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Working in China

Your Guide on Jobs and Finding Work in China

Working in China is a lot about who you know. To succeed in business, you’ll need to quickly master the many unwritten rules of Chinese social etiquette as well as navigate the institutional sexism and ageism. Setting up your own business will require paperwork, patience, and plenty of capital.

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China’s job market has been steadily growing for years and expats who are wondering how to find a job here should keep in mind that language and connections can make or break your career in China. A good way to start looking for a job in China is to make sure you know someone at the company before applying for a position. When applying you might need to disclose some unexpected personal information, like the number of children you have.

Social security is funded by contributions from the state, your employer and the employee. However, the system is still new, so don’t count on your contributions smoothly transferring to a new job or location.

Working as a self-employed expat is complicated because of the need for a visa and a sponsor, however, some foreign freelancers in China manage to set up their own companies, known as a Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise (WFOE).

In addition to more detailed descriptions of the above-mentioned topics, our guide also introduces you to the common work culture and what to expect from typical working days and average salaries.

How to Get a Job in China

When figuring out how to get a job in China as a foreigner, one of the main obstacles you may come across is the language barrier. Many companies require their candidates to know at least the basics of Chinese and many job sites and classified ads are also only available in the local language.

As the market is often focused on hiring local talent, the requirements for expats who wish to work in China are high. Applicants need to prove their competence with an array of achievements, degrees, and experiences.

Business Networking Tips for China

Foreigner or not, in China, professional networking can be the key to job opportunities. That is why knowing someone at the company you are applying to can give you a big advantage. It’s a way to get into the market as your contacts will be able to inform you when a position in their company opens up, or even recommend you to their colleagues.

In order to network properly, you should start by joining discussion groups on job networking sites and getting in touch with people who are working in China already. If you have an opportunity to spend some time in the city you wish to move to, try to network in person as well. When you do, have a few business cards on hand with your details in Simplified Chinese on one side and English on the other.

How to Apply for a Job in China Online

If you don’t find a job through professional networking, you may consider giving online job sites a chance. More and more companies advertise open positions online. However, most of these websites are in Chinese and not necessarily directed at expats which makes it tricky to find job opportunities for foreigners. Therefore, if you do have at least a basic understanding of the Chinese language, you definitely have an advantage.

When writing up your resume, you will need to include unusually personal information like the place and date of birth, your marital status, and, in some cases, the number of children as well as ethnicity. Chinese-style CVs should include a photo. Both education and work experience sections are listed in reverse chronological order (latest achievements first), with the education section coming first.

A tip about cover letters: they are not popular in China. Instead, the applicants elaborate on their achievements when quoting their work experience on their resume.

At the end of the resume candidates often include a self-evaluation. It replaces the interest and hobbies section on the CV and is more commonly used that references, which are typically not required.

If you find a job ad that seems fitting for you, try to activate your business network in China and see if you can get in touch with a company representative. Your chances of actually getting hired will increase tremendously. Keep in mind that sending unsolicited applications to different companies is not a good way to conduct your job search in China.

Of course, you can also enter your data on various professional networks and job search sites and simply wait for the perfect job to find you. Some expats have been able to find work abroad that way. However, you should have a solid back-up plan if this doesn’t work out.

When your application succeeds and you get invited for an interview, be polite, formal, and modest, respect your superiors, but show enthusiasm and talk about your capabilities. Don’t be late, keep your business cards on hand, and do not “lose your face”.

From University Life to Working in China

Another option is to start by enrolling at a Chinese university. First of all, some employers may be more willing to consider you if you have attended a prestigious institution of higher education. Secondly, it is easier (and cheaper for your future employer) to change your visa from a student to an employment visa, than applying for an employment visa “from scratch.” Moreover, it will give you the opportunity to spend time in China, attend interviews, build your professional network, and contact potential employers.

