Are you an expat just starting to work in China? So congratulations! You are on a risk. Working in China comes with a lot of questions, and even with good intentions, your company’s HR department is unlikely to answer them all. Here, we’ll walk you through some of the most common questions foreigners working in China may encounter.
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1. Q: I heard that it is difficult to apply for a work visa in China. Can’t I just work on a tourist visa or student visa?
A: China updated its work visa rules in the spring of 2021, making it more difficult for foreigners to obtain the most important work permits in the process. The main reason for updating these regulations is to weed out unskilled low-level workers, which unfortunately also include a large proportion of English teachers and other young and adventurous foreigners who are keen to live and work in China.
However, in today’s climate, it is not advisable to work on an improper visa (or, more accurately, without a work permit), as the government now regularly cracks down on foreigners working illegally. Those found to be unnecessary for paperwork are typically held administratively for weeks before being swiftly deported, often barred for five years before returning. The bottom line is – be sure to get your visas and permits in order before you start working in China.
2. Q: After I get a work visa, can I go to other companies to do freelancing?
A: Unfortunately, both your work and residence permit are relevant to one employer, and only to one. Therefore, legally speaking, side performances are prohibited. That being said, some staff are more vulnerable to government scrutiny than others. If you’re not teaching English or journalism, you shouldn’t worry too much.
3. Q: Do I have insurance when I work in China? Why is everyone talking about housing provident funds?
A: All Chinese companies are required to pay social insurance for their employees. This is the so-called “five insurances”, including old-age, medical, unemployment, maternity and work-related injury insurance.
Some companies will even opt for commercial health insurance for their employees, as public healthcare in China—while perfectly adequate in most cases—can be very expensive.
It’s worth noting that you can only get insurance if you are legally working in the country. Another thing to keep in mind is that the money you pay to a pension fund is usually only available if you pay the system for 15 years or more and then retire in China. However, since most expats leave before that, if you jump over enough (burning) hoops, you can technically pay all the money upfront.
The housing provident fund is an insurance in addition to the five statutory insurance (although it is also statutory). Every month, a part of the salary will be deducted and deposited into the housing provident fund. How much depends on where you live, your monthly salary, and your employer. The good news is that anything deducted from your salary will be matched by your employer.
An added benefit is that if you a) buy an apartment in China or b) apply for quarterly payments (RMB 4,500), this money can be withdrawn, which will serve as a good bonus on your regular salary.
4. Q: Will Eid al-Fitr/Hanukkah/Thanksgiving/Christmas be a holiday?
A: Of course not. Most foreigners working in China have five days of state-mandated holidays, all Chinese public holidays, and nothing else. However, if you work as a teacher in China, you can expect to get more vacations, especially if you work in a public or international school. Training centers, on the other hand, will be very different.
5. Q: I found a better job, but how do I transfer my work visa?
A: Transferring work and residence permits in China is a process, although not as long and tedious as starting to get them. However, keep in mind that all the rules about who you can work for depend on the company name on your work permit (technically, what is in the QR code).
When changing employers in China, it’s best to leave the transfer process to two HR departments. Just make sure you leave your old company on good terms, otherwise your release letter may be held hostage, or simply disappear. The name needs to be released when transferring the work permit. If not, you will have to redo the entire visa acquisition process again.
6. Q: How can I avoid social faux pas in my workplace in China?
A: The short answer is, you can’t. As a foreigner working in China, you will always be a strange person. You are unique, but not special. You are funny, but also troublesome. You will be forgiven for not understanding social norms, but even if you learn them, they will never be accepted.
In a society that values harmony and consensus, the golden rule is to never challenge authority, never criticize directly, and never involve yourself in something that has nothing to do with you. Be sure to say no when your peers ask you for help every now and then (politely say you’re too busy). Otherwise, you will never be able to complete any of your own tasks and you will always be a “yes person”.
7. Q: I am a Class B foreigner and I heard that there are advantages to being a Class A foreigner. How do I change my tier?
A: When China introduced the foreigner grading system, the foreigner community was full of anticipation and excitement. But when everyone realized that mortals would become B-class foreigners, the interest quickly faded.
Yes, in theory, becoming an A has some benefits for foreigners. Yes, you can theoretically upgrade your alien rank. But this is hardly something you should bother to waste your time with.
