Working abroad

Working in Asia

25 Jan 2023, 13:36

From technology in Japan to finance in Hong Kong, Asia’s booming economies offer a range of skilled graduate jobs. If you can get past the sometimes tricky visa restrictions, warm climes and well-paid jobs await.

A typical pagoda that graduates will see if working in Asia

Working in Asia | India | Sri Lanka | Pakistan | China | Hong Kong | Singapore | Malaysia

This article was last updated before the Covid-19 pandemic. It therefore does not reflect the restrictions to travel and changes to guidance brought about by the pandemic. If you'd like to find out more, the foreign travel advice on GOV.UK includes information specific to every country.

Getting a job in Asia

If you're a graduate looking to start work in Asia, you're probably not going for the humdrum of a nine-to-five job and some pocket money. You're moving for the adventure of living somewhere absolutely, earth-shatteringly different to the culture that you have at home. Climates range from the bitter ice of northern China to the warm tropical breezes of Malaysia and Singapore, while exotic food and spices will forever change your palate and panoramic views of neon lights or rolling mountains will stay with you for a lifetime.

However, in order to reach those mountains, you'll have to overcome the language barrier that exists across much of the continent. Most international business will be conducted in English, while in former British colonies such as Hong Kong and Singapore you may be able to get through everyday life without ever needing to utter a word in a foreign tongue. However, venture out into rural areas of India and China and you'll soon see how much of a benefit a second language is in day-to-day life, not to mention how much it will increase your job prospects.

There is a price to be paid for seeking work so far from home. Often, working visas will be difficult to obtain, offered only to niche, highly skilled professions and by invitation from an employer in the relevant country backed by the approval of a government ministry. Processes can be exceptionally bureaucratic, taking many days or even months to complete. Wages may be lower in some countries, but the cost of living is usually relative. If you are planning to come back to the UK in future, make sure you have a sound financial plan in place for your return.

Finally, you will have to consider safety. You may need to take precautions against diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, typhoid and rabies. Some countries in Asia have poor records on gender equality, human rights, environmental protection or free speech. Can you handle heavily polluted air, water and food? Or living without the home comforts of Facebook, Twitter, uncensored art and news media? The religious freedoms you take for granted at home and the kind of political discussions that you have with your friends may, at best, earn you some funny looks at dinner parties, but, at worst, could see you deported or even jailed.

Always do a background check on where you intend to travel and work well in advance of making plans. Talk to those who have made the leap before and seek advice from employers, embassies and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to make sure that you're fully informed about what you are facing before you go. Check what you are allowed to bring in and out of the country and if there are any danger zones to avoid. It is relatively rare for foreign workers in the countries listed below to find themselves in trouble, but there's no harm in being prepared.


Getting a job in India

Radical market reform over the last 30 years has made India a hotspot for trade, manufacture and outsourcing. You might expect a huge amount of opportunities for graduates seeking work in the country, but stiff competition from local talent and a higher jobless rate in rural areas mean that it's not quite so simple for foreign grads to leap onto India's career ladder. It may be easier to obtain a job with a multinational company in the UK and seek a transfer.

You will need a visa to both visit and work in India. Holiday visas can be obtained from the High Commission of India via an online system or in person, and may take up to two weeks to process. An employment visa will require an invitation to work from an India-based employer, a proof of academic qualification and relevant financial documentation (including proof that you are to earn above the required threshold to hold a visa). Work visas are slower to obtain and the process may take months rather than weeks.

The application process progresses along much the same lines as it would in the UK, with CVs and covering letters, or application forms at larger employers, being the norm. As in China, employment may be obtained through a system of favours and connections outside the usual application system.

Major industries : steel, manufacturing, oil and gas, IT, engineering, construction, pharmaceuticals.

Leading employers : India's largest employers tend to be in public services, including: rail, the armed forces, the postal service and the State Bank of India. Other large employers include Tata, Infosys and IBM.

Language requirements : English is quite widely spoken and may be used in business. Do not expect to hear English spoken in rural areas. There are 22 national languages for India, including Hindi, Tamil and Urdu, plus hundreds of other languages and regional dialects.

