China—known to its residents as The Middle Kingdom—is a force to be reckoned with. After nearly a century of poverty and political upheaval, China’s emergence as the world’s second largest economy is nothing short of incredible. With industry leading companies in every field doing business or having clients in China, work experience in the People’s Republic will undoubtedly boost your resume and provide you with firsthand knowledge of one of the world’s most formidable superpowers.
It is often said that the three most prominent cities in China are Xi’an, Beijing, and Shanghai; Xi’an represents the past, Beijing the present, and Shanghai the future.
Xi’an is the original capital of China (dating back over 4000 years ago). It’s a great place to see history, and offers tons of teaching jobs—in English language and other subjects. Jobs in Xi’an are also available in the arts, engineering, or business administration.
Beijing, China’s current capital city, is a thriving metropolis of history, culture, and economics. While teaching English in Beijing is again the most common work for foreigners, there are also dozens of opportunities to become an au pair. The shadows of the Forbidden City also offer positions in hospitality, international business, and international law too.
Shanghai is the best choice for jobs in China if business is your primary focus. As the world’s most densely populated city, work in Shanghai is available in marketing, investing, graphic design, supply chain management, and so much more. Its history as a trading port coupled with its recent rise as one of the world’s top investment centers, makes Shanghai a true cultural and intellectual experience for all.
“Small Town” China. If you are looking for a less traditional China experience and hoping to get out into the smaller cities, you may enjoy working in Hangzhou or Kunming. Hangzhou is consistently voted one of the most beautiful cities in China—with its world famous West Lake—and is one of the few cities in China that maintains historical architecture and old world culture. Teaching English is again the most common job in Hangzhou, but positions are plentiful throughout the city. Kunming also offers English teaching placements, but is a competitive site for journalism and sports management enthusiasts, so jobs in both of these fields are available.
Jobs in China
China has gained global recognition for its strengthening economy and political prowess over the past decade. It is an advantageous location for all aspects of business—management, marketing, investing,—although jobs in education and performing arts are also readily available.
Business & Economics. Regardless of your area of interest or emphasis, China will provide job opportunities for those interested in the fields of business and economics across the country. You can help create English advertisements for companies hoping to expand to the West, or work with multinational corporations on diversifying portfolios.
Education. China has entered the international stage in many arenas, including education. The need for English teachers is very high, as is the need for English speaking au pairs and teachers of other subjects. Teaching in China is a great opportunity not only to develop your international career potential, but also to experience an education system very different from home.
Salary & Affordability
In almost every way imaginable, China is known for being cheap. With an artificially deflated currency, the U.S. dollar goes a long way in China with bus tickets costing 50 cents in Shanghai and around 20 cents in Beijing. Meals can be purchased on any budget, with Peking duck specialties costing around $45 or handmade noodles running just $3 in family owned restaurants.
Salaries in China have been historically low, due to a surplus of labor and very few regulations for workers’ rights. However, in recent years, pay scales have begun to rise in every industry. While paychecks may not be comparable to the U.S. equivalent in the field, wages for jobs in China are very livable, since food and commodities can be found in every price range.
One of the most difficult adjustments for Western travelers when working in China is the concept of haggling. While large supermarkets post prices on inventory, many family owned businesses or street vendors negotiate the price at the time of purchase. This can be challenging if you don’t know Chinese, but the vendor will normally do his best to win your business—including speaking English or providing a calculator for you to name your price.
Accommodations & Visas
Most stereotypes about Chinese housing are true–it is the epitome of small. Apartments and flats can be found all over, but are usually less square footage than a fire marshall would allow in the U.S. Foreign workers can often find cheap housing in hostels or in apartments attached to hotels, which are often larger and more likely to resemble American accommodations.
China is one of the toughest countries in the world to get a visa for. Tourists, students, interns, volunteers, and workers all need visas to travel to China. The most popular visas for individuals who plan to work in China will either be a business visa (which usually denotes someone traveling to China for business purposes) or a work visa (which is intended for someone who will be employed at a Chinese owned company). It is best to ask your program provider or employer which visa you will need ahead of time.
The application is very meticulous and requires your employer to provide several documents. Even applications that are submitted correctly may not be approved, or may be granted a different visa than requested. Visas are issued as the discretion of the Chinese consulate and are highly regulated by the government. You should apply early for your visa, and work closely with your provider or employer to get the best possible results.
Benefits & Challenges
Corporate Culture. Chinese people have a strong work ethic, and corporate culture is very important. Many companies operate on a very vertical hierarchy, with great respect between employers and employees. Reputations are important in China too, so maintaining a high level of respect in workplace relationships is important. That’s not to say that all offices are uptight and serious. In fact, lunch breaks are very important to the Chinese, and after lunch naps in the cubicle are quite popular.
Language. While knowing some Chinese (at least in spoken form) will be a definite advantage when working in China, most international companies operate in English, making it very easy to work in China without knowing the language. That being said, English fluency rates vary greatly in China, and depend heavily on generations and the location. Larger cities, like Shanghai and Beijing, have a fair amount of English on signs, menus, and public transportation, but even so, the ability and willingness of locals to speak English can be unpredictable. Outside of the big cities, it can be tough to find English speakers. Though, Chinese people take great pride in helping foreigners and are usually very friendly and supportive.
Adventurous at Heart. If you are adventurous, curious, and willing to try new things, China has amazing job opportunities. Everything in China is a little different from the Western world, and that exposure is incredible for both personal and professional development. New Oddities. From squat toilets to unconventional meat products, international workers in China will encounter many new items while traversing the middle kingdom.
Air Pollution. In big cities, this can be a health hazard for people with weak immune systems. Masks are common and easy to purchase. If you have respiratory issues, you may want to consult a physician to make sure you have the necessary medications before you begin a job in China. Business is King. The growth of the economy is incredibly important to the Chinese people. New businesses, both Chinese and international, spring up constantly, so the variety of available jobs in China as well as responsibilities involved are great.