Despite the ongoing pandemic and the number of changes we can expect to see in a post-pandemic world, one fact remains. Countries in Asia continue on the road to development and there are many interesting professional opportunities arising from growing industrialization. At the lead in terms of pace of development is China.
Many issues like wealth inequality, infrastructure longevity and governance remain within the country. However, working in China is a great way to understand the country that is on the world’s radar this century.
There are many professional jobs in China which offer equivalent salaries to Western pay scales, a good incentive in addition to understanding a country where many of our cultural roots come from. Not only this, working within a professional sector in China brings transferable skills that can carry forward to roles back home or in other developed nations. Employers are increasingly interested in experiences that demonstrate adaptability skills in an ever-evolving job market. Working within China will open opportunities that you may not have come across before and could even accelerate your professional career.
Let’s discuss what opportunities and lifestyle experiences can be had working within China in the upcoming years.
How to Apply
There are three main ways to apply for a job in China. You can apply directly from overseas through the organization's career page, general websites such as LinkedIn, or through an in-country recruitment consultant. Recruitment consultants can source jobs from smaller or start-up firms. If you are a student, the second way is by enrolling in an exchange program with a top Chinese university and networking from within. Recruitment fairs specifically for international students are also held on campus or in major Chinese cities. If you are a young working professional with the financial ability, you could fly to job conventions and network in person as well. The third way is to be transferred to China via your current organization.
Acquiring a Visa
For China, an employment visa is usually connected to your place of work. Due to the complicated nature of the process, your organization will usually guide you through all the paperwork to submit. Usually, a short-term visa is issued. Then, when you enter the country, a quick visit to the visa office will allow you to procure a long term residential visa. Currently, Chinese visas are connected to your place of employment, meaning it is difficult to switch jobs whilst in-country, as your visa will be tied to your place of work. Bear in mind as well that these policies may change substantially post-Covid.
Where to Live
China has four cities which are considered first-tier cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou. These are the cities which are most comfortable to live in as an English-speaking person from a Western country, as they are highly accessible, easy to live within independently, and have large international populations. Living in downtown Shanghai can offer a similar standard of living and lifestyle opportunities as living in Tokyo, Singapore, or any other known developed city. These cities also have the highest number of job opportunities as an English or bilingual Mandarin professional.
It is very possible to work in a professional role in China without speaking Mandarin. However, being bilingual with English and Mandarin opens many more opportunities, even if your ability is limited to speaking only. Cantonese is still spoken in Guangzhou and Shenzhen, but more so only among older generations. The main language in all of Mainland China is Mandarin, including previous Canton areas. Within the CBD areas of 1st tier cities, day-to-day living is relatively easy as many locals can speak basic English and translation apps can be utilized.
Types of Jobs
The biggest industry in which foreigners are employed in Asian countries is in English teaching roles across a variety of settings. Most of these roles are not career-building, nor require tertiary qualifications. Recent laws have decimated many roles within this language industry as well. However, there are two types of teaching roles which are on the professional pathway, and these are roles at select, top-ranked universities in the country, or at reputable international schools which run the Cambridge Curriculum, International Baccalaureate, or American Common Core. These roles usually require teaching licenses and two years of prior teaching experience in your home country.
Multinational Corporations (MNC)
If you work for an MNC, it is very possible to do assignments in China ranging from 3 months to several years. Often, MNCs have internship and graduate roles aimed at Chinese nationals who are studying abroad and are returning to China for work, but there are opportunities abound for those who hold citizen in other countries. Japanese and South Korean MNCs also have a strong presence in China, and if you speak these languages, it is worth looking into roles in China offered by Samsung, Toyota, etc. Whilst most of these roles are filled by citizens transferred over to China from Japan or South Korea, there is still opportunity for those holding citizenship from Western nations. Finally, Chinese MNCs, some of the biggest such as Huawei and Lenovo, also recruit internationally across a range of sectors from consulting to IT. It is recommended to consult directly with spokespeople from these companies or go through job listings on their websites.