The downside is that a Chinese student visa does not allow students to work, so you will have to make sure that you have a financial buffer. Some language schools are not as strict when it comes to work permits, offering international students and language teachers another source of income. However, many expats have had less than positive experiences with language schools and, as this solution is in a legal grey area, we don’t recommend it.

For actual students and young adults, an internship might be a great way of getting a foot in the door. Many big Chinese companies like to hire interns and, if they do a good job, keep them around full-time.

Teaching English: A Popular Career Option for Expats

Many expats in China start out as language teachers, particularly for the English language. Through their students, many of them learn of other open positions or get in touch with a prospective employer. This job also offers a lot of flexibility and free time to make new business contacts and to network. Teaching English is also popular among global minds looking for a “trial period” to figure out if China is a fitting destination for them.

Unfortunately, language teachers do not earn much. In many cases, the salary is barely enough to pay for basic living expenses. On top of that, you will still need to secure a Z visa to work at a reputable language school.

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Minimum Wage and Average Salary

The average salary in China has been steadily increasing each year. However, your salary expectations should differ according to the job sector you are interested in as well as the region where you intend to work.

The minimum wage here also depends on the region you are living in as the government adjusts it according to the living conditions in the area. So, while a worker in Hunan might be getting around 1,000 CNY per month, a worker in Shanghai is entitled to a salary that goes over 2,000 CNY. Usually, the bigger the city –– the bigger minimum wage is. Still, the overall trend shows that living wages are also experiencing a stable influx.

If you are wondering what a “good” wage in China is, once again, you would have to check where exactly are you moving before assessing the situation. In Shanghai, where average salaries are one of the highest ones in the country, 12,000 CNY per month should allow a single expat to lead a comfortable life. However, keep in mind that the costs of living in the city are also high compared to the rest of the country.

The most in-demand job industriesare finance, IT, and sales and advertising. Here is how much they pay:

Occupation Average Annual Salary (CNY)
Accountant 150,000 – 250,000
Finance Analyst 150,000 – 350,000
HTML Designer 180,00 – 350,000
Java Developer 240,000 – 550,000
Marketing Manager 300,000 – 800,000

Self-Employment

Self-employment in China is most common among rural workers. Many street vendors, bar and restaurant owners, and drivers choose to work for themselves as it gives them the freedom and flexibility they need. These are the top self-employed jobs in China. For expats, however, they are usually not a common choice.

In general, there are very little benefits for self-employed in the country. Getting self-employment in China for a foreigner can be extremely challenging as without a work contract there are no visa options for them.

However, if you are thinking of freelancing, here are a few suggestions on how to be self-employed in China:

Option One: F Visa

F visa is a visa that allows foreigners to stay in China for “a visit, an investigation, a lecture, to do business, scientific-technological and culture exchanges, short-term advanced studies, or internship”. The “to do business” part should be the one to allow you to stay in the country while being self-employed. However, the visa only allows you to stay in the country for a limited period of time (3 to 24 months).

In addition to the time constraints, the application process can be challenging as well. To be eligible for an F visa you need:

  • a valid passport,
  • a filled in application form,
  • a passport photograph,
  • a formal invitation to China from an authorized figure.

For individuals that are stepping in the Chinese business world for the first time, the last part might be tricky. It means that whatever you do, you still will need to have some sort of proof of employment in China.

Before applying, see if you can find employers that would be willing to sign a contract with you beforehand. That way you can use this document as proof for your visa application.

Single entry F visa is valid for 3-6 months while with multiple entry it’s for 6-12 months. Upon proving your collaboration with a Chinese company (with a business license, contract, or an official letter) you might be granted a right to stay in China for 24 months. If you have been issued F visa twice already, the following time you can apply for one that is valid for 24 months as well.

Option Two: Start with Employment

This isn’t an ideal option, but, from the legal point of view, it makes the process significantly easier. If you start from finding a position in China and getting a Z visa prior to your arrival, becoming self-employed will be notably easier later.