Working hours : The working week is officially limited to 48 hours, with no more than nine hours per day. In practice, though, in many corporate sectors it could be considerably longer.

Income tax : income earned in India is subject to income tax. Those under 60 pay tax on a sliding scale up to 30%.

Major religions : Hinduism, Islam, Christianity.

Newspapers that advertise vacancies

Useful links

Sri Lanka

Getting a job in Sri Lanka

Graduates are unlikely to find the sort of openings in Sri Lanka that exist in other major cities across Asia. The country may now be at peace after decades of war, but the economy is predominantly agricultural and big graduate employers are relatively thin on the ground. However, there may be opportunities for volunteering, including the chance to work on conservation projects, teaching or aid work.

UK citizens need a visa to visit or to work in Sri Lanka. Tourist visas last up to three months and can be obtained online. If you want to work or volunteer in Sri Lanka you will need a residence visa that covers employment and it must be obtained before you leave the UK. You will need an invitation from an organisation in Sri Lanka that is willing to handle the complicated process involved. Once you have submitted the paperwork, including the invitation from the employer, the relevant government approval certificates and business registration papers, you may be invited to apply for an entry visa that can be upgraded to an employment residency permit in the country on arrival. Check Sri Lanka's Immigration Services Centre website for more information.

Job application processes will be similar to those in the UK.

Major industries : tobacco, tea, rubber, tourism, construction and petrochemicals.

Leading employers : Bank of Ceylon, Ceylon Tobacco company, Sampath Bank, Nestlé.

Language requirements : English is relatively widely spoken, but Sinhalese and Tamil are the official languages.

Working hours : businesses in Sri Lanka tend to stick to nine to five, with reduced opening hours for banks and extended opening hours for some tourism-focused businesses.

Income tax : on a sliding scale of between 4% and 24%.

Major religions : Buddhism, Islam, Hindu, Christian.

Newspapers that advertise vacancies

Useful links


Getting a job in Pakistan

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office provides information on the potential risks of travelling in Pakistan, and it is wise to stay informed both before and during your stay in the country. Both tourists and workers require visas to visit Pakistan, obtainable from the High Commission in London . For a work visa, you will need to have an invitation from a Pakistan-based employer, who will submit documents to the relevant government departments on your behalf. Visas last for one year, but can be extended while you are in the country.

Larger international companies run recruitment processes much as they do in the UK and EU. Smaller businesses may operate more on a system of contacts and connections, which will affect your chances of applying successfully for a position.

Major industries : textiles and manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, IT, oil and gas, FMCG.

Leading employers : GlaxoSmithKline, Shell, Procter & Gamble, HBL Bank.

Language requirements : Urdu, although there are some 300 languages and dialects spoken throughout the country. English is also an official language.

Working hours : a maximum working week of 48 hours, with not more than nine hours per day.

Income tax : on a tiered scale up to 30%.

Major religion : Islam .

Newspapers that advertise vacancies

Useful links


Getting a job in China

China's booming economy and seemingly endless economic growth makes the country appear a promising place for graduates to work. However, competition will be just as tough, if not tougher, than you would expect to find back home at the large international financial and legal firms that dominate the central business districts of the world's biggest cities. It may be easier to apply to a multinational firm from the UK and seek a transfer to China.

A knowledge of Mandarin Chinese is all but essential to work for a major Chinese employer, though you may find that opportunities in English language teaching, academia or science are a little more flexible. The type of employment and the level of culture shock will vary depending on where you end up. The state minimum for paid holiday is five days per year.

You will require a visa to stay in China for any period of time. Tourist 'L' visas are valid up to 90 days, but extensions can be tough to apply for and have strict financial requirements. A 'Z' visa is required to work in China. These usually need to be applied for from your home country and are valid for 30 days, allowing one entry into China and indefinite stay. You will need an invitation letter from an employer based in China, the relevant approval certificate from the related Chinese government office (usually provided by your employer) and a work permit. Within 24 hours of landing in the country you will be expected to register with the local branch of the Public Security Bureau (hotels will do this for you). You will then be required to upgrade your work visa to a temporary residence permit to cover the duration of your work contract. As part of your application you may also need to undergo a medical test: these are usually done at one approved institution in the city you are moving to. More information can be found on the Chinese Embassy's official visa centre website.

