How COVID Travel Restrictions Can Help Expats in China Advance their Careers

How COVID Travel Restrictions Can Help Expats in China Advance their Careers
Nov 26, 2020 By Cian Dineen ,

When COVID-19 first emerged at the start of 2020, many expats in China either left the country out of fear or found themselves stranded abroad and unable to return. Fast forward to the end of the year, and while most of the rest of the world is still struggling under the pandemic, life in China has largely returned to normal. At the time of writing, it remains very hard or even impossible for foreigners to enter China. For those of us already here, therefore, this represents a unique opportunity. Call me a cynic, call me an opportunist, I don’t care. Here, I look at how COVID travel restrictions can help expats in China advance their careers.

expats in China advance their careers China

Test the Water for a Raise

Perhaps the most obvious way for an expat in China to take advantage of the current situation is to ask for a raise. With a limited foreign talent pool in the country at the moment and the extreme difficultly of bringing in new people from abroad, you’ll never be in a stronger bargaining position.

It’s important not to get carried away, however. Although we are living through exceptional times, don’t be too greedy. Your employer may cave in and give you what you ask for, but you’ll be painting a big red target on your back if your salary becomes untenable.

Your company may resent how you backed them into a corner in difficult times and find a way to push you out once the pandemic is over. Even if they don’t hold it against you, having a disproportionately high salary means you’re more likely to be let go if the company is ever making redundancies. With the uncertain economic climate created by the pandemic, that’s definitely not out of the question.

Take a Step Up with a Promotion

With the current situation, some expats in China are finding themselves with opportunities for promotion they would have waited years for otherwise. When China closed its borders, many companies suddenly found themselves with only half a team and missing some key leaders. Supervisors and managers, a lot of whom cannot perform their duties remotely, were stuck abroad, and new hires from overseas were not possible.

As a result, those here on the ground are set to benefit from the void in supervising and management personnel in China. In such a volatile and unpredictable time, many companies will also prefer to hire internally. If you were ever going to make that leap to management, therefore, now is the time to be brave and put yourself forward for any gaps that appear in your company’s hierarchy.

Just be careful not to take a promotion for the sake of it. The promise of a pay raise, a bigger bonus, and a whole host of perks can be very enticing, but it’s important to be honest with yourself and ask if the role is actually a good fit for you. If you don’t have enough experience or it doesn’t suit your skill set and ambitions, it might be better to stick to what you do well.

Make the Jump into a New Industry

It’s a tale as old as time. A young foreigner comes to China to teach English for a year and travel around Asia. While in China, however, they find a great opportunity for a career switch and end up spending the next 10 years making a life for themselves in a country they never planned on staying in.

Never have the opportunities to switch industries in China been greater. As the talent pool companies once had to draw from is diminished, career paths that you may not have the requisite experience for might be open to you now. Quality control specialists at factories or copywriters in tech companies are normally recruited from abroad, but with the current travel restrictions, the vast majority of overseas applicants who would be competing for those roles are no longer in contention.

Don’t worry too much if you don’t have enough experience. The best way to learn is on the job, after all. If the prospect of a career change excites you, throw your hat in the ring for your dream job. You’re more likely than ever before to be considered.

Supplement Your Income with Freelance Work

Even if you’re settled in your current job and content with your salary, there are other ways to make the most of the situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many companies are experiencing demand that far outstrips supply, be it finding teachers for classrooms, writers for blogs or translators for company documents.

Where before these companies might insist on doing this work in-house or hiring someone on a full-time basis, many are adapting to the diminished foreign labour market and hiring extra help on a part-time or freelance basis. This provides a great opportunity to supplement your regular salary in the evenings and on weekends while a making the kind of contacts that may lead to further work or a full-time job in the future.

DISCLAIMER: Expats working in China must abide by the conditions of their visas. Typically, a work visa is connected to just one company, meaning you can only legally work for that company. Any expat in China taking on freelance work outside of their registered employer does so at their own risk.

…But Look Before You Jump

In the current climate, there are undoubtably fantastic opportunities for expats in China to advance their careers. One day, however, the pandemic will presumably end and the world will return to some form of new normal. So before you take a new job or embark on a different career altogether, it’s important to consider if that job will still exist when the dust settles.

