Contrary to popular belief, not all expats in China are English teachers. In this glance beyond the blackboard, I bring you a few other jobs for expats in China along with some pointers on what they pay and how to find them.
DISCLAIMER: Foreigners are only legally allowed to work in China for the company that sponsors their work visa.
The entertainment industry is one of the fastest growing job fields for foreigners in China. Confined to the bigger, more developed cities just a few years ago, music jobs for foreigners are now making an appearance in smaller cities as well. As with most jobs for expats in China, your success in this industry will depend on a mixture of talent, experience and opportunity.
Singers and DJs with performance experience in their own countries can naturally expect greater salaries and opportunities than those looking to make their breakthrough in China. A DJ with the right credentials can earn thousands or even tens of thousands of RMB over a weekend. Others, who could best be described as “enthusiastic amateurs”, may take home a few hundred for the same period or even just a couple of free beers from the bar.
Finding work in China’s music industry is not as logical or structured a process as you would expect to find in other more ‘professional’ fields. At the lower end of the scale, musicians can answer ads in the classified section of local expat magazines and websites or litter bars and clubs with their fliers/CVs. At the higher end of the scale, acts will be recruited from abroad, usually to play in hotels or clubs for a six-month season. These are the music jobs most likely to come with a visa.
Modeling & Acting
Just like with the music industry, much of the modeling and acting work on offer to expats in China is of a very casual nature. Many jobs are just for a day and are paid “under the table.”
Also, just as with music, how much you can earn will depend on experience and reputation. An established reputation in the West will secure a much higher salary and may even land you a contract with a company that will provide a visa.
Modeling and acting jobs, both of a longterm and casual nature, can easily be found on expat websites or just via word of mouth. Often, just being a “foreigner with blond hair” is all you need to fit the bill. Other times employers will have strict requirements on appearance, such as height, weight and facial characteristics, while actors might be expected to speak at least passable Chinese. Scouts often roam areas with lots of foreigners, especially universities, looking for models or voice actors, and casual jobs can sometimes lead to longer term relationships.
In years gone by, management roles at major foreign companies with a presence in China tended to be filled by the organization’s head office in the West. With visas and inbound travel still a major issue post-Covid, however, many companies are beginning to look to expats already living in China. By hiring on the ground, they’re also saving money on relocation expenses and the cost of the dip in performance that could be caused by hiring someone who needs to acclimatize to Chinese work culture.
Management jobs like this tend to focus on areas such as sales, marketing and production. Compared to the options above, they offer far more permanence and security, almost certainly coming in the form of full-time employment with a full visa and a substantial salary. The pay varies from company to company, but 25,000 RMB should be about as low as it gets.
Locating such jobs is relatively straightforward. They are often advertised on expat and recruitment websites or you may find yourself contacted directly by recruiters who have come across your CV online. However, they are not quite so easy to actually acquire. Jobs at this level typically require plenty of experience, qualifications and sometimes Mandarin skills.
Language Jobs… (Other than English)
With companies and students from across the globe coming to China in ever increasing numbers and Chinese business people and students making the journey in the opposite direction, there’s a growing demand for language skills in China. Obviously, by far the biggest slice of this market goes to English, but with Chinese companies now doing business all across the globe, it’s not the only language in demand. Those with native skills in another languages may be recruited to teach a company’s staff, deal with overseas customers or provide copywriting.
Because demand is much lower than that for English, the opportunities for jobs in other languages are much more limited and therefore competition may be relatively high. There may be a few full-time jobs for native speakers of Russian, Spanish, French or German, but you should expect to need other skills, such as sales or teaching, in order to stand out form the crowd. Those looking for permanent roles will find them on recruitment websites, while casual tutoring will more likely be picked up via word of mouth recommendations.