Please note that it is illegal to work in China without a 'Z' visa. The criteria have become steadily stricter over the years to crack down on casual work (such as English teaching) undertaken by those visiting the country.

Job application processes are very similar to those in the UK. 'Guanxi', a system of favours and debts between individuals (literally connections), can play a role in the hiring process.

Major industries : heavy industry is the backbone of modern China. Mining is an important industry, along with manufacturing, electronics, automobiles and pharmaceuticals. Those with a background in engineering, technology, the sciences and architecture are normally in demand, as are those who can teach such subjects. The teaching of English as a foreign language is widespread.

Leading employers : The largest employers with the best-paid jobs are likely to be state-run enterprises and financial institutions. State-run oil and gas giants Sinopec and CNPC, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Agricultural Bank of China and China Construction Bank are some of the biggest businesses. There are numerous global law firms and financial firms operating in the country, as well as tech giants such as Apple.

Language requirements : Primarily Mandarin Chinese. English is sometimes spoken as a second language in larger towns and cities.

Working hours : Normal working hours apply. Be prepared for unpaid overtime to be required at little to no notice.

Income tax : a progressive rate system from 3–45%.

Major religions : China is technically majority atheist, but is home to practising Buddhists, Taoists and Christians, although these groups are heavily monitored and controlled by the state.

Newspapers that advertise vacancies

There are two major English language newspapers that may have classifieds:

Embassy and government advice

Hong Kong

Getting a job in Hong Kong

Hong Kong offers a blend of Eastern culture and Western business, with a backdrop of scenic mountains and temples surrounding the banks, law firms, advertising agencies and assorted other financial services that make up the majority of the region's business and GDP. Competition for jobs is exceptionally fierce.

English is widely spoken. However, a grasp of Cantonese is a definite bonus for those seeking to live and work in Hong Kong as, increasingly, is knowledge of Mandarin Chinese.

UK citizens can visit Hong Kong for up to 180 days visa free. If you wish to stay and work in Hong Kong, the minimum requirements usually include: a degree or technical qualification, proven work experience in the field, an offer of employment and the level of financial support required to sustain life in Hong Kong. Working holiday visas of up to one year's duration are available to 1,000 people from the UK each year whose primary goal for visiting Hong Kong is for a vacation. Travel insurance, in particular covering medical expenses and repatriation, is also required.

Application processes will be almost the same as they are in the UK.

Major industries : Financial and professional services firms are the biggest money-makers for the region. Shipping and electronics (particularly retail) are also a large part of the economy.

Leading employers : The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (now known as HSBC) and its subsidiary Hang Seng are major employers on Hong Kong Central island. Transport companies, such as airline Cathay Pacific and MTR (Hong Kong's underground) also offer high pay and good benefits, while tech companies such as Apple and Google are increasingly being seen as the most popular places to work.

Language requirements : You can get by solely in English in Hong Kong, but a grasp of Cantonese and Mandarin (in that order) would be a benefit.

Working hours : The standard working week is 40 hours, but in practice it may be longer, particularly in financial services, as is also sometimes the case in the UK. Our advice on the financial services industry in the UK will help you understand what to expect.

Income tax : progressive, starting at 17%.

Major religions : Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity and others.

Newspapers that advertise vacancies

Embassy and government advice


Getting a job in Singapore

Singapore is relatively open to visitors and workers from overseas, and rivals Hong Kong when it comes to quality of living and the prevalence of big financial services firms.

UK citizens can visit Singapore as tourists visa-free for 30 days. In order to work, you will be required to apply for one of several different employment passes. There is one type of employment pass that is suitable for those with a degree or a similar technical qualification applying for jobs at a certain salary level, and there are other levels of pass which apply to entrepreneurs, semi-skilled workers and higher earners.

The country also offers a working holiday visa scheme for those aged 18–25 for up to six months subject to certain criteria. You can find out more about visas at the Ministry of Manpower website.

Job application processes will be much the same as in the UK.

Major industries : financial services, banking, law, media, technology, oil and gas, shipping.