Because when you earn more than 45,<> yuan a year, work in a multinational company, and speak fluent Chinese, in fact, you may no longer care what kind of foreigner you are.
8. Q: I’m an English teacher and I feel I deserve a higher salary. What should I do?
A: Talking about wages is an art form in China. This is especially true if you are an English teacher. While you’ll have a better bargaining position by default in smaller cities where it’s increasingly difficult to recruit and replace teachers, you’re not such a unicorn in first-tier cities.
When teaching English in China, the number one way to increase your salary is through your tenure, which may sound boring. Every time you renew your contract, you have the perfect opportunity to ask for a raise.
Why? Because teacher retention is the lowest in China. It is very rare to have teachers stay to complete their full contract, so doing so ultimately means that you are reliable. Most schools and training centers will pay any price for this.
In the end, the answer is simple: stay, do your job, renew when the time comes, and ask for more money.
9. Q: I heard that people whose native language is not English can no longer be English teachers. Are you sure?
A: Unfortunately, this is true. The Chinese government will only issue work permits for language teachers who teach their mother tongue. This means that if you want to become an English teacher, you must be from one of the following seven countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia.
Technically, you only need the passport of one of them, but this still makes it more difficult for non-native English speakers to work legally in China. Of course, the demand for foreign teachers far exceeds that of English-speaking adventurers.
Luckily, you and that Ukrainian dude on WeChat, there’s always a workaround. For example, instead of being hired as an English teacher, you work as a course administrator or business developer. Maybe a foreign outreach specialist?
While this will allow you to secure the most important work permit, it is also legally dangerously close to a gray area. The rest of your time as a teacher in China also has to contend with the idea of pretending to be American, which is much more tiring than it sounds.
10. Q: What are my realistic career prospects in China?
A: Foreigners in Chinese workplaces are sometimes seen as “people who do that.” They are the teachers needed to teach English, the marketers needed to update Facebook pages and Instagram feeds, and the non-Chinese who handle non-Chinese things. They also almost always leave China within a few years.
Often, the career development of foreigners working in China is sometimes limited. Unless you can speak business Chinese fluently, the best thing to do is to add “advanced” to your job title.
One solution is to look for Chinese companies with strong influence in the West. These companies are most likely looking for foreign managers to lead their teams, and their work will be carried out entirely in English (or at least another foreign language).
No matter what your goals are, no matter what kind of job you do, you should expect to work hard in China. Don’t expect a free lunch just because you’re a foreigner. That ship sailed many years ago, and from the appearance of it, it won’t be coming back anytime soon.
11. Q: I got a job that’s too good to be true. How can I be sure it’s not a scam?
A: The possibility of being scammed in China is very high, not just Taobao. You may even be tricked into working in a job that is very different from the one you think you signed up for.
Some obvious warning signs are “why, of course you can work on a tourist visa while we get a work visa“, and “yes, this position is an online marketing manager… But how do you get along with your children? ”。 A job scam like this is not so much about taking your life savings as it is about getting you to work illegally in China or accept jobs worth less than you do.
Always be skeptical of obvious exaggeration, but remember that language barriers can be a cause of confusion. Another very important detail to keep in mind is that legally binding work contracts will always use Chinese; English translations are almost useless in a legal context. So, if you think the company looks suspicious, ask someone to look at the Chinese version of the contract before you sign it.
12. Q: I just got laid off! What rights do I have?
A: Being laid off is never fun, but being legally terminated in China is not as bad as it sounds. First, if you lose your job in China, you should know that labor laws often support employees. After all, this is a communist country.
This means that you can fight the decision as needed, and you have a good chance of winning. Most employers know this and will do everything they can to avoid letting you go. Firing people here is notoriously difficult. If anything, it’s harder to stop employees from leaving than to force them to leave.
You’ll also be pleased to hear that China’s labor laws are surprisingly comprehensive, assuming they are respected by employers. Big companies in China are usually very good at doing this, so you’re likely to be safe.
If you are legally dismissed, you will receive the statutory 30-day notice. You may or may not need to work for these 30 days, but you will get paid anyway. You will also receive severance pay. This is calculated based on the number of hours you have worked for the company, but it will definitely not be less than half a month’s salary. However, keep in mind that if you work illegally in China, all your legal protections will lapse.