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Careers for Foreigners in China

As China is rapidly becoming a leading developed nation and arguably the biggest economy in the world, there is an increasingly attractive array of jobs available for foreigners to do, interesting work experience, attractive salaries, and great living conditions.

Below are the top 10 careers for foreigners and expats in China.

1. Teaching 

If you meet a random foreigner walking the streets of any given city in China, there is a very big chance he/she may be a teacher.Foreign students in China sharing their experiences at China Highlights.

Teaching has become perhaps the most popular career choice for many foreigners by far and continues to bring thousands of expats into China each year. Although having become somewhat controversial in recent years (due to an increase in illegal/unqualified teachers), the industry remains the undisputed winner for expat career choice. 

Education in China is regarded as one of the most important cultural values, and is very evident in the intensive education children are entered into from a young age. It is therefore no surprise that foreign teachers are in such high demand, and are needed in institutions from kindergartens to universities, and specialty training centers. 

Salaries for average teaching jobs vary, mostly depending on type of school and city price band (first-tier will pay significantly more), but in general can be more profitable than teaching jobs back home, and include great benefits, for less work. 

2. Trade/Commerce

If it weren’t for trade, China might not have reached its massive global expansion as we see today. What use is it that China can produce practically every product imaginable at such low production costs, if these products don’t make it abroad?

Commerce has been the key for connecting China with the rest of the world throughout its long history, going back all the way to the ancient times, when the Silk Road was utilized as a trading route. Now the New Silk Road promises new trade opportunities.

Today, merchants from all over the world, have found ways of becoming very profitable by simply buying Chinese produce, to load onto containers to be shipped back home, where it is sold at high margins. Places such as the manufacturing giant Guangzhou, or the quaint little “factory-town” Yiwu, are filled with ambitious foreigners climbing up the wealth-ladder through commerce and trade.

Find out more about the best cities for finding employment in China! 

3. IT/Tech

The IT sector is perhaps the fastest growing industry in the world, and this is even more evident in China, where technology is becoming a standard component of everyday life.

In China, everything from paying, shopping, ordering food, and buying plane and train tickets, can and is done through smartphones, and the nation as a whole is very tech-savvy. With that in mind, the extremely demanding and competitive IT industry is always looking for fresh new talent, particularly from overseas, as such workers can help integrate Chinese tech developments with the rest of the world and help facilitate global presence.

This field of work, again; is extremely demanding, and work hours for both Chinese and foreign employees can often be extremely long. Shenzhen, for example, which is a city often labeled as China’s “Silicon Valley”, is known for its very attractive and high-paying job opportunities in the IT sector, but is also notoriously known for the crazy work hours, often labeled as the” 9-9-6 system”, meaning working 9 a.m. – 9 p.m., 6 days a week! 

4. Writing/Media

Any foreigner residing or traveling through China, immediately becomes a valuable source of information, as they have the advantage of experiencing a new lifestyle and culture through an outsider’s eyes, and reporting it back to the rest of the world. This is why the industry of writing, editing, and content creation, are always in need of new voices with unique things to share. 

Especially since China is becoming more modernized than ever, the need for English content in news, media, and general content-based marketing, is in huge demand. These types of careers can range from fields such as travel, expat lifestyle, recent events or news, and industry-specific reporting.

China Highlights is a company that has foreign editors and freelance editors/writers. They help us to communicate with our audience in English (and other languages… see page foot) and provide a foreign perspective on travel/life in China.

5. Marketing

No industry in the world can survive without proper marketing efforts, and this is good news to foreign job-seekers in China. With the endless amount of new startups and existing established corporations in China, there is always a high demand for foreign talent experienced in the fields related to marketing, such as brand strategy, design, and advertising.

As China is somewhat new to these fields in comparison to the West, foreign experts are in high demand, and are needed to help in both penetrating local markets, as well as marketing abroad. 

6. Engineering

The Three Gorges Dam is one of many modern engineering marvels in China.

Although China does not lack local talent, and in fact has significantly higher rates of students going into engineering and other technical fields of study, there is still the understanding that for such specialized fields, experience is key, and foreign experts are therefore highly valued for being able to take on such jobs.

Most of China’s large engineering projects have had foreign consultants/architects.

China for years has been in the business of learning from what the rest of the world may be better or more experienced at doing, and while the country is still in this learning process, heavy industries such as energy or automobiles, rely on the guidance and training of foreign experts. 

7. Managerial Jobs

As so many foreign companies and corporations are eager to expand operations in China, there is a big demand for foreign managers to help mediate the transition between the foreign headquarters, and the local Chinese branches. This is why, for many years, foreign managers from every industry imaginable, have relocated to China, in order to help smoothly run global operations, connecting the best of both worlds, and making the business more profitable. 

Such managers get paid very handsomely, and are often provided benefits unseen in other industries, such as big houses, cars, and even private drivers. Of course, to land such an attractive overseas managerial position, very high experience is required, and competition can be fierce. Having said that, this career path has an enormous amount of opportunities in China.

8. Hotels and Tourism

Many 5-star hotels in China have foreign staff and some boutique hotels and guesthouses are run by foreigners.

China’s domestic tourism has been developing at unbelievable rates in recent years, and show no signs of slowing down. The country continues to attract travelers from all parts of the world, to witness its amazing big-city development, experience its unique culture, or gaze at the breathtaking natural scenery or historical sites.

This growing industry is very aware that service is key in ensuring incoming tourists are happy, and therefore are actively seeking foreign employees in hotels, travel agencies, tour-guidance companies, or other related services, to help accommodate the influx of foreign travelers.

Many big hotel chains are also on the search for foreign hotel-managers to help ensure such establishments are held at the global standards. See more on Hotels in China.

9. Restaurants/Bars (the Food and Beverage Industry)

Since the turn of the century, China has been seeing foreign restaurants, cafes, and bars springing up on every corner, in the big first-tier cities, and even in smaller remote towns.

Local people who want an authentic taste of foreign culture will most definitely opt to try a foreign-owned establishment, and other foreign residents in the area will also surely visit frequently to get a little taste of home. Many restaurant and bar owners who know how to successfully market themselves, and integrate both their home’s culture and the local Chinese one, can become very successful, and even go on to franchise their businesses throughout the country.

10. Art/Music/Performance

China has always had respect and admiration towards western and foreign art forms, from music, dance, art, and everything in-between.

In many of the more modernized cities, such as Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen, foreign artists have found a unique opportunity to become profitable in their field of talent, while helping expose these foreign art forms to new eyes.

Laws of Working in China

Besides these ten popular choices, there is literally an endless amount of career paths and work choices for foreigners and entrepreneurs, and only the sky is the limit in terms of the potential to earning a respectable living. Although working in China is an attractive option, there are always difficulties with such a decision, especially in terms of legality.

Before considering any career path in China, make sure you familiarize yourself with China’s laws, work requirements and the related work visa needed for legal employment, to ensure a safe and successful experience!


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