A Quick Guide to Working Conditions for Expats in China

A Quick Guide to Working Conditions for Expats in China
Jun 30, 2020 By Alistair Baker-Brian , eChinacities.com

Amid the excitement of working abroad, many expats forget to research one very important thing: working conditions. In this article, I bring you a basic guide to working conditions for expats in China, offering a quick overview of everything from average pay to holidays. Whether you’ve been working here for a while or are considering a move in the near future, make sure you know your rights.

working conditions in China

Your Legal Rights

Be aware of your rights, specifically, your working rights as guaranteed under Chinese law. Bear in mind that the below rights are only available to you if you are working legally in China (with a valid visa and work permit). Read this for more details on China’s labour laws, but here are the basics:

• Working hours: Legally, your working hours should not exceed 44 per week and any overtime should be paid at at least 1.5 times your base salary. Some industries in China, particularly tech and startups, however, have a culture of excessive overtime (look up the “996” working week). While an employer cannot technically force you to do overtime, especially not unpaid overtime, many employees will toil away at all hours for the promise of a huge bonus at Chinese New Year. In my experience, the best approach is to be polite, firm, and flexible if/when you can. If there’s something urgent that needs doing for the following day, then perhaps a little overtime is reasonable. If you made plans on that day, just say politely that you can’t. Read this for a more comprehensive guide on overtime rules in China.

• Maternity leave: This varies by city, but the national standard is 14 weeks, including the rest days and statutory holidays that occur during that time. Starting a family may not be part of your plan when coming to China, but perhaps somewhere along the line you’ll meet your special someone and settle down. If and when it comes to that, be sure you know your rights. Read more about them here. Married women of childbearing age but currently with no children should note that they may struggle to find work in China. Local employees are unfortunately reluctant to hire in this demographic as they must shoulder the burden of maternity pay should their hire fall pregnant.

• Dismissal: Employees are entitled to severance pay in most circumstances if dismissed, with the only real exceptions being if you are fired before the end of a legal probation period (one month for a one-year contract), or if you were found to be engaged in illegal or corrupt activities. Severance pay amounts to one month’s salary for every year you’ve been legally working at the company. Remember though, no work permit, no payment.

•  Contract: Knowing your rights and standing up for yourself in the workplace is crucial in China, just as it is in any other country. Equally important is checking your contract before you sign it. In China, you will likely be given an English version and a Chinese version of your contract. In the case of a legal dispute, only the Chinese version will be considered valid. So before you sign, get someone who understands Chinese to check the translation is accurate. You don’t want to find yourself caught out because your employer sneaked something in that you’re not aware of.

Average Pay

Like anywhere else in the world, this depends largely on the industry you work in, the city you live in and the level of responsibility your job entails. As a rough guide, however, below are some examples based on positions recently available on eChinaJobs.

The majority of expats working in China find themselves in education, with pay ranging wildly across positions and types of school. One English teacher role at a university in Guangzhou was recently offering 8,500-10,000 RMB (1,200-1,400 USD) per month, a livable yet not particularly high salary given the present-day cost of life in China’s first tier cities. This position, however, came with a free apartment, which would hugely reduce living expenses.

Another position with an international school in Shanghai was offering 20,000-30,000 RMB (2,800-4,200 USD) per month. This kind of salary will provide a much higher standard of living, although the job no doubt requires a greater workload.

Copywriting is another popular career choice for expats working in China. At entry-level, employees can expect to earn around 15,000 RMB (2,100 USD) per month without many benefits. A senior copywriter in Shanghai may be able to nab a salary of 20,000-30,000 RMB (2,800-4,200 USD) per month.

This is just a very small snapshot of salary ranges for expats working in China. When searching for a good salary package, look at benefits as well as the basic salary, the cost of living in that particular city, and be sure to confirm if a promised salary is before or after tax. Benefits, typically only offered to school or university teachers, can include airfare allowance, private health insurance, free accommodation and more. Over the duration of your contract, such benefits will save you a lot of cash.


This is an area many expats working in China don’t pay close enough attention to. Your employer is legally obliged to deduct a small amount of your monthly salary as social security. You should be given an insurance card when you first start working in China that can help reduce the cost of medical care should you get sick. This card however, has its limits, and if you ever need anything beyond the most basic of care in China you can expect to pay through the nose.

The best option is to look for an employer that provides private health insurance as part of the employment package. This will negate the constant fear that a trip to a Chinese hospital will leave you in debt. Many big companies employing foreigners in China will offer this as standard as they know how important it is to expats and their families.

