One of the most important steps a university student can take is to complete an internship (or two!) before graduating. Is it still possible to get a high-quality internship even while you are studying in China on a student visa? Yes! It is entirely possible to have an internship while a full-time student at a Chinese university. Don’t be daunted by the internship application process! This comprehensive guide will walk you through the entire journey of finding an internship in China so you can make the most out of your experience.
The Basics: Interning as a Student
If you are studying at a Chinese university as a full-time student, you will most likely be in China on a student X visa. This visa is for anyone who comes to China for study, advanced studies, or an internship for a period of more than six months. It’s legal to have internships while on this visa as long as you meet the conditions below.
The visa types:
- F-visas is issued to a foreign citizen who is invited to China for a visit, research, lecture, business, exchanges in the fields of science, technology or culture, advanced study, for a period of no more than 6 months.
- M Visa is Issued to those who are going to China for commercial and trade activities.
- L-visas (Tourist) are strictly for tourism and should not be used for internships.
- X-visas (Student), especially long-term ones, are the most appropriate visas for internships.
- S-visas are for internships in certain high-tech zones.
It is legal to be paid as an intern in China provided you meet the following conditions: To be paid a full salary, the company needs to pay the relevant taxes and you must have an internship visa (more on this visa below). To pursue this option, you will need to speak to a reputable visa agent and your company. Many companies may also offer you a stipend to cover your food and transportation costs. Unlike a salary, this stipend on average is 50-100 RMB a day and is not a significant income. The final amount you will be paid as an intern is up to the company, and your own negotiations, to determine. However, there are many benefits to interning to keep in mind besides just earning money!
As of January 2022, it is now legal for students to have part-time employment in China (aka work-study).
Is it better to intern, work-study, or have a full-time job in China?
If you are a student (on X1 or X2 visa in China with a valid residence permit) you can intern OR take a part-time work-study. New 2022 regulations allow students to work in China either on or off-campus, read more here.
Which one should you choose? Here is a comparison:
|Visa Type||Paid or not?||Length of time||Eligibility||Best suited for|
|Internship||X1 or X2, or S||Sometimes paid||Usually a few months||Students can intern||Students wanting professional experience|
|Work-Study||X1 or X2||Paid according to local minimum wage||No more than 1 year||Students can work-study||Students wanting extra income|
|Full-time job||Z||Paid according to contracted salary||According to work contract||Non-students||Non-students seeking full time employment|
Why should international students intern in China?
The most obvious benefit of interning is work experience and career advancement. According to data from the US-based National Association of Colleges and Employers, 70% of companies offer their interns full-time jobs, and most prefer to hire candidates with internship experience. Not only will a Chinese internship strengthen your resume, but you’ll also have personal experience working with Chinese colleagues and overcoming cultural barriers.
“What will you do after graduating?” This is a question many students dread, but an internship can actually help you figure this out! An up-close look at Chinese working life can help you decide whether you want to stay in China after graduating or pursue opportunities elsewhere. In your internship, you’ll learn about professional life in the city and make friends with locals and expats in your field. You may even find you love China more than you thought!
Finally, Chinese companies are actively looking to recruit international students with global experience and fluency in English or other languages. The stereotype of interns stuck buying coffee for the office is over. Many Chinese companies and startups depend on their interns as crucial parts of their operations and treat their interns as essential parts of the team. As an international student with diverse experience in multiple countries and foreign markets, you are positioned to be an important asset to companies. Internships in China are available in a wide variety of fields: tech to marketing, consulting to art, media to fashion.
How to find an internship in China
When job searching in China, networks and personal connections are your best friend. The Chinese term for personal relationships is Guanxi (关系), and can refer to anything from you having a good friendship with your roommates to networking with potential employers. It’s extremely common to land an internship through a personal recommendation or introduction, so don’t neglect this principle.
Going out, meeting more people and going to events and building relationships can play an important part in finding opportunities in China.
Here are some key steps to start building your guanxi:
- Join student groups, both in-person and online chat groups.
- Follow your university’s career center account and attend campus career fairs.
- Meet with your professors to share your career aspirations and ask for their professional advice.
- Stay active on the Chinese social media platform WeChat, as many companies share open positions through their WeChat accounts or job group chats.
- You can also reach out to China Admissions, and we can help introduce you to a company!
