Are you a newly minted expat about to start working in China? Then congratulations! You’re in for quite the adventure. You’ll have so many questions when coming to China for work that even with the best of intentions, it’s unlikely your company’s HR department will be able answer them all. Here we lead you through some of the most frequently asked questions that foreigners working in China might have.
A: China updated their work visa regulations in the spring of 2017, in the process making it much more difficult for foreigners to obtain the all-important work permit. The main reason for updating these regulations was to weed out unskilled, low-level workers, which unfortunately also included a big chunk of the English teachers and other young and adventurous foreigners keen to live and work in China.
However, working on an improper visa (or, more factually correct, without a work permit), is not advisable in today’s climate, as the government is now routinely cracking down on foreigners working illegally. Those found working without the necessary paperwork are most often put in administrative detention for a couple of weeks before they are swiftly deported, usually with a ban of five years before they can return. The bottom line is - always get your visa and permits in order before starting to work in China.
A: Unfortunately, your work and residence permits are both tied to one employer, and one employer only. Side gigs are therefore forbidden, legally speaking. That being said, some lines of work are more affected by government scrutiny than others. If you’re doing anything other than English teaching or journalism, you shouldn’t be too worried.
A: All Chinese companies are mandated to pay social insurance to their employees. This is known as “the five insurances”, which includes pension, medical, unemployment, maternity, and work-related injury insurance.
Some companies will even opt for commercial medical insurance for their employees since public healthcare in China – while perfectly sufficient in most cases – it can be very expensive.
Worth noting is that insurance will only be available if you are working legally in the country. Another thing to keep in mind is that the money you pay into the pension fund is usually only available if you pay into the system for 15 years or more and then retire in China. Since most expats leave before that happens, however, you can technically have all that money paid out beforehand if you jump through enough (burning) hoops.
The housing fund is a type of insurance outside of the five statutory ones (though no less statutory). Every month part of your salary will be deducted and put into a housing fund. How much that is depends on where you live, your monthly salary, and your employer. The good thing is that whatever is deducted from your salary will be matched by your employer.
Another good thing is that this money can be withdrawn if you a) buy an apartment in China or b) apply to have it paid out quarterly (RMB4,500), which will act as a nice bonus to your regular salary.
A: Of course not. Most foreigners working in China get five days of state-mandated vacation days, all the Chinese public holidays, and nothing else. If you’re working as a teacher in China, however, you can expect to get a lot more time off, especially if you work at a public or international school. Training centers, on the other hand, will vary a great deal.
A: Transferring a work and residence permit in China is a bit of a process, although not nearly as long and tedious as acquiring them to begin with. However, do keep in mind that all the rules with regards to who you can work for depend on what company name is on your work permit (technically, what’s in the QR code).
When changing employers in China, it’s better to leave the transfer process for the two HR departments to iron out. Just make sure you leave your old company on good terms or your release letter might be held hostage, or simply disappear. A release letter is necessary when transferring your work permit. Without one, you’ll have to redo the entire visa acquisition process again.
A: The short answer is, you can’t. As a foreigner working in China, you’ll always be the odd one out. You’re unique, but not special. You’re intriguing, but also a hassle. You will be forgiven for not knowing the social norms, but also never accepted even if you do learn them.
In a society that favors harmony and consensus, the golden rule is to never challenge authority, never be direct with criticism, and never involve yourself with things that are none of your business. Also be sure to say no when your peers ask you for help every now and then (by politely saying you’re too busy). Otherwise you’ll never finish any tasks of your own and you will be the “yes-person” forever.
A: When China introduced the foreigner grading system, the expat community was filled with anticipation and excitement. But once everyone realized all mere mortals were going to be B-grade foreigners, the interest quickly subsided.
Yes, there are some benefits to being an A grade foreigner, in theory. And yes, you can upgrade your foreigner grade, in theory. But it’s hardly something you should bother wasting your time on.
Because by the time you make RMB450,000 or more annually, work for a multinational company and speak fluent Chinese, the truth is, you probably won’t care what kind of foreigner you are.
A: Negotiating your salary is an art form in China. This is doubly true if you’re working as an English teacher. While you, by default, will have a better bargaining position in smaller cities where recruiting and replacing teachers is increasingly difficult, you’re not such a unicorn in first-tier cities.
The number one way to increase your salary when teaching English in China is by your length of tenure, boring as this may sound. Every time you renew your contract, you have an amazing opportunity to demand more pay.
Why? Because the retention rate of teachers is rock bottom in China. Having a teacher stay for their full contract is rare enough, so doing so ultimately means you’re reliable. Most schools and training centers will pay just about anything for that.