Entering the workforce as an employee will also give you a chance to meet people and make connections that might be valuable for your business in the future.

Option Three: Set Up Your Own Business

The trickiest of all the options. This will take you time (about 3-6 months), money (about 100,000-300,000 CNY) and will require you to be in the country during the whole process. That means you have to be eligible for another type of visa before you start this venture. However, by the end of it, you will be eligible for a Z visa in China.

If you wish to start your own business in China, you have to start by understanding the business world of the country. Start researching and assessing what your customers might want and what will make your business successful. Keep in mind that not only demographic factors apply but also cultural and social factors.

Once you have an idea of what type of service or product you want to offer, you have to register your new company with the government. There are different types of business entities you can choose from, the most common among foreigners being representative offices, joint ventures, and wholly foreign-owned enterprises. Each one of them comes with its own upsides and downsides.

The Joint Venture

In order to open a joint venture, you need a business partner who is a Chinese citizen. With a joint venture, you have the opportunity to use foreign currency and equipment, and you can decide freely on the distribution of property between you and your business partner.

Although this might sound great at first, many experts warn against choosing a joint venture as your business model. Most of them fail due to different aspirations, and, as your business partner knows how to navigate China’s business world, they might take over your business in the end.

The Representative Office

Representative offices are easy to establish and usually come at a low-cost. However, if you choose this type of business entity in China, your options will be somewhat limited as you will not be allowed to engage directly in any profit-making activities. This means that you will not be allowed to accept payments for any goods, write invoices, or close a contract in the name of the headquarters.

After all, a representative office only has the purpose of representing a foreign company in China. Therefore, it doesn’t allow you to do much beyond building and representing your brand, and is not an ideal choice.

The Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise (WFOE)

This is by far the most popular type of business entity among foreign entrepreneurs in China. It gives self-employed the biggest benefits as it grants the most freedom while being able to keep control of their company. As with the joint venture, you have the option to use foreign currency and equipment. Your profits can be remitted abroad, and you can have independent management and operation.

Unfortunately, the WFOE is also the most complicated business entity to set up. Each city or region has different requirements. There are a lot of documents that will have to be approved by the authorities and in any case, you will have to provide proof of having minimal capital in a Chinese bank account. This amount can, again, vary strongly depending on the type of your business and the location.

New Entrepreneurship Opportunities

In May 2018, a new type of visa was introduced in Shanghai: Private Residence Permit (entrepreneurship), also known as the start-up visa. This visa allows for more opportunities for foreigners that want to start a business in Shanghai. With this visa an entrepreneur is allowed to do the initial company set-up procedures before legally establishing the company.

To be eligible for this visa one can be either:

  • a foreigner who graduated from a higher education institution in China
  • a foreigner who graduated from top Chinese or overseas universities in the last two years and already has a business in Shanghai
  • a foreigner that wants to invest or start a business in Shanghai

When applying for this visa you will need to present a complete business plan, and business certificates issued by economic zones, business incubators, or high-tech parks.

Business Culture

Guanxi (Eng.: business relationships), is essential in the Chinese business culture. No matter if you are looking for a job, want to close a deal, or work as a freelancer, you will need the right contacts to establish yourself in China’s business world. These relationships are usually very professional and you should conduct yourself accordingly.

As small talk is the key to establishing a successful business relationship, being able to speak the language is a big advantage. When communicating, make sure to not talk business at first. Instead, give your prospective business partners a chance to get to know you as a person. Choose positive conversation topics and make sure to avoid controversial matters relating to politics and religion.

Another thing that is avoided in Chinese working culture too much physical contact. Do not put your arm around the other person or even touch their shoulder casually (unless they do so first and demonstrate that they are comfortable with the situation).

The Importance of Hierarchies in Chinese Business Culture

Hierarchies, determined by age, experience, and social status, are very important in Chinese culture and have to be respected. For instance, you should always greet the most senior person first upon entering a room and always make sure to refer to people by using their full title and name.

