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  • Writer's pictureBianca

Everything to Know About Jobs as an Expat in China

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

Are you a twenty-something adventurer, eager to explore the world and broaden your horizons? Well, you're in for a treat! China, with its rich history, diverse culture, and booming economy, offers an incredible array of expat job types that can turn your wanderlust into a thriving career. In this blog post, I'm gonna take you on a journey through the Middle Kingdom, where you'll discover the best way to kickstart your international experience, overcome language barriers, embrace Chinese culture, and find unique job opportunities that can set you on a path to success.

The Old Town outside of Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai

Why China?

Alright the first question you might want answered before landing on China as your choice for expat life is why China? China is a country of contrasts, a blend of ancient traditions and modern innovation. This dynamic blend makes it an exciting destination for expat job seekers. You'll feel like you're living in the future with all of the insane technological advances and Let's delve into the different types of jobs available in China and why it should be your next big move:

China's Ever-Growing Expat Community

China's expat community is thriving, with a significant number of foreigners living and working across the country. Major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen host a substantial number of expats, creating a diverse and inclusive environment.

Expats in China often form close-knit communities, organizing social events, language exchange programs, and cultural gatherings. These connections can provide a sense of belonging and support as you navigate your expat journey. Lets take a look at what kind of jobs are available for expats in China:

What life as a teacher in China looks like most of the time

Teaching English: The Gateway Job

For many young expats, teaching English in China is the gateway to the Middle Kingdom. Native English speakers are in high demand, but bear in mind that China only considers nationals from the U.S, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa to be in this category. Don't ask me why. Chinese schools and language centers are constantly on the lookout for foreign ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers to help their students improve their English skills.

Teaching English in China offers a unique blend of cultural exchange, personal growth, and professional development. You'll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in Chinese culture, explore the country, and gain valuable teaching experience. The demand for English teachers remains consistently high, and this type of job often comes with competitive salary packages, free accommodation, and other perks.

Best place for it: Pretty much anywhere in China! Decide which city is best suited for your needs.

Non-Teaching Jobs: Beyond the Classroom

While being an English teacher is a popular choice among expats (guilty as charged), it's not the only avenue available. China's economy is diversifying rapidly, and international companies are setting up shop, creating a growing demand for foreign workers in various industries.

Corporate Opportunities

China boasts one of the world's largest and fastest-growing economies, making it a hotspot for job opportunities in corporate settings. Whether you're interested in finance, marketing, human resources, or as a general manager, you can find rewarding positions in multinational corporations and Chinese companies alike.

Working in the corporate world in China offers a unique chance to understand the intricacies of doing business in one of the world's economic powerhouses. You'll collaborate with colleagues from diverse backgrounds, both local and international, gaining insights into global business practices. The pace of development and innovation in Chinese businesses can be exhilarating, making it a great place for young professionals looking to make their mark.

Best place for it: When it comes to your typical corporate job, you can't really beat Beijing in terms of job opportunities.

Technical and Scientific Roles

If you have a background in science or technology, China offers a multitude of opportunities in fields like IT, engineering, and pharmaceutical industries. The demand for foreign experts in these areas is high, and it's a great way to gain international experience.

China's thriving tech industry, often referred to as the "Silicon Valley of Asia," is home to numerous startups and established tech giants like Alibaba, Tencent, and Huawei. Whether you're a software developer, data scientist, or hardware engineer, you'll find plenty of job openings in this dynamic sector.

Best place for it: For those wanting to explore the tech industry, head to Beijing. Engineers specifically, may want to head to Dali or Guangzhou for opportunities better suited to them

Creative and Marketing Positions

For the artistic and creative souls, marketing and design roles are in high demand. Chinese companies value fresh perspectives, making it a great place for those with a creative spark to shine.

Marketing and advertising in China come with their unique set of challenges and opportunities. Understanding consumer behavior in a market of over a billion people is a fascinating endeavor. From crafting compelling social media campaigns to designing innovative packaging, creative professionals have a chance to make a significant impact on their brands' success.

Best place for it: Shanghai has loads of creative roles suitable for expats up for grabs.

Entrepreneurship and Start-ups

China's thriving start-up scene is a playground for aspiring entrepreneurs. If you've dreamt of starting your own business, China offers a unique opportunity to tap into a massive market and a network of potential investors.

Setting up a business in China can be a challenging but rewarding venture. The country's entrepreneurial ecosystem is evolving rapidly, and the government has introduced several policies to encourage innovation and foreign investment. Whether you have an innovative tech solution or a unique product, China's vast consumer base and access to manufacturing resources can turn your entrepreneurial dreams into reality.

Best place for it: If you want to set up your own business, the places you'll get the most support as an expat are Shanghai and Shenzhen.

My notes from when I was self-teaching Chinese during covid times (I don't miss this...)

Language and Cultural Immersion

Working in China provides a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in Chinese culture and language. This can be particularly appealing if you're interested in pursuing a career as a cultural ambassador, translator, or interpreter.

Cultural ambassadors in China often work in tourism and hospitality, sharing their knowledge of Chinese culture and history with visitors from around the world. From guiding tours to organizing cultural events, these roles allow you to showcase the beauty and diversity of China's heritage.

Translators and interpreters are in high demand and play a crucial role in bridging linguistic and cultural gaps. China's increasing international presence has led to a growing demand for professionals who can facilitate communication between Chinese companies and their global partners. Proficiency in both English and Chinese is highly sought after, making it a valuable skill set for expats.

