Working in China as a Foreigner: What You Need to Know
Even though knowing exactly how many expats currently reside in China is hard, it has been estimated that 220,000 foreigners were working in China during the first decade of the 20th century. About one hundred years later, and according to the latest census, there were more than 600,000 of them in 2010, and about 950,000 as for last year.
The perspective of China becoming the world’s biggest economy for sure attracted many foreigners eager to be part of the movement and make the most of it!
But before jumping into the Chinese bath, or even if you already are working or living in China and are eager to make a change in your professional life, it is always useful to get some insight on the local job market. In our case, let’s have a look at the Chinese job market and what it has to offer to foreigners!
ASI Movers being the long-lasting partner of expats moving from, to, or within China, we are happy to provide you a summary of what our experience and our daily contact with the foreign community taught us!
How is the job market evolving?
Which sectors and industries still demand expats?
Are your background and carrer plans suited for you to find a fulfulling job in China?
Let's find out!
First and foremost, it is important to note that while foreign-invested companies employ 85% of expats, Chinese companies tend to prefer locals. Overall, there is no longer a preference for foreigners, except for some niches.
The competition with Chinese has indeed been intensifying with a new generation of middle-class graduates pouring into the job market. Most of the employers tend to prefer bilingual Chinese, especially those who have studied or already worked abroad, as well as those who have a past experience in an international company.
In addition of being as qualified as their foreign counterparts, Chinese employees also mean cheaper wages for companies to pay, which makes them more attractive on the labor market. The traditional expat package is becoming rarer and rarer, even though local packages including housing and tax incentives are sometimes offered. Many younger foreigners, eager to give a shot to the Chinese experience and its career opportunities, tend to give up a higher salary for more challenging and intense job opportunities.
In fact, the gap is narrowing between locals’ wages and expats’. While in the 2000s, foreigners used to earn 10 times more than their Chinese counterparts, they now earn about two or three times more. Salaries paid to Chinese have indeed risen faster than the ones which are to expats.
Recently, the term flexpats has emerged as a new trend. It designates foreigners employed by local Chinese companies, often to the terms local Chinese also do. The jobs they are recruited for do not require much work experience or a higher education (as it is the case for traditional expats). Their motive for coming to China is neither necessarily rooted in them improving their career, nor with the aim of staying long-term. They undertake this journey mainly because it has become easier to live here without speaking Mandarin, especially in big cities, and because the country’s economy is dynamic. They also are more about the experience in itself than their predecessors.
Even though the job market can seem less welcoming for expats, there still are sectors and niches which are really open to foreigners to join.
The Chinese marketing sector is rather welcoming towards foreigners. Both the biggest local tech companies and smaller entities are eager to recruit expats to fill this function.
Many companies based in China are aiming at taking their share on the international market. They thus start to develop global campaigns, others work as consultants and help local entities to develop internationally, some at last even help foreign companies to expand their activity to the Middle Kingdom and thus need to promote their services abroad. In any case, foreign category managers, product developers, and distribution jobs are sought.
In parallel, the expat community within China is also a target for many companies, which then search for foreigners to communicate more easily with this potential client base.
Foreigners eager to work in this field should have abilities in SEO, SEM and networking (the latter indeed being the case for any job in China).
Management positions are particularly interesting in China since they generally are high-level and well remunerated. Nevertheless, they are mostly targeted towards senior candidates, with experience and credentials, while the competition with locals is increasing.
Being bilingual is always an advantage when seeking for such a position, as well as having a previous experience in China.
Even though more and more Chinese graduate in this field, China is still in demand for foreign talents. The latter are sought to manage global projects and to help managing the differences of practices between several countries.
Furthermore, industries such as renewable energies (especially solar energy), oil and gas, automotive manufacturers and heavy industries are particularly eager to employ foreigners.
Companies in these industries are searching for people able to help them take advantage of the country’s recent Green China Plan i.e. find sustainable solutions to pollution issues while also participate in their international reputation.
Finance and Accounting
While areas such as Hong-Kong enjoy an established finance market already saturated with foreign workers, the Chinese finance sector is but growing. In addition, it is becoming more and more open to foreign companies, which makes the job market less competitive.
Furthermore, China generally welcomes foreign talents in this field, them bringing their international expertise (them being familiar with the WTO standards for instance) and network.
With China’s opening to international businesses, consulting is becoming a more and more dynamic field. Whether one chooses to give guidance to the Chinese companies for them to develop abroad, or to foreign companies to develop in China.
English is no longer the only language one should master to differentiate on the Chinese job market as more and more locals speak it fluently. Being able to speak and write Mandarin has become a requirement for most of the best-paying jobs. Not only will it enable you to access a better job, yet it will also be a valuable asset for completing your tasks, designing and implementing strategies, as well as developing your network.
Having cross-cultural communication skills is also necessary in China, even more than for any other international environment.
Far from being exhausted, the job opportunities for foreigners in China are still numerous. One can acknowledge the fact that the Golden Era of expat packages and being able to access high positions easily without any notion of Mandarin is over, however "flexpats" are becoming the new norm and the job market is still full of potential for those who can adapt to its changes!