Jan 21, 2016 By Natallia Slimani , OTB Consulting

If you follow job ads in China closely, you will soon find there is no lack of work in sight for “native teachers/writers/consultants”, provided, of course, they come from the US, Canada, Australia or another “English-speaking” country. As one of my friends jokes when asked about his job in China: “I work as an American. It pays quite well.” And as funny as it may sound, it is not far from reality. Being the “right” kind of foreigner is a meal ticket by itself in most Chinese cities. But what about the “non-native” expats in China? How do people coming from places like Russia, India or… you name it, make it here? Having been a “pretend American” and a “closeted Russian” for about three years here, I have come across several solutions that may come in handy for someone just starting out.

find a job in China 
find a job in China. Source: vette350.com

Solution 1: Play the Part

Pretend to be a native speaker. Granted, this will only work for somebody with a very high level of English and no distinctive accent. And yes, you may be required to say that you come from one of the “highly-rated” English speaking countries and may even need to come up with a story to back it up… But if you have the necessary language skills, playing the part can open up a lot of opportunities in the education industry (from kindergartens to corporate training) and can be, if not a career, at least a foot in the door of the Chinese employment market. (Note: whether you decide to try this route is entirely up to you, but you should be aware that it is by no means legal, and as such there will be no protections for you, should your relationship with your employer head south.) 

Solution 2: To sell or not to sell

Occasionally, you’ll come across a job offer asking for a person of a specific nationality. These are mainly ads for sales representatives, who will be tasked with finding customers in their home countries. If you know what you are doing or are willing to educate yourself, these jobs can be interesting, challenging and enriching. As a rule, Mainland Chinese companies will not be able to help you or guide you when it comes to looking for clients abroad. And in certain cases, they may also be unaware of the requirements posed by these clients, effectively putting you in the middle of a demanding and economical Chinese boss and specific Western standards. Unfortunately, the positions in the sales industry are commission-based, with the standard salary often being quite low. But if your goal is to make a career in the import/export business or learn the ropes for starting your own company, this may be the way in.

Solution 3: Do you have a skill?

As strange as it sounds, you may be ignoring a long-forgotten skill that can turn out to be very helpful. Think of the hobbies or interests you once had that might have left you with a strong background. It could be a sport, something you learned in art class, above-average IT abilities or design, to give you a few examples. For instance, I know a woman who used to be a fitness fanatic in the U.S. (but had no formal training), who has now made a career as a personal trainer in Shanghai. I’ve also known a normal Russian university student with a passion for video games who went on to create an in-house gaming center in China, teaching other enthusiasts the tricks of the trade. There’s no knowing, really, which particular skill may help you out. Explore your city and think outside the box. This may be the perfect place to turn your beloved hobby into a money-making enterprise. And being a foreigner, native English speaking or not, will always add that mysterious flair of “Western expertise”.

Solution 4: Look for job offers at home

…and bring them to China. Scan the job ads back home for companies looking to expand into Chinese markets or already working here. They may well be in need of professionals already based in China, who could save them the cost of bringing people over. And if you have lived in China for a while, your experience and/or language skills could also be considered as a valuable asset.

Solution 5: Taobao

Most foreigners are well acquainted with Taobao as customers, but an increasing number are beginning to use it as a business platform as well. The only and really important question is, surely, what to sell. It can be a product of your own creativity: hand-made jewelry, paintings or other one-of-a-kind items. Or maybe something you are knowledgeable about and can provide a good selection of: books, learning materials, supplies for art/design projects etc. Or, perhaps something that your country has in abundance: olive oil, chocolate or coffee. While it’s fairly easy to set up a Taobao shop, it’s important to keep in mind that you will likely need local help to deal with the import regulations as well as a trusted assistant to help with customer service and other minor issues.

Solution 6: Start a consulting business

Similar to Solution 4, you are not the only person from your country who is interested in exploring China. And there is a high probability that the newcomers, whether individuals or companies, will be asking themselves the same questions that you were. So, using your first-hand experience, you can 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 that China has to offer. But it’s a good start to exploring the idea that you can still be successful in China even if you’re not a native English speaker. You just need to think outside the box.

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Keywords: find a job in China as a non-native expat find a job in China

59 Comments Add your comment



Bless you, I was looking for an article like this one. Thanks.

Mar 21, 2013 02:37 Report Abuse



Good article but you forgot to give some good advice. Unless you are taking a job with a big well-know international company, SOE, or public university, be sure to google the name of the company with the words "complaints, law suit, problem, scam, fraud and employee dispute" to make sure you are not to walk into a pile of grief. China is famous for employee exploitation. You can also try to find an talk with a foreigner already working there and be sure to have your working z visa in hand BEFORE you arrive and not after. A few dozen foreign teachers were just rounded up in the three weeks by the PSB visa squad for working on tourist, student, and business visas. They randomly visit schools and foreigners coming in and out of subway stations. You may only be asked once or twice in a year but if you don't have the right paperwork you can be booted out, fined, or even given up to a five year reentry ban. The more research you do on the internet, the better job you can find yourself without paying an agent, and knowing the visa laws will save you a lot of problems. Welcome to China!

Mar 21, 2013 08:09 Report Abuse




May 24, 2017 10:26 Report Abuse



This article fit my problems, indeed.

Mar 21, 2013 12:11 Report Abuse



Great article, very well written. I agree with the writer, It's extremely hard for non native English speakers to find jobs even if they are better for the offered position than native speakers.

Mar 21, 2013 13:17 Report Abuse



Interesting! I used to be surprised by people turning me down because I was from the "wrong" place... Guess China has a LONG way to go to an equal opportunity employer.

