Ever since the first stages of China’s opening-up policy commenced in 1978, the country has been a magnet for those seeking new professional and business opportunities. Today, foreign expertise is still required in many fields from catering, tourism and management to finance, trade, and education. Basic knowledge of Mandarin is preferable, but not necessary to be hired by a Chinese company. In this article, learn about China’s labour market for expats, how to find work in the country as well as the peculiarities of working in a local company.

Only a Z visa allows you to work legally in China. While some companies may agree to hire you off the books on a business or tourist visa, this is a breach of law and, if discovered, will lead to deportation.

Expat job market

China’s rapidly developing economy has resulted in a shortage of professionals in a variety of sectors. This, in turn, has made the country a popular destination for those seeking new opportunities, and it is estimated that close to one million expats currently reside in the country.

Around 85% of the foreign workforce is employed by international companies with the majority working in sales and marketing closely followed the banking and financial sector.

Technology, engineering and R&D are also in high demand of international workforce ‘ this is especially true for large Chinese tech companies (like, for instance, Huawei) as well as young tech startups.

The number of foreign nationals working in the service sector is also on the rise (especially in first-tier cities). This also includes the hospitality and tourism fields, food and beverage, real estate and others. There is also a growing number of vacancies in journalism, media, social media marketing, etc. in big cities.

In terms of geographical distribution of jobs in the country, Beijing, Guangzhou (Guangdong province in general), Shanghai and other large cities like Harbin offer many job opportunities and attract many foreign workers, as well as a selection of amenities that may be hard to come by in smaller cities.

How to find a job in China

You can look for a job in China before arriving in the country or on the spot. Generally, however, there are two main ways in which foreign nationals land positions in the country: they are either recruited locally or transferred by a company in their home country or they conduct the job search themselves

In the latter case, there are several things one could try.

If you are looking for a specific position in a relatively narrow field, it may be a good idea to contact a local headhunting agency. They will evaluate your skill set and suggest suitable positions available in companies across China. Note that headhunting fees are typically handled by your potential employer and you should not be asked to make any payments or deposits.

If there are specific companies that you are interested in, you could go ahead and contact their HR departments directly with your CV and cover letter

Professional social media could also be a good source of job opportunities. For instance, make sure to keep your Linkedin profile updates with the latest details ‘ and it would be helpful if you switch your location information to China.

If you have already arrived in the country and are continuing your job search on the spot, consider attending job fairs as well as trade fairs and professional exhibitions that would help expand your network

Labour laws

Conditions of employment vary greatly depending on your status in China. If you have a work contract with a foreign firm, you will be subjected to the legislation in force in that country; if you work for a Chinese company, you will be subjected to the Chinese labour legislation in force. The legal working hours in China is 40 hours per week.

Nevertheless, working overtime is often required without bonus or compensation. Workers in China are granted five days of paid annual leave per year (if they have worked for the company for at least a year). Plus, there are 11 paid public holidays including Spring Festival, Autumn Festival, National Day, etc..

With that said, workers employed in foreign firms are often granted one or two additional weeks of holidays as part of the ‘expatriate package’. You will also get days off on ‘western’ holidays like Christmas, New Year, Thanksgiving, etc..


Minimum wages are set locally and may vary from one city to another, sometimes even from a city area to another. If you are working for an international company in China, you will receive a salary comparable to western standards. If you are working for a Chinese company, your wage might be lower. In all cases, you must sign a written employment contract within one month after taking office. Everything should be clearly notified in your contract (salary, holidays, relocation packages, air tickets provided by the company, bonus options, overtime pay, if any and so on).


When thinking over a job offer, make sure you check whether the stated salary is calculated before or after tax. Foreign employees need to pay income tax in China. You can get your tax deductions back when you leave the country.

Company culture

Working style and corporate culture in China are quite different from those in the West. Differences can be found in everything from relationships with colleagues to daily routines.

A typical working day in China lasts eight hours with most companies offering one and a half hour for lunch and a 20-minute break after four in the afternoon. A nap in the afternoon is very common in China, and most offices would dim the lights and have some ‘quiet time’ after about one o’clock in the afternoon. At four o’clock in the afternoon, Chinese office workers would often have another 20-minute break often accompanied by a serving of sweet treats or fruit.

The notion of efficiency is also different from what it is in the West. While Westerners are used to working under tight deadlines and are motivated to complete tasks quickly, working in China is more slow-paced, with a lot of emphasis put on patience.

Connections (or ‘guanxi’ in Chinese) play a crucial role. Getting to know your supervisor, manager and CEO is considered the key to further success in the company.

A lot of companies have strict rules regarding company information: profits, marketing strategies, goals are often discussed only between higher management. Certain enterprises forbid the use of USB drives or access to local social media while at work.

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