Working in Shanghai?

Connect with fellow expats in Shanghai
Join exciting events and groups
Get information in our Shanghai guides
Exchange tips about expat life in Shanghai

Business in Shanghai: Required Skills

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.
Many business people use the metro to commute to work every day.

Skills and Qualifications

For example, recent job offers posted on the homepages of the AmCham and the German AHK Shanghai include financial controller; plant operations manager; supply quality engineer, sales manager, and professional interpreter.

Judging from this random selection, you can see that it’s better to have specialized knowledge in technology or business administration and then polish it up with Chinese language skills and cultural competency, rather than the other way round. “Hard skills” in marketing, sales, finance, consulting, IT, engineering, and new technology, as well as good to excellent professional qualifications, are probably preferable to more academic degrees in Chinese Studies or Intercultural Communications.

Language Requirements

Many foreign-invested enterprises and multi-nationals use English as a lingua franca in the workplace. Thus proficiency in Chinese can be limited to specific job descriptions; however it is best to have at least a basic knowledge of the language.

Language skills may give you a huge advantage over your competitors even if they aren’t mentioned in the job ad itself. Although you might not need them to go about your daily business, they will make for smoother dealings with your Chinese colleagues and business contacts. Moreover, the better you speak Chinese, the more jobs you will be able to choose from.

Chinese Dialects

Actually, the Chinese variety spoken in Shanghai is the most common dialect from the Wu Chinese language group. As such, it is not mutually intelligible with other Chinese languages, such as the Cantonese (Guangzhou, Hong Kong), Min Dong (Fujian), or Mandarin (Beijing) dialects. 

With the foundation of the PRC in 1949, the central government in Beijing declared Standard Mandarin the official language in the entire country. At first, this lead to diglossia (i.e. the coexistent use of two languages) among the inhabitants of Shanghai. Later on, with the influx of both migrants from other Chinese provinces and foreign nationals from overseas, Shanghainese was all but neglected. However, in recent years, there has been renewed interest in preserving and promoting the local Wu dialect, and you might pick up the odd regional colloquialism in the street.

Learning the Language

For business purposes, you should acquire some knowledge of Standard Mandarin. While Mandarin lacks complicated inflection and complex syntax, it does require certain other skills: The tonal properties make good listening comprehension and subtle differences in pronunciation invaluable. Moreover, the many Chinese characters make reading and especially writing more difficult than in languages with alphabetic systems.

Unless your job requires actual fluency in Mandarin, you shouldn’t worry too much about the potential difficulties in studying this language. The honest attempt alone demonstrates open-mindedness, good will, respect of and interest in another culture. Therefore, even speaking Mandarin badly may win your hosts’, coworkers’ or contact person’s favor as they will notice your obvious effort to speak their language.

We highly recommend you to start taking classes in business Chinese, which may even be tailored to a certain field of employment, before you leave. The modern technology available to businesspeople can also help you with your language studies: for example, tonal listening and pronunciation exercises and Mandarin podcasts for your MP3 player, Chinese vocabulary trainers or character dictionaries as a smartphone app (e.g. iChinese), orhànzì drawing software for graphic tablets.

There are almost 300 spoken languages in China. Although we don't cover all of them in our Extended Guide article on learning Chinese, we address the most important ones and give advice on what to look out for when learning the language.


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."

Global Expat Guide