Mafan Much? Things That Will Drive You Crazy as a Foreigner Working in China

Mafan Much? Things That Will Drive You Crazy as a Foreigner Working in China
Jul 12, 2018 By Lewis Schwinn ,

China's cost of living is insanely low, jobs for foreigners are plentiful, and some of the world's most magnificent cultural and natural wonders are just waiting to be admired. But that doesn't mean it's a perfect place to live and work all the time. Today we're going to join hands with you and vent about some of the things that can drive you crazy as a foreigner working in China.

The visa system is a nightmare

Building a house on quicksand is easier and less stressful than applying for a visa in China. Regardless of what visa you're going for, you'll most likely run into one or all of the following problems:

•A provincial bureaucracy that feeds off sorrow and anguish and delights in finding small errors in your paperwork so they can reject your application multiple times. In addition, rules and enforcement vary from province to province, making navigating the esoteric process from the outside with no experience close to impossible.

•Whatever entity is supposed to help you with your visa, whether it's a private training school, a public school/university or private business, is likely to assign you someone with zero experience in filing visa paperwork for foreigners.

•The federal government changes its rules every few years, which makes online research both futile and potentially dangerous, as it might actually misinform and doom you into having to exit and re-enter China. This is basically the visa equivalent of getting a Game Over screen on a video game, only it will cost you thousands of dollars and possibly the job you were applying for in the first place.

If you want immersion, you have to fight for it

Finding English-speaking friends in China is often as easy as leaving your apartment. If you visit cultural or historical sites, all the plaques have English translations. You can get most foreign foods from specialty supermarkets and entertainment from back home via the internet.

But getting a truly deep and multifaceted understanding of a culture without speaking the language is difficult, if not impossible. If you're looking for a deeper experience as a foreigner living and working in China, therefore, prepare to work hard for it.

In you live and work in one of China's big cosmopolitan cities, getting people to actually speak Chinese to you can be maddening if you look foreign (i.e. not Chinese). Combine the fact that Chinese people who have learnt English naturally want to practice with the assumption that a foreigner couldn't possibly speak Chinese, and you're looking at an uphill battle.

Some English speakers may also view your attempts to speak Chinese as condescending, particualrly in a business situation, as you're assuming they can't speak English. The assumptions about assumptions go both ways!

It's like being famous with almost none of the benefits!

China has around 1.3 billion people spread across dozens of provinces in an absolutely gigantic country. Consequently, some Chinese people have had less exposure to foreigners and foreign cultures than others.

In places with less exposure, foreigners are naturally objects of curiosity. Unfortunately, this often leads to situations many people find uncomfortable, such as being gawked at in public, having photos openly or surreptitiously taken of you, having people yell things at you in both English and Chinese, being followed and generally attracting a level of attention close to that of a C-list celebrity.

On a good day, this can be amusing, complimentary and even advantageous. On a bad day, it makes you want to Hulk out and smash everything. When dealing with this in the process of your work, it can be distracting, unnerving and confusing.

Chinese corporate culture differs wildly from the West

The whole point of traveling is to see and learn new and different things. But much like watching Star Wars from start to finish, that can encompass both awesome and terrible experiences.

Many in the corporate sector will find that Chinese attitudes regarding working hours and benefits diverge wildly from their own. The Chinese workday basically ends when the boss says you can leave, which can be well beyond the standard eight-hour day in the West. Even with special allowances because you're a foreigner, many companies will expect you to work unpaid overtime because “we're a family.”

Even when China celebrates a public holiday, some businesses will require staff to make up the lost time on the weekend, leading many foreigners to ask, “Why bother with the holiday in the first place?”


Some of the other points mentioned in this article are merely peccadilloes: minor inconveniences that are part and parcel of traveling and living in other countries. Pollution, however, is often cited as the biggest peeve of foreigners working in China.

There's no day that's going so well that a dark sky-borne ball of haze won't dampen. There's no day that's going so badly that AQI of 500+ can't make worse. The general feeling that the environment is slowly but surely impacting your health is a major source of negatively for foreigners working in China, especially if you're stuck in an office without air purifiers.

But I am no ingrate and I don't like to leave any article on such a depressing note. Since I don't have any pictures of puppies or kittens though, I'll leave you with the following sentiment: despite all the things that can drive foreigners crazy about living and working in China, thousands of us are still here. Some of us just do it for the money, but many others do it because, quite frankly, China is an amazing place filled with great opportunities, wonderful people and unforgettable experiences.

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Keywords: foreigners working in China foreigner working in China


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Visa system is a piece of cake compared to Australia!

Jul 04, 2020 20:08 Report Abuse



Brilliantly done! I laughed, I cried, I shared!

Aug 07, 2018 19:24 Report Abuse



I quite enjoyed this read as it did hit the nail on the head regarding being a foreigner/minority in new geopolitical spaces. Truly, pollution is a concern but it is not enough of a concern to deter droves of foreigners from visiting, living and or working in China.

Jul 17, 2018 09:26 Report Abuse