How to Find a Job in China as a “Non-native” Expat

How to Find a Job in China as a “Non-native” Expat
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:

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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all the ideas are not applicable though

Jul 11, 2017 17:43 Report Abuse



thanks for nice artical

May 24, 2017 10:27 Report Abuse



Sometimes companies ask their non-native teachers to say that they are from USA or UK. That's quite messed up...

Mar 28, 2017 06:28 Report Abuse



nice article

Mar 27, 2017 12:26 Report Abuse



Thanks for it ,good to know :)

Mar 16, 2017 17:11 Report Abuse



ok, thanks

Feb 16, 2017 14:27 Report Abuse



its cheating, Chinese .........

Feb 16, 2017 14:26 Report Abuse



good article, very helpful and is true abilities and skills is something that can help you survive

Jul 27, 2016 12:26 Report Abuse



it is hard to believe that some people don't know that there are native speakers from Africa, Cameroon is an amazing example and the best thing is they are bilingual that is speak both English and french

Jul 05, 2016 13:24 Report Abuse



Scanning over the job ads gave me a good insight on how most organizations, specifically schools, greatly favor native English speakers. It is sad that they are willing to sacrifice skilled and highly-educated non-native English speakers to teach papers in their schools in favor of less-skilled and not-so educated native English speakers. I have worked with many native English speakers and their grammar, sentence structure and transition leave a lot to be desired. I just hope that Chinese schools get the good ones.

Jun 15, 2016 15:04 Report Abuse



I have a FEC but the SAFEA office is denying my renewal beacuse im not a native speaker... Too bad! This is my 1st time to experience it and ive been teaching in china for 8 years...... This non native new policy of china is getting absurd...

Jun 05, 2016 18:31 Report Abuse



Well one reason they want NATIVE speakers is so that the chance of learning correct English usage is greater. You lament the fact that you are not being allowed to renew your contract. However the fact that you have three spelling mistakes alone in that very brief post might have a bearing on your non-renewal. Now I am not poking fun at you or making light of your situation. But if you spell "I'm "im" and "I've" as "ive" you really shouldn't be teaching English as those are the most basic of English expressions. Yes one can be a typo but two just looks sloppy. And "non native" should be "non-native". Again I am not mocking you. I make mistakes myself. But I doubt any native speaker would make those particular above mistakes.

Jun 06, 2016 13:09 Report Abuse



" My point? There is sometimes a lot to be said for getting a foot in the door; once you are in there, you will have the chance to prove that you are a cut above so, go for it!" It doesn't matter whether you are "a cut above" or not. What matters is that the law now states you MUST be a Native speaker of English. Yes that is the law so by working in China as a non-native speaker she is breaking the law and committing fraud. While this may not worry some people, I have to wonder if they ever look over their respective lives and ask themselves "How did I mess up my life so badly that my best chance of success is to work illegally in a foreign country for (usually) a low salary"

Jun 03, 2016 20:22 Report Abuse



i am non native and i'm finding it hard to get a job :( .... mmmhhh Dear native speakers you are blessed!!!!

Jun 03, 2016 13:46 Report Abuse



One Russian friend found success by doing this: she told her potential employers that she had been EDUCATED in the USA (even though she held a Russian passport). She basically lied and said that her mother had married an American guy and that while she herself had been born in Russia, she had been educated in the USA. She was able to convince them that her accent was "American" (and she practised it with friends before the interview). After she got the job and proved herself to be reliable, punctual & friendly, they stopped mentioning whether or not she was a "native speaker" of English and just accepted her as she IS, ie, as a stellar employee. My point? There is sometimes a lot to be said for getting a foot in the door; once you are in there, you will have the chance to prove that you are a cut above so, go for it!

May 06, 2016 14:42 Report Abuse



thank you - really amazing

Mar 21, 2016 20:00 Report Abuse



Very Helpful Article

Jan 26, 2016 00:15 Report Abuse



Well, I taught french and english during few years in China. it was during the golden times in China before it became so tough to get a working visa there. Anyway, about half of native teachers in China are really not good teachers and have any specific training or any specific curriculum to teach. Because the fact is being native in english or other languages doesn't mean you're efficient to teach your own language to foreigners. First of all because you need to study linguistics if you really wanna understand what kind of difficulties chinese will have to learn english french or other languages. I didn't see much english teachers in China who own a master degree major in teaching english as a foreign language! For my part, I used my teaching experience in China to grant a level in university in France and i could get a bachelor degree major in education in 1 year even i never went to university before. Then, i did a master degree major in teaching french as a foreign language. I may be back in China this year.

Jan 25, 2016 18:15 Report Abuse



The only schools handing out college credits for experience in the US are diploma mills. Without an educational background in teaching ESL, French, or whatever else, you wouldn’t know when, why or how to properly adjust your teaching/teaching methods to better facilitate learning. You’ve got to have the knowhow to begin with in order to not only teach, but to be able to reflect on and learn from your experiences. Requiring experience to gain employment in China is a farce. They know it doesn’t mean that a ‘teacher’ can actually teach. It just gives them some peace of mind knowing that the ‘teacher’ stuck it out for the duration of his or her contract and didn’t flee in the dead of night. And I think you grossly overestimated the number of good/qualified ESL teachers in China. I’ve yet to come across another TESL major in China. I know they’re out there, but finding one is like finding a needle in a haystack. The only time I ever came across another qualified ESL teacher was when I was teaching ESL in New York.

Jan 26, 2016 10:21 Report Abuse



well, for my part, I worked already 7 years before in education field as community worker specialist in alternative pedagogies for kids and teenagers. So it was a piece of cake for me to teach in China because my experience as community worker. However, If i had to do again some courses I did in China I would do it in different way because nowadays i'm aware about linguistics and other methods. Yeah you're right about one thing, authorities ask for 2 years experience to get the working visa to feel secure. However, yeah many are in fact not good. Besides, to get the working visa they just need a bachelor degree in any field. That's really fucked up. Yes i said about 50% like that. it's probably much more. I met only few real good teachers all these years in China.

Jan 30, 2016 20:13 Report Abuse



This is my second year working in Jingmen, Hubei, and a week ago we were informed that the requirements for English teachers will change after the summer. Especially for non-native teachers. They told us that non-natives can now only teach their own mother tongue, or else they need a BA degree from a country of the language they want to teach. Since I don't have that (my degree is from Slovenia), they told me I can't teach there anymore. And another agency confirmed that, so it seems the new rules are valid elsewhere in China as well. Does anyone know more about it?

Jan 25, 2016 17:58 Report Abuse



Hey, can you provide more details about this... What kind of place are you working at? I'm your Balkan neighbour :D

Feb 01, 2016 00:19 Report Abuse



I agree to hiring Natives for teaching English , but what the Hell about hiring ONLY Natives for all jobs now ???? If you look in a jobs ads, you will find that all ads ask to be from this countries like US... etc.. Natives only ! Is a big discrimination ! And to add that for Native English teachers , some companies don't even ask for a degree ! Oh, nice ! There are non-Natives peoples with 2-3 degree and nobody want them here ... It seem that China employment market is the same bad as it's own production market ! Cheap things to seel, cheap peoples to hire !...

Jan 24, 2016 20:13 Report Abuse



Am I the only one who's disturbed by these articles? They make it seem as if teaching is some sort of game. Why not encourage both native and non-native speakers to go to school and study to be real ESL teachers?

Jan 23, 2016 08:04 Report Abuse



Hi, I am also non - native speaker and I got a job at the training school, starting next week so I am very very nervous. I have blog about my experience so far if anyone is interested.

Jan 21, 2016 20:33 Report Abuse