Need a Job? Try Searching in China
Recently I read an article in The New York Times that profiled young American graduates who found jobs or started businesses in China. Personally I have not worked in China before, but many of my family members and some friends do. One of my good friends is actually pursuing her MBA right now with the goal of finding a job in China once she graduates. This is not such a crazy idea considering that unemployment is still very high in the United States, and China is still in need of talented professionals who are familiar with the western culture. Here are some quick tips for those who are interested in working in China.
Many people are hesitant to apply to positions in China because they do not know Chinese, but as The New York Times article pointed out, some jobs do not require the knowledge of Chinese. There are many foreign companies operating in China that have offices that speak English. Additionally, English is officially the second language in China and it is taught from the sixth grade. Most college educated Chinese people will be able to speak a bit of English. It is helpful to learn Chinese if you have to live in China, but many companies offer training in this area.
A new college graduate in China considers 5000 to 6000 yuan a month to be a very good payrate right now. This works out to be $730 to $838 a month at the current exchange rate of 6.83 yuan to a dollar, and most recent graduates do not get paid that much. It is very easy to spend that much and more each month if you live in Beijing or Shanghai due to the cost of living. That is why some young folks in China are called "yueguangzhu" or "moonlight tribe" which means "the generation that ends up with nothing every month." (This is a pun based on "yue" which means "moon" or "month" and "guang" which means "light" or "emptiness.") The best situation for a foreign job seeker would be to find a position that pays American or European pay. For example, if you are hired by an American company to work in China for $3000 a month, then you would be earning 3 to 4 times the local pay and you can live very well.
There are many junior positions for new graduates, but many candidates will be competing for these positions and the pay will be lower. There are many senior executive level positions available in China, too. These senior positions are actually very lucrative if the right person is willing to relocate. Most of the time the senior positions may require some fluency in Chinese.
If you are truly ready to take the plunge, it is probably easier to start your search with large U.S. or Europe based companies first. For example, multinationals like Intel have offices in China they are actively recruiting for. This site called New China Career lists many jobs from large companies such as IBM and J.P. Morgan. You can also find joint ventures and private companies in China that hire foreigners.
Cost of living
The cost of living has risen dramatically in the last decade in China. In large cities like Beijing and Shanghai, monthly costs can be comparable to or even higher than large cities in America if you want to live in the best areas. However, if you are frugal and not extremely picky about where you live then your cost of living would be much lower. Right now it is possible to rent a decent small condo in Shanghai or Beijing for $200 to $400 a month. Many young people have roommates in these big expensive cities to cut down living costs further. As to food, if you want to eat at your favorite American fast food places you would have to pay American prices. However, if you cook your own food from groceries at the local market, it is possible to eat fairly well for under $100 a month. If you go out to the posh clubs and restaurants every night then there is really no limit to how much you can spend, but that is true anywhere.
If you do live in a big metropolis in China then you probably do not need a car because there will be public transit everywhere. Business districts are also tightly packed so it is possible to walk or take short cab rides to get to your destination. Another cheap option is to get a bike, but as Carrie mentioned in her article it could be dangerous due to the unruly traffic. Even though in my last visit to Beijing after the Olympics it looked like the bike lanes were quite wide and well paved, other Chinese cities' traffic were not so orderly. The fact is that it is actually extremely expensive to get your own private car in China. For example, in Shanghai it costs more than $6000 just to get a car registered, and there is a waiting list to participate in these license plate auctions. Public transportation is definitely the cheapest way to go, but you have to get used to the pushing and crazy amount of riders during peak hours.
There are many more issues about working in China such as taxes, work permits, and culture that I am leaving out in this post. It is a big change to move to a foreign country for a job, but my point here is that you do not have to restrict your search for opportunity in one small section of the world. Globalization is happening whether we like it or not, and if you are adventurous enough, working in China is a good opportunity to advance your career and also gain some perspective on the most populous country in the world. Now the hardest part is probably to get hired, since competition may be fierce for some of the more lucrative jobs, but it does not hurt to try.