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.

Language barrier

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.

Job types

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.


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Guest's picture

One issue is that if you receive a lower salary, even though you can live more cheaply while you're overseas, it's hard to save enough for retirement or long-term savings, if you plan to move back to the US. So even if you save 10% or 20% of your salary in a retirement account, that amount won't be enough when you come back to the US. (My family lived overseas when I was a child, and that's one reason we moved back - my parents wanted to move back to the US eventually and they were worried about saving for retirement and college based on a salary that was generous in the country where we lived, but didn't go very far back home.)

Guest's picture

This is all well and good, so long as the Chinese economy is booming. China has been very irresponsible about regulating its business and industry. The huge growth that is currently occurring won't last forever.

Also keep in mind that by living in China, you are accepting a lower standard of living. Sure, cities in China have sections just as nice as any Western city, but things we take for granted in the United States such as due process, strict building code, unrestricted Internet access, and clean air don't exist in China.

You would also have to pay income tax twice- once in the United States and again in China. Even if you don't live in the United States, American citizens still have to pay income tax.

Guest's picture

As a US citizen working overseas, I can tell you that paying double taxes does not apply to everyone. For a US citizen to pay income tax in the states, you must be earning over 80,000 USD abroad. In my case, I am earning less than that so I do not have to pay taxes. And in the case of these US graduates going to China, they won't have to either.

I moved to Australia after working for 6 months in a low paying job on the east coast of America. I get paid double the amount I was getting paid in the States (even with the exchange rate difference) and in Australia they place 20% of your income (on top of your salary) into a retirement fund which you can collect upon leaving the country (if you decide to not become a permanent resident). Taxes are only 30% which is a comparable tax rate to living in a big city on the East Coast of the US. I also received a $5000 refund from the Australian govt since I'm not a permanent resident which is paying for my trip to Europe (and we get 4 weeks vacation starting here).

The US completely screws its graduates and pays them much less than they're worth, placing them in administrative jobs that they didn't need to go to college for. Happy to be an expat at the moment.


Guest's picture

I would move there. I am just worried about my job opportunities when I come back to the US. I dont want to get boxed into China specialist. I will probably end up in South America.

Guest's picture

this is a very interesting article. I wonder though, how easy would it be to get residency in China, and how hard would evey day life be? I mean yes your work may not require you to know chinese, but what about when you go to the bank or buy food?

Guest's picture

I'm going to pass thing along to some of my friends. A lot of them would be thrilled at the prospect of living in an Asian country (I wonder if the fascination my generation holds for Asian culture is echoed by my Asian counterparts? I.E.: If students over there are just as obsessed with America as some of my peers are?)

Something to deeply consider if you are considering moving to a foreign nation and taking up employment is whether or not you would feel comfortable and at home with that area/culture? I, personally, don't think I would be happy in China (although I absolutely ADORE Mandarin). It seems like China would be too fast paced and chaotic (and, on the other hand, too traditional for my taste), but the prospect of seeking post grad employment in another country is definitely a good point. I'm genuinely considering moving to either Canada or England after I finish up my graduate degree.

Guest's picture

I'm leaving this reasonably anonymous as I work for a chinese company - I was one of their Canadian reps, so I still live in Canada .. however, I'm privy to all the stuff that happens to the chinese staff.
A lot of companies actually fine employees money for things. The company I work for is so .... well, bad I guess -- but it doesn't affect me, because it's illegal in the majority of the freeworld to do such thing. They fine staff several RMB for a lot of things, including calling in sick, which is a 100RMB fine, forgetting your doctors note the following shift? 300RMB. Slouching at your desk? 10RMB. caught surfing the web? 1000RMB. 1000.
Granted, there's a TON of bonuses to be earned - but that's out of pocket...
careful where you work.

Guest's picture

Interesting post. I never considered looking for a job in China. Very cool suggestion, and interesting information to boot!

One additional consideration: You may want to think about relocating cost. If you hope to keep any of your posessions, that would be expensive shipping. Moreover, a plane ticket is pretty expensive if you're traveling overseas. That said, new college graduates don't have that many posessions anyway, so the ticket might be the only relevant factor there.

FYI: I accepted this article to the second Carnival of Economic Fun. It will appear on Wednesday, September 16. Thanks for submitting.

Guest's picture
Mark Bowman

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