Don’t be nervous about relying on personal networks to find work. It’s a sign that people trust you and are willing to help you achieve your aspirations. In addition to a solid resume, a personal introduction allows your personality and style to shine. Though this may be a culture shock to you, don’t be afraid to ask for the opportunity you want. And don’t forget to pass the guanxi on to others: share your own advice and opportunities with the jobseekers coming after you.
While you’re building your guanxi, there’s still a lot you can do on your own.
- Pay attention to online job boards: LinkedIn, Smart Shanghai, Beijinger, eChinacities, Creative Hunt, AmCham or BritCham.
- Locate companies in your city that you’re interested in and follow their accounts.
- Keep an eye on city-wide networking events advertised online(SmartShanghai, The Beijinger), university event boards, and student organizations.
- You can also check out China Admissions which has a number of events here
We have a list of companies hiring foreigners in China. If you don’t know where to begin, check out these companies as a starting point.
You can also look into paid internship programs, where you pay a fee to be placed in a vetted internship. Check our listings here: the Hutong School in Shanghai and the GIIP Business internship at Fudan University.
Of course, it is crucial to prepare a resume and cover letter. If you have good Chinese, consider making a resume in Chinese as well.
What if I’m not in China?
How can you get an internship if you are not in China? If you cannot be in China right now due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, don’t lose hope! It is still possible to intern remotely with a Chinese company. Reach out to companies to see if they would be open to remote interns. Though you may not be in the physical office, a remote internship is still a wonderful chance to work in your field.
Start by preparing an excellent resume to send to the companies of your choice. Follow the WeChat accounts or social media of the companies you are interested in and contact them to see if they offer remote opportunities for interns.
Working remotely is becoming more and more common, and many Chinese companies are flexible.
How to register your Chinese internship
Once you have received an internship offer, it’s time to register your new workplace with your city’s local Entry-Exit Bureau and get an internship visa. There are several steps to this process:
- Contact your university and let them know you want to do an internship. They will provide documentation, which you can submit to your company for their approval.
- You will need to submit this documentation, including the certification of an internship offer, to the local Entry-Exit Bureau to apply for an internship visa.
- The internship visa costs 400 RMB, and will be given to you in 5-7 business days.
Remember that only the Chinese version of your internship contract is legally binding (unless otherwise stated in the contract). If you have signed a formal internship contract, have a friend or teacher help read the Chinese contract to see if it matches with the English version.
If you are located outside of China at the time of your internships, there is no need to register.
Joining a Chinese workplace
Once you begin your internship, you may notice some differences between Chinese office culture and that of your home country. Here are some tips to help you know what to expect:
- WeChat, China’s biggest messaging app, is commonly used in the workplace. There almost certainly is an office group chat. It’s quite common for your boss or coworkers to message you on WeChat, even outside formal working hours. Learn and follow the communication practices of the office.
- Hard work and dedication are valued in Chinese workplaces. It is not uncommon for workers to stay overtime to complete their tasks. Remember to keep a healthy balance between work and studies. If constant overtime work is a problem, you can ask for formal working hours to be added to your contract.
- In China, some companies may not have a formal “intern program” or supervisor to help train you. Don’t be alarmed at being “thrown in the deep end.” Use the opportunity to reach out to your colleagues and find mentors who can help you learn your way around the office.
- If you are interested in full-time employment after graduation, be sure to tell your company. They may be willing to support you along that path and help you figure out your visa options to pursue post-grad work in China.
What if I don’t get an internship offer?
Don’t panic! There are many ways to get professional and cultural experience without leaving campus. Here’s how to build guanxi and develop your professional life on university grounds:
- Take a leadership position in a student organization. Many universities have international student groups for different regions of the world.
- Pay attention to volunteer opportunities around campus by checking university notice boards or group chats. Universities often recruit student workers for campus events.
- Build good relationships with your professors. Some of them may be recruiting student researchers or editorial assistants, and you may even get paid for this work!
- Attend networking and cultural events around the city (examples: Viva Beijing Professional Women’s Network, ThinkIN China, Ladies Who Tech, Spittoon Collective, The Shanghai Literary Review, TedX, Beehive, StartupGrind etc.)
Finding an internship in China may seem overwhelming at first, but the process is completely doable and extremely rewarding. Don’t be nervous to take the first step into a unique and fulfilling professional life!