In the end, the answer is quite simple: stay, do your job, renew your contract when it’s time, and ask for more money.
9. Q: I hear that non-native English speakers are not allowed to work as English teachers anymore. Is that true?
A: Unfortunately, this is true. The Chinese government will only issue work permits for those working as language teachers teaching their native language. This means that if you want to be an English teacher, you must come from one of these seven countries: the US, the UK, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia.
Technically, you only need a passport from one of them, but it nonetheless makes it more difficult for non-native English speakers to work legally in China. Naturally, the demand for foreign teachers far exceeds the availability of adventurous native English speakers, however.
Luckily for you and that Ukrainian dude you have on WeChat, there’s always a workaround. For example, you’re not being hired as an English teacher, but rather as a curriculum administrator or business developer. Maybe a foreign outreach specialist?
While this will allow you to obtain the all-important work permit, it’s also dangerously close to a gray zone, legally speaking. You will also have to wrestle with the idea of pretending to be American for the rest of your time as a teacher in China, which is far more exhausting than it sounds.
A: Foreigners in the Chinese workplace are sometimes viewed as, “That person who does that thing”. They are teachers needed to teach English, marketeers needed to update the Facebook page and Instagram feed, and non-Chinese people who deal with non-Chinese things. They will also, almost invariably, leave China within a couple of years.
As this is often the case, career progression for foreigners working in China is sometimes limited. Unless you speak fluent business Chinese, your best bet is to have “senior” added to your job title.
One solution is to look for Chinese companies with a strong presence in the West. These companies may well be looking for foreign managers to lead teams whose work will be conducted entirely in English (or at least another foreign language).
Regardless of what you aim for, and regardless of your line of work, you should expect to work hard for it in China. Don’t expect to get a free lunch just because you’re a foreigner. That ship sailed many years ago and, by the looks of it, it’s not coming back any time soon.
A: Being scammed in China is a very real possibility, and not just on TaoBao. You might even get tricked into taking a job that is wildly different from the one you thought you signed up for.
Some obvious warning signs are “Why, of course you can work on a tourist visa while we get your work visa”, and “Yes, the position is for an online marketing manager… but how are you with kids?”. Job scams like these are less about taking your life savings and more about getting you to work illegally in China or accept a worse job than you’re worth.
Always be skeptical of obvious hyperbole but keep in mind that language barriers might be the reason for confusion. Another very important detail to remember is that the legally binding work contract will always be in Chinese; the English translation is all but useless in a legal context. So, if you feel that the company seems fishy, have someone look over the Chinese version of the contract before you sign it.
A: Being laid-off is never fun but, being legally terminated in China is not as bad as it sounds. Firstly, if you lose your job in China, you should know that the labor laws will typically side with the employee. This is a communist country, after all.
This means that you can fight the decision if you want and you have a pretty good chance of winning. Most employers know this and will do anything to avoid letting you go in the first place. It is notoriously difficult to fire people here. If anything, it’s harder to keep employees from leaving rather than forcing them out.
You’ll also be happy to hear that the Chinese labor laws are surprisingly comprehensive, assuming they are honored by the employer. Big companies in China are typically very good at doing so, so you’re likely to be safe.
If you are lawfully laid-off, you will receive a statutory 30-day notice. You may or may not have to work those 30 days, but you will be paid regardless. You’ll also receive severance pay. This is calculated by how long you’ve worked for the company, but it will never be less than half a month’s salary. However, remember that all your legal protection goes out of the window if you’re working in China illegally.
Working in China is part adventure, part Kafkaesque experience, and part knowing your rights and making the best of the opportunities available. We hope this FAQs has been helpful. If you have any questions not covered here, feel free to post them in our Answers Forum.
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Dec 05, 2019 19:31 Report Abuse
good information to any newcomers, but who wants to be classed as an A B or C 'foreigner'? Anyone with any self respect would not want that. Anyone who is desperate for a job would be ok with it though. And there are easier places to get work than in China if a person is so desperate to look outside their own country like Canadians do, for example.
Oct 10, 2019 13:33 Report Abuse
RE: being laid off. According to labor laws, how long do you need to work for a company to be entitled to severance pay? If a teacher has been there for six months or less, some companies will give the 'you were on probation' excuse to avoid paying anything.
Sep 08, 2019 14:29 Report Abuse
Nice catch. If you're still on probation you will not get any severance pay, and your 30-day notice will be significantly shorter (three days, I believe). That means you certainly have a valid reason to be on edge during your probation, although a lot of companies will have shorter probation periods for foreigners - sometimes as short as one month.
Sep 08, 2019 14:42 Report Abuse