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  • Ole Jacobsen

    Beijing has so much to offer for expats. InterNations helped me explore the international community and many close friends.

Employment in Beijing

Taking up employment in Beijing means working in China’s major post-industrial city. Nowadays, less than a third of the labor force working in Beijing is employed in industry, let alone agriculture. Over 73% of Beijing’s considerable annual GDP (gross domestic product) comes from work in the tertiary sector. The industrial activity in China’s capital is mainly limited to Beijing’s future growth industries.

Scientific and Technological Research and Development

The Beijing Economic and Technological Development Area (BDA) is located in suburban Yizhuang. It attracts enterprises from the fields of materials engineering, mechanical and electronic products, and pharmaceuticals, such as the global healthcare corporation Sanofi-Aventis.

A lot of IT whizzes work in Beijing’s “Silicon Valley”, i.e. in Zhōngguāncūn Science Park in the university district of Heidian. If you are interested in working in Beijing’s branch of a high-tech or ICT company such as Google, Intel, or Microsoft, you are likely to end up in a Zhōngguāncūn office, too.

Officially founded in 1988 – though it existed unofficially as “Electronics Avenue” beforehand – and administrated by the Beijing Municipal Government, Zhōngguāncūn Science Park is the biggest and most successful of China’s around 100 science parks, of which 52 are national, i.e. recognized by the central government. It is not only interesting for people from the IT industry, but also for anyone focusing on intellectual property rights, venture capital, and start-up businesses.

An increasing number of highly qualified employees working in Beijing’s “Silicon Valley”, especially in the area of research and development, are supposed to boost China’s competitiveness in patent affairs. Despite the many scientists in China’s university cities, only an annual 10-11 successful patent applications were filed per 10,000 Chinese researchers in 2000. This was a low outcome in comparison with countries like Germany, Japan, and the US.

However, since 2006, successful international patent applications from Chinese patent holders have been soaring in all areas of science, technology, and industry. This shows that the efforts of researchers working in Beijing and other science parks are bearing fruit. In 2011, Chinese R&D funding surpassed Japan’s; in 2018, it is expected to spend more on R&D than Europe; and, in 2022, more than the USA. Patent applications have tripled in the last five years, and a greater proportion of world scientific literature is originating in China.

All of these advances, combined with consistent growth and the expansion of infrastructure seem to indicate that China really has arrived on the world stage of innovation, and people working in Beijing are at the forefront.

City of Finance

The combination of growing scientific and technological innovation and the financial importance of the capital create a good atmosphere for Chinese entrepreneurship and foreign investment. Finance is one of the most important employers for everyone working in Beijing’s tertiary sector. Real estate, though, has lost some of its former significance since the biggest construction boom seems to be over for now. In fact, in 2014, the real estate industry in China has been undergoing a slump and correction of prices: From May to June alone, prices dropped 0.5% across the market. In Beijing, the volume of new home purchases has dropped from the same time last year by almost 50%.

Although the Chinese stock exchange is located in Shanghai and Shenzhen rather than Beijing, Beijing Financial Street is nonetheless referred to as China’s “Wall Street”. It hosts the nation’s three most important regulatory and supervisory institutions, the biggest Chinese commercial banks, as well as hundreds of domestic and foreign financial institutions, such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. No wonder that the city is home to 52 Fortune Global 500 companies, which employ a great number of people working in Beijing.

Employment in Beijing

Foreigners working in Beijing, whether for a Chinese company or any of the global companies in the city, need to prove they are foreign experts. With this system, China is attempting to attract the most qualified foreign talent and expats from all around the world to contribute to its development and international presence.

Many a global company doing business in China has found a new home in Beijing, which is good for expats seeking employment, but the bureaucracy is still there. So, those who have found a job or are looking to work in Beijing must still get a visa and work permit for China. See the next page for details on getting a visa and permit for working in Beijing.

The Expat Job Market in Beijing

Foreign Employees in China

A considerable number of expats in Beijing are diplomatic staff and foreign correspondents employed by the many embassies and international press offices all over the city. Other expatriates are sent to the capital on traditional company assignments at their local branch. Both Chinese and international companies often have a representative working in Beijing, no matter where else in China their HQ or production plants may be. Thus, they stay in close contact with government bureaucracy in the capital.

However, foreign assignments are now receiving competition from so-called “flexpats”. Foreign employees are often hired for short-term assignments and fly in and out, rather than relocating their entire lives and families to China for the long-term; they are also known as “China hires” or “frequent flyer assignments”. If you are not likely to be sent on a flexpatriate or expatriate assignment any time soon, here are a few tips to help you with job hunting in Beijing.

