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Working in Shanghai?

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David Thyne

Living in China, from USA

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Living in China, from Germany

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Shanghai at a Glance

Working in Shanghai

Working in Shanghai is highly attractive for expats. Interested in becoming one of the many foreign residents employed in the city? You’ve picked the right time! The business climate is beneficial for expats interested in working in Shanghai. Read our article to find out what you need to know.

The city’s economic boom is slightly ironic, given its more recent past as a hotbed of Maoist ideology. During the “Cultural Revolution”, hundreds of thousands of locals were forcibly removed to toil in remote rural areas. Nowadays, however, the city seems to have returned to its roots as a trading port and international hub of commerce and finance in East Asia.

Economic Development

In the early 20th century, thousands of lǎowài (foreigners) were working in Shanghai’s numerous concessions, extraterritorial areas controlled by colonial powers. Today, Shanghai is the spearhead of China’s rapidly growing and expanding economy. Once again, the “Gateway to the World” is attracting numerous foreigners, who want to move their career forward or to immerse themselves in Chinese culture.

Indeed, Shanghai’s status as a boomtown is now so powerful that in 2010, Hong Kong, its biggest rival, begun working on an updated image campaign. Hong Kong intended to promote its reputation as a financial center that focuses on international asset management and offshore trading. As one can see from this example of “location branding”, Hong Kong appears to be concerned enough with Shanghai’s development to consider the expense and effort well worth it.

Shanghai's Economy

The traditional industries, where many laborers are still working in Shanghai, include, for instance, ship building, steel treatment, and vehicle manufacturing. However, founders, investors, executives, and employees are attaching more and more importance to future growth areas, such as financial services and high tech.

The entire district of Pudong, where lots of expatriates are currently employed, was declared a Special Economic Region in 1993. Both the Lùjiāzuǐ Finance and Trade Zone and the Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park are located in Pudong – a popular destination for foreigners working in Shanghai.

One aspect of Shanghai’s economy has remained a constant over the course of centuries: the port. It became one of China’s most important harbors under the early Qing Dynasty in the late 1600s. Shanghai is both China’s largest comprehensive port and the biggest container port worldwide. The fast movement of goods and the resulting abundance of commerce is another great reason for working in Shanghai.

Finding a Job in Shanghai

Many expatriates in Shanghai are asked to move overseas by their employers. Apart from expat assignments in multi-national businesses and foreign-invested enterprises (FIE’s), the numerous consulates in the city also employ lots of foreign staff from the respective mother country. Should you be a “self-made expatriate” who thinks about working in Shanghai after changing employers, becoming an English teacher is by no means your only option.

If you don’t have a personal expat network in China yet, which could help you with working in Shanghai by word-of-mouth advertising, there are other useful strategies for job hunting in Shanghai.

In addition to commercial online marketplaces such as or JobChinaNet, the websites of many Chambers of Industry and Commerce based in Shanghai have their own classifieds sections with local job offers. They often advertise jobs that require some experience with doing business in your home country, interest in the Chinese market, some knowledge of Mandarin (more on that later), and specific sets of hard skills for working in Shanghai.

InterNations Expat Magazine