If your employer does not provide private health insurance, you should look into purchasing your own. A long-term stay in a Chinese hospital can be eye-wateringly expensive. Make sure you’re prepared. After all, nobody plans to get sick.

Holidays and Paid Annual Leave

Because, let’s face it, everyone needs regular breaks from work. China has seven public holidays, during which employers are legally obliged to give you time off. They include:

• New Year’s Day (Yuándàn jié): January 1; not to be confused with Chinese New Year (see below).

• Spring Festival (Chūnjié): Some time around the end of January or beginning of February; lasting for seven days; also known as Chinese New Year.

• Tomb-Sweeping Festival (Qīngmíng jié): April 4-6.

• Labor Day (Gōngrén jié): May 1-3.

• Dragon Boat Festival (Lóngchuán jié): Usually around the end of June; lasting for three days.

• Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhōngqiū jié): Usually mid- to late-September; lasting for three days.

• National Day (Guóqìng jié): October 1-7; also known as “Golden week”.

Bear in mind that some of these holidays work around the Chinese lunar calendar and therefore appear on a different date each year in the Gregorian (Western) calendar.

Most strangely and importantly, be prepared to work “make-up” days. These occur when official public holidays are stretched out by a few extra days. For instance, if the official holiday falls on a Tuesday, employees may also get the Monday off so they have four days of leave in a row. However, that extra day must then be made up somewhere else along the line. If you want to make plans for the holiday, therefore, check as far in advance as possible when your company’s makeup days will be. Bear in mind too that train and plane tickets will sell out quickly during these times.

We then come to paid annual leave. After one year with the same company, employees are entitled to a measly five days of paid annual leave (although some Chinese companies offer this straight away). This only rises to 10 days after 10 years with the same company.

Unless you are a school teacher with long holidays during Chinese Spring Festival and the summer break, therefore, you may want to try and negotiate with your employer for more paid annual leave. Aside from giving you a little more time to travel home to see your family, you’ll also get more opportunity to see China without the crowds synonymous with public holidays.

Do Your Research

Having worked in China since 2014, I’m in no doubt about the benefits of being here: the chance to learn Chinese, the opportunities to make friends from China and all over the world, and the ease of travelling around China and other parts of Asia. But I am also in no doubt about the need for employees to do their research when it comes to working conditions for expats in China.

Before you accept a job, always do due diligence. Research the employer to find out other people’s experiences of working there, research your rights, pay close attention to your contract, and make sure your rights are met. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself if they’re not.

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Keywords: Chinese Workplace


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Try to negotiate for health care insurance as part of employment package. That is a protection to anyone, after all you don't know what will happen in the future.

Mar 24, 2021 10:34 Report Abuse



By having a chance to work in china is a life time exposure, try to tap in as much experience as possible.

Nov 16, 2020 19:24 Report Abuse



Health insurance is a big one and something a lot of people from here in the UK seem to gloss over in my experience. Incredibly important given the price of some surgical procedures etc.

Oct 08, 2020 03:31 Report Abuse



Well said , this does not confine to China. Do a research before you accept any job in any places around the world.

Oct 05, 2020 09:25 Report Abuse



Besides, the annual leave and holidays, what is far more important is the health insurance card which helps to reduce cost of medical when someone fall sick in China.

Oct 01, 2020 11:08 Report Abuse



Useful information and worth reading material. Thanks

Sep 07, 2020 11:07 Report Abuse



not sure about some of the advice here. for one thing probation period is illegal? on the subject of being dismissed...i never was but it was clear to me that people who had been, did not get the things promised to them in the contract. also being fired in China means you are locked out as its impossible to get another work visa if you have been fired. Seems to me, this website has people writing these articles with some adequate knowledge but also a fair bit of hearsay and conjecture thrown in for good measure. An article of this kind may provide some purpose for a newcomer who goes to China to work but for anyone who has experience it is not. Then would a person who is going to China to work for the first time read this kind of article anyway? I doubt it. 2014 also was not that long ago and a LOT has changed to work visa policy since then.

Jul 11, 2020 22:01 Report Abuse



good text

Jul 11, 2020 19:34 Report Abuse



thanks, interesting read.

Jul 03, 2020 20:45 Report Abuse



prepare to be exploited and unicorned over. Good Luck !! Also 'hurting' someone's feelings might earn you an invitation to a 'tea drinking' session.

Jul 03, 2020 18:18 Report Abuse



good luck getting any of this actioned

Jul 01, 2020 12:26 Report Abuse