Expats in China: How Valuable Are They to Employers?

Expats in China: How Valuable Are They to Employers?
May 11, 2016 By Benji Yang , eChinacities.com

China’s economy has become a driver of growth for the global economy as of late, which in turn has made China an increasingly attractive place to work for expats. Salaries are still lower than Western countries for equivalent jobs, but the enormous growth prospect is what drives many to China. Some expats come with many years of related industry or functional expertise; some come with a couple of internships under their belts. Some expats have studied Chinese extensively and are fluent; some have a basic understanding that’s enough to direct taxis, order food and so on.  Extensive functional expertise is important if one plans to stay in the same industry, and more proficient Mandarin Chinese is always helpful. However, the majority of those who come to China do not have several years of solid work experience, nor do they speak Chinese fluently. So what value do expats in China offer to employers?

Expats in China: How Valuable Are They to Employers?
Photo: John Lavanen

This is an important question that needs to be answered for those who come to China hoping to make a career for themselves. Our (expats) value proposition lies mostly in our cultural upbringing, our education and our linguistic ability, and we would do well to pursue jobs that are able to take advantage of what we have to offer. Foreign language teaching is probably the most obvious and commonly seen occupation for expats in China, and this is not only limited to English. Being a native speaker of a foreign language has benefits beyond just language teaching, specifically in editorial work or journalism. Growing up in a country outside of China and going through a different education system, we tend to have a different way of thinking compared to local Chinese. Our cultural background also gives us a tremendous advantage over local Chinese when it comes to expanding into foreign markets, particularly our home market.

Another way of thinking

Going through the North American education system means we are taught to think critically and question the reasons behind why things are done. This approach can offer employers a different way of thinking and a new perspective. This is in contrast to the Chinese education system, which tends to focus more on rote memorization and less on questioning why things happen the way they do. A more critical way of thinking can help to identify the root of the problem and addressing that problem head on. Additionally, the Chinese way of thinking tends to be very holistic, and can contribute to a lot of time wasted on considering unrelated factors before making a decision. This is also associated with the Chinese communication style of being more indirect.

It’s important that companies do not only hire people who think like each other, otherwise they run the risk of herd mentality. Herd mentality can be very risky and having an outside opinion from someone who didn’t grow up in the local culture can be tremendously helpful in just hitting the pause button and getting everyone to think about the problem in a new way. Herd mentality is most commonly cited in the financial industry, but can also be extended to businesses.

Editorial and written work

Foreign language (not only English, but Spanish, French, German, Hindi etc.) editorial work is another area where expats have a natural advantage over the local Chinese. Many Chinese companies are now expanding into other markets around the world. These Chinese companies will need help developing foreign language content for these respective markets or target customers. This content can range from simple event write-ups to news articles to copywriting to website text. Relying on local Chinese talent to write this content is possible, but often the results and efficiency of staff leave a lot to be desired. Native speakers can easily pick out social or cultural faux-pas that a non-native speaker wouldn’t pick up on (remember when the People’s Daily believed The Onion’s article about Kim Jong-un being the sexiest man alive?). These cultural faux-pas can be quite embarrassing for the company if not quickly identified and removed.

Understand foreign markets

Understanding their home market is probably the most compelling value proposition expats in China can offer to employers. Staying with the theme of Chinese companies looking to expand overseas, these companies will need local talent to help execute their strategies. To access local talent overseas, most companies do their hiring locally, but there is one big issue with this: local [foreign] talent does not understand Chinese culture or how Chinese companies operate. This is a major issue for many Chinese companies who have expanded into North America – they experience high local staff turnover rates because of cultural differences between management and their staff.

Expats based in China can help to serve as that bridge between 100% local foreign staff and Chinese headquarters. Expats in China understand how difficult bureaucracy in China is, what the “Chinese way” is, which ‘rules’ are guidelines and which ‘rules’ are not to be broken, how the decision making process is done and so on. China based expats can also help to develop solutions that the local foreign staff can accept, and that does not make their superiors lose too much face. Beyond just acting as a bridge, these expats still have their roots in their home countries, which means that they are more willing to be re-located to their home countries and do not need to be given expensive expatriation pay packages. This demographic of China based expats can be an invaluable resource for Chinese companies wishing to make their overseas operations smoother.

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Keywords: Expats in China employers in China


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so many comments

May 28, 2016 22:53 Report Abuse



There we go comparing again..。

May 23, 2016 23:48 Report Abuse



"Salaries are still lower than Western countries for equivalent jobs" Most foreigners in China don't qualify for these 'equivalent jobs' back home, so the argument doesn't hold up. You can't land a job in ESL or any other content area without a degree in that discipline. And is it any surprise that real teachers make more than fake teachers? I only feel sorry for the 2 or 3 real ESL teachers in China.