Mar 21, 2013 22:19 Report Abuse



RitaB, would you care to explain about the "wrong place" you are mentioning?

Mar 22, 2013 01:26 Report Abuse



Well, I've had a hard time finding a job as a university professor. Even though I have a Master's and 5 years of experience in my own country (Slovakia). I have IELTS band 9, so English was not a problem. All the employers seemed interested in was my passport))) But this is just my experience.

Mar 22, 2013 09:50 Report Abuse



i once went for an interview and the employer told me if i were from a 'good' place like the US, UK, Canada could get high salary but since I'm from a 'bad' country ( in Africa) the salary was going to be lower, actually a third of what native speakers were earning. lol...very funny, it sounded to me .

Jul 17, 2014 07:44 Report Abuse



then what happend did u get the job? raza +923453432810 wechat

May 13, 2017 20:09 Report Abuse



yes . we have known it .it's realty. more china job need the native speaker because there real skill in pronouncation

Mar 22, 2013 10:37 Report Abuse



i'm sorry to tell u that i am from Africa, Cameroon to be precise and i have an amazing accent. I am proud to say i pronounce a hundred times better than some native speakers.

Jul 05, 2016 13:27 Report Abuse



RitaB, as a Slavic woman, I can relate to your troubles. :)I am still in Europe, though, but I`ve been lurking online for some work opportunities, due to very sad and gloomy economic situation here in the Balkans. It makes sense to me that employers in the education field seek only native speakers, from my understanding it is a basic requirement for obtaining Z visa? And of course, there is always the matter of an accent. :)

Mar 22, 2013 18:03 Report Abuse



Yes, I agree with you completely. But the thing I find frustrating is that the passport is ALL some employers care about. No matter how good your credentials and English are. And at the same time they often hire people with not even a college degree just for being native speakers....I also think that experience, education and professionalism can often outweigh the "nativeness". Not to slander anyone, of course.

Mar 22, 2013 22:05 Report Abuse



I do agree with you that "nativeness" shouldn't be the only thing, after I met couple of Americans with previous experience of security personnel (I do respect all job profile, but come-on don't play with your students) and couple of Britishers with experience of Govt. Benefits.

Apr 02, 2013 02:42 Report Abuse



I have read ESL job advertisements where the main requirement was a "white face" from Europe and being a native English speaker was a secondary consideration, provided you had reasonable English fluency. In this situation such Europeans were more highly "prized" or "regarded" than native English speaking (USA, UK, Canada) black people. So I must confess that I am surprised you have found it difficult to get a job in the ESL/Education field in the PRC.

Jul 31, 2014 00:33 Report Abuse



too bad there is no tip regarding skin color

Mar 23, 2013 12:41 Report Abuse



I agree, this article should've addressed the whole 'native speaker' who isn't white scenario.

May 14, 2013 12:31 Report Abuse



Well said! that is actually true

Mar 25, 2013 09:28 Report Abuse



i have to agree

May 27, 2014 17:02 Report Abuse



Thanks for your great article and comments. I am going to get married to my Chinese fiance, getting worried about my future over there.

Mar 16, 2015 17:41 Report Abuse



That is so true! Most schools here in China only care about whether you’re a native speaker of English but not in all cases. I’m not a native myself, but somehow I’ve managed to land a good job here in Hubei. You may have to be aggressive though like you’d have to scout for schools and apply in person rather than online if you’re already residing in China. What I’m saying is, you have to let them hear you speak first. At that time, I had my interview through skype and I already doubted my chances, especially that I didn’t have TESOL/TEFL certificate yet but I have already been teaching Chinese students online for two years. Much to my surprise, the school was very pleased to hire me at the end of the interview and even emailed me the contract straightaway- which lead me to questioning the kind of enthusiasm. So, during our second conversation, I asked the same interviewer awkwardly how I got through the job at their uni (may sound funny that I’m questioning my own credibility here, but seriously?), and she’s told me these exact words : ‘I heard you speak, you sound like a native and that’s all that matters.’ Of course I still had my doubts as I didn’t wanna get scammed, so I did my homework- done an extensive research about the school and even asked some of my former online students to check it for me. It turned out that it’s a reputable school and so I jetted off to China without any hesitations :) I’ve only been here for 7 months and aside from teaching at the university, I also teach kids at a training center. There are thousands of schools and ESL training centers around China and I’m sure there are still some that have good judgment with regards to hiring ESL teachers. As one of my colleagues (British) told me ‘not all native speakers can teach. It’s a skill.’ You just have to be aggressive, and have good strategies in getting through the gate which says “native speakers only”. I’m pretty sure that many of you here write or speak better than I am, so if you haven't found it yet, just keep looking. :)

Apr 10, 2015 10:33 Report Abuse



good man, i am always aggressive , i dont give a fuck about natives, is all about the skills and how you approach to the books. getting the books and cant even know how to start when in the classroom is shit, im from GHANA, and living here for almsot 5 years, married to a chinese for 2 years now and have a little cute fair coloured baby girl, who are the natives when we ask?you think only AMERICANS are the people that can speask very good english, hell no, then ask yourself why they still continue to learn in school and in the universities? i know some Americans that cannor even pass TESOL, thery always fail and the non native speakers passes.well i had a good job though the salary not good but i am bale to manage with my chinese wife and my little baby

Sep 30, 2015 09:39 Report Abuse



Walk like an Egyptian.

Oct 13, 2015 15:56 Report Abuse



false orgasms sell

Jan 21, 2016 19:29 Report Abuse