How to Profit From China's Growing Upper Class — Even If You Don't Speak Chinese


When I lived in Beijing in the late 1990s, most Chinese people were poor compared to their American counterparts. I remember visiting bars that catered to foreigners with local friends in tow, and having them marvel that the price of one drink could feed them for a week. People were considered well off if they owned a car or had an apartment with hot water on demand.

Things have changed. While poverty is still common in China, the wealthy class has ballooned. China is now in second place, after the U.S., for the most ultra high net worth individuals. And the wealthy class there is expected to keep on growing, with the number of Chinese millionaires expected to surge 41 percent to 2.7 million by 2022, according to Credit Suisse.

This means that there are lots of Chinese people in the market for goods and services their parents couldn't afford. Here are some ways you could cash in.

Teach English online

Teaching English for a low salary or as a volunteer has long been a way for new college grads to see the world. But the combination of global broadband and growing Chinese wealth has created an opportunity for Americans to make decent money teaching English from the comfort of their homes. VIPKID connects English-speaking teachers with children in China for one-on-one video lessons that pay $14 to $22 per hour. (See also: How to Earn $1,000 a Month or More as an Online Tutor)

Be a butler

In 2016, the Netherlands-based International Butler Academy opened a training program in Shanghai to serve the growing demand for butlers among high net worth households in China. English or English-appearing butlers who are willing to travel to China can start at $60,000 — nearly 50 percent more than beginner butlers earn in the West. Staffing agencies report that the premium is driven by the status boost that comes with employing a bona fide Downton Abbey-style butler. (See also: 14 Jobs that Capitalize on the Growth in Rich Households)

Rent your vacation property to Chinese tourists

Airbnb has been pushing hard into the Chinese market, adding 24/7 Chinese-language customer support and locally used payment options. At the same time, the number of Chinese visitors to the United States has been exploding, with more Chinese visitors than any other country except Mexico.

If you own a vacation property in a popular Chinese destination, such as Los Angeles, or near a national park, you can make your listing more attractive to Chinese travelers by providing a high level of service, since Chinese travelers are more used to hotels than home sharing. Discounts for longer stays help, too. If you have Chinese visitors coming in, thoughtful touches such as having a hot water kettle and house slippers available can help them feel more at home. (See also: 5 Easy Ways to Make Good Money From Airbnb)

Teach skiing

Skiing didn't really take off in China until the recent wealth boom, with the number of domestic ski areas rocketing to 568 from just six between 1996 and 2016. The run up to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics is further ratcheting up interest.

The combination of booming popularity and a limited history means that ski instructors are in short supply in China. A Club Med recruiting page promises ski instructors who travel to China perks such as accommodations, meals, and free flights in addition to an "attractive wage." How attractive? While ski instructors in the United States earn $15 to $20 an hour, in China you can make $20 to $30. Although speaking Chinese would increase your chances of getting hired, resorts are increasingly accepting that most available ski instructors don't.

Host a high school student

The number of international students earning high school diplomas in the United States has skyrocketed over the past decade, and the trend is led by China, whose students make up 46 percent of all international high school students here. Some of these kids are in U.S. boarding schools, but others are in private day schools and even public schools. These students need host families, who can earn $500 to $600 monthly per student for providing room and board.

Sell your property to a Chinese investor

To the chagrin of many would-be homeowners in certain markets, U.S. real estate has become attractive to Chinese investors making all-cash purchases. In fact, Chinese are now the top foreign buyers of U.S. real estate.

If you are looking to get top dollar, cash, for a property, it may be worthwhile to enlist an agent who knows the Chinese investor market well. Just don't expect this tactic to win you any friends among neighbors who might not like to see neighborhood properties turn into investor-owned ones.

Be a private schoolteacher or administrator

As I mentioned in the first item on this list, teaching in China used to be a low-earning opportunity for young people who wanted an adventure. With the growth of wealth in China, however, comes many domestic private schools who want English-speaking teachers and administrators, and are willing to pay for them.

Experienced teachers can earn $3,000 or more per month, and while that might not sound like big bucks, if it comes with a furnished apartment, airfare, and halftime pay over holiday breaks, some estimate you could sock away at least half your salary.

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