Remember that not losing face (the concept of mianzi) is very important in China. Even if you are used to a more aggressive approach in doing business, you need to be patient and humble. Don’t interrupt your business partners or even say ‘no’ directly, as this is considered incredibly rude. At the same time, keep in mind that your business partners might not understand you as well as you think if the meeting is conducted in English. They might nod, smile, and agree with you simply to save face.

While mid-level managers might be excited about your ideas and business approach, decisions are usually only made at the top. It is absolutely important that you do not, under any circumstances, insult your Chinese business partner. Be patient and respect the hierarchy.

Exchanging Business Cards

Your business cards should be printed on both sides, with your information in English on one side and in Chinese of the other. Make sure that your title and status is included on them and that they are in good condition.

Business cards are usually exchanged at the beginning of a meeting. It is customary to present them with both hands, the Chinese side facing up. Upon receiving a card, it is important to consider it for a moment and to then place it in a case or business card holder. Under no circumstances should you toss it in your bag, shove it in your pocket, or, god forbid, write on it. This would show a huge lack of respect and can, in fact, put an end to a business relationship before it has even begun.

China’s Workplace Dress Code

It is customary to dress formally for a business meeting with high-level managers. This way you show that you are serious and respect your business partners. On some occasion, like a big summer heat wave, you might be allowed to dress more casually which usually means a polo shirt or a short-sleeved button-down shirt.

In general, you should dress conservatively and modestly. Make sure to avoid revealing or inappropriate clothes, especially during meetings with your Chinese business partners. If in doubt, look to other expats and your colleagues in China for some tips.

What Are the Best Gifts to Give?

Presenting your Chinese business partners with a gift is customary but, as always, there is proper etiquette that you need to follow. Typically, you present the person-in-charge with a single gift from your delegation. Remember to always present gifts with two hands. The recipient of the gift will initially refuse but eventually accept if you are persistent.

Your gift should not be too expensive and should be appropriate for the kind of business relationship you hope to establish. For instance, something that is unique to your home country is a good idea if you hope to establish a business relationship between your employer at home and your Chinese business partners.

The right moment to present your hosts with a gift would be at the end of your introductory meeting or your first business dinner. Try to avoid colors which are commonly associated with death such as white, and choose red or gold instead. Clocks, knives, and letter openers don’t make very good gifts.

Meetings and Negotiations in China

It is important to schedule and confirm meetings way in advance. Try to avoid national holidays, like the Chinese New Year. Be punctual. If you want to be on the safe side, arrive a little bit early. Late arrivals are considered an insult and should be avoided at all costs.

It is a good idea to set and communicate an agenda before any meeting. Try to get to the main point of your presentation right away and tackle smaller details later. Make sure to know who you are dealing with. This applies both to the company as well as the individual managers you are negotiating with.

Chinese people tend to be tough negotiators, even if they present themselves as showing humility and deference. Gaining concessions is the main goal of many of your business partners. It is, therefore, important that you show a willingness to make compromises, while still standing your ground. Try to be clear and precise in your presentation.

Sometimes, business is made rather slowly in China. However, you should avoid showing any anger or frustration and resist rushing your business partners.

Social Security and Benefits

China doesn’t provide their citizens with a specific social security number or a card, however, the government set-up system does pay pension, unemployment, work injury, maternity, and medical benefits. Social security system here is mostly funded by the employers and the government as well as the employees themselves.

Can a Foreigner Get Social Security in China?

As a working expat, you are eligible for Chinese social security. However, what you pay and what you receive will depend on the area of the country you are living in.

How to Get Social Security in China?

As social insurance payments are generally mandatory all over China, once you enter the workforce of the country and start contributing to the system, you should be entitled to social security here. Applying for social security is done by the employer and should be handled within the first 30 days of employment.

