How to find a job in China as a foreigner

When we decided move to China in 2022, I had no idea how to look for a job there. I needed to start from scratch and get familiar with the job market. In this post I give advice on how to start a job hunt in China.

How to find a job in China as a foreigner
Photo by Andrew Seaman published under CC BY-ND 2.0.

When we decided to pack up all our stuff, end life in Germany and move to China in 2022, I had no idea how to look for a job there. I had no business contacts of former companies I worked for in China. I didn't even know what companies in my field were open to hiring foreigners. With that I started my journey of finding a job in China to start a new life.

Where in China do you want to be based?

The first question to answer is where in China you want to be based. Similar to other places in the world the most jobs you can find in big cities. For China that means the tier 1 cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen or new tier 1 cities like Chengdu, Hangzhou, Wuhan and Nanjing.

Those cities offer lots of opportunities, often an international community (if you want it), higher salaries and better infrastructure like public transport and medical care. On the other hand, they can be overwhelmingly big and crowded plus housing will be quite expensive.

I started my search mainly looking at Shanghai. The reason for this was simple: we have family living in Shanghai and being close to them would be a major support factor for us as a small family.

What options do you have to land a job?

From my experience and from talking to Chinese there are three major approaches to end up in a job in China:

  1. You are working for a company in another country and are sent to China for a limited time (Expat)
  2. You are applying for a job in China and will end up with a Chinese contract (Flexpat),
  3. You start your own business in China.

As an expat you already have some time in a company under your belt. You know that your employer has offices in China. During that time you either work towards the goal of working in China at some point or the opportunity opens up eventually. In any case, you are working for that company already and your employer will support you in having a good start in China. Also, you would probably keep your employment contract and the time abroad might be limited.

A flexpat will need to be very proactive to start the job hunt. Sometimes companies might be able to help you coming to China, finding a flat and working on the bureaucracy of getting a visa. However, that will not be a given. As flexpats are not sent to China by a company but find a new job in China themselves, they are more flexible in general. They can decide how long they want to stay but need to accept some cuts in comfort.

What company do you want to work for?

In general, you have two major options when you are looking for a job in corporate China: join an international company with a branch in China or join a Chinese company. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages.

Joining an international company might have advantages when it is your first time working in China. You might see less of a difference in company culture as it will be heavily influenced by headquarters. In addition, chances are high that your colleagues will speak good enough English to get in contact with you. Finally, you might be able to use tools that you have been used to in other companies you worked for.

Joining a Chinese company can be much more intimidating. Often, they require you to be well versed in speaking and writing Mandarin. Also, work-life-balance and the sense of hierarchy might be very different from what you are used to.

Interested in my take of the economic situation in 2024 China, how Chinese tech companies work and what your chances are to land a job in one of those? Have a look at this previous article.
My best tips to land a tech job in China as a foreigner
Finding a job as a Software Engineer in Europe with a few years of experience is still relatively easy. How does the situation look like in China? I try to answer this question by looking at the economic situation, the working style in Chinese companies as well as necessary skills of the applicant.