When the People’s Republic of China pursued politics of isolation in the Maoist era, after 1949, moving to China was virtually impossible. However, in the early 1970s, the nation ended its self-imposed isolation, taking a seat in the UN. After Mao’s death in 1976, the country embarked upon a policy of economic, albeit not necessarily political, liberalization. Foreigners – investors, businesspeople, and English teachers – started moving to China again.
Nowadays, the Chinese constitution officially protects private property, and the nation has become a WTO member. More and more foreign companies and employees are therefore planning to move to China, the country of superlatives.
Everybody may dimly remember from geography lessons that China is among the five biggest countries across the globe and the most populous one, too. Readers of business magazines are very aware of the country’s status as the “workshop of the world”. Even though its rapid growth has slowed down somewhat since 2010, it is still the global export champion and the second biggest economy worldwide. Further, economic growth in 2014 is still expected to be over 7.5%. Experts believe China will overtake the US as the world’s largest economy in the mid to late 2020s. No wonder that so many international businesses, managers, and highly qualified staff plan on moving to China.
Expatriates can witness its current economic boom firsthand. The nation’s economic growth and social change are also reflected in political developments. The Communist Party is gradually adopting a more business-friendly attitude. It’s now oriented towards the middle classes rather than the ideological ideal of “workers and peasants”.
Today, moving to China is not a distant dream, but a sudden reality for many people. The country’s image abroad remains, however, a dubious one. However, this has nothing to do with the unambiguous economic might of cities like Beijing and Shanghai, nor the international business culture. It is more so that foreigners, especially Western expats, have trouble reconciling the Chinese policy-makers’ approach to human rights.
Despite all this, China's economy keeps on growing. You can find more information on different economic sectors and the current situation in our Extended Guide.
Politically speaking, the People’s Republic is an authoritarian one-party state. Expats moving to China may be aware of the criticism voiced by human rights organizations against the Chinese Government in Beijing. NGOs, such as Amnesty International, regularly point out issues such as inadequate freedom of expression, judicial malpractice, or mistreatment of prisoners.
But this is one side of the country that expats will probably never see. Other problems of this booming nation only become visible if you leave the coastal hotspots where most foreigners end up. In China’s provincial towns, you might notice the comparative rural poverty in contrast to the prospering urban middle classes.
Nonetheless, if you have the chance, don’t think twice about moving to China. Despite the often critical image in Western media, many expats don’t regret their decision. Quite the opposite, indeed. If you have the soft skills to cope with culture shock and the language barrier, your move to China will be an occasionally frustrating, but eventually rewarding venture.
Most expatriates find that the Chinese locals they meet during their stay are friendly and welcoming hosts. On a personal rather than a political level, they wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity of moving to China. Its international business presence, cultural treasures, and the increasing spread of English language skills amongst locals makes China a popular destination for expats and those seeking careers and new adventures abroad.
Experts from abroad with certain “hard skills” are sought after by international companies with production plants or branch offices on the Chinese mainland. Coveted skills include experience in manufacturing, engineering, environmental technology, finance, IT, pharmaceuticals or wholesale and retail, as well as production, project and quality management. If you aren’t sent to China on a traditional expat assignment with a contract from your employer, these are the assets that may help you land a job in the “Middle Kingdom”.
Many self-made expats, particularly English native speakers, also apply to Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) at Chinese schools or universities. In any case, you should preferably have a job before you actually move abroad. Non-tourist visas for moving to China are strongly tied to invitations from future employers or letters of acceptance from a Chinese university.
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