Best place for it: Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai are always looking for bilingual international talents who can translate from Chinese to their native tongue.

Overcoming Language Barriers

While English is becoming more widely spoken, especially in major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, you'll still encounter language barriers in many situations. It's a good idea to learn some basic Mandarin to navigate daily life, and many Chinese companies appreciate employees who can communicate in the local language. Consider enrolling in language classes to get a head start.

Chinese language programs are widely available, catering to learners of all levels, from beginners to advanced speakers. Learning Mandarin not only helps with day-to-day interactions but also enhances your ability to connect with local colleagues and understand the nuances of Chinese culture. Many expats find that learning the language adds a valuable dimension to their China experience, both personally and professionally.

Pro tip: Ask your employer if they'll provide you with free Mandarin lessons or cover the cost of your classes - they often will.

Landing Your Dream Job in China

Now that you're aware of the diverse job types in China, let's look at the practical steps to find your dream job.

1. Job Hunting Online

The internet is your best friend when it comes to job hunting in China. There are several popular job websites like 51job, Zhaopin, and eChinacities where you can find job listings catering to foreign job seekers. The best one in my opinion is eChinacities - they have just about every job listing in China as well as the salary info. Plus you can filter by city as well as teaching jobs vs non-teaching jobs. Set up job alerts to stay updated on the latest openings.

2. Leveraging Your Network

Personal contacts can play a significant role in finding job opportunities in China. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say the absolute best way to find a job is byt utilizing your network. If you are already in China, reach out in WeChat groups or ask your friends for a recruiter contact. Collect a few recruiter contacts and send them your resume as well as what kind of job you're looking for - you'll have interviews arranged in less than a day. If you're not in the country, but know someone with China contacts? Hit them up!

3. Internship Programs

If you're still a student or a recent graduate in China, consider enrolling in an internship program. Many international firms offer these programs, which provide valuable work experience and the opportunity to build connections in your chosen field.

Internship programs in China can be a stepping stone to a long and successful career in the country. You'll gain practical skills, establish professional relationships, and experience firsthand the dynamics of the Chinese workplace. Plus, many internships offer the possibility of a full-time position upon completion.

4. Job Description and Contract

Before accepting a job offer, carefully review the job description and employment contract. Ensure that the terms are fair and align with your expectations. In most cases, the contract should outline your salary, working hours, benefits, and the duration of your employment.

Reviewing the job description and contract is a critical step in the job application process. It's essential to understand the terms and conditions of your employment, including salary, benefits, and working hours. If anything is unclear or requires negotiation, don't hesitate to seek clarification or legal advice.

Pro tip: Note that while you may receive an English contract or contract in your native tongue, both Chinese employers as well as foreign companies will also provide a Chinese language contract. If any contract disputes arise, the Chinese language contract will always take precedent. Make sure both versions of your standard employee contract have the same information before signing.

Navigating the Legalities

I can't stress enough how important it is to make sure you have all your ducks in a row when getting your visa sorted. To work legally in China, you must obtain a Z visa. This visa is essential, regardless of the type of job you're pursuing. It's typically issued when you have an invitation from your prospective employer and an employment contract. The process can be a bit tedious, but it's essential for staying within the bounds of the law. You can check out the beginning of this blog post for more info on how to obtain a Z visa and, in turn, a valid work permit.

Work Visa Renewal and Extensions

A lot of us say we're only going to China for one year, but wind up staying many more. If this happens to you or if you actually plan in advance to stay in China beyond the initial duration of your work visa, you'll need to renew or extend it accordingly. This process typically involves providing updated employment documents, a valid residence permit, and any other required materials. The good news is that if you are sticking with the same company, work permit renewal is pretty straightforward and your employer will walk you through it, as well as pay for it in most instances.

If you're switching companies, however, you'll need to start from scratch. Be proactive in managing your visa status to avoid any legal complications. Planning ahead and submitting renewal or extension applications well before your visa expires ensures a smooth transition and uninterrupted employment.

Opening a Chinese Bank Account

Having a Chinese bank account is practical for managing your finances while living and working in China. It allows you to receive your salary, pay bills, and access local banking services. To open a Chinese bank account, you'll typically need your passport, a valid residence permit, and an initial deposit. Different banks may have varying requirements, so it's advisable to check with your chosen bank for their specific criteria and procedures.

If this is your first Chinese bank account setup, you can ask your employer to help and they'll often offer to send a representative from HR to go with you as the language barrier might be a bit difficult to navigate in such a technical task.

A walk through Zhujiajiao, a water town outside of Shanghai

Exploring China Beyond Work

While your career in China is undoubtedly a significant part of your expat experience, don't forget to explore the rich tapestry of culture, history, and natural beauty that the country has to offer. Whether trying out local cuisines or taking a break to venture out on a day trip, make sure that you take full advantage of your life in China.


China offers a wide array of job types, making it an excellent destination for young expats seeking international experience and career growth. Whether you choose to teach English, work in corporate settings, pursue creative endeavors, or start your own business, China's dynamic and diverse job market has something for everyone. Embrace the opportunities, immerse yourself in the culture, and embark on an adventure of a lifetime in the Middle Kingdom.

Remember, your journey in China is not just about your job: it's about exploring a new culture, engaging with living history, and indulging in the beauty of the natural surroundings. It's also about building connections with people from around the world, and experiencing personal and professional growth. So take the leap, and discover the boundless possibilities that await you in China!


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