Some companies and industries will be experiencing an artificial boom due to the pandemic. It may be an obvious link, such as a face mask or hand sanitizer manufacturer looking for a quality control specialist or someone to handle their international sales. Or it may be less obvious, such as a translator position in a gaming company that’s posting record profit due to the high numbers of people playing games in lockdown. When the world returns to normal, these companies will likely see a big decrease in profits compared to the height of the pandemic and you may see your job disappear almost as quickly as it popped up.

The same caution should be exercised with industries that would be especially vulnerable if widespread lockdowns were ever to return to China. Bars, restaurants and hotels would be brought to their knees by another lockdown, so be mindful of any opportunities in F&B or hospitality. Ultimately, look for companies that are not affected, either positively or negatively, by the pandemic. Those of the ones most likely to offer long-term security, within or without of these “special times”.

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Keywords: Expats in China expats in China advance their careers


All comments are subject to moderation by 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.



Expats who are currently in China are lucky that many school are now looking for teacher. Those who are presently abroad are still waiting for the green light for the border to be re open .

Mar 23, 2021 10:23 Report Abuse




Dec 11, 2020 13:10 Report Abuse




Dec 11, 2020 13:09 Report Abuse



From this i dont just know what to say as it makes me.......

Dec 11, 2020 06:54 Report Abuse


comment|79096|246226 Look ! I can copy and paste links too !!! ;o)

Nov 30, 2020 14:33 Report Abuse



While I agree with most of what is written in this article, there's also a potential risk that it forgot to explore. Everyone in China knows that the rest of the world is struggling. Your employer knows you'd rather stay in a pandemic-free country whose economy is not on its knees. They might use that as leverage to NOT give you that raise or promotion. While I haven't seen or heard this happen, I wouldn't completely write off the possibility that it might, especially if things keep going the way they are.

Nov 29, 2020 10:25 Report Abuse



Certainly, foreigners who remained in China during the pandemic currently have many more opportunities to find a better job or promotion...

Nov 27, 2020 01:04 Report Abuse



If the PCR Test works - Why the False Positives? If the Masks work - Why the Six Feet?  If the Six Feet works-- Why the Masks?  If all Three work-- Why the Lock down?  If all Four work -- Why the Vaccine?  If the Vaccine is Safe -- Why the No Liability Clause?

Nov 26, 2020 15:59 Report Abuse



Sounds eloquent. Essentially ignorant.

Dec 03, 2020 12:12 Report Abuse



good to see you back WangNan2020, and thanks for following my comments. You don't have to be shy and post as a 'guest' ! Please expand on your comment. Only people who want to shut down conversations assign labels or indulge in name-calling without following on with opinions or evidence. Please share your thoughts - or are you going to be as shy as you are in the Forum section and not respond?

Dec 03, 2020 15:07 Report Abuse



@ WangNan2020. would you care to explain why you think my comment is 'ignorant' ? Seems logical to me.

Dec 04, 2020 07:27 Report Abuse



Be water, my friend. --- Bruce Lee Stay hungry. Stay foolish. --- Steve Jobs

Dec 05, 2020 23:35 Report Abuse



so you are NOT going to answer my question, WangNan2020, on why you think my comment is 'ignorant'? As I expected - all you can respond with is quotes. And you continue to use your 'guest' login. Why so shy? Sadly, you continue to reinforce my opinion of the Chinese inability to answer questions that are direct and simple. HINT: when you reply using a 'guest' login, rather than your ECC alias, your ECC alias becomes visible.

Dec 06, 2020 03:14 Report Abuse



Chinese inability, humh... isn't that a bit too broad a tag? By the way what is a 'guest' login? I'm totally unaware.

Dec 08, 2020 00:37 Report Abuse



you know when you post, WangNan2020, you have the option to post with your Alias OR (in your case) you have chosen to post as 'Guest17124634'. YOU actually MAKE A CHOICE - but then you know that - and ignorance is not an excuse. But i can see it is you - you can't hide !! Good to see you still posting (and caring) but still not able to answer a direct question - well done - true to form! Yes, Chinese inability to answer a direct question, as experienced by me and a good number of other foreigners. I must admit - you are great entertainment value with your cliche replies.

Dec 08, 2020 06:28 Report Abuse




Dec 11, 2020 13:10 Report Abuse