Working in China
The job market
What are your chances of getting a job?
After the US, China is the second biggest economy in the world so opportunities are good, although competition for graduate vacancies is intense. Your best chance of getting a job is with an international company in the UK that can send you on an assignment to one of its offices or production plants in China.
Other opportunities can be found in teaching English as a foreign language in schools and universities.
Having knowledge of Mandarin is an advantage if you're looking for employment directly with Chinese companies. Skills in technology, engineering and production can also help, although you'd need to secure the work before moving to China. In business, having the right 'guanxi' – network of connections – is vital and takes time to cultivate.
Where can you work?
- Major industries: mining, textiles, chemicals, consumer products, telecommunications equipment, satellites, machine building, food processing and transportation.
- Recent growth areas: plastics, rubber and pharmaceuticals.
- Shortage occupations: graduates who have skills in manufacturing, engineering, medical or environmental technology, IT, production, HR, accountancy, finance and tourism are in demand.
- Major companies: large banks including Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), China Construction Bank and Agricultural Bank of China, oil and gas operations such as Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), insurance companies such as China Life Insurance Company and Ping An Insurance Group, and automotive companies such as SAIC Motor, FAW Group and Dongfeng Motor Group.
What’s it like working in China?
- Average working hours: standard working week of around 40 hours, Monday to Friday, eight to nine hours a day.
- Holidays: entitlement is low in China at either 5 or 10 days paid annual leave depending on length of service, in addition to 11 national holidays.
- Tax rates: progressive income tax system, starting at 3% and rising to 45%. Don't forget to check your UK tax and National Insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to ensure that you are not losing any UK pension rights.
Applying for jobs
If you have contacts in China try to use them for networking purposes as some jobs are never advertised but filled via personal referrals. It's advisable to secure a job before moving to China as it affects the visa you need to be able to enter and stay in the country.
A short CV or résumé is used along with a covering letter for most job applications. If you're applying to a Chinese or government-owned company and can speak Mandarin it may be helpful to handwrite your application in Chinese characters.
The information included in your application is similar to that in UK CVs. Provide a summary or career objective at the beginning and highlight academic and personal achievements. Include your academic and work background and if your university features highly in recognised rankings, such as the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, include the position in your application as this is often highly valued in China.
The interviewing process can be long and may involve a number of interviews before you meet the person who has the authority to make a decision. Make sure you prepare fully for the interview and research the company.
Get more applications and CV advice.
Will your UK qualifications be recognised?
UK qualifications are generally well recognised around the world, but check with the employer or the relevant professional body prior to applying for work.
Information on recruitment agencies in China is available from International Confederation of Private Employment Agencies (CIETT).
- China Daily
- South China Morning Post – jobs advertised are mainly in Hong Kong, but sometimes in mainland China.
- onlinenewspapers.com – information on newspapers in various countries.
If you are planning to make speculative applications to companies, the British Chamber of Commerce in China has details of member businesses that are active in the UK and China. Websites for foreigners working in China may also be useful, such as Shanghai Expat and AsiaXPAT. If your university has an alumni association, this might offer networking opportunities.
Getting work experience
Work placements and internships
The British Council is running an internship programme for UK students to gain work experience across a range of industries in China. Placements are available in Beijing, Chengdu, Qingdao, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Zhuhai. The internships last for two months and funding is provided to cover accommodation and travel insurance.
Paid, course-related placements for students in science, engineering and technology are available in China through IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience). The placements usually last up to 12 weeks during the summer but longer-term placements at other times of the year are also available.
Teaching programmes offer opportunities to live and work in China. Placements are in Chinese schools, colleges or universities and last from a few months to a year. Opportunities are available through the British Council – Language Assistants in China and IST Plus.
Gap year and volunteering opportunities
Volunteering opportunities in China are available with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). VSO volunteers work in a variety of areas including education and in raising awareness of HIV/AIDS. The majority of short-term work and gap year opportunities usually involve teaching English.
Do you need a visa?
If you're a British citizen you must have a visa to enter mainland China, but you don't need one for Hong Kong. You need to make sure you get the visa before travelling to China and your passport should be valid for at least six months from the date of your visa application.
For stays of any length you must register with the local Public Security Bureau (PSB) within 24 hours of arrival. If you're staying in a hotel the registration is done on your behalf as part of the check-in process.
If you're planning on staying in China for longer than six months you need to get a residence permit. You will also need to produce a health certificate which includes a blood test for HIV.
Different types of visas are available depending on the reason for your trip. If you want to work in China you must apply for a Z visa and need to have an official invitation to the country by an employer. You can also get an L visa for tourist purposes and an F visa for exchanges, visits and study tours short business trips. It is illegal to work in China on a tourist or business visit visa. There are severe penalties if you if you violate these laws. To get a work visa or residence permit you may need to provide proof that you haven't got a criminal record.
For more information on applying for visas see the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United Kingdom. If you're not a UK national, contact the Chinese embassy in the country where you are currently resident about how to obtain visas and work permits.
How do you become a permanent resident?
While naturalisation is possible in theory, it’s very difficult in practice. You are able to apply for a permanent residence permit if you meet one of the key requirements set out by the Chinese government. These include having invested directly in China or holding a position of great responsibility in a workplace. You will also need to show that you have abided by China's laws, are in good health and don't have a criminal record. More information can be found through the Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China.
Living in China
- Cost of living: generally lower than the UK but it does depend on the location. Beijing, the capital city, is the most expensive city. Accommodation costs around MB2,000 to RMB3,000 a month, while an average meal cost in the region of RMB30 to RMB50. Other smaller cities can be significantly cheaper to live in.
- Internet domain: .cn
- Currency: Renminbi (yuan) (RMB)
- Health: the level of medical care is generally good in major cities but standards vary in smaller towns. Comprehensive travel insurance is needed as healthcare isn't free and costs can be high. You should only drink bottled water, not tap water, and be aware of high levels of air pollution.
- Type of government: communist state
- Laws and customs: you need to carry your passport with you at all times. Police carry out random checks and may fine or detain you if you don't have your passport. The Chinese authorities maintain control on internet access and may block certain sites. Penalties for drug offences are severe, including the death penalty, and it's illegal to gamble (except in Hong Kong and Macau). There are restrictions on certain religious activities, including preaching. Homosexuality is no longer illegal and is becoming more widely accepted but there are no specific laws in place to protect the rights of LGBT people.
- Emergency numbers: the following emergency numbers apply in China: ambulance – 120, police – 110, fire – 119. The British Embassy Beijing can provide British nationals with help and assistance in a variety of emergency situations.
- People: majority Han Chinese (91.6%). Other groups include Zhuang, Tibetan, Manchu, and Mongol.
- Major religion: officially atheist, but practised religions include folk religion and Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity.