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5 Reasons Why Foreigners Come Work in China

Dec 20, 2016 By Louise Levicky , Comments (35)     Add your comment Newsletter

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Talk to any group of assorted foreigners in China and you’re bound to hear a different “China story” from every single one. We've looked at some of the reasons foreigners choose to come and work in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

foreigners working in China

1) The Ease of Saving Money

People have always gone to where their skills are most in demand, and from the California gold rush to the Chinese market boom, people will also go wherever the economy is thriving. Despite China’s recent economic slowdown, there are still plenty of money making opportunities. “There’s definitely the feeling that this is where the money is now,” says expat Maribel, whose friends back home in Spain, also in their mid-twenties, are “struggling on a thousand Euros a month, if that.” She sees China as an investment: though the “unsociable hours” of her ESL job can occasionally be frustrating, her unconventional schedule also leaves her plenty of time to work on her Mandarin, a skill that coupled with the high salaries earned by many ESL teachers makes China “the best option for now.” It’s a feeling that is shared by Loubna, 24, from Morocco, who is also balancing Chinese study with ESL work.

2) Fast-Track Careers

But China isn’t just a way to save money – for many, it represents a wealth of career opportunities that would be closed to all but the luckiest few in the West. While corruption is an issue, more opportunities are open to more people. You don’t need an unpaid internship before being considered for a job, and faster career development is a fact for most people. Part of this is couched in questionable ideas: a foreign face is seen as a plus in many companies, which is illegitimate at best, and racist at worst – since this privilege tends to apply to white faces only. That aside, many people in their twenties are given more responsibility than they would be in similar businesses back home. Business developer Olivia, 26, was made a manager six months into her job in Shanghai after being headhunted by a rival company (an offer she rejected) – with the corresponding raise. “It was scary accepting all that responsibility, but the payoff is the experience I can apply to other jobs in future.” Much like Maribel, she’s hoping that her proficiency in Mandarin and experience dealing with big international clients will boost her resume when she returns home to Chicago. Unlike Maribel, however, Olivia’s new higher salary is a perk, but not the main reason she is working in Shanghai: “Management positions back home pay much higher than my job here, but the experience is the more valuable part of what I do.”

3) Low Stress Jobs and Travel Opportunities

Conversely, some people come to China as a way to escape the stress of high-profile jobs back home. “Life here is comfortable,” says Terry. “Traveling in Asia is cheap and fun and teaching is an easy way to experience China and do something different. It’s definitely more exciting than life at home in Canada.”

4) An Attractive Market for Entrepreneurs

China is of course also currently one of the best places to set up a business. While setting up a wholly foreign-owned enterprise is a lengthy and expensive process, the Chinese market is much less saturated than other more developed countries – making it an attractive prospect for budding entrepreneurs. 

5) Mandarin, Overseas Experience as Boosts Back Home

A recurring theme when discussing working in China is proficiency in Mandarin. While companies in China may be looking toward hiring local graduates from overseas universities more and more, Chinese language skills represent an increasing advantage in the West. Candidates with job experience overseas also have the advantage of cultural competence, without which language skills are much less useful. Chinese language skills can be the tipping point for a candidate whose experience would otherwise be rather run-of-the-mill – a valuable consideration if job seekers are looking for their next job in a country where a visa is required and a local worker with a similar skill set would otherwise be given precedence.

Expat life is full of ups and downs, and living in a culture with very different values can be trying. It seems though that many are willing to accept the highs and lows of life in China in exchange for the international experience it brings and the possibilities of saving for a move back home or new opportunities in the future.

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Keywords: Why work in China foreigners working in China

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35 Comments ( Add your comment )


Obnoxious. An article on an expat site telling its readers (with no small amount of generalization) why they come to China. In fact, I just read the titles and skipped the rest: If you've read one of these provocation pieces, you've read them all. It's late, and I'm not a glutton for punishment.

May 07, 2015 01:36

I agree. Do expats really need to be told why they come here? Like we just spontaneous jumped on a plane to China...

May 07, 2015 14:38

@coin i just skipped to the comments

May 07, 2015 03:37

Yep me too. So sick of these "reasons why foreigners...." articles. No thought whatsoever.

May 07, 2015 11:40

Yeah, lucky enough that "foreigners" is such a homogenous group of people :P

May 07, 2015 18:32

It's common knowledge that we all come from the same village, don't you know?

May 07, 2015 21:01

IS it fair to say we all come from a country named "Foreign", thus we are labeled as foreigners. BTW, do you speak foreignese? and what are the visa requirements for the typical Chinese to visit Foreign?

May 11, 2015 11:11

True facts

May 07, 2015 04:20

living in a culture with no values can be trying.

May 07, 2015 04:28

teaching is easy? sure, for poseurs in diploma mills...

May 07, 2015 04:29

you must be a terrible negotiator, you make the rest of us have to work harder in the negotiating phase.

May 07, 2015 10:55

To the person that comes from an island and is a boy, tsk tsk

May 14, 2015 14:41

I'm just here to steal Chinese culture.

May 07, 2015 07:07

Better than me. I'm here to steal their women folk. And I did steal one!

May 07, 2015 08:14

I assume you are lying.

May 07, 2015 13:14

Vicky, who is lying?

May 07, 2015 13:58

However, with all these so-called benefits steadily diminishing and also the shift towards Chinese "domestification" in terms of labour force, I think we will see a huge wave of returnees starting to emerge... Anyone with me?

May 07, 2015 09:07

Forgot to mention another reason: After 2008,working 20 hours a week teaching became easier than living on benefits back home :-)

May 07, 2015 17:47

Maribel sounds hot. We can practice Chinese together, but I doubt she is real.

May 07, 2015 19:16

Why the majority of people are shy to say the real reason they are here.If u said to steal but Chinese girls/ or Chinese culture,i will like to ask such people that before when the economy of China was not in this growth stage,were the culture and women not existing in China? Hahaha...sorry for all of them.

May 08, 2015 15:29

I am 100% here to steal your money, I'm also gonna get some military secrets form the spy satellite i smuggled up my bum and launched into orbit using a micro slingshot. Soon i will have all the monies and all the datas

May 08, 2015 20:54

Dude,you are 100% right!! Haha,let them answer your question.

May 08, 2015 15:32

I would really like to see a list of reasons why Chinese go to foreignland: 1. escape China with their corruption money. 2. escape the education system for their children. 3. escape pollution and food contamination.

May 08, 2015 16:31

I came to China because...... I did. I dont need some gap year journalist telling me why. It would be nice if I knew why, but the answer I seek is not in this article.

May 09, 2015 01:16


May 21, 2015 14:56
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