert”.

Some expats who dream of working in China might try to enter the country with an L visa for tourists or an F visa for business trips and attempt to start work within 30 to 180 days. Do not try this! First of all, there is no guarantee that you’ll find a job soon. The longer you stay without working in China, the greater your need for a financial cushion.

And what is most important, even if you do find work within that period, you have to leave the country and apply for a proper work visa before you can return to start your job. Don’t take up gainful employment with anything but a Z visa. Chinese government bureaucracy isn’t known for its leniency in such matters.

Professional Qualifications

Unless you are feeling particularly adventurous or foolish, the most conventional way of working in China is actually the best. Start looking for a job in an FIE (a Foreign-Invested Enterprise) where the vast majority of expatriates are employed. Try to be patient and build up a network of contacts to help you find a suitable position. Contacts are essential for job hunting and working in China.

With qualifications and professional experience in manufacturing, engineering, medical or environmental technology, production, product and quality management, you possess valuable “hard skills” for working in China. Some highly-qualified expatriates may be offered a job in a Chinese company, for instance, in the high-tech sector. However, this usually requires a decent knowledge of Mandarin. Chinese language skills will always give you a certain competitive edge for working in China.

Expat Assignments

Traditional expat assignments used to be typical for foreigners working in China. For example, Siemens Ltd might send a couple of engineers with experience of working in the railroad construction industry to supervise the development of new high-speed trains for the Beijing-Tianjin line. These highly-qualified employees would then stay in China in the role of project managers for one or two years.

However, these assignments are gradually being replaced by so-called “flexpats”. Foreign employees working in China are often hired without the usual perks and expat packages to more or less local conditions. They sign their contract direct with a Chinese company.

InterNations Expat Magazine