5 Red Flags to Watch Out for when Looking for Work in China

5 Red Flags to Watch Out for when Looking for Work in China
Sep 17, 2019 By Cian Dineen , eChinacities.com

Looking for work in China can be scary. In all likelihood, you’re coming into an environment that’s completely new to you; one where the language, culture, laws and regulations are different to what you’re used to. As a result, you need to be extra careful that you’re not being taken for a ride. Here are five red flags to watch out for when looking for work in China.

1. Signing two contracts

You’ll find some companies in China will ask you to sign two contracts. One contract, which will be kept between you and the company, will show your real salary. The second contract, which will be shared between the company and the government, will show a much lower salary.

There are a few reasons why a company may ask you to do this, but the most likely is that they’re trying to cheat on their taxes. Whatever the reason, there are a number of inherent risks for you as an individual.

Firstly, by signing two contracts you’re automatically implicated in whatever shady deal the company is trying to pull. Secondly, you open yourself up to exploitation as you have created a grey area over your actual salary. If the company wanted to suddenly reduce your salary according to the second contract, they now have a signed document to that effect.

The company might tell you that all employees sign two contracts, that it’s normal in China, and that there’s nothing to worry about. Don’t let yourself get dragged into it for a second. If things go awry, you might not only lose your high salary, but also your job and your right to stay in China.

2. Offered a tourist or business visa

There are a whole host of different visas available to foreigners coming to China, and there’s no doubt that the rules are complicated and change regularly. One thing, however, is crystal clear. If you’re working in China full-time, you need a work visa and residence permit.

Some companies in China may claim they can only offer you a business visa, while others will have the audacity to only offer a tourist visa. Neither of these options is okay. If the company refuses to arrange a working visa, they are either not professional enough as a company or simply not treating you with the respect you deserve. Either way, walk away from the offer.

If you get caught working on the wrong visa in China you can get fined, jailed and/or deported in the worst case scenario. Even in the best case, you’re still creating problems for yourself. If later you find a company that’s willing to hire you on a working visa, you might have issues with the application.

Part of the visa process involves proving at least two years’ work experience in a relevant industry. If you’ve spent time working in China but are unable to provide the right documentation, you’re likely to have some issues. Either you leave out the work experience altogether and hope you have enough to get the visa, or you leave it in and hope the discrepancy isn’t noticed.

By accepting a tourist or business visa, you’re not only creating problems for yourself now, but in the future.

3. No social insurance tax

Everyone working legally in China should be paying social insurance tax. This is a straightforward fact, which many foreigners are perhaps unaware of. It doesn’t matter if you’re local or foreign, if you’re not paying social insurance, you’re breaking the law.

There are a couple of reasons why a company might avoid doing this. Firstly, if you aren’t paying social insurance tax, it means you can’t possibly be legally registered as an employee in China. The company therefore may be avoiding registering you as an employee in order to save on tax. Secondly, if you aren’t paying social insurance tax, your company isn’t having to match your contribution, so the company is saving money.

You should want to pay social insurance, not only to make sure you stay inside the law, but also because it’s a benefit to you. Social insurance is a personal fund that can be used to pay medical bills at public hospitals. Whatever you pay in, your company should match.

Furthermore, according to the law, if you decide to leave China permanently and jump through enough hoops you can withdraw everything you paid in. So, make sure your company follows the law on social insurance. It’s really for your own good.

4. Promise of a big annual bonus

Before we start warning you about the promise of a big annual bonus, it’s important to clarify one thing: annual bonuses are very much a key part of work life in China. While in the West, an annual bonus might amount to a little extra money at Christmas, in China it’s a much bigger deal.

Under normal circumstances, the very minimum bonus a Chinese company might offer you is one month’s salary, while some tech companies may offer as much as 9-12 months’. However, there are times when the promise of a big annual bonus is used as a trap.

During contract negotiations, you might hear a lot about end of year bonuses and how you can expect a sizable chunk of change. The company might use this promise to negotiate your salary down, giving you less each month but claiming it will ultimately work out as more with the bonus. It can all sound very tempting, but don’t get carried away.

First, you need to check if the bonus is actually written into your contract and, if so, what’s the exact wording. It’s rare for a Chinese company to give explicit language or iron-clad promises when it comes to bonuses.

Secondly, even if you do get something in writing, a bonus is dependent on the success of the company. Unlike your salary, which should be paid the same regardless, the bonus will depend on how much money both you and the company made.

Come the time for annual bonuses, companies can be very resourceful when thinking of reasons not to pay out bonuses. Oh, sales have been down this year; our manufacturing costs are rising; the trade war hit us bad… An annual bonus can be great. Just don’t compromise on your monthly salary too much.

5. Low employee morale

Some companies may seem great on the face of it — high salary, good bonus, working visa, and all above board when it comes to paying taxes. But before you start thinking you’ve hit the jackpot, you might want to try to have a sly chat with some of the employees. Obviously, they might be hesitant to talk candidly about the company in case it lands them in trouble, but there are some tell-tale signs to watch out for.

You can ask if they often work overtime, how long they’ve been in the job, or simply what they do. Even if they don’t give you any straight answers, you can gauge if they seem tired, happy or excited about their work.

Of course, just because one employee is unhappy in their job doesn’t mean you will be. Everyone is different. But it’s worth taking on board what they say and keeping an eye out for any potential problems when you first start the job. If you can identify issues early, you might be able to fix or avoid them before they become a big problem.

What else should you watch out for when looking for work in China? Tell us in the comments section below.

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Keywords: work in china looking for work in China


All comments are subject to moderation by eChinacities.com staff. Because we wish to encourage healthy and productive dialogue we ask that all comments remain polite, free of profanity or name calling, and relevant to the original post and subsequent discussion. Comments will not be deleted because of the viewpoints they express, only if the mode of expression itself is inappropriate.



First, you need to check if the bonus is actually written into your contract and, if so, what’s the exact wording. It’s rare for a Chinese company to give explicit language or iron-clad promises when it comes to bonuses.

Apr 12, 2020 00:31 Report Abuse



Hi I am Hadi who is soccer coach with the UEFA B Leicense. I am looking for s coach job. Please if you can help let me know. Thank you

Sep 19, 2019 23:46 Report Abuse



Is there really a1 month pay equivalent to 1 month salary before giving you a contract? Please respect my post.

Sep 19, 2019 09:56 Report Abuse



Noobs... these are total non-issues. When it comes to working with Chinese, whether in Business or Education or Tech fields, it is important to show a healthy dose of both caution and respect. Getting screwed over is a rite of passage... don't even sweat it! You haven't lived in China long enough if you haven't yet pulled out all of your old change, cointing it three or four times, wondering how many baozi your stack of Maos will buy... a good ol' chap from Ghana once gave me wise words, "if he about to f*ck u, u have to f*ck him first!" Wise up, ladies and gents... if they're gonna screw u, u better have a plan b, a plan c and a plan z...

Sep 18, 2019 20:11 Report Abuse



what does it mean "cointing it three times, wondering how many baozi your stack of Maos will buy"... I see everyone ignored your comment, but maybe it has something profound that answers the question above: "what elese should you watch out when looking for work in China?" Another question: how are you going to plan to screw the same people who are going to be your colleagues? What type of wisdom is that? As I said, I just want to understand your comment.

Oct 14, 2019 21:33 Report Abuse



Make sure there is a clear compensation placed for an illegal termination. That way if you go by your contract and they still terminate you, you can argue it in court.

Sep 17, 2019 22:25 Report Abuse