Diplomacy and Chambers of Commerce
Consulates have internship and graduate programs which have postings to China. Linked to consulates are the Chambers of Commerce, which often are non-for-profit organizations developing business and trade relationships with China. Each first-tier city often has its own consulate and chamber, and it is worth checking into roles offered in these. Direct consulate postings often provide language training and extensive preparation to live in-country prior to being posted, thus they can often be the most straightforward way to a role in China. Chambers can have internship and graduate roles in a range of sectors from marketing to business development.
Often, roles in legal work require a minimum of 3 years of prior experience and a license from your home country. They also often require high ability in both written English and Chinese ability. Non-Chinese citizens cannot practice law in China, but there is legal work for people interested in international trade and beyond. The two ways to enter into legal sectors is through company transfer to China offices, or finding a specific position within a Chinese firm. A good way to learn about this sectors in China is reading blogs of foreign license holding lawyers working within China, of which there are quite a few.
IT is a growing industry in China, particularly within Shenzhen, which has a range of start-ups or small firms where specialists would be required. Roles within bigger companies, or MNCS, such as Apple, will require several years of experience prior. On the other side within creative industries, journalism, news reporting, modelling, and other opportunities also exist within this sector, particularly if you are bilingual. With a population that is becoming more bilingual in Mandarin and English, English publications and media sites will grow. Other industries of note are tourism, hotel management, and modern art, which is a growing industry within Beijing in particular.
Salaries and Savings
Salaries vary greatly in China depending on your role, experience level, bilingual language ability, and sector. Depending on your job, salaries will either be paid in RMB to your China account and renumerated to your home country, or paid directly in your home country’s currency to your home country’s account. Renumerating money is a complicated process that is difficult to undertake individually. Therefore, prior to signing any job, it is important to make sure your workplace has policies to regularly remit salary home.
The advantage, however, is that there is great opportunity to save a lot of money in China. This often comes down to lower cost of living in terms of groceries and transport. If you utilize public transport, which is very safe and highly accessible, and shop local, there is a lot of money that can be saved. Salary packages for many jobs, such as in teaching or with MNCs, will include housing and transport to work, which also increases savings. Mobile phone plans are very cheap, such as 15 USD for unlimited calls and 20 GB data.
China’s tax laws are currently undergoing changes, which will cause perks such as housing to be taxed on top of personal income tax. Tax in China is higher than average, top income tax rate is at 45% currently. However, this fluctuates depending on your salary, package, residency, and home country’s tax policies as well. Tax in China is very difficult to sort individually, thus it needs to be handled by your place of employment, or a third party establishment well versed in serving foreign residents.
If you live in a first-tier city, with the use of mobile apps, it is feasible to live comfortably in China without speaking Mandarin. However, Mandarin speaking ability will allow life to become even easier, and open up more opportunities within China. A smartphone such as Huawei or an iPhone eases living in China immensely as well. Apple Maps is highly accessible, covering even the most rural parts of China if you’re travelling, and a simple VPN app such as Astrill will allow you access content through firewall easily. Workplaces also often utilize VPNs if they serve an international clientele.
Safety as a Woman
In terms of daily living, China is safe to live in as a woman. CCTV cameras prevent public brawling and nuisance from being commonplace, as well as a cultural tradition that values the preservation of public order. If you are of Chinese or East Asian ethnicity, it helps even further as you will blend in naturally. In 1st and 2nd tier cities, particularly in downtown areas, there are always people around at all times during the day and late into night, which adds to safety. Of course, this is also keeping with being smart, not travelling to unknown places without a plan, and making sure of your own safety. No country is safe in its fullest, but China is one of the few where you can live in as a young woman independently.
This will once again depend on your firm. You cannot rely on unions or legal policies whilst living in China for any employment issues, so it is important to be aware of this. As a foreigner, which includes those who have Asian heritage as well, you will be excluded from expectations of working long hours that may be put on local staff. Hierarchies are highly important in China, but there is a big difference between international organisations with set hours, traditional Chinese companies, and start-ups with a lot of young people. Additionally, as a foreigner once again, you would not be expected to understand nor be included in these hierarchies, which is both a benefit and a disadvantage in different situations.
If economists’ predictions come to rise, by 2100, simply by population, most of the top industrial cities in the world would have shifted from Western nations to the East. Now more so than ever, it is important to start changing our perspective of the world, and working in China can be an exciting opportunity to do so.