One of the world's largest economies, China still manages to maintain a better growth rate than most developed countries. Remaining relatively stable throughout the global downturn, it saw a continued influx of foreign investment and expats looking for work and opportunities for success.
Western companies have placed importance on becoming more involved in China for some time, creating one avenue for expats seeking to make the move. Other expats simply move to fill positions in international companies that already have large offices in the country.
The Chinese government has shifted its emphasis from simply achieving double-digit growth figures to focusing on more sustainable development models as it seeks to take the next step – becoming a world superpower.
Chinese business culture is dominated by guanxi, a local concept that is a more intricate take on the Western idea of networking. Much time is devoted to cultivating and maintaining relationships, as local business people rarely do business with people they don't know and trust.
With the country seeking to improve its service sectors, address environmental issues and social imbalances, expats working in China will find themselves in a new era for the People’s Republic.
Expat jobs in China
Expats have traditionally taken upper management and senior level jobs in fields such as IT, human resources, finances, accounting and manufacturing companies. As economic dynamics have shifted, however, highly skilled expats at all levels of the corporate ladder have been seeking employment in China. As the country continues its shift towards a service and special skills economy, many expats now take jobs in industries such as sales, marketing, engineering and banking.
The education sector continues to be the country's biggest source of employment for expats, with 25 percent of its foreign workforce in the teaching profession. While it may once have been a relatively low-paying job, teaching English as a foreign language in China has developed to provide a respectable salary for expats with a tertiary education. It is also a means for many young expats to earn while experiencing a new country and culture.
To illustrate the country’s demand for skilled workers, HSBC’s Expat Explorer Report for 2013 reported that around a quarter of expats who work in China were actively recruited. Furthermore, 59 percent say that they earn more there than they did in their home country.
The majority of expat jobs are found in major cities with large expat business communities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. Speaking Mandarin is a large advantage and is often a way to secure a high-paying job. However, many international companies use English in everyday affairs and many expats get by without Mandarin.
To balance this view, however, the majority of expats continue to be hired by international firms and opportunities at companies that are completely Chinese owned continue to be limited. Relocation packages are also less lucrative than they used to be, although many companies still subsidise housing costs, airfare, health insurance and some tax payments.
Many local businesses also prefer hiring Chinese candidates with overseas experience. Hiring foreign employees comes with high costs, and many initially have difficulty adjusting to the language and the culture. Furthermore, some businesses have turned to hiring middle-management level employees from places such as Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Not only do these candidates often speak English, they demand lower salaries and can often speak some Mandarin.
One way many young expat professionals have found around this is to take relatively low-paying entry positions, trading income for experience that benefits them later in their careers – in China or elsewhere. It must, however, be noted that a Chinese work permit is needed for expats to find work in the country.
Despite the challenges, the expats that do manage to successfully find work and integrate report high levels of satisfaction – China was, after all, rated as the world’s best expat destination in the HSBC survey.
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