Tips for Non-Native Job Seekers in China

Tips for Non-Native Job Seekers in China
Jan 03, 2024 By Natallia Slimani ,

A quick perusal of job websites for expats in China will show there’s no lack of work for “native” teachers/writers/consultants and the like. This typically means job seekers from the US, Canada, Australia, the UK or other “English-speaking” countries. But what about the “non-native” expats in China? How do people coming from places like Russia, India, Africa and the like find jobs in China? Having been a “pretend American” and a “closeted Russian” for about three years, I’ve come across several solutions for non-native job seekers in China that may come in handy for someone just starting out. Here I offer some solutions for non-native job seekers in China.

non native jobseekers in China


Fake it ’til you make it

As one of my fellow countrymen jokes when asked about his job in China: “I work as an American. It pays quite well.” As silly as it sounds, this is the reality for many non-native expats in China. Being the “right” kind of foreigner can be all you need to land a job in China, so many applicants will conceal their true heritage when applying for jobs here. You could, for example, say you’re from/grew up in one of the “highly-rated” English speaking countries and come up with a bit of a back story about why your passport says otherwise.

Of course, this will only work for non-native expats with a very high level of English and no strong accent. But if you have the necessary language skills, faking it ’til you make it can open up a lot of opportunities across many industries. And once you have a foot in the door of the Chinese employment market, it’ll be much easier to get future roles, even with your true nationality.

It’s entirely up to you if you decide to take this route, but be aware that it is a deception and therefore by no means legal. As such, there would be no protection for you if your deception is detected and your employment is terminated as a result.

Sell to your homeland

Occasionally, you’ll come across job ads in China seeking people of specific nationalities other than those from native English speaking countries. These jobs are mainly for sales or customer service representatives, who will be tasked with finding and retaining customers in their home countries. Even if you don’t have any experience or training in these areas, often all you need is the right language skills to land one of these jobs.

The work can be interesting, challenging and enriching, but as a rule, Chinese companies will not be able to offer you much guidance when it comes to finding and dealing with clients abroad, so you’ll need to be a self-starter with lots of enthusiasm and energy. Many sales positions are also commission-based with a low base salary, so it’ll be up to you to hustle for your supper. But if your goal is simply to gain some experience of working in China or to start a career in the import/export business, this could be an excellent way in.

Play to your skills

As unlikely as it sounds, it could be a long-forgotten skill or hobby that lands you a job in China. Maybe you have competence at a sport, an artistic talent, design chops, skills in the kitchen or a great singing voice. I know a woman who used to be a fitness fanatic back home (although she had no formal training), who’s made a career for herself as a personal trainer in Shanghai. I also know a guy with a passion for video games who set up a gaming center after graduating from a university degree in Beijing.

There’s no knowing what particular skill may help you out at just the right time, so explore your city and think outside the box. China may be the perfect place to turn your idle hobby into a money-making scheme without the need for perfect English. Just being a foreigner, native English speaking or not, will always add that mysterious edge of “foreign expertise” to anything you choose to do.

Look for opportunities that start at home

…and bring them to China. Scan job sites and social media in your home country for companies already working in China or looking to expand here. They may well be in need of on-the-ground professionals who could save them the cost and hassle of recruitment and/or bringing people over. If you’ve lived in China for a while, your experience and language skills will be considered a valuable asset.


Most foreigners living in China are dedicated Taobao customers, but an increasing number are beginning to use it as a platform for selling, too. The important question is, what to sell? It could be a product of your own making: handmade jewelry, art, clothes or other one-of-a-kind items, or maybe something you’re knowledgeable about, such as fitness equipment or learning materials. Perhaps you could sell something your home country is famous for: olive oil, chocolate, coffee?

While it’s fairly easy to set up a Taobao shop, it’s important to keep in mind that you will probably need some local help to deal with the import regulations and customer service issues.

Become a consultant

Chances are that you’re not the only person from your country who’s interested in exploring China. There is a high probability that newcomers and those thinking of making the leap, whether individuals or companies, will be asking themselves the same questions that you were on arrival. Given your experience, perhaps you could help those in need by providing consultation or other services that you think will be of value.

This is in no way a conclusive list of the opportunities available to you, but hopefully it’ll give you some food for thought as a non-native jobseeker in China. Good luck!

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