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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 Oriental Pearl Tower is one of the tallest TV towers in Asia.

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.

On the other hand, in 2012, China’s economy only expanded by 7.7%, the lowest expansion rate in 13 years. In 2013, a free-trade zone was launched in Shanghai; however it is debatable whether or not it is having an impact on China’s economy.

China saw some major economic development in the past 35 years. For more information on economic sectors, hot spots, and the current situation, read our Extended Guide article on China's economy.

Shanghai's Economy

During 2013, pharmaceutical, automobile, and petrochemical industries experienced significant growth. On the other hand, steel products, electronics, and large machinery industries declined. This was due to less international demand and industrial restructuring, as Shanghai worked to phase out some labor-intensive industries. 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. However, trying to find a job in Shanghai on your own can be difficult. Nowadays, being able to speak English is not enough; you must also have some Chinese language skills as well as knowledge of the culture. More often than not, you must also be a specialist in your field. 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, Jobsin Shanghai 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.

Finding a job in China is not easy. We address the online job search, business networking and other details in our Extended Guide article on how to find a job in China.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

David Thyne

"At the first Shanghai Get-Together I met several American expats. I am very grateful that they shared their experience with me."

Diana Anhaus-Brey

"It is just so easy to find other international people and global minds with InterNations. I didn´t know there were so many in Shanghai."

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