A Guide To Working Abroad in Shenzhen
Far from its humble beginnings as a fishing village, Shenzhen is currently one of China’s most rapidly-growing, prosperous economic areas. Like New York, it’s an immigrant city, and, like San Francisco, it has its own high-tech version of Silicon Valley, but, unlike both, it’s only just entering middle age. Still on the rise, this booming Chinese city attracts ambitious entrepreneurs from around the globe who want to work hard and get rich. If you’re looking for work abroad in Shenzhen, join the hustle and get ready to see your prospects skyrocket.
In 1979, the Chinese government created the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone to introduce capitalist economic policies into a predominantly communist Chinese system. It was the first and most successful of these experiments, and, in just 20 years, Shenzhen grew from a small fishing port to one of the largest cities in modern China. Today, foreign workers make up the majority of the population and lend their expertise to factories, IT businesses, software companies, and schools.
Short term jobs and summer jobs vs. long term jobs. Whether you’re looking for jobs in Shenzhen for a couple of months to a couple of years, you’ll find a position that fits in your time framework. Most of the internships and entry-level business jobs are for a couple of months or during the summer, but the teaching jobs are more long-term. If you’re interested in working in Shenzhen during the summer, just keep in mind that the weather will be hot and humid.
Popular work fields. Two of the biggest draws to this foreign-invested city are computer science and technology. Because the government literally designed it this way, Shenzhen is also one of China’s leaders in international trade. Education is another sector that draws in foreign workers. While experience is appreciated, teachers have been known to be hired off the street by enterprising new schools looking for native speakers.
Paid vs. unpaid jobs in Shenzhen. Almost all Shenzhen jobs are paid, and if they are unpaid, then they usually offer some good benefits. Most jobs for foreigners pay enough to not worry too much about budgeting. There are many ways to save in this country, so expenses differ greatly based on individuals. There are plenty of chances to make money, spend it reasonably, and still manage to save up some moolah to take away.
Everything is growing in Shenzhen — and fast! The skyline practically changes before your eyes, so it’s no surprise that life itself changes pretty quickly too. Cultural offerings are constantly expanding, and the people and work are so invigorating, you’ll hardly have time to be bored.
The city is made up of districts, and while transport is well-planned and executed, because of the size, people tend to stay in their district “bubbles.” The Futian District is the Central Business district and caters to the many new financial companies. The Nanshan District is quieter and more residential while also being home to internet moguls. In the very western part of Nanshan is Shekou, an area that started as a base camp for oil riggers between shifts at sea and now is an expat-heavy residential center with notable Western influences.
Like everything else in Shenzhen, cost of living is also rising. Current prices are around $750 - $1100/mo for a furnished a one-bedroom apartment, depending on the district. Food, by most standards, is pretty affordable, and it will only cost you about $5 for a good, sit-down Chinese meal.
Almost no one is actually a native; even the Chinese you’ll meet have probably come from other provinces. Given this shared experience of living away from home, residents are very tolerant of outsiders and accepting of different languages and cultures.
There are no local dialects and, unlike other areas in China, there will be less discrimination based on the type of Chinese you speak. Almost everyone speaks Mandarin, and though you will need a basic grasp of it to get by, there will be plenty of foreigners to help you with the language barrier when you need a hand. Speaking Chinese is not necessary for this work, and the job will give you an instant network of fellow teachers and local Chinese friends to help you get acquainted with your new surroundings.
One drawback to the city’s youth is that some have expressed a sense of “cultural void.” Despite the wealth of diversity in its residents, the society has remained largely monocultural — probably due to the fact that most have come to work, not play. However, you and the next wave of culturally-rich oversea workers can change this! That being said, Shenzhen keeps changing. Whatever you knew four years ago is already out of date. In the past year, for example, they’ve created a beautiful 12-mile biking/walking trail along the bay, opened several high-end malls, relaunched the airport, and added new metro lines to make it easier to visit the other districts.
China may have the world’s largest agricultural output, but in Shenzhen, it’s skyscrapers, restaurants, and dreams that shoot up through the cracks to form this fast-paced, colossal city. Catch the momentum while you can with a job in Shenzhen, because nothing stays the same for long.
Be sure to also read our comprehensive guide on working abroad in China.
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