It is important to note that many Chinese workers do get into unpleasant situations where their employers don’t provide them with the benefits they are entitled to. And while working for an international company might prevent those situations from happening, if you are still unsure about something, talk to your employer about it or consult a professional.

Types of Social Security Schemes in China


Pension Insurance

Pension insurance can be broken into three subcategories – basic pension for urban enterprise employees, other urban residents, and rural residents.

Basic pension cover for enterprise employees is obligatory and is run through social pooling and personal accounts. Both the employer and the employee pay for this insurance, with the former collecting the latter’s contribution. The employee’s part goes into a personal account, which, while it cannot be withdrawn until retirement, is personal property, meaning it is inheritable wealth. Rates vary depending on wage level, demographic factors, and indexing rules.

Pensions are payable after a minimum of 15 years of contribution. The retirement age in China is currently 60 for males, 55 for female civil servants, and 50 for female workers.

The basic pension is available to other urban residents, such as migrant workers and the self-employed. However, they must make all contributions themselves.

Unemployment Insurance

Unemployment insurance is an obligatory one and it is funded by employer and employee contributions. This Chinese social security benefit covers urban workers and can cover the urban self-employed, for up to 24 months. However, it does not cover non-employee residents, such as farmers who have lost their farms.

Expats should be aware that unemployment insurance coverage for migrant workers remains under consideration in urban areas.

Work Injury Insurance

Work injury is also an obligatory insurance, fully funded by the employer. Rates vary depending on the sector, region, work injury incidence, etc. It covers medical and nursing allowances, disability allowances, and work-related death allowances. Wages are also covered during the treatment period, generally for up to twelve months.

What are the Social Security Exemptions?

If you are from one of the following countries, you might be eligible for a partial social security exemption:

The Country Who is eligible The Exemption
Canada Dispatched personnel, self-employed, employees on board ships and aircraft, government employees Pension for urban and rural residents
Denmark Dispatched personnel, diplomatic and consular office personnel, employees of the government and public institutions, employees of navigational ships and aircrafts Pension
Germany Dispatched personnel, diplomatic employees, those with no employer, naval crew, subsidiary staff Pension, unemployment insurance
Finland Dispatched personnel, self-employed, employees on navigational ships and aircraft, diplomatic or consular personnel and civil servants Pension, unemployment insurance
Korea Dispatched personnel, self-employed and investors, short-term employees, employees on board ships and aircraft, diplomatic or consular personnel, employees of the government and public institutions Pension for urban employees, rural endowment insurance, urban endowment insurance, unemployment insurance
Spain Dispatched personnel, employees on board ships and aircraft, civil servants, diplomatic or consular personnel Pension, unemployment insurance
Switzerland Dispatched personnel, employees on board ships and aircraft, government or public service agencies, diplomatic or consular personnel, accompanying family members Pension, pension for urban and rural residents, unemployment insurance
The Netherlands Dispatched personnel, employees on board ships and aircraft, civil servants, accompanying family members Pension, unemployment insurance

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Maternity and Paternity Leave

Maternity leave in China is treated like work injury insurance and is completely funded by the employer. Although rates vary, the employer usually contributes no more than 1% of the monthly salaries to the fund.

How Long is Maternity Leave in China?

The length of maternity leave, once again, depends on the region the parents are residing in. In general, the mothers-to-be in China are entitled to 98 days of paid maternity leave with 15 of those days taken before giving birth. In addition to that, they are also entitled to an extension that lasts for at least one extra month. Depending on the region you are living in, the additional time might extend to a full year.

In the case of a miscarriage or abortion, women can take 42 days of paid leave if it happens after at least four months of pregnancy, or 15 days if it’s less than that.

What Are the Maternity Benefits in China?

The benefits constitute 100% of the company’s previous year’s average monthly wages.

Paternity Leave

Paternity leave time ranges depending on the region as well and goes from one week to one month with employer-provided benefits.

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Updated on: July 17, 2019

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