China has plenty to offer ambitious graduates seeking new cultural experiences. Find out what it's like to live and work in this Asian country
The growth of China's economy has been rapid and the country currently boasts the second largest economy in the world (behind the USA). While the rate of economic growth has slowed down in recent years, job prospects are generally good, although competition for graduate roles is fierce.
The 1.3 billion population enjoy a relatively low cost of living when compared to the UK, although this depends on location. Big cities such as a Shanghai and the capital Beijing are unsurprisingly more expensive.
The chance to experience a country and culture very different from their own is a huge attraction to foreigners considering working in China. To make life a little easier you may want to consider taking classes in Mandarin, as not only does a second language look great on your CV but it could also boost your chances of success when looking for work.
During your free time you'll be able to explore 5,000 years of history and culture. The Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace all in Beijing and the Terracotta Army in Xi'an are all worth a visit while you won't want to miss the Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong and The Bund in Shanghai.
Jobs in China
For English speakers, job opportunities will mostly be in cities such Beijing and Shanghai - the business and industrial hubs of the country. Many multinational companies have their Asian headquarters in one of these east coast locations - as well as in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Tianjin.
The majority of expatriate workers in China find jobs with foreign-invested enterprises. Opportunities do exist with Chinese companies, but these usually require some knowledge of Mandarin.
Major industries in China include:
- consumer products
- food processing
- machine building
Positions for international candidates are available in in-demand occupations including:
Jobs in finance and banking are also available, but may be more difficult to enter into.
For jobs in China search:
How to get a job in China
Where possible try to secure a job before arriving in China as this can affect the type of visa you need to apply for.
One of the easiest ways for international candidates to secure a job before making the move is through a secondment from an international company in their home country.
If this isn't a possibility networking is extremely important. In China personal contacts are heavily relied upon during the job hunt as some vacancies are never formally advertised. In this situation some knowledge of Mandarin can go a long way.
Applications in China usually consist of a CV and short cover letter. If you can speak Mandarin and are applying to a Chinese company it's a good idea to write your application in the language to demonstrate your knowledge.
If your application is successful you may be subjected to a number of interviews before discovering whether you've got the job.
The most common type of seasonal work for foreigners is to teach English at summer camps and schools. Casual work may be available in the hospitality sector in bars, hotels and restaurants. Jobs of this nature are more likely to be found in the larger towns and cities.
If you have childcare experience it may be possible for you find work as an au pair.
Voluntary work can help you build your skill-set and provides valuable work and life experience. It helps to have some money saved before embarking on a voluntary project as positions are unpaid. Volunteering also gives you the chance to network and build contacts.
To volunteer in China you should first research what you would like to do and apply to organisations directly.
Some relevant organisations that may offer opportunities include:
- Go Overseas - provides opportunities to volunteer in panda and Asian elephant conservation, as well as teaching positions
- Lattitude Global Volunteering - An international youth development charity offering placements to teach English for up to ten months
- Projects Abroad - Offers placements in a range of areas including business, social care, journalism, medicine, education, sports and animal care.
English teaching jobs are one of the main sources of employment for international workers in China. Positions of this nature are a popular way for foreign workers to live and work in the country while earning a good salary.
Opportunities are plentiful as the demand for English language skills increases, so do vacancies. You'll work in high schools, universities and a growing number of private schools. Some vacancies may require a degree but at the very least you'll need to be a native English speaker or have a teaching English as a foreign language certificate such as TEFL or IELTS.
Look for teaching vacancies at:
It's also possible to teach in China as part of the British Council's Language Assistants Programme.
Teachers of English in China can earn a decent salary, and with a low cost of living in comaprison to other western countries, you'll be surprised at how far your wages can go. See English First - Cost of living in China for more information.
Teaching with Aston English provides the opportunity to interact with students in over 100 schools, throughout 22 provinces of China. You'll also benefit from free Chinese lessons and paid holidays.
Internships are a great way for you to experience the Chinese working culture and make valuable contacts before entering full-time, paid employment. Internships and summer work placements for students can be arranged by:
- AIESEC UK - for students and recent graduates. Internships last from three to 18 months.
- IAESTE UK - for science, engineering and applied arts students. Placements usually last 12 weeks.
- Intern Group - leading international internship provider with programmes in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
The British Council also runs an internship programme, Generation UK - China, that enables UK students who are on track to achieve a 2:1 to gain work experience across a number of industries including:
- accounting and finance
- marketing, media and PR
Placements last two months and take place in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Qingdao, Shenzhen or Zhuhai.
InternChina also provide a range of placements in Dalian, Chengdu, Qingdao, Taipei and Zhuhai. Internships cover a variety of sectors including business, design, engineering, hospitality, IT, law, marketing, media, sales and science.
CRCC Asia's award-winning Internship Programmes enable internationally-motivated students and graduates to undertake one, two, or three-month internships in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.
The programme places current students and recent graduates from around the world in professional corporate and hospitality internships in three major Chinese cities: Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai.
If you're a British citizen you must obtain a visa before travelling to work in China. You do not need a visa to work in Hong Kong.
The type of visa you require will depend on the length and purpose of your stay. To work in China you'll need a Z visa and an official invitation to the country by an employer. To obtain a Z visa apply at your local Chinese embassy. For stays of any length you must register with the local Public Security Bureau (PSB) within 24 hours of arrival.
If you plan to stay in the country for more than six months you must also get a residence permit. To acquire a work visa or residence permit you may need to prove that you haven't got a criminal record.
If you're in China on a study visa (F visa) or tourist visa (L visa) be aware that it's illegal to work, so if you find employment during this time you'll need to change visa types.
For more information on applying for visas and the different requirements see the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the United Kingdom.
Many international companies operate using English and in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai you should be able to get by if you don't speak the local language. However, bear in mind that English fluency rates vary considerably in China and usually depend on age and location. As a general rule, older generations and people living in rural areas will rarely speak English, whereas the younger generation and those residing in cosmopolitan cities have a more solid grasp of the English language.
In Chinese companies and in more rural areas Mandarin is the main language of business. If you'd like to work for a Chinese company you'll need to demonstrate fluency in Mandarin in order to get by. Without it you're unlikely to get the job.
In fact, having some knowledge of Mandarin will be an advantage wherever you work, so it's worth learning the basics while at home. If you're struggling to get to grips with what can appear to be a complicated language you can always take lessons upon arrival in China. Those who can speak Mandarin, have a good knowledge of the country, and can display an interest in Chinese culture are better placed to find jobs.
How to explain your qualifications to employers
UK qualifications are widely recognised throughout the world but it's advisable to check with employers before applying for jobs.
For more information on the recognition of qualifications see ENIC-NARIC.
What it's like to work in China
China has a five-day working week, typically Monday to Friday. According to Chinese labour law employees must not work more than 40 hours a week (eight hours a day) although in reality overtime is common and many local companies rarely compensate for this.
Holiday entitlement in the country is relatively low and usually depends on the length of employment. Workers are entitled to either five, ten or 15 days paid holiday with an additional 11 paid public holidays. Before taking up a position make sure that your holiday entitlement is clearly stated in your contract.