May 14, 2016 09:02 Report Abuse



Your comments are valuable for understanding the behaviour of foreigners here in China and Chinese relationship with foreigners. But its reality, Sometimes Chinese worship the foreigners by ignoring their qualification.

May 13, 2016 18:53 Report Abuse



What the...? I've seen this article appear for the THIRD time on the front page now, with the same comments as last time. Are you running out of ideas, echinacities?

May 11, 2016 13:07 Report Abuse



Who the f**k is the editor here? Do your job and secure some content that isn't mind numbingly retarded or rehashed and warmed over for the umpteenth time.

May 11, 2016 12:45 Report Abuse



Ri Sai Ke Le

May 11, 2016 06:22 Report Abuse



Thanks for the encouragement, although I was mining for some deeper insights into Chinese psychological disposition.

Mar 25, 2016 09:39 Report Abuse



"LBH" is still a thing? You nongs know it's 2016, right? It must be tough living in a culture that still does arranged marriages and incest while us "LBH" white guys get to walk around not giving a fuck or taking the assfucking from the PRC that you guys get on the daily. Losers back home? Sure beats being a nong loser who never left.

Mar 18, 2016 09:08 Report Abuse



I very like China.

Feb 27, 2016 12:00 Report Abuse




Feb 26, 2016 19:17 Report Abuse




Feb 26, 2016 19:14 Report Abuse



who the hell are you in Heaven's Name to judge people, this one is successful, this one is a looooooser?. every country in the world needs expats and China is not an exception.

Feb 24, 2016 18:18 Report Abuse



China needs quality expats, not LBH trash expats who fuked up back home and they are fuking up in China. Stay in your home country if you want to continue to fuk up!

Feb 24, 2016 23:42 Report Abuse



You know that every time you make a "LBH" comment you just look stupid. Who cares what people were like back home. The whole reason for Expats is because these people are seeking opportunity. No one who is a great success in their own country would move abroad. Especially not to a country like China. People come here with agendas to improve themselves. Whether that is as simple as broadening their horizons and experiencing a foreign culture or if it is to gain experience in a particular industry. Successful people don't come because successful people don't need to come. You also realize that most people who arrive in China to teach English are recent graduates. No student is successful as they have been at school studying. Calling them a loser back home is like calling yourself a loser when you was at university. It's probably true but completely irrelevant. Very few experienced qualified teachers would come to China as they wouldn't be improving their lives by doing so. Every countries Expat community are people who are seeking to improve themselves. Calling them LBH is like calling them Expats. Who cares if we were losers back home if we are a success here. We have gone out and traveled to the other side of the world to find our successes. We got of our loser asses and did something about it. So why don't you instead of sitting at your computer being bitter at these "LBH" who have become successes get off your ass and find your own success.

Feb 25, 2016 18:16 Report Abuse



Why did 50 expats get arrested for abusing drugs at a rave party? Why are China's prisons filled with foreigners who were drug dealers?

Feb 25, 2016 23:37 Report Abuse



Its called diversification....im sure the prisoners also wanna feel international in there...they just get some of us there to show em there is alot where that came from on the outside...so be a good boy..hahaha

Feb 26, 2016 15:28 Report Abuse



Firstly taking drugs is a victimless crime. The only people they are harming are themselves. Secondly it doesn't really matter where people are from. How many meth addicts are there in Beijing? And how many of these expats came from a single country? It wasn't that long ago that Chinese students were arrested in America for kidnapping. A Chinese student was arrested in Scotland for multiple DUI's. How many Chinese are in foreign prisons? It goes both ways. Get your head out of your arse man! Bad and good people are everywhere. Stop your delusions that Chinese people are all good standing people and foreigners are all evil criminals. News flash there are a lot of bad foreigners but trust me there are a lot more scumbag Chinese people in this country. The bad foreigners in China are a minority and those that are "bad" in your eyes are very rarely doing something extreme.

Feb 26, 2016 15:40 Report Abuse



Rampant Drug Use On the Rise Among Expats in Beijing https://thenanfang.com/rampant-drug-use-among-expats-beijing/

Feb 26, 2016 17:56 Report Abuse



Dongguan jail home to 500 foreigners https://thenanfang.com/dongguan-jail-home-to-500-foreigners/

Feb 26, 2016 18:01 Report Abuse



well, i agree with you to extent, as an expert and from your own rich experience, would you please share a criteria to distinguish those quality expats from those who fucked up back home??.

Feb 26, 2016 18:17 Report Abuse



China doesn't extradite so of course your jails are full. You're comparing apples to oranges.

Feb 26, 2016 18:51 Report Abuse



Foreigners are, at best, tolerated. At worst, despised. And yet, envied. What do you call that?

Feb 23, 2016 18:18 Report Abuse



Freud might be able to tell us something about this.

Feb 23, 2016 23:29 Report Abuse



my opinion of chinese exactly, except the last part. I dont envy them, I pity them.

Feb 24, 2016 16:20 Report Abuse