Leading employers : major oil companies such as BP and Exxon Mobil have operations in Singapore. American Express and DBS bank are among the biggest employers, as well as logistics companies DHL and FedEx.

Language requirements : English is widely used. A constant stream of migration from China and the surrounding countries means that Mandarin, Malay and Cantonese are commonly spoken.

Working hours : standard working hours of around 40 hours per week, though, as elsewhere, well-paid jobs with large corporations may involve overtime.

Income tax : Singapore has a progressive tax rate system from 0–22% depending on residency status or length of employment in the country. Check the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore for more information.

Major religions : Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Taoism.

Newspapers that advertise vacancies

Embassy and government advice


Getting a job in Malaysia

Sandwiched in the middle of South East Asia, Malaysia is a rapidly developing country with a high standard of public services and a fast-growing economy. The country has a dual justice system, incorporating criminal and civil law alongside sharia law, reflective of its majority Muslim population.

UK citizens can visit Malaysia for up to three months visa-free, and are normally given permission to stay for that length of time on arrival. You will need a work visa to stay longer, and this can only be obtained by your employer via application to the High Commission of Malaysia in London. There are various criteria to be met and a relatively significant amount of paperwork, so be sure to check Malaysia's Immigration Department website for more information.

Major industries : IT and technology, medicine, oil and gas, banking and financial services, palm oil and electronics.

Leading employers : The Big 4 accountancy and professional services firms, EY, PwC, Deloitte and KPMG, all have offices in Malaysia and are rated among the top 100 employers by gradmalaysia. Big employers Maybank, Petronus and AirAsia are also high up on the list.

Language requirements : Malay is the most widely spoken language in the country. However, you may also come across a host of other languages, reflecting the high number of different ethnic groups and immigration from neighbouring Asian nations. English is fairly widely used.

Working hours : a standard 40-hour week is common. As elsewhere, there is potential for extra hours in some industries.

Income tax : ranges from 1–28% based on income.

Major religions : Islam, although there are practising Christians, Buddhists and Hindus as well.

Newspapers that advertise vacancies

Embassy and government advice


Getting a job in Japan

As Japan's population ages, the country is slowly shifting towards immigration to fill its labour shortages. It can be difficult for workers from abroad to find employment, but those who succeed can look forward to a high quality of living, low crime rates and top-notch public services. Visitors from overseas are advised to familiarise themselves with Japanese etiquette in order to avoid committing faux pas.

Any employment outside of English teaching will almost certainly require a respectable mastery of the Japanese language and only highly skilled workers are likely to be recruited.

As a starting point you will require a degree in either the technical discipline you are applying for or any subject if you a looking to teach English. Work experience is also exceptionally useful for boosting your chances of making a successful application.

UK citizens can stay in Japan for up to six months visa-free on holiday. Working holiday visas are available for those whose primary purpose in the country is leisure – similar to Hong Kong, the numbers are limited, applications are open to those aged 18–30 and are subject to meeting basic financial criteria.

In order to obtain a long-term work visa you will require sponsorship from a business residing in Japan. The company will need to apply for a certificate from the ministry of justice. Working visas only cover specialist skills and you will need to apply for the relevant visa from the list once you have your certificate. Categories include: engineering, cooking, intra-company transfer, business management, medicine, law, research and religious activities as well as many more. There is also a points-based system for exceptionally highly-skilled individuals who may be able to undertake more than one role in the country. After you have worked for 10 years (and not broken any laws) you may be eligible to apply for permanent residency. Always check the embassy website for more information.

Job application processes are likely to be similar to those in the UK. You may find that Japanese CVs and interviews are considerably longer and ask questions about your character as well as experience.

Major industries : technology, automotive, communications, shipping, green energy, finance and banking.

Leading employers : many household names in the UK are Japan's largest employers: Nissan, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Canon to name but a few.

Language requirements : Japanese. While English language learning is common, you are unlikely to hear it spoken outside of dedicated schools or workplaces catering to tourists or international commerce.

Working hours : A 40-hour week may be listed as standard, but there is a culture of lengthy overtime. Attendance at after-work events may also be expected.

Income tax : a progressive scale capped at 45% for the highest earners.

Major religions: Shinto, Buddhism.

Newspapers that advertise vacancies

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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