Visas, Work Permits, and Employment Prospects

Getting a visa plus work permit for China (so-called Z visa, from the Chinese word zhíyuán for ’employee’) is subject to having an official invitation to the country. For the visa, you need an employment license from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Labor and Social Security. For teaching positions, though, you should apply for official status as a foreign expert with the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs (SAFEA).

The employment license, in turn, is dependent on having a job offer from a China-based company that is officially permitted to employ foreigners: a multi-national branch office, a foreign-invested enterprise, or a local Chinese company. The latter is rather unlikely, though, unless you have exceptional Mandarin skills.

Due to the present development of the Beijing economy, candidates with hard skills and professional experience have certain advantages. These industries include engineering, medical technology, environmental tech, the chemical sector, pharmaceuticals, ICT, R&D, intellectual property law, international patent affairs, and finance.  Management consulting and project management skills are, of course, highly demanded as well.

Whether you actually need to speak Mandarin at work or whether English will do depends on the individual company and job description. Since an ever increasing number of extremely well-qualified Chinese university graduates are also fluent in English, a basic, or better yet, solid knowledge of business Mandarin can only improve your chances.

Getting a Job

Jobs in Beijing are advertised on such commercial websites as ChinaHR (website in Chinese), the Chinese equivalent of Monster, or ChinaJob, which categorizes jobs as either educational or professional. Moreover, you should check the China website of your country’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce. Quite a few of those homepages include job markets specifically tailored to foreigners of a certain nationality interested in working in China.

Last but not least, you should prepare to apply a long-term strategic approach to job hunting in Beijing. Guānxì (i.e. contacts, connections, relations) are an important part of doing business in China. You should thus try to build yourself a personal network of people in the Beijing area who might help you find a suitable job. Online communities, a fact-finding trip to China, a business visit, a language holiday, etc. might be good ways of establishing such a network.

Teaching English in Beijing

Teaching English as a Foreign Language

At the moment, there are over 70 establishments of higher education in Beijing. The most important ones are the highly competitive Tsinghua University and the renowned Peking University. The latter alone attracts several thousand international students per year.

The growing demand for higher education and China’s rising status as a global power have been leading to ever more Chinese students wanting to improve their foreign language skills. This is the perfect opportunity for many foreigners to spend a couple of years teaching English as a Foreign Language in China.

However, the competition for such teaching positions in Beijing is huge. Normally, the SAFEA (State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs) regulations for granting you foreign expert status for a TEFL job require you to be a native speaker with at least a bachelor’s degree and two years of work experience.

For TEFL positions in smaller provincial schools, the local administration might even waive one or two of these requirements, in some cases, in order to fill their vacancies. In Beijing, though, the TEFL job market works quite differently.

TEFL Options

Teaching English at a Chinese university or through a joint Chinese-Western program sounds like the ideal job for an aspiring EFL teacher. Due to the high standards in academia, however, such vacancies mainly go to candidates with advanced degrees or careers in TEFL.

Being an assistant to a Chinese English teacher at a public school in Beijing, on the other hand, may be more suitable for globe-trotting graduates and well-to-do, footloose expats close to their retirement years. Actually, a TEFL job at a public school may be preferable to teaching at one of Beijing’s private institutions. At the latter, you may encounter students who are there because of their wealthy parents, rather than of their own accord, and, thus, may be less motivated to learn.

Tips for EFL Teachers in Beijing

Many EFL teachers are hired by one of Beijing’s many private language schools. They cover a vast segment of the market, but some of them regularly attempt to exploit or scam their employees. To avoid these bad eggs, you should approach your choice of employer with caution.

  • Only agree to come to China on a Z visa, no matter what anyone might tell you.
  • Demand references from your potential employer and follow up on them.
  • Don’t work for any Beijing-based school that doesn’t stick to SAFEA’s minimum requirements.
  • Avoid recruitment agencies, especially if their job offer sounds too good to be true. It usually is. ChinaJob.com is the only recruiter officially recommend by SAFEA.
  • Negotiate your employment conditions. A good contract for a TEFL job in Beijing should include return airfare, accommodation, and paid holidays.
  • Demand to see a picture of the teachers’ accommodation first.

With these basic guidelines in mind, you should already be able to recognize most potentially shady deals and truly enjoy